Saturday, September 23, 2006

September 18 Council Brief (J-school Piece revised)

A City Charter amendment making changes to its ethics code passed with one dissension at Monday night’s city council meeting.

The bill was a revision of an earlier version that died when the sponsor, Councillor Brad Winter, was unable to get the required seven-vote supermajority necessary to amend the City Charter. Councillors Craig Loy, Ken Sanchez and Sally Mayer voted against the first proposal June 5.

After another couple of months of negotiations, Winter was able to gain the support of Loy and Sanchez while addressing some concerns expressed by Mayor Martin Chávez.

"I don't feel like this is an ethics bill that will stop corruption or make any big changes, at all. I’m sorry." Mayer, who cast the only opposing vote, said, “I know I’ll get some bad press off of this, but I just cannot support this bill. Just because you call it ethics doesn’t make it so.”

Other critics contend the bill, which is supposed to cut down on gifts and contributions, is so watered down as to be ineffective.

In other action, the council passed what is called Kendra’s law, named after a woman in New York City killed by a mentally ill man who refused to take his medication and pushed her in front of a subway train.

The bill allows for court ordered treatment of the mentally ill after establishing an eight step criteria at a hearing before a state district judge.

Testimony before the council showed that as few as six or seven individuals may qualify within a year for a court proceeding.

New Mexico is ranked 51 among the states, including the District of Columbia, in funding for mental illness, and calls for more resources were echoed.

The bill passed on an 8-1 vote with Councillor Debbie O’Malley opposing. She said she was concerned about the constitutionality of the bill.

Mayor Chávez proposed this legislation after the shooting deaths of five men, including two Albuquerque police officers last year. John Hyde, a man with a history of mental illness, has been charged with the five deaths but sits in the State Hospital in Las Vegas during proceedings to determine his legal status.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Wilson Madrid Debate (J-school Piece revised)

You could get a cup of Starbucks coffee if you were willing to wear a support sticker.

People waited in line Sunday to get into the 1st campaign debate between incumbent for the U.S. House of Representatives' New Mexico 1st Congressional District held by four-term Congresswoman Heather Wilson and current two-term New Mexico Attorney General and a former State District Judge Patricia Madrid.

Campaign marketing was on display. The way each camp spends its money was apparent. Both campaigns offered stickers; Wilson had a table set up also offering coffee; Madrid had about 100 yard signs planted on Natalie Avenue N.E. and stuck in the top of the fence surrounding Cleveland Middle School on Louisiana Boulevard N.E.

The debate, sponsored by the Congregation Albert Brotherhood, was part of its monthly brunch series. The synagogue opened its sanctuary to a near capacity crowd. With its 400 permanent seats, organizers added 50 portable chairs were added and still one wall had people lined along it, yet on the other side of the room there was a scattering of empty chairs. The crowd was estimated at just under 450.

Wilson first won a special congressional election, in June 1998, filling the unexpired term of Congressman Steve Schiff, who died in office March 28, 1998 and had been a member of Congregation Albert.

The run up to elections today differs immensely from how they were run years ago.

“You used to be able to walk right up to the Cessna as the candidate arrived,” said KOAT TV Action 7 News reporter Rod Green, who started his career covering Senator Bobby Kennedy in the Midwest during the presidential primaries in 1968.

Campaigning has changed; while Madrid entered through the front door after offering to shake every person’s hand of the crowd lined up to get into the event; Wilson entered through a rear exit and after the debate scurried out before she could be questioned further by the media.

Madrid’s group staked out a location close to the front door and Campaign Manager Caroline Buerkle dispatched her team like a football coach sending in special plays.

“Is anyone staffing Patsy?” Buerkle, asked, referring to a campaign worker being ever present to assure their candidate does not get into trouble by being drawn into a discussion or having a supporter refuse to release her handshake to carry on a talk.

Up to this point, the campaign has been punctuated by attack and negative television advertisements. Given the chance to speak for them self the attack themes and negativism continued.

In addition to mainstream media, KRQE TV, whose anchor Deanna Sauceda moderated the debate, had three cameras covering every aspect of the event for editing and later broadcast. Other local commercial stations and daily newspapers were represented, as well.

Both candidates had workers video taping the entire debate, and there were several webloggers and freelancers covering the event.

As the debate ended, the candidates’ husbands kissed their wives in support and congratulations; Jay Hone’s wife, Wilson, and L. Michael Messina’s wife, Madrid.

Madrid stayed greeting her supporters as her campaign spokesperson Heather Brewer was handing out press releases declaring, “Madrid Wins First Debate: AG Says ‘It’s Time for a change’; Shows Wilson’s Ties to Bush.”

