Friday, March 09, 2007

Loyalty Above All Else; Except Honor

What’s wrong with this picture?

This is the police peanut gallery in council chambers Tuesday night at a town hall meeting of City Councillors hosted by Brad Winter, billed as a Red Light Camera Discussion. Eight of the nine councillors attended; Martin Heinrich was not present and Craig Loy left due to a family emergency. Chief Ray Schultz offered a video presentation of the City’s Safe Traffic Operations Program referred to as the STOP ordinance.

According to Eye on Albuquerque blog spot, the brass, those Albuquerque Police officers whose rank is signified by metal insignias on their collars: lieutenants and captains, were apparently ordered to attend the meeting by a deputy chief. The three deputy chiefs, along with the civilian Executive Chief, Joe Bowdich and the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Public Safety, Nick Bakas, were also present.

They appeared in mass, most in uniform, supporting the use of red light and radar cameras as a political cause. This “show of support” was disconcerting. It became disturbing when the officers started applauding, whooping and hollering, each time a citizen spoke in support of the program. There was occasional booing when an opponent attacked the police involvement with the program.

I’m not aware of such a public gathering of so many uniforms, since Mayor Ken Schultz called together ranking police officers after the 1987 Black Rose incident, where unregistered police officer lobbyists had sent what was perceived as a threatening message to a state legislator for not supporting cops’ issues. Schultz read police the riot act reinforcing the prohibition of on-duty political activity and outlined the requirements for lobbying legislators.

Here Deputy Chief Michael Castro, center, and Public Information Officer John Walsh, right, are seen with Journal Staff Writer Dan McKay, “working the room,” in the glass enclosed media gallery where other journalists were also present.

Councillor Loy, right, a retired APD captain, sponsored the STOP ordinance. He said he brought forward this bill because he had seen too many fatal accidents and made too many death notifications, not to try anything to reduce deaths.

I witnessed a red light running, T-bone fatal crash when I worked the streets. I was unable to breathe life back into the instantaneously dead body of the drunken offending driver. There’re might be those who think that after such an experience, how I could not believe in anything that may help prevent such tragic events.

I might also. Except that, I do not believe that one throws out fundamentals and precepts of centuries old developed law. There is a mistaken belief that imposing and enforcing some Draconian laws will prevent such occurrences.

The continued existence of fatal accidents is as predictable as the sunrise.

It appears that if the city didn’t use the civil approach and had made the offenses traffic code violations, then there was no possible way to prove the case in Metropolitan Court to the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Albuquerque Fire Chief Robert Ortega presented information about the reduction of serious injury accidents at intersections with cameras, including no fatal accidents.

It was disheartening to watch the police department’s command staff disregard their formal training in favor of supporting authoritarian rule over civil law. The presence and behavior of these officers smacked of the dreaded “us versus them” attitude officers are sometimes prone to exhibit.

Knowing my long-term opposition to using non-legal concepts in writing city ordinances, Councillor Winter asked that I forward my thoughts to him:

There are several levels of concern related to the automated enforcement provided under STOP: Purpose, Process and Law.

Red light violations and speeding are traffic problems within the community. They are not the only concerns, nor are they the most serious facing the community. It seems that DWIs and wrong way drivers are viewed in the public square as more dangerous.

Automated enforcement is clearly capable of raising a great deal of revenue and there is some evidence that the most serious accident rate intersections are not subjected to the use of the technology.

The general feeling of the community, especially by people who have been ensnared by automated enforcement, is the process of contesting the notice is not what the public expects. This is because they view the violation as a traffic offense and expect to have the right to go through the Metropolitan Court as a misdemeanor.

Some in the public do not perceive STOP as a proper use of the public nuisance abatement laws.

The City and its surrogate contractor, RedFlex Inc., who manage STOP, make threats that assistant city attorneys have told District Court judges they have no intention to follow through with, which are the seizure of offending vehicles.

Hundreds of cases have been dismissed because the City cannot accommodate the numbers of contested notices.

The public is becoming angrier and angrier.

There are some problems about jurisdiction:

The city has no authority over the administration of traffic offenses that would allow for the use of a City Administrative Hearing Officer in lieu of a state court.

State law provides that all misdemeanors, civil complaints and the enforcement of all municipal ordinances are within the exclusive purview of the Metropolitan Court.

The mayor has indicated that all of the more than $6 million generated so far, has gone back into the program. However, a quick check of the math, giving all inference to the City, the cost of this program would be several million dollars less than reported.

Winter announced that as a result of the town hall meeting, he plans to draft changes to STOP. The concerns he noted in a posting on the “Message from the City Council” page included: short yellow light time at camera intersections, fines and penalties that are excessive, and a flawed hearing process that fails to provide due process.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Noticeably absent from "...this picture" and this meeting was the Mayor. Guess he was resting up 'cos he and Chief Schultz had a big day planned in Santa Fe. Headin' up to the House to save his pet project and then, whoosh- quick as a Governor (speed device, political aspirations, irony and pun intended) back to town for an "impromptu" staged news conference to express bewilderment at the befuddling amount of misguided opposition to his beloved civil obedience safety ordinance, threatening to put us out of its misery, then vowing to fight for it.
Whew, I get tired just thinking about it all.
But that folks, if you're paying attention and enjoying the floor show, that's entertainment.