Monday, May 22, 2006

Camel In the Tent

What’s wrong with this picture?

Let a camel’s nose into your tent and pretty soon you have the whole big nasty spitting flea bitten equivalent of an oversized rodent sleeping with you. It’s worse than a bull in a china shop…

The City of Albuquerque has adopted one of the most legally unjustified means of violating citizens’ freedoms that they could devise. The city uses a theory of simply declaring criminal activities a nuisance. They make them a civil action. They extract fines as criminal penalties sidestepping the court system.

Criminal nuisance abatement ordinances have incrementally been enacted over the past several years and now have blossomed into nothing short of the total demolition of the legal judicial form of government upon which our society is based. The concepts of the rule of law and due process are obliterated.

This came about perhaps because some police administrators were frustrated by having to actually have probable cause of a violation of the law and then having to prove it in court.

It started with several bars in town that were notorious for causing trouble, including: La Paloma at Broadway and Trumbull; A-Mi Gusto at South Coors and Bridge and the Blue Spruce at Central and Alcazar. They were known for serving drunks too much to drink, for the sale of illegal drugs on the premises, and for numerous altercations from fistfights to stabbings, to shootings to murders. They were just nasty places.

Cops would be called to a disturbance or incident at such bars and would take care of the problem, but the next night, or maybe only the next hour, they would be right back to deal with another situation.

Though the officers solved problems and arrested violators, little, if anything ever happened to the bars.

Under community policing, officers became creative. They started collecting copies of every complaint, radio dispatch and police report from these locations.

They compiled their lists and presented them to other city officials.

One of the problems with this idea is that they were using raw data and did not break it down by the number of convictions that resulted from all the activity.

The La Paloma Bar was the first to be closed under this newly found nuisance theory. The building was condemned and razed and ironically is now the site of the South Broadway community police substation.

Several criminal nuisance abatement ordinances were enacted including: the recovery of costs for removal of spray-painted graffiti vandalism; seizure and forfeitures of cars driven by people arrested for driving under the influence; the creation of the “party patrol,” to attack under-aged drinking; outlawing panhandling; the expansion of weed control and watering the streets; the condemnation and destruction of abandoned homes; the closure and destruction of derelict motels and the photo red light and photo radar school zone speeding violations.

Some of these ordinances call for lawsuits as the means of adjudication while others use an internal city administrative hearing officer process.

Though they are entitled as criminal nuisance abatement ordinances, the criminal part is sidestepped. The requirement to prove a crime in court, with the burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt, is being substituted with a preponderance of the evidence test.

The city established multi-agency response efforts by creating the Mayor's Criminal Nuisance Abatement Task Force and the Safe City Strike Force. They are made up of assistant city attorneys, police officers, fire marshals, city risk management and planning departments’ code inspectors.

What this means is that a person can lose their property or pay a fine for a crime that is never proven in court to be a crime.

Former Albuquerque Police Captain Craig Loy had a reputation of being a hard working and successful police officer. He rose through the ranks and was instrumental in using the early criminal nuisance abatement ordinances.

However, now that Loy is a city councillor, he seems to think that following the law is too difficult. He has stated that the laws of criminal procedure are an impediment to getting things done, cleaned up and making the community and streets safer.

Loy has pushed through new ordinances that rely on technology, automated cameras and radar units in violation of basic concepts of judicial process. These ordinances violate the United States and State Constitutions, state laws, city ordinances and fundamental policing principals.

He pushed through an ordinance outlawing travel, declaring “cruising” a crime.

He is supporting Councillor Martin Heinrich’s ordinance attempting to mandate all-night convenience stores and gas stations to have private security guards on their premises in an effort to reduce the number of calls to police.

Police are abrogating their responsibilities to enforce the laws and provide safety by making private entities criminally responsible for performing duties of sworn officers.

The system is rotten! Cops aren’t what they used to be! There still are officers who are very capable and professional in putting together the evidence needed to obtain convictions in court. However, some officers have convinced some police administrators, if they only could reduce the beyond a reasonable doubt burden, they could take care of problems easier.

The mayor’s administration and city council have gone about dismantling the criminal justice system in favor of whatever this mess is they are creating.

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