Without any warning, the monthly meeting of the Mount Vernon Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) was disrupted. Three thugs entered the room, screaming and spraying silly string at the audience. It took only a second to realize that it was all in fun and that the “thugs” were police officers participating in a simulated exercise.
As quickly as the three entered, they left. CAC members were then tasked with the job of remembering as much as they could about the men. Four teams were led by Det. Kevin Clark; Officer Edward Carpenter; PFC Kevin Baldassari; and Judy Schultheis, CAC president. The teams did their best to collectively assemble a scenario of what had just happened.
Most people remembered that there were three men — two white and one black; although one person was convinced that the third was a white man with his face painted black. When PFC Ramon Robertson revealed himself, he made it clear that it wasn’t paint.
The descriptions were a little sketchier — few could remember what color clothes the “suspects” were wearing, although one observer did remember the red Fat Albert shirt worn by one — PFC Todd Billeb. Many just remembered that they had “dark clothes.” One remembered that one had a gun; someone said one of them had an afro. Few remembered that one — PFC Dan Griffith — had a baseball bat.
The bottom line was that most of the 50 or so people in the room felt like they could not have identified the men if they saw him again. Schultheis then asked the officers for advice on what people should try to do in the future if they witness a crime. One officer said to get one's own description; it gets confusing if to listen to others. Another said not to make stuff up if unsure. In the case of multiple suspects, it’s better to get a good description of one than a poor description of all of them. They also said that logos help, so, in the case of the person remember the Fat Albert shirt, that would have been helpful.
Capt. (Ret.) Kent Siegel said that this exercise showed how observant the Home Depot employee was; he recognized last weekend’s robbery suspect when he returned to the scene of the crime.