Ramblings: Roanoke Police Give Data on Use of Force; Roanoke Schools Weigh New Start Times; 'Endangered' Sites Listed

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another.

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another. We’re on the lookout for tidbits related to money in politics, data, business, civic engagement or interesting events. Think you know of something that could be a Rambling? Drop us a line at editor@roanokerambler.com and we may well write about it. Happy reading!

Roanoke police officers with less than 10 years of experience made up 70 percent of officers who used force in 2022, a police analysis says. ROANOKE RAMBLER FILE PHOTO

Roanoke police report slight uptick in force used

A relatively young police force may be one factor explaining slight upticks in citizen complaints and uses of force in 2022, the Roanoke department said in reports published last month.

Officers used force against residents in 241 cases last year, up from 225 the year before but down from 273 back in 2019, according to the analysis. The department notes officers did not use force in 99.8 percent of their interactions with citizens.

The definition of force includes displaying a handgun, deploying pepper spray and using physical force.

“The most significant increase in utilization type was the display of handguns by officers,” which increased from 86 in 2021 to 115 last year, according to the report. “There does not appear to be any one underlying factor that has led to this increase. Potentially these variations may be the result of a sharp increase in the number of vehicle pursuits (which typically end in the involved officers displaying their handguns); a young department where nearly 50% of officers using force have less than 6 years of service and may be less able to predict suspect behavior and a rise in the number of calls for service by the department.”

Half of citizens involved were high on substances or experiencing a mental health crisis, the report says. Most were fleeing or resisting arrest, the report says, when officers used force.

Two officers reported serious injuries and 16 minor injuries in the incidents, while six citizens reported serious injuries and 32 minor injuries. There were no fatalities reported.

Officers with less than 10 years of experience made up 70 percent of officers who used force, the report says.

Last year, the department also reported 27 complaints from citizens, up from 24 in 2021. The top reasons included unsatisfactory performance, use of force and discrimination.

“Tenure and age continue to be the most significant factor in complaints against officers,” the report said. “Officers with less than ten years of service made up 86% of all complaints in 2022. Officers under the age of 30 made up half of all citizen complaints in 2022. These statistics support the importance of retaining experienced officers in the department.”

But unlike in prior years, the report noted, the department found that no officers committed policy violations. A disciplinary review board made up of citizen volunteers and police leaders reviews each allegation.

The use of body camera footage helped exonerate officers in the vast majority of the cases, the report said.

Caitlyn Cline, a department spokeswoman, said the patrol bureau, which interacts most frequently with the public, is historically made up of early-career officers.

“Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to expect that our uses of force and complaints would involve our younger officers. I understand that these results are expected based on previous reports and that nothing is out of the norm,” she said in an email. “However, I can also tell you that our department is continuously evaluating recruiting techniques and training in order to provide the best, most professional officers to serve the City of Roanoke.”

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Bus delays prompt new school schedule proposal

Roanoke City Public Schools administrators are again proposing changes to school start times because of ongoing bus delays.

School board members on Tuesday said the district’s latest proposal, for the 2023-2024 school year, is a more modest adjustment to help get students to class on time.

Back in December, school leaders floated the possibility of moving to a three-bell schedule in January, under which most elementary schools would start at 7:15 a.m., middle schools and four elementary schools at 8:15 a.m. and high schools at 9:15 a.m.

That would allow Durham School Services, the district’s transportation provider, to cover all the routes. Lack of drivers has been an ongoing problem.

Teachers and parents expressed outrage at the idea, and the board voted to suspend any bell changes for the school year.

Under the new proposal, seven elementary schools would start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:15 p.m.; 10 elementary schools start at 8 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m.; high schools and other programs start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m.; and middle schools start at 9 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m.

Currently, elementary schools start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. High school, middle school and other programs start at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.

“The main talking point about this plan is it's not going to be different for anybody more than 15 minutes,” said board member Mark Cathey, who served on the 38-person transportation work group that came up with the plan.

“It's going to be inconvenient for some people, it's going to be convenient for other people, but it's the best we can do and we think it's done in a way that's realistic for everybody,” Cathey said.

Parent Jennifer Wingo, who was also part of the work group, told board members that her seventh-grade child often missed his first algebra class at Lucy Addison Middle School because the buses arrived too late.

“It’s a small adjustment that would make a huge impact to provide adequate transportation to all students,” Wingo said of the proposal. “We cannot continue to wait and hope that Durham will eventually have enough drivers for our current routes.”

Board members thanked the working group, which the school administration expanded to include parents and bus drivers.

The board is expected to vote on the proposal at their next meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 13 at William Fleming High School (3649 Ferncliff Ave. NW).

Preservationists spotlight caretakers' cottages

Roanoke needs to save its neglected caretakers' cottages in Fishburn and Washington parks, preservationists said this week in announcing their 2023 list of “endangered sites.”

The Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation called particular attention to the 19th-century homes because of recent city actions.

Roanoke intends to demolish the Evans House in Washington Park to make way for a new swimming pool, while plans to sell the Blackwell Cottage in Fishburn Park to a couple wanting to restore it into a coffee shop remain up in the air.

“Unfortunately, the City has never had a use for these buildings and continued lack of maintenance threatens them with demolition by neglect,” the foundation said in a press release Monday. “They are architecturally and historically significant as tangible evidence of the lives of Roanoke’s earliest settlers and should not be lost.”

The foundation proposed turning the Evans House into a concession stand or storage space as part of the new swimming pool.

“Additionally, the entire history of Washington Park – from its earliest days as a large farm to the years during segregation when it served as a gathering place for Blacks throughout the region and later when it was used as a landfill – should be carefully considered and integrated into the development of the park,” the group said.

In addition, the foundation named new sites to its annual list of “endangered sites,” considered at risk of being lost due to neglect, demolition or development. Those include:

  • Rader-Muse Bank Barn in Troutville, one of the last surviving buildings of its kind in Botetourt County. The ca. 1900, German-style building is a two-level barn nestled into a hillside to allow for outside access to the upper hayloft. The barn is in a “ruinous state.”
  • Peck-Figgat House, also known as Aspen Hill, on Fincastle’s Main Street, was built ca. 1822 by John Peck, with a large addition in 1839 by Captain Figgatt, a prominent local banker. The Tuscan-style villa is vacant and in disrepair.
  • Rader House, also known as Maple Grove, in Troutville, was built ca. 1830 by a well-known family of brick masons. The two-story brick house is vacant and in poor condition.
  • Multiple historic churches throughout the Roanoke Valley, including Fincastle Presbyterian Church, which dates back to the 1770s, and South Roanoke’s First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a Gothic-Revival style building from 1929. Both are functioning churches but are faced with ongoing maintenance needs.

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