Chief Tries To Rally Police After Bloody Rampage
PALM BAY, Fla. (AP) _ The city’s police chief is trying to rally his officers after their worst tragedy and some public criticism over the handling of last week’s shooting rampage that left six dead, including two policemen.
″It’s going to have an adverse impact,″ said Police Chief Charles Simmons. ″This is just a tragedy of the worst kind, and people are going to have to live with an agony for a long time.″
A gunman rampaged through two shopping centers Thursday evening, killing six people and injuring 14 others.
Adding to the police force’s grief, Simmons said Saturday evening, has been public second-guessing of the department for not having earlier arrested William Cruse, 59, charged with murder in the rampage.
″I’ve got two dead police officers. If you don’t think I’ve thought a lot in the past 48 hours about how this could have been avoided ...,″ Simmons said.
Some people in Cruse’s neighborhood say police were aware of the retiree’s violent temper.
But Simmons said an exhaustive check of police records showed only three calls from Cruse’s neighborhood.
Two incidents last year involved minor vandalism, such as when Cruse allegedly dumped a child’s swingset into a ditch. Simmons said the swing was on a public easement.
Neighbor Ron Stearn has complained that police should have taken action after his April 17 complaint that Cruse chased boys with his car and made an obscene suggestion to Stearn’s 6-year-old son.
Simmons said he doesn’t blame Stearn for being upset, but said it seemed unlikely there was enough evidence to charge Cruse with a crime or to have him detained involuntarily for psychiatric examination under the strict guidelines of state law.
″Obviously, now this whole perspective has changed,″ Simmons said.
Simmons said police never received any report of Cruse using weapons or any other complaints from neighbors indicating violent tendencies.
He also said police would have shot the gunman if they had gotten a clear shot that didn’t endanger hostages.
But he said police were most concerned with avoiding further bloodshed, rather than seeking revenge for the two dead officers, Ronald Grogan and Gerald Johnson.
Crime has jumped rapidly in this city, but Simmons said the increase is not out of line with the increase in population, which has more than doubled to 43,000 in the last seven years. There were only four homicides in 1986.
Simmons was preparing a letter to officers in the 83-member department urging them to stand together. He sent out a similar letter after the apparent gunshot suicide Sept. 27 of Steven Pollak, 22, the first officer to die on duty in the department’s 2 1/2 decades.
Simmons, 42, chief here for 3 1/2 years, said he had returned to town just last week after reserve duty at Fort Benning, Ga., where he suffered a leg injury on a parachute jump.
On his desk, he found some Pentagon files that he had requested about the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Navy Commendation he received in 1966 in Vietnam, where he was wounded several times. In one incident he had braved enemy fire to rescue wounded comrades.