Police chief, councilman make up after exchange

August 20, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Hampstead Police Chief Ken Russell and Town Councilman Dwight Womer have patched things up after their heated exchange at Monday's Town Council meeting.

Chief Russell, who said Monday he expected to be fired for his remarks at the meeting, said yesterday that afterward, "I offered [Mayor Clint Becker] my badge, and he said no."

"There was no thought ever, on my part at least, of disciplinary action on the chief," Mayor Becker said Wednesday.

"I don't agree with what he said," Mr. Becker said, but added, "I don't think an exchange of words between him and a councilman is serious enough to cost him his job after 13 years."

Chief Russell said he apologized to Mr. Womer after the meeting for the way a "traffic warning" was given in the midst of the meeting.

"It was going to be in private," Chief Russell said. "He just got to me, and I did a dumb thing."

Mr. Becker said, "Every once in a while, you lose your cool. . . . He is human, like everyone."

During Monday's council session, Chief Russell accused Mr. Womer of running a stop sign and speeding while on his way to the meeting. When Mr. Womer asked why he hadn't been ticketed or warned, Chief Russell replied that he had just warned him.

Police Officer Paul Steimetz said Tuesday that he was at the intersection of North Woods Trail and Boxwood Drive when Mr. Womer's vehicle approached the intersection. He said Mr. Womer did stop for the stop sign, but that he stopped past the curb line. That is technically considered running a stop sign, he said.

Officer Steimetz said he did not get his radar gun up in time to clock Mr. Womer's speed, but estimated he had been traveling between 30 mph and 35 mph in a 25-mph zone.

"I wouldn't have issued a ticket for him," Officer Steimetz said. "It would be hard to explain that to the judge and have the judge find him guilty."

He said he had not been told to watch Mr. Womer.

"My chief doesn't operate that way," he said. "He doesn't vendetta against anyone."

Mr. Womer denied that he had been speeding or had run a stop sign. He said there are many children in the area and that he is "very conscientious" about not speeding there -- especially since he has been "making such an uproar" about the need for the police to enforce traffic laws in the area.

Councilman Gary Bauer, who has oversight responsibility for policing, sat in on Monday's brief meeting between Mr. Womer and Chief Russell.

"After the meeting was over, everybody seemed to be a little bit calmer," Mr. Bauer said. "They had a chance to talk to each other. . . . That's the way you resolve things."

Mr. Womer said Wednesday that he and Chief Russell "had some misunderstandings."

He said, "I thought that he was after me, and he thought that I was after him."

Mr. Womer said he and Chief Russell were going to meet again next Monday.

Asked if Hampstead police officers might hesitate to give a ticket to a councilman out of fear of retribution, Mr. Becker said, "Not at all."

He said it was not unusual that no written warning or ticket would be issued to a person who committed the offenses allegedly committed by Mr. Womer.

"Somebody that almost stops for a stop sign would probably get a verbal warning, maybe a written warning," Mr. Becker said. "We would rather make the people aware of it, rather than citing them."

Chief Russell acknowledged that the police are dependent on the council for equipment and for raises.

But, "You can't take any action against a police officer for doing his job," he said. "You can take action against a police officer for not doing his job."

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