“Oh my God, it’s all on TV… 30-seconds. Totally commercial.” said former New Mexico Governor Dave Cargo, about today’s campaigning, in an interview after the debate. Cargo has run for several offices since leaving the governorship in 1971.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Changes? Do We Have Changes? It’s OK!

What's wrong with this picture?

What? Where did ‘What's wrong with this picture?’ go?

Nowhere. You may notice a format change though. We just have some other material that will be creeping in. That is an “editorial ‘We’” that means “I.” However, in the journalistic world a publication is plural.

Oh No! “Real journalism!” What is my blogging world coming to? All right, I’ll take my tongue out of my cheek.

I am taking a journalism course, intermediate reporting, at the University of New Mexico with Assistant Professor Ilia Rodríguez. The class is a practicum, requiring a fair amount of writing, up to four stories a week.

Each student selected a beat, a particular narrow range of issues for them to cover and about which to write, as if working for a newspaper. Most of the 16 students have chosen to cover on-campus events including: UNM Central administration, athletics, animal research, campus police, minority affairs and women issues.

No surprise, my beat, is city and state politics. Having a blog helped convince the professor that I was already tracking a legitimate beat; no need to double the work.

There is a difference in writing styles. For ‘What's wrong with this picture?’ I mix reporting news events with history, analysis and my thoughts, and I editorialize. Some journalistic purists don’t think this constitutes being a “journalist.”

I am not so pure. I believe that we cannot live outside of our own skin, that no matter how hard we try to be fair and objective, we still have biases and feelings that we do not overcome. Sometimes in trying to suppress these human feelings we find that we go further than mid point. I believe that bylines are there for more than just egotistical reasons. They exist so readers can come to get to know the writers, to compare their reporting with that of other reporters, to understand them and their independent viewpoints.

Why fight it? I believe it is in the best tradition of the great pamphleteer Tom Paine whose essay “Common Sense” sparked the American Revolution. Then his on-going “The Crisis,” published during the Revolutionary War, had a per capita readership larger than the percentage of people who watch today’s Super Bowl. I don’t have that kind of eloquence, influence or readership. I could only wish. So, I just share my thoughts of how I see the world. I won’t try to tell you what to think, only how I see it.

It is my hope that you, my regular readers, know that the stories I tell come from my unique perspective, that I try to be fair and objective, but don’t always feel the need to seek out what you and I know will be a spun version of a defensive posture.

Further, I realize that I am not the only voice in the information business. Journalism purists take the position that you need go no further than their publication for your news – they have all the news “that’s fit to print” and that's all the news you need.

James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” and one of the authors of the Federalist papers and who helped write and pass the Bill of Rights, espoused the theory that public opinion was crucial and that information had to be brought into the public square, “the marketplace of ideas.” Contrary to the journalistic purists, their idea of “just the facts” is not the only thing that constitutes journalism.

Truth in advertising goes a long way. When I read, I want to know who is writing to me. I want to know their backgrounds and experiences, what life crisis have affected them. I expect them to have a slant, if they don’t, they add little or nothing to the discussion.

I am going to post my class projects. They will have more of that journalistic purist style than my ‘What's wrong with this picture?’ writing does. There will still be my take interspersed with J schooling.

I recently had a discussion with what I will call a “journalistic purist,” who was very dismissive of bloggers, as only exercising “free speech.” My take, journalists are those who keep journals, whether opinionated or not.

I have the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics taped to the side of my computer to remind me of the obligations. Yet I don’t always constrain myself to them. I do, however, follow the National Press Photographers creed. You won’t find manipulated photographs. I will juxtapose photographs to make a point but I will not create a single image from multiple images. If I ever do I’ll clearly let you know.

If the late and former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O'Neill was right when he said, “All politics is local,” then my thought that, “all reporting is personal,” might be equally valid.

Journalism is a craft, not a profession, though those who practice the craft may act in a professional manner. The attempt of purists to hijack the term journalist by redefining those who have not graduated Journalism school have taken themselves way too seriously.

Diane Velasco (J-school Piece revised)

A local journalist, as enthused about the use of new technology as she was dismayed by the newsprint world, founded in Albuquerque the second nonprofit, online newspaper in the country.

“The Journal is the Jurassic Park of journalism,” said Diane Velasco, executive director of The Citizen Media Group Velasco is a five and a half year veteran and former business writer for the Albuquerque Journal.

“The choice was clear: leave or fossilize," she said. “Journalism has lost its soul.”

Velasco wanted to create a business with a social mission.

She explained that the Journal was using late 1980s computers that could do few things that current technology allows. She resigned on July 4, 2005, in a patriotic act and political gesture reminiscing on the revolutionary press of the mid 1770’s.

