It’s high time someone stand up for officers of the Bellefontaine Police Department.
Some $14,000 has been raised to benefit Deirdre Romine, a Bellefontaine resident who lives below the poverty line at 1600 S. Detroit St., Apt. 21.
She was issued a summons Oct. 7 for stealing coins from the fountain in front of the Logan County Courthouse, and her story garnered state and national attention after some focus was given to her daily plight. She lives alone, suffers from a mental illness, faces eviction and, at least on the day in question, didn’t have anything to eat.
It was a sad story and one she was more than willing to share with a contributor to one local monthly publication.
An online donation page was set up in her name and contributions poured in faster than even the organizers likely could have predicted.
She’s been victimized, people believe, for “only” stealing $2.87. Therefore, her oppressor must be the BPD.
Lost amongst a groundswell of faux indignation surrounding Ms. Romine’s theft summons, is the reality that her behavior, in fact, necessitated a ticket and this whole mess has been blown entirely out of proportion.
I don’t begrudge Ms. Romine her 15 minutes of fame, nor am I suggesting she doesn’t “deserve” this money.
The perception seems to be that police somehow mistreated this woman. Assigning Ms. Romine a theft summons for having stolen such a small amount of coin defied common sense, especially after we consider her tough lot in life, many believe.
What we’ve learned since, though, is that Ms. Romine was less than forthcoming to police about having actually taken coins from the fountain.
“Ms. Romine repeatedly denied having any coins from the fountain,” read a press release issued Tuesday by Bellefontaine police concerning the incident.
The press release states that Ms. Romine was asked to divulge the contents of her pockets.
“She volunteered three of four pockets,” according to Chief Brandon Standley. “When asked about the contents of the fourth pocket, Ms. Romine stated that she had change from home in that pocket and then agreed to show the coins at that time.”
She lied to the cops because she knew she wasn’t supposed to take coins from a public fountain.
Do these facts make the officer any more justified in having written the summons?
I know that I’m less inclined to cut a break for a person after I find out they’ve intentionally misled me.
The misdemeanor crime seems petty, given the circumstances involved, but what if instead of $2.87 worth of coins from a fountain, she lifted a $2.87 convenience store sandwich because she was hungry?
What if instead of a woman for whom it was easy to feel sorry, it was Bellefontaine Bob taking coins out of the fountain? What if Ms. Romine wanted the money for beer, instead of food as she claimed, or drugs?
Based on her published story, I gather that part of my outrage over the incident is supposed to come from the fact that Ms. Romine supposedly has no criminal record, has never been to jail and is apparently scared this theft charge will yield a stint in a local lockup.
While her felony slate is clean, Ms. Romine was charged with disorderly conduct in December 2010 after she and another woman attempted to box one another outside a boarding house at 533 W. Auburn Ave. In May 2011, she was ordered to pay a $50 fine for disorderly conduct.
A theft summons probably would have resulted in a similar outcome. At no point was she ever arrested in this case, and no one ever threatened to take her to jail.
This is no case of police brutality.
It takes a lot for me to take a public stand for law enforcement.
The same guy who once marched in opposition to stop-and-frisk policies employed by the New York Police Department generally is in no hurry to rush to the defense of law enforcement.
Down with the establishment, man.
But we’re not talking about the establishment here. We’re talking about a blue collar police officer trying to execute a routine call for service in his community to uphold the law.
More, we’re talking about a police department that has taken great strides since spring to shore up its relationship with the community it serves. Under Chief Standley, the police department has staged multiple community events to interact with local residents in a non-confrontational setting.
“Staff of the Bellefontaine Police Department routinely helps those in need,” Chief Standley writes. “The police department is active in community events and has increased neighborhood watch events throughout the year.”
Officers have purchased meals for locals before and have offered them a coat in the winter time, Chief Standley said. Had Ms. Romine told the responding officer that she needed money to eat, he might have bought her some supper.
There’s a lot of people in need, many of whom, when they’re short $2.87, don’t resort to coin jumping in public water fountains. Most turn up at local food and clothing shelters or they seek assistance from the service agencies with which they are associated.
Officials at one such shelter offer a glimpse at just how far an extra $14,000 could go.
Our Daily Bread food pantry would be able to operate five days a week (instead of three) for about a year with an extra $14,000. The five-day-a-week summer program was a tremendous success, serving more than 9,300 people.
I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: Ms. Romine is not wrong to try and parlay this saga into years’ worth of economic security.
However, it’s important to call this situation for what it is. A local periodical capitalized on a unique story that you just don’t hear about every day.
The perception for someone reading this story on the Internet must have been that the minuscule amount of money involved, and the fact she was ticketed (it turns out, more for her uncooperative disposition than for the crime itself) was proof positive of power-tripping cops hassling indigent women in Logan County or that the officer and community lacked compassion.
Ms. Romine’s life is changed as a result of this. I wish her well and may she never again be so desperate for money that she resorts to taking coins illegally from a water fountain.
The problem is that by victimizing her, we villify a local police force that has gone out of its way in recent months to forge a positive relationship with the community.
Nate Smith is an Examiner staff writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.