Saturday, September 29, 2007

Much Ado About a Bicycle

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is Rear Admiral B. James Lowe, U.S. Navy (ret.), a former submariner, as indicated by his extra large dolphins and submarine lapel pin. He’s talking with Sandra Richardson during a break at the City of Albuquerque’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices hearing Monday evening. Lowe is leading New Mexicans for Democracy in a recall effort against District 9 City Councillor Don Harris.

A second complaint, filed by former State Representative Martha “Marty” Lambert, left, alleging the improper use of the councillor’s city e-mail and telephone number for reaching him at the Committee to "Keep Don Harris" website. The e-mail address and council number were removed and changed to his law office numbers when pointed out by a Journal reporter.

The current ethics board is made up of seven members.
Three are selected as council appointees: Alan M. Schwartz, Sander A. Rue and Jolene Wolfley.
The mayor appoints three others: Benjamin Silva, Cliff Richardson and Jimmy Trujillo.
The six members then elect a chairman. Robert P. Tinnin Jr., has served for at least 10 years, though the Boards and Commissions ordinance limits service to two, three-year terms. A new ordinance specifically limits the term of the ethics board to two terms. Tinnin has been a contract lawyer for the city in the past while serving, though a check of the city’s legislative website does not reveal any current contracts. Tinnin, in the past, has argued that he is not an employee of the city and therefore not subject to the prohibition of serving on the board.

Ten years ago, City Councillor Sam Bregman ran for Mayor and campaigned at police substations to on-duty officers.

Here, former Gov. David Cargo, left, accuses fellow candidate Bregman, right, of improper campaigning, during a mayoral forum sponsored by the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, held July 31, 1997.

A coalition of 15 groups complained to the ethics board. A hearing was scheduled for the week prior to the election. Bregman, in an ex-parte move, meaning behind the back and without notifying the other party, approached the chairman and asked for a continuance. Tinnin granted the request without so much as informing the other party. By the time the group found out about the continuance, the only option was to seek relief in State District Court. At a hearing the day before the election, the coalition presented a case before Judge W. Daniel Schneider. The group recognized that even if they were successful in proving that the continuance was granted improperly, they could not have a hearing before the election, in part because it could not meet the state’s open meetings act notice requirements. The coalition opted to make an argument to the court before the assembled news media. Bregman was soundly defeated as Jim Baca was elected mayor. In an analysis of the vote Bregman got a four-point boost over the final ratings survey before the election, possibly based on name recognition he got from our efforts to drag him before the ethics board.

Upon 10 years of reflection, I realize that trying to hold an ethics board the week before an election might constitute an actual interference with the democratic process by the sitting government. It doesn’t seem that way when you are in a heated political campaign. Though I wasn’t supporting Bregman, I hadn’t taken him on to support any of the other seven candidates that ran that year. I was only attacking Bregman’s campaign activity.

Harris requested a continuance of Tinnin, but got a very different result than Bregman had received. Could it be power politics now?

Harris called two accountants, former Republican State treasurer candidate Demesia Padilla, right, and current City Councillor Ken Sanchez, left, who had helped reconstruct his campaign's finances. They testified, that though Harris’ practices were unusual, they did not find anything that appeared criminal.

“Keep Don Harris” website’s Webmaster Rebecca Loring, left, testified that in constructing the site, she included the councillor’s city phone number and e-mail address as a standard practice of giving contact information. She went on to say that she changed the information when told to do so by Harris.

After more than six hours of hearings, the ethics board voted to go into closed session, for adjudicatory function, on a 4-3 vote.

For, above, Silva, Trujillo, Tinnin and Rue while against, below, Schwartz, Richardson and Wolfley. This was the only show-of-hands vote of the evening.

Harris was assessed $2,500 for violation of five sections of the ethics and elections rules. The second claim was dismissed because he had changed the e-mail and council phone number.

In 2003, during the start up of the ABQPAC ethics hearing against Mayor Martin Chávez, for taking more than $58,000 in illegal contributions, much of it from people and companies doing business with the city and city employees, then City Councillor Eric Griego sponsored a piece of legislation requiring any “Meetings and Hearings of the Albuquerque Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices be Televised Live on the Government Access Channel.” During the ABQPAC, hearing the deliberation was conducted in public. It’s the only time I know since the ordinance’s passage that the board has done so.

Chávez was found guilty of three violations and given a public reprimand.

After the ABQPAC hearing the ethics board has repeatedly ignored the ordinance and has used the exception to the open meetings act, that the city has prohibited by charter and ordinance, to go into closed sessions. The board has even refused to comply with an order from district court to deliberate in public.

Harris admitted to making errors. Though some of the problems are of his own making, there were several problems that exacerbated the situation that belong squarely with the city administration. The reporting requirements for candidates and elected officials to post contributions and expenditures on the city clerks website requires a certain computer sophistication and it is not monitored by any city official. I have no problem with the requiring reports, but I believe that it should be the duty of the city to assure that they are posted correctly. The city changed and updated their software and yet expected those who used it to understand it without any training or assistance. They obviously don’t understand. Harris consulted