A native of Oak Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, she graduated from Oak Park River Forest High School, the same school Ernest Hemmingway attended. However, Velasco was not impressed with Hemmingway or his writing. She attained an associate degree in business from Morton College in Cicero, Ill.

Velasco graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1996 with a journalism degree. After interning with the Albuquerque Tribune and with KKOB’s radio news legend Frank Haley, she freelanced at the Tribune and Journal. She went to work for Publisher Mike Ryan at the Rio Rancho Observer. As managing editor, and using her business education, she turned a 3 percent loss into a 17 percent profit after only two months on the job.

She did a series of investigative reports on the Rio Rancho School District and exposed 19 fire code violations in the newly built high school, funded by Intel. She also reported that a high school teacher had raped six students and one teacher.

Velasco infuriated school officials to the point they insisted that any question she had must be forwarded in writing. Her publisher thought it was OK for school officials to make such a request.

She then became involved in a First Amendment battle with the assistance of Bob Johnson of the Federation for Open Government and Attorney Bill Dixon.

On three occasions, Ryan turned over Velasco’s interview notes to citizens and to “the fat cat millionaires, Don Chalmers and others,” Velasco said. That she said destroyed the trust that reporters have to develop with sources, especially when the issues are about the sources’ bosses.

She spent a year thinking about the Citizen Media Group and six months doing industry market research before launching The Citizen on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2006.

The Citizen Media Group is more than just an online newspaper; it is also a foundation dedicated to improving the understanding of journalism.

“My core issue is media literacy.” Velasco said, “Unfortunately, the ‘computer generation’ also suffers from media illiteracy. I used to get calls at the Journal about the ‘ad’ I wrote, or about my ‘editorial.’ People don't know the difference, and most don't know that editorials are usually written by people who are not reporters.”

Velasco admits that there are advantages to running an online journalistic venture. “Love the flexibility of being able to fix a mistake, make changes immediately.” She said, “Also love the unlimited reach – no distribution problems. Stories can be sent around the world. Mine have already been sent to Washington, D.C., Mexico City, LA, Dallas, Cuba, and who knows where else. Also love the simple, shorter writing style. It's a cross between broadcast and print style. (I still tend to write too long from print habit.)”

She also notes some disadvantages. ” It's not ‘tangible’ -- people have already asked me when I'm going to publish a print product. I say, ‘Gimme a reason.’” Velasco said, “Other disadvantage, I don't understand the ‘viral marketing’ phenomenon yet. Still learning.”

The Citizen Media Group is the second nonprofit news source, the first being the Voice of San Diego, that started in February 2005 with a half million dollar start up grant. It had an editor, an information technology specialist and four or five reporters.

Velasco’s not the only group in Albuquerque that is attempting or in the process of creating an online newspaper.

Chantal Foster, who now works for the City of Albuquerque’s finance and administrative services as an information technology specialist, started Duke City Fix, which is an online, unedited Web site. She started the site in 2005.

Alex Marentes, a retired Albuquerque police officer, who was editor of the police officers’ association’s monthly magazine, producer of the union’s weekly cable access television show for a couple of years, has designed and maintained several Web sites is setting his sight on an on-line local newspaper.

"I am putting together a community blog using different bloggers to write an on-line newspaper of a journalistic style and quality, with more serious writing; politics, current events and crime as opposed to less serious or opinionated bloggs and the ‘who cares’ kind of material” Marentes said.

“I think print newspapers are dying," said Matt Gassner, a web designer, webmaster and a self described “all around geek” "More and more people are getting information on-line. Traditional media as a whole is shifting. As an example, on Tuesday Apple announced it is selling movies online; there go the theaters.”

For all that Velasco finds wrong with newspapers, she has tightened traditional thinking about journalistic practices. Under The Citizen’s policies, “We will use confidential sources whenever necessary to bring important information to the public, and will protect our right to do so to the fullest extent of Constitutional law,” She said.

Velasco said that her publication would not quote spokesmen in lieu of elected officials and that she will tape interviews to avoid being charged with misquoting a source.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Matt Farrauto

What's wrong with this picture?

This is Democratic Party of New Mexico Executive Director Matt Farrauto. He is seen here in the jacket, prior to the Jeff Armijo press conference, talking with; the Albuquerque Tribune’s state political reporter Kate Nash, KOB’s Eyewitness News 4 reporter Jeff Maher and the Albuquerque Journal’s state news staff writer Trip Jennings.

No, that’s not a halo over his head….

