After years of excruciating pain, Capt. Mike Kline went on medical leave in November to have hip replacement surgery. During his weeks of rehabilitation, the station was under the control of assistant commander Shawn Bennett.
“I know that the station is in extremely capable leadership under Lieutenant Bennett,” Kline wrote in a November email. “This will give him the opportunity to show our bosses … that he should be the next captain if an opening occurs.”
Bennett must have shown his bosses something. At the beginning of January he took the next step towards permanent command of his own station, when he was transferred to police headquarters to work in the information technology bureau.
“I have served in this role for 21 months — longer than I expected,” Bennett wrote in a farewell e-mail, “and I loved every minute of it.”
Bennett’s replacement at the station knows the area well. Lt. Dave Russell grew up in Mount Vernon and began his career patrolling out of the Mount Vernon Station and living with his parents. “We like to get people who worked here before to come back,” Kline said at last week’s Citizen’s Advisory Council meeting, where he introduce Russell to the group of local residents that meets to support the police. Kline said he wants his officers to have a personal connection with the community. “We probably have more police officers who live within the Mount Vernon district than many of the other stations have.”
Kline and Russell also have a personal connection. They worked together in the 1980s. Kline said he’d been eager to team up with Russell again.
TWO OFFICERS described what they confront in their patrol areas. Sgt. Mark Smith, who lived in Johannesburg, South Africa until he was 21, supervisors a patrol area that encompasses Penn Daw and the Beacon Hill Center. He said street crimes and gang violence are the biggest problems in the area, but suggested that the best thing local residents can do is “report the smallest thing” to the police, like illegal parking, trash and abandoned shopping carts.
“If you take care of the little crimes it will help you prevent big crimes,” he said. When crimes go unreported, the police lose the opportunity to discover patterns.
Officer Dave Koenigsberg, a New Jersey native, patrols the area around Lockheed Boulevard and South Kings Highway. He said alcohol and drug abuse are the biggest problems he sees. Most of his calls are for fights, domestic violence, robberies and assaults, but “when you boil it all down, it comes down to alcohol and drug abuse.”
Koenigsburg was asked whether he arrests people for immigrating illegally to America.
Kline responded by saying that if they discover someone they have arrested does not have the proper documentation, they will report them to immigration authorities, a process that often leads to deportation. But officers do not seek out illegal immigrants. They don’t have the manpower. “We would never get to the next call.”
Kline said arresting illegal immigrants would also harm his officers’ relationship with the immigrant community. People might stop reporting crimes if they feared deportation. “We need to have the trust of the community that we serve, because we serve people,” Kline said. “And everybody who needs help, we’re gonna get help to… Once they’re here, they’re a human being and we’re going to help them.”
Also at the meeting, Judy Schultheis thanked the congregation of Bethlehem Baptist Church for hosting CAC members and police officers for a Christmas Day dinner.