Saturday, March 04, 2006

Protesters Call For Return Of Police Chief

A brisk, chilly wind did not deter participants in a rally Friday (March 3, 2006) in support of Police Chief Edward Santiago.

Holding brightly-colored placards and using a bullhorn to ask passersby to join the demonstration, protesters stood in front of City Hall, where Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs placed the chief on administrative leave two weeks ago. Robinson-Briggs said her action was based on legal advice related to a lawsuit Santiago filed in August 2005. Santiago will be on leave with pay until the outcome of the lawsuit, according to published reports.

But on Friday morning. press reports indicated the chief is stepping up his response to the leave by filing court papers to get his job back.

Organizer Flor Gonzalez said the protest was to have been held last week, but permission was denied. At Monday’s City Council meeting, acting Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig apologized to Gonzalez for erroneously informing her that her permit for the rally was invalid. Gonzalez said a larger crowd was expected on Feb. 24, but not all could make it to the rescheduled rally.

Gonzalez said she had 500 signatures on petitions for the chief’s return.

The initial small crowd of fewer than a dozen protesters doubled within an hour. Two Plainfield Police patrol cars were parked in front of City Hall, apparently monitoring the event.

Santiago, an appointee of former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, ran into protests from a black police fraternal organization and the police union within six months of his April 1999 appointment.

One protester, Lillian Jamar, is a longtime member of the Democratic City Committee.

Jamar said she asked Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green what the problem was with Santiago, but she was unable to schedule a meeting with Green to talk about the issue, she said. Jamar said she still hopes to get to the bottom of the new administration’s issue with the chief.

Jamar, a 49-year resident of the city, was outspoken in her support of Santiago.

She said Santiago responded “whenever I asked him for anything.”

“He’s a man of the people,” she said. “He wanted the people to know he was there for them.”

Santiago freely offered his cell phone number to citizens bothered by crime in their neighborhoods.

According to press reports, there will also be a challenge to the city’s move in placing a lieutenant in charge as acting police chief, ignoring the more traditional route of choosing a captain as acting chief. The mayor named Lieutenant Ron Lattimore as acting chief.

Jamar questioned why the city is paying one chief on leave and an acting chief in the meantime.

“I don’t like the idea of paying two chiefs any way,” she said.

Jamar said she will keep asking questions.

“Until I know what the concerns are, I’m on the chief’s side,” she said.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: police, protest


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