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Questioning validity of crime statistics raises ire of Sunnyside's deputy mayor

Former Sunnyside reserve police officer Ron Price speaks before the Sunnyside City Council last night to complain about an incident that police apparently did not log after he called to report it.

Former Sunnyside reserve police officer Ron Price speaks before the Sunnyside City Council last night to complain about an incident that police apparently did not log after he called to report it. Photo by Laura Gjovaag.

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Ron Stremler of Sunnyside speaks to the Sunnyside City Council about an incident near his home. He claims he reported suspicious activity at a vacant house only to have police ignore the incident, fail to secure the house and fail to log it, which he classified as the falsification of reports.

Comments by members of the public led to an emotionally charged speech by Deputy Mayor Don Vlieger at the end of last night’s Sunnyside City Council meeting.

Vlieger told the council that he was offended by a fellow councilman questioning the Sunnyside Police Department’s crime statistics following citizen allegations that police are not logging some crimes.

During the regularly scheduled time allotted for members of the public to speak to the council, at the beginning of the meeting, Ron Price and Ron Stremler, both from Sunnyside and former reserve police officers, spoke about interactions with the police that they found disturbing.

Price, speaking first, described how he called Sunnyside police when his house was vandalized. He had other business to attend to when he discovered the damage, but was told by the Sunnyside dispatcher that a number would be assigned to the incident and he could call back when he arrived home again.

Price said that when he called back, dispatch had no record of his call at all. An officer was sent out and examined the damage and told Price it was malicious mischief. Price then asked for a police incident number in order to report it to his insurance carrier.

“So I asked the officer for it and he says, ‘Well, I don’t have one’,” said Price. “So he called dispatch and they had to assign one. My question is, when you first call... a number is usually assigned at that time. I’m just wondering how much is not being done with this. Hopefully it’s not, but if it is, that’s changing your crime statistics because it’s not being reported for a person to log it in.”

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock noted that the same thing had happened to her, as well. During a graffiti incident, she was not given the number that she needed for insurance purposes and had to call back and get one.

Stremler spoke next, and described an incident from August in which he’d noticed suspicious activity, including an open door, at a vacant house across the road from his home. He called police, who arrived after the suspicious persons had left. Stremler said officers then told him they were going to clear the house, which requires checking each room in the building.

Stremler said that by the time he had crossed the road, entered his own house by the back door and gone to his front window the police were already gone. He argued that the two-story home could not have been cleared in the one minute and 15 seconds it had taken him to walk back to his home.

Stremler said that a couple of days later he requested a list of all calls he had made to police in August. City hall could not find any record of him calling. Stremler also alleged that the house was not secured when police left and the incident should have been classified as a residential burglary.

“Whether a police officer is changing a report to a false report or failing to log in calls for service, it’s both falsifications of reports,” said Stremler. “Which gives the citizens of Sunnyside a false report of what really is happening.”

At the end of the meeting during the regularly scheduled time for council members to speak on matters not on the agenda, Vlieger spoke about attending the gang coalition meeting with Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck and how Sunnyside’s presentation of its drop in crime statistics was well-received by the coalition.

Among the statistics that Vlieger presented were a 64 percent drop in burglaries from the seven-year average and a 44 percent drop in vandalism from the seven-year average.

Later during council comments, Councilman Francisco Guerrero asked how the council would address the issues that were raised by Price and Stremler at the beginning of the meeting. He noted that if the council was not getting correct information from the police, then the crime statistic numbers presented by Vlieger were “no good.”

Mayor Jim Restucci explained that the council receives information at meetings but does not act on it, so the city manager would be handling the issue. City Manager Don Day confirmed that he is aware of the situation and plans to look into the incidents, including the new one reported by Hancock.

Vlieger then took the floor to make a comment.

“To extrapolate a paintball vandalism and an open door at a vacant home, which wasn’t mentioned at the microphone, to casting aspersions on whether or not these statistics are valid is a really big stretch,” Vlieger said. Of note, Stremler made it clear in his comments that the house was vacant, contrary to Vlieger’s statement.

Vlieger continued, saying he takes offense at the allegation that the statistics might be flawed.

“I trust the deputy chief,” he said. “I trust these numbers.”

He said that failing to log a shooting or weapon offense is not possible.

“These numbers are good,” he said. “And not only are they good statistically, our personal experience backs them up.”

Vlieger addressed Guerrero directly, saying Guerrero wasn’t on the council when kids were dying on a regular basis and people were being shot.

Hancock raised a point of order, noting that Vlieger was addressing another council member, which is not allowed under the rules. Vlieger said he would address his comments to the mayor, then.

“I take offense when people say, ‘oh, we can’t trust these’,” he said, holding up a sheet of crime statistics. “Look at what’s happening in our community. What the police have done, what has happened is nothing short of a miracle.”

Towards the end of his speech, Vlieger began to complain that the negative comments are due to people not liking Schenck.

“I’m tired of it,” Vlieger said. “I’m tired of people putting down a good man that’s doing a good job.”

Vlieger was cut off with an admonition from the mayor regarding his discussion of a city employee. Vlieger stated that he was done speaking anyway.

Councilman Jason Raines then took the floor to back up Vlieger’s claims.

