Bad Cop, Good Cop: Altamonte Springs PD Gets It Right
Dec. 1, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — It wouldn’t be fair to point out police misbehavior without ever appreciating when the police get it right. So it looks like the Altamonte Springs Police Department policed the way police should police last week. And for that, they should get a nod of recognition.
Though certainly not the biggest news of recent days, your Twitter and Facebook probably lit up last week with word of a gambling bust in Florida. This was not the highly sophisticated operation associated with modern day underground gambling.
Right in the heart of the quiet little city of Altamonte Springs, four women (ages ranging from 87 to 95)—Lee Delnick, Bernice Diamond, Helen Greenspan and Zelda King—were enjoying their weekly game of mahjong in the Escondido Condominium clubhouse when they were interrupted by Altamonte Springs police who came to shut them down.
Turns out the ladies ran afoul of a “local troublemaker” who also turned out to be a snitch. Angry with the four women for some reason, this other lady called the police to rat out the women for their gambling. While she apparently cited the wrong law in snitching out her targets, there was some illegal gambling going on. The ladies sound pretty serious about their mahjong:
“This is ridiculous,” King said. “We haven’t played in the clubhouse for weeks! We have to go to each other’s homes to play and not everyone lives in Escondido. It is an international game and we are being crucified!”
Overly dramatic? A bit. But these women have been around for nearly a century, so who are we to question how they spend their time? Sounds like, at least to them, it was a pretty serious game.
At this point, the story has all the benchmarks of the usual tragedy that has become almost commonplace in our daily news. A minor, though admittedly real, crime. A confidential informant stretching the truth to get others in trouble for her own agenda. A “police raid.” These stories often end in horror. Even in the relatively benign world of underground gaming houses, people can get hurt.
Not this time. It turns out the Altamonte Springs Police Department handled this admirably. While the ladies had a pretty harmless operation, it was not just a simply mahjong game. According to Lieutenant Robert Pelton, there was more to the story than was initially reported.
“Roulette,” he says. “It was the roulette tables that were making it illegal.” Pelton says the police were alerted to the situation when some residents complained about illegal gambling happening in the Escondido clubhouse. According to Florida statutes, penny-ante games like bunko, bingo, mahjong and pinochle are legal, but you’re not supposed to advertise the games and the pot is supposed to stay below $10. According to Pelton, some of the games being played at Escondido were being advertised and had become quite popular, and as a result, the pot had grown beyond that $10 limit. So police had to take action – but he says it was an educational action, not a punitive one.
So it does seem like there was a lot more going on than we were originally told. Without a doubt, this was still not the crime of the century. But it does sound like laws were broken and the police do usually look into that. But Lt. Pelton’s cops took a different tack. It is unfortunate that their actions are so surprising, but they should be commended for handling this in appropriate way.
Instead of rolling up with a puppy-killing SWAT team and an armored troop vehicle, Altamonte Springs police officers went old school. Sounds like they walked in and had a talk with some members of the community. According to Pelton, no one was ticketed, charged, or arrested. His investigators had a meeting with the ladies and explained the Florida gambling laws. They told them how to continue their game in a legal manner.
The actions of the Altamonte Springs Police Department in this case should be recognized as the right way to deal with “crime,” no matter whether it is serious or not. Because the police took the opportunity to handle this in a less confrontational manner, everybody came out ahead. The ladies will resume their game. The police both educated the public and probably made some friends, which never hurts when trying to build a good sense of community.
Some people may say it’s sad we feel the need to commend the police for doing their job and doing it right. Maybe so, but that’s how things are. There is a growing rift between law enforcement and the community it serves. It’s disappointing we are at this point, but we are. When we can find a way to bridge that rift, we should.
A few weeks ago, I gave the police in Pittsburgh a hard time for missing an opportunity to be part of their community. It’s only fair I recognize the Altamonte Springs police for acting in the opposite manner.
Law enforcement these days complains their every move is being closely watched. Good. They should be watched. It’s the best check society has on their power. But take a lesson from the Altamonte Springs PD. We were watching them and they did their job just fine. The rest of the police can do the exact same thing. Make the right choice. We will all be better for it.