Roanoke city councilmember Tammi Holley read a prepared statement at Monday’s city council meeting, calling out the city’s police department for what she called “a few bad apples in the barrel.”
Holley opened her remarks by noting that Monday was law enforcement appreciation day, and she expressed her gratitude to the city’s police before reading her statement.
“We have a problem within the Roanoke Police Department,” she said in her statement. “Let me be clear. Let me be perfectly clear. When I speak I am not including everyone. It’s not everyone. There are a few bad apples in the barrel. It’s up to each one of us sitting here to address the problem. I have been on this council since 1996, and I have not witnessed what we have here today. I would be less than a leader to turn blind eyes and deaf ears to the complaints from all these people.”
When approached after the meeting to provide more specifics about her statement, Holley mentioned complaints that she has received from citizens about officers pulling over motorists in Roanoke. She referenced the Alabama town of Brookside, which last year came under scrutiny and made statewide headlines for its over-aggressive police practices.
She reiterated that her concerns are not directed at every single officer, but at a few.
“It’s not everyone,” she said. “But it’s some of them.”
Roanoke police chief Jonathan Caldwell was not at the meeting Monday, but he responded to Holley’s statement via a phone interview Tuesday morning.
Caldwell said that Holley has not approached him personally about complaints that she has received. He also said that there have been no changes in policy or any extra emphasis on traffic stops within the department.
“We do pull people over, but that’s our job,” he said. “We’re not going out and making stuff up to get people pulled over.”
Caldwell said that Roanoke officers wear bodycams, so any specific complaints can be verified and reviewed.
“Just because somebody says something that a police officer has done does not mean that’s what’s taking place,” he said. “We do make mistakes. And if they make a mistake I’m going to handle it in the right way and make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.”
Caldwell said that the department receives constant complaints about speeding, noise ordinance violations and other infractions, but they try to be reasonable about enforcing those things. For example, he said officers typically won’t pull drivers over unless they are going more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.
The numbers back that up. A review of annual citation numbers as entered into the police department’s computer database show that the number of citations (official warnings or tickets that are not verbal or hand-written) issued in 2022 was the lowest in the last four years. From 2019-2021 Roanoke averaged 1,133 official citations per year. In 2022, that number dropped to 536.
Those numbers don’t account for traffic stops that do not result in citations, but Caldwell reiterated that he wants to be as transparent as possible about the conduct of his officers.
“We’re not perfect,” Caldwell said, “But my opinion is that the police department is the best that it has been in a long time.”