“People know when there’s bullets in the air,” he said. “I know before I got on council, in the afternoon when a kid on a bicycle pulled out a gun and fired it at another group of kids, 100 yards from where I was living at the time.”

He talked about the people who were affected by the shooting.

“I know that that’s not a fake incident,” he said. “I was there for numerous incidents like that.”

During a pause in his speech, Hancock started to make a comment. Raines appealed to the mayor, who gave the floor back to Raines.

“People feel much safer now than they did a few years ago,” Raines said. “Where there’s a potential problem, I’m sure the city staff will rectify that problem. If there is one.”

Hancock then spoke to defend the comments by Price and Stremler and the question by Guerrero. She said the sensitivity level of Vlieger and Raines was too high and that no one was casting aspersions on anyone.

Raines responded that the validity of the statistics had been questioned by Guerrero and that no one was arguing that people should not be able to come before council to speak.

Restucci then spoke with some force about the entire argument.

“I’ve sat on this council for 10 years,” said Restucci. “I’ve seen people come to the podium and make accusations at council, at city staff, about things that were done or not done. It is not our job, council members, to question the individual at the podium. It is not our job.

“Our jobs, as representatives of this government, are to sit here and listen to what the citizen has to say,” he continued. “And it is not our job to then poke holes in that after we are done.”

He said that he appreciates all citizens who speak before council, and if the issue is administrative, he will let the city manager address it.

“Do not cast aspersions, or attack any member of our community who comes here and stands before that podium and provides us with information,” said Restucci. “We are representatives of them.”

With that he declared the subject over and moved on to the next item on the agenda.

‑ Laura Gjovaag can be contacted at 509-837-4500, or email LGjovaag@DailySunNews.com

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4everoceans 11 months, 1 week ago

Laura good article!

It is good to read that the Mayor took control of the situation and stood up for the people that attend the council meetings and speak. The Mayor is correct, folks that come to the microphone at council meetings need to be listened to and given respect.

I find it interesting that both Councilman Raines and Deputy Mayor Vlieger were so upset by the mere suggestion that the statistics could be incorrect. My mother always taught me "that when someone reacts so strongly about a comment, then the comment hit really close to accurate", could that be the case here???? I believe that both Councilman Raines and Deputy Mayor Vlieger are desperate to have the statistics show crime going down, after all they have thrown the City's budget into a tailspin for the SS Police Dept. They have tried very hard to paint anyone that wants a balanced budget or to rein in the outrageous spending by the SSPD (i.e. Overtime and any new "techy" device), as against the SSPD and for gangs and violence. This couldn't farther from the truth, these folks just want ALL Departments of the City to live within their budgets.

The two gentlemen that spoke to Council about their concerns with Police reporting are Sunnyside Citizens and deserve to be respected at all times by Council. Once again, Councilman Raines and Deputy Mayor Vlieger showed their lack of respect and professionalism. It is a disgrace to have these two on our Council if they cannot control their actions better, this is one of many times they have acted this way. If they don't get their way, they get mad and want to take their toys and go home!!! How unprofessional!!!

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ohthehellyousay 11 months, 1 week ago

I believe Price and Stremler. No reason not to. Vlieger, however, does he see an agenda? Why would he defend things like this? Something's not right.

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srt8 11 months, 1 week ago

Citizens of Sunnyside....How obvious is it that councilpersons Guerrero and Hancock are aligned to derail this city's police department! Its violent crime that is down in our community and they are emphasizing such a minor issue of a paint ball incident and an open door on an abandoned building!! Please...lets be real! Guerrero's comment questioning the crime statistics is what should of been considered out of order and who came to his rescue but none other that Theresa Hancock. Such obvious disparaging and rude remarks aimed at the police department is what should of been addressed! Just a word of advice to Councilpersons Guerrero and Hancock.....YOU CAN FOOL SOME OF THE PEOPLE SOME OF THE TIME....BUT YOU CAN'T FOOL ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME!!

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linariley 11 months ago

How on earth can Vlieger claim in HIS statistics that arrests are up but crime is down? Are we arresting people who did not commit crimes? How can he continue to send out material that say there has been one shooting in Sunnyside for 2013? Let's see, a house was shot, there was the incident at Trees Market where Mr. Ayala apparently fired shots and was shot by police, and then there was at least another incident where shot were fired in the air. Shouldn't those qualify as shootings? Are the police logging these in differently than they used to. That would be my best guess. Mr. Price and Mr. Stremler's intent appears on target to get to the truth, but instead are being smeared and defamed by certain council members. If the police are not logging in all calls and incidents, then what good is a crime analyst? None, whatsoever. Vlieger and Raines said it best themselves, "we know when there are bullets in the air", but let's not write it down boys, we wouldn't want to screw up their campaigns. Mr. Vlieger campaigns as if the police department will vanish if his hand picked crew isn't elected. He takes personal claim for the crime statistics when they are tilted to his favor. He seems to have the "I" syndrome. What about what we are doing in our schools for prevention and intervention. We may have the lowest crime in 23 years (which I don't believe) but we probably have the lowest bank account in this town in 23 years also. And thank you school district and Firme for all you do to prevent kids getting into gangs in the first place.

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kimstandlee 11 months ago

You go Mr. Stremler and Mr. Price. Keep 'em honest. @srt8 Please quote the the obvious and disparaging remarks that you talk about.

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