I contacted the Democratic Party headquarters today because I wanted to confirm Jeff Armijo’s father’s name. Farrauto had told me his name was Art, but I was later unsure and did not want to publish without being absolutely clear.

Farrauto was not at his office so I called his cellular phone, but had to leave a voice message.

I called back the headquarters and asked if they knew the name. The operator said he did not, so I asked him if there was anyone in the office who might know. There was a moment’s hesitation; he then asked who I was. I told him I was a UNM journalism student. The operator said he would look it up on the Internet and placed me on hold. A few moments later, the operator returned and confirmed the name as, “Art, Art Armijo.”

A few minutes later, Farrauto called me. I reintroduced myself as having met him yesterday and told him that when I had not made contact with him on his cell phone, I had called the headquarters and confirmed the name. His immediate reaction was that no one was authorized to speak to the press but himself and that he was going to have to take care of that. I suggested to him that the operator had been very helpful with a simple question.

Farrauto seemed to get more angered because, “we have a hard and fast rule.” I told him not to take it out on the operator and he said, “Maybe he didn’t know you were a journalist.” I told him I had identified myself as a journalism student and that it hadn’t been like the operator had given away any Party secrets; he had answered a very reasonable question and made life easy for me.

So what's wrong with this picture?

No wonder political parties are in trouble with the electorate if Farrauto’s attitude is any indication. It’s bad enough that reasonable questions at press conferences are spun so far out of shape that there is no ability to recognize the relationship to the original question. However, to control the most basic information by having a rule that a campaign worker cannot even release a name of a participant, without the blessing of the 900-pound media manager, the Party’s credibility is totally shot.

The enthusiasm of workers, who volunteer their time to political campaigns, should not be dampened by anything more than a press flak, who has some elevated and flowery title.

Where does a 900-pound gorilla sleep?

Anywhere he wants!

Armijo's Out! (J-school Piece revised)

Arriving for the press conference is Speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives Ben Lujan with wife, Carmen, followed by Jeff Armijo and his father Art. Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim is at the back of the elevator.

In the on again-off again campaign of Democratic state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo, under a cloud of suspicion, raised by two sexual misconduct allegations, his candidacy is finally and officially, over and he is out of the race.

“I have concluded that in the interest of many wonderful New Mexicans, that I not seek the office of state auditor,” Armijo, flanked by Speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives Ben Lujan and State Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim, announced Wednesday.

“I was elected fair and square by 62 percent of the Democratic voters, and I still feel I am the candidate for state auditor. But my meager resources cannot match the mighty powers and resources of big government and powerful politicians,” Armijo said with a tinge of resentment and dejection.

The hastily called press conference occurred after a flurry of legal maneuvers on two opposing court challenges to clarify what constitutes a candidate's official notice of withdrawal.

Armijo previously announced publicly his withdrawal after a short meeting Aug. 29 with Gov. Bill Richardson, who is acting as the leader of the state’s Democratic Party’s campaign list. Richardson is seeking re-election.

Many saw Armijo's legal problems as an additional burden on the Democratic Party as their two most recently elected state's treasurers were charged in a corruption scandal.

Former Treasurer Robert Vigil is facing a retrial in federal district court after a hung jury failed to reach a verdict as one juror held out for acquittal.

Vigil’s predecessor, Michael Montoya has pleaded guilty to a single count of extortion in a federal indictment and agreed to testify against Vigil.

On Sept. 5 the last day for Armijo to officially withdraw his candidacy and allow his party to replace his name on the Nov. 7 ballot, he announced that he had reconsidered and was still an active candidate.

Democratic New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron initially announced that her office had not received a formal written notice before the deadline and would not remove Armijo’s name from the ballot. She then reversed her position when she accepted a press release sent via fax from the governor’s office as sufficient evidence of Armijo’s withdrawal.

Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democratic candidate for the 1st Congressional District, rendered a legal opinion concurring with Vigil-Giron’s second opinion.

The two sexual misconduct allegations, on, from a couple of years ago and another made this year, both by volunteer campaign workers, were forwarded by Albuquerque police to the Democratic Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenberg’s office. No action has been taken by the district attorney’s office, as the cases are under review.

“Jeff put the people of New Mexico close to his heart with his decision to officially withdraw from the state auditor’s race and that all the litigation is dropped,” said Lujan, who brokered the concession of Armijo.

Two competing lawsuits were pending until Armijo’s press conference.

On Friday, Armijo filed a lawsuit in Bernalillo County District Court to prevent Vigil-Giron from removing his name from the ballot and to prevent the State’s Democratic Party’s Central Committee from naming a replacement.

State District Court Judge Geraldine E. Rivera, a Republican, scheduled a hearing for 4 p.m. Tuesday. On Monday, Rivera was replaced by State District Court Judge Ted Baca, who rescheduled the hearing for Thursday at 9 a.m.

The Democratic Party and Chairman Wertheim filed a lawsuit in Santa Fe County District Court naming both Armijo and Vigil-Giron as defendants. The party sought to declare Vigil-Giron’s removal of Armijo’s name from the ballot lawful.

State District Court Judge James A. Hall, a Democrat, was assigned the case and scheduled a hearing for Wednesday at 9 a.m.

Armijo’s attorney made two peremptory challenges in the Santa Fe case. Hall was replaced by Judge Daniel Sanchez and then he was replaced by Judge Timothy L. Garcia, according to the New Mexico Justice Network case lookup website.

Armijo’s announcement, minutes before that scheduled 9 a.m. hearing, rendered both suits moot.

On Saturday, the State’s Democratic Party’s Central Committee met in Albuquerque and replaced Armijo with State Representative Hector Balderas of Wagon Mound.

“I think that clearly this was a dispute in the Democratic family,” said, Wertheim. “It’s a lot like the disputes people have in their own families. Sometime they can be difficult to resolve, but ultimately, in this Democratic family, I think Jeff, I really want to commend him for being a stand up guy.”

Balderas now faces Republican candidate Lorenzo Garcia for the office of State Auditor.

What Crime? Gotcha!?

What's wrong with this picture?

What picture? I wouldn’t run it, even if I had it.

KOAT Action 7 News ran a story Wednesday that the Albuquerque Journal reported today. It involved a dispute in Sandoval County of a police report of the alleged personal activities of the Sheriff.

The officer who authored the report did not see any activity; he had to infer it. Even if he had seen something, it would only have been because he had approached the vehicle as a law enforcement officer.

There is nothing improper in the officer’s checking out suspicious activity. The backed up vehicle parked at the Park and Ride lot with a sunscreen partly in the window may be suspicious to some officers, prompting a cursory inspection. What the officer thought he found was not a crime. No charges were filed.

The only reason to write a report of a non-crime, in this case, was to attempt to embarrass an elected official. He succeeded, but at what cost? November elections are only weeks away and the sheriff is up for reelection.

In the law enforcement world there are great jealousies and rivalries between agencies, especially between city or town police and county sheriffs.

If anyone thinks this reported police activity is appropriate on moral grounds, they are wrong. Leave it to the tabloids, or KOAT, or the Journal, without involving law enforcement.

Cops are not the moral or sex police!

If law enforcement staked out every establishment for morally questionable activities and wrote reports on them, an awful lot of otherwise “respectable” locations, like banks, lawyers’ offices, courthouses, police stations, television outlets and even newspapers would be under constant surveillance.

This was political, cheap, low-life and wrong! People are entitled to infer what they will….

Law enforcement is confronted with morally unacceptable behavior all the time. It is their duty to deal only with the criminal activity that crosses beyond the moral line, not the alleged proclivities of elected officials.

If anything, the officers writing the reports should be questioned for conduct unbecoming. The law enforcement code of ethics, in part, states, “Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided to me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty.” It goes on, ”… I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions.”

If this report were made about an ordinary citizen, rather than a public figure, it might be considered libelous for the public revelation of private facts, true or not. Because the sheriff is a public figure, in order to prove libel he would have to meet an almost insurmountable burden of proving that the release of the information was either known to be untrue or malicious.

The media in this case, are protected simply because they are quoting from an official governmental report. They may also quote from the code, “I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all…” placing the sheriff in an awkward position. Yet his uncomfortable position, if he violated the code himself, does not authorize town police to disregard their duty to uphold their own ethical obligations.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

9-11 Five Years After (J-school Piece revised)

Children squealed as blasts from seven police shotguns broke the quiet during a 21-gun salute.

Taps was played by Albuquerque Police Officer Gregory Robertson as a cloud of gray smoke slowly drifted away, bringing to a close a noontime 9-11 remembrance service. The event on civic plaza commemorated the fifth anniversary of the fateful day when nearly 3,000 lives were taken in four airline hijacking terrorist acts.

The ceremony featured political, military, law enforcement and fire service leaders and New Mexican Gold Star Mother’s whose sons were killed in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq since 9-11. Five-year-old Kindergarteners from Deloris Gonzales Elementary School lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance in the English, Spanish and Navajo languages.

“Today we are all New Yorkers.” Mayor Martin Chávez, who emceed the city-sponsored event, said in reference to the number killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center complex after being struck by two Al Qaeda hijacked airliners.

Above, Kirtland Air Force Base Commander Col Robert E. Suminsby, left and New Mexico Army National Guard Gen. Kenny Montoya salute.

Below, Albuquerque’s Police Chief Raymond Schultz, Fire Chief Robert Ortega, New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid and Chief Public Safety Officer Nick Bakas sit on the stage.
Attorney General Patricia Madrid, the Democratic candidate for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District also spoke at the event.

“We must move in a new direction,” she told the crowd during her speech.

Her statement prompted City Councillor Don Harris, a Republican, to leave the stage adding political controversy to the otherwise subdued event.

“When she came up to speak, even though she wasn’t on the program, I sensed that something was amiss,” Harris said. "And when she started talking, I thought she actually said the word national security. At that event, it seemed awful political to me. We were there to mourn people, and it was supposed to be a non-partisan event, and I thought she turned it into a campaign event, at least in part, and I didn’t want to support that.”

Madrid’s staff later denied the remark was meant to be partisan campaigning.

“9-11 is a significant event, Major Anthony Guerrero of the New Mexico Army National Guard’s 111th Brigade Military Police unit said, “It’s a remembrance for five years. You know… It’s a war against terrorism; we’re all saddened by the day but we’re all coming together as a nation on this day, a very important event.”

Guerrero served in Afghanistan with the 93rd troop command and just got back from a one-year tour eight days ago. He said, “We trained the Afghan army in how to take over for the country.“

When asked how the effort was going, Guerrero said: “It’s going well. It’s tremendous progress, tremendous progress. It’s a worthwhile event, a worthwhile mission, and we’re all supporting our commanders in that.”

Albuquerque Deputy Chief of Police Paul Chavez, no relation to the mayor, spoke during an interview about the significance of the event for law enforcement officers.

“Because New York City lost 23 police officers, the New Jersey/New York Port Authority lost 37 police officers and our partners in conscience, firefighters, they lost well over 300, it’s kind of a moral obligation for every police officer, every 9-11 to stop and observe,” he said.

“Regardless if you’re a current police officer or a retired police officer you have to stop at 9-11 and not just remember the tragedy for the American people but what it meant to our profession.” Chavez, the head of the uniformed Field Services Bureau, said.

The crowd, estimated between 500 and a 1,000, sat under the canopy of the civic plaza as religious leaders from three world religions -- a Rabbi, a Christian minister and a Sheik representing the Islamic community of New Mexico addressed the crowd.

“We shared our views on tolerance and brotherhood and working together as one community to solve the issues that plague mankind in terms of things that don’t lead to tolerance and hatred and violence,” Sheik Jamal Martin, above left with Chávez, said. “I spoke about issues of how the real axis of evil are tyranny, oppression and fascism and how if we use truth, justice, mercy and compassion to overcome that fear, doubt, ignorance and superstition, we can eradicate those evils and remove the mark of Cain that plagues mankind.”

Cadets from both the Albuquerque Police and Fire departments flanked the stage. Uniformed officers from various city and county law enforcement departments as well as military personnel stood behind the seated public.

Carrying a model of the world trade center and wearing a black T-shirt with the Statue of Liberty and New York emblazoned on it, 16-year-old Chad Hooker said.

"I came here today because I really reach out to those who died on that day. I feel really bad. I just like to represent it, just care for all those who died that day,” he said.

Hooker wants to become a fireman.

Monday, September 11, 2006


What's wrong with this picture?

There is no picture today; I didn’t get it.

I’m just scratching my head over the underlying concept of the extraordinary effort of Gov. Bill Richardson’s diplomatic expertise. He went to Sudan to retrieve Columbus, N.M., resident Paul Salopek, who is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Chicago Tribune journalist, freelancer for the National Geographic Society and former Albuquerque Journal writer

I commend Salopek’s efforts to go into war-torn areas of Africa to show Americans what is going on in some of the most unstable regions of the world.

No doubt he could not get through the front door, diplomatically, and had to enter the country without a visa if he was going to get his story. Any country that has a law that charges journalists for "writing false news" is seriously flawed on the freedom scale. Let’s remember that Sudan, the largest African nation, is spilt between the government-controlled Islamic north and the racially divided and economically devastated south that is attempting to revolt. The government could easily see telling the truth of its efforts to crush any revolutionary ideas, by journalists, as writing false news….

I join those who applaud Richardson’s diplomatic coup. However, the one little point that seems to stick for me is that he jumped on a jet and rescued the day by extracting, what in this country now amounts to an internal boogey-man, an illegal immigrant who entered Sudan for economic gain and got caught up. Don’t get me wrong, I think what Salopek did, in the grand scheme of things is admirable; it’s the hypocrisy of condemning “illegal aliens” in this country and threatening them with expulsion that gnaws at me….

Why is it OK to save Salopek from a morally reprehensible situation in a third world country, but entering our country to work for economic gain is not also considered morally reprehensible here?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Unsers on Unser

What's wrong with this picture?

Who are these masked men?

They are Albuquerque’s own famous Indianapolis 500 champions, the Unser brothers, Bobby Sr. and Al Sr.

So why are they shown in masks?

According to Bernalillo County deputy sheriffs, they are scofflaws.

On Aug. 9, 2006, Albuquerque police chased a stolen vehicle that stopped at Unser Boulevard and Bluewater, north of Central Avenue. The driver had fired shots at pursuing officers and when he stopped, he refused to give up his gun or come out of the car. A standoff ensued, and the police special weapons and tactics team was called.

Deputy sheriffs assisted by manning a roadblock at Unser and Central, blocking traffic from going north.

Eventually the man shot himself, in what officials described as an apparent suicide.

According to two separate official incident reports filed by Bernalillo County sheriffs’ deputies, with the Albuquerque police department’s records division, Al Unser drove onto property owned by the family on the northeast corner of the intersection at 9:50 a.m. Deputy sheriffs, thinking he was avoiding their roadblock, intercepted him and ordered him off his own property. Ten minutes later, brother Bobby happened upon the same scene.

In press statements made after their release from jail, they gave almost identical statements. Of great import was that, according to the Unser brothers, the Sheriff’s deputies used two unmarked vehicles to block the intersection. Other marked units were off to the side. Independently, the brothers believed they had come upon an accident involving the unmarked vehicles and it was being investigated by the other officers. Neither recognized that it was a roadblock.

In both cases, the Unsers drove past the perceived accident onto their family-owned property. Al Unser was stopped when three deputies yelled at him.

Deputy S. Covington’s report states that two deputies told Unser to leave without explanation, which started a discussion. Covington wrote: “The driver began to argue with Sgt. J. (Jason) Katz. I told the male driver that we were in the process of investigating a shooting and that he was obstructing. I ordered him to leave immediately. The driver verbally challenged deputies by informing me that I did not have the authority to make him leave private property….”

At some point Al Unser turned around and was headed off his property when Katz indicated: “…but did not leave. Instead he rolled down his passenger window and yelled something towards deputies.” The incident flared and instead of defusing, the deputies reengaged and ultimately arrested Al Unser.

Moments later, Bobby Unser rolled into the same scenario with similar results.

So what's wrong with this picture?

This is the front page of the Bobby Unser arrest report written by Deputy Jason Hatch.

He misspelled Unser as "Uncer."

This error is indicative of this entire incident; close, but wrong.

I don’t normally publicly dissect the actions of law enforcement during a pending case. However, this case screams out for a sharp knife and deep cuts.

Over 170 years ago, Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel created the first governmental police department in London, England. He established some fundamental principles for policing that have withstood the test of time.

Three of his rules are more than applicable here:

* The police must be stable, efficient and militarily organized under governmental control.

* No quality is more indispensable to an officer than a perfect command of his temper; a quiet determined action has more effect than violent action.

* Proper securing and training of personnel lies at the root of police efficiency.

Let’s take a closer look….

“The police must be stable, efficient and militarily organized under governmental control.”

There is a reason why supervisors should be called to scenes when there are problems. They are to bring calm and restore order, if things have gotten a bit out of hand.

In this case, Sgt. Katz was the problem. He did not let his charges do their jobs. He stepped in immediately and acted as nothing more than a street deputy. He did not supervise. Citizens do not distinguish rank. Rank is an internal structural component of control. By stepping into the fray, the structure of control is obliterated.

“No quality is more indispensable to an officer than a perfect command of his temper; a quiet determined action has more effect than violent action.”

Deputies never gained control, in part because they misused the English language. They used police jargon that only further aggravated the situations.

There were multiple officers engaging both brothers. This does not help. It is perceived as “ganging up,” intimidation and “bullying.”

Sgt. Katz wrote of Al Unser, “He was eventually taken into custody for his own safety due to the current police emergency that was occurring at the time of Unser’s arrest.” Of Bobby Unser, Katz wrote, “He was taken into custody for his own safety due to the current police emergency that was occurring at the time of Unser’s arrest.”

Instead of holding the Unsers in the backseat of a hot patrol unit until tempers settled and a calm rapprochement could take place, they were transported and booked.

“Proper securing and training of personnel lies at the root of police efficiency.”

Deputies recognized where they were, on Unsers’ property, but clearly failed to understand the significance of this.

In the deputies’ reports, the emphasis on the number of times they ordered the brothers to leave without success was documented. What is missing is the realization that barking commands was not working and that there needed to be a movement from the emotional state that all the participants were in. The responsibility to move this state belongs solely upon law enforcement. There are techniques to allow irate citizens to vent and defuse their emotions and then to maneuver them to into a mode that allows for a rational discussion.

These are simple costumer service concepts taught at various academies, though maybe not at the Bernalillo County Sheriffs Department, as their practice on this particular day suggests.

May officials force the evacuation of people from their own property in what is perceived as a dangerous situation?

If the person wanders into the scene to the point that it interferes with the operation or obstructs officers from doing their jobs, then his or her removal may be called for.

Once a person is made aware of the risks, how he or she deal with it is up to them.

People have property rights and they have the right to make bad decisions, even dangerous and irresponsible ones.

The idea of mandatory evacuation is a myth that officers sometimes take seriously. For example, a number of people were killed in the flooding of New Orleans last year in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina when the levees burst in spite of evacuation orders.

There is a long-standing debate about how far an officer can go to keep a person from being in the midst of a dangerous situation. Quite often this debate plays itself out over how the news media cover police actions. Ironically, in this case an Eyewitness News 4 KOB television camera was recording the arrest of Bobby Unser and aired videotape of him being placed in a patrol car.

This may indicate a lack of and failure to properly train issues by the official’s actions demonstrated that day.

Lets look at the charges:

Both brothers were charged with the same offenses, according to the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Web site: resisting, evading or obstructing an officer, a criminal misdemeanor and obedience to police officers, a traffic offense. Both are violations of state statutes.

30-22-1 Resisting, evading or obstructing an officer.

Resisting, evading or obstructing an officer consists of:

A. knowingly obstructing, resisting or opposing any officer of this state or any other duly authorized person serving or attempting to serve or execute any process or any rule or order of any of the courts of this state or any other judicial writ or process;

B. intentionally fleeing, attempting to evade or evading an officer of this state when the person committing the act of fleeing, attempting to evade or evasion has knowledge that the officer is attempting to apprehend or arrest him;

C. willfully refusing to bring a vehicle to a stop when given a visual or audible signal to stop, whether by hand, voice, emergency light, flashing light, siren or other signal, by a uniformed officer in an appropriately marked police vehicle; or

D. resisting or abusing any judge, magistrate or peace officer in the lawful discharge of his duties.

Whoever commits resisting, evading or obstructing an officer is guilty of a misdemeanor.

So what are we dealing with?

Section A does not apply because the officers were not serving or executing any process or order of a court.

Section B does not apply because the Unsers did not know they were fleeing the officers and stopped when told to do so. Further the officers were not attempting to apprehend or arrest them. They were trying to keep them from going into a dangerous situation.

Section C does not apply because the officers successfully stopped them while on foot. Further, the vehicles that the Unsers passed were unmarked and not "appropriately marked police vehicles."

Section D does not apply because the officers were not abused. There is an old axiom that a police officers peace my never be disturbed. It has a couple of meanings; that an officer may not be flustered and that what might be a disruption of the peace if other citizens were present, does not apply to the officer, in part because it would require the officer’s emotions to be stimulated and that immediately removes his impartiality.

As to the obedience to police officers charge:

No person shall willfully fail or refuse to comply with any lawful order or direction of any police officer invested by law with authority to direct, control or regulate traffic.

This charge is the traffic code’s twin of the criminal charge above.

Both brothers stopped. The question of whether the officer had lawful authority to direct them from their own property is more than suspect. Further, once on their property they no longer constitute traffic.

Is there a lawful charge?


What we are dealing with is the substrata of the police world.

There are a number of charges that don’t exist on the books but live in the hearts of law enforcers under the heading of Contempt of Cop. They include: Mopery with the intent to creep; PO the PO or Pissing Off the Police Officer and Failure to do right in a do right zone.

If it weren’t so serious it could be funny.

One last thought…

Sheriff Darren White is a pugnacious sort whose attitude was set through the rule of primacy. In other words, what he learned first he believes. According to his department’s Web site biography he, “…served in the U.S. Army as a member of the elite 82nd Airborne Division.” The unofficial motto of the 82nd is "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out!" White cannot distance himself from this morally reprehensible philosophy and therefore leads his department into these traps that allow them to be perceived as inept, bombastic and bullies; ultimately distrusted.

The majority of deputies, act appropriately in regard to their station, the majority of the time.

Sheriff White needs to take control of this matter and put an end to it before it continues deeper into the mud.

District Attorney Kari Brandenburgh also needs to recognize the fallacy and folly of this case and quietly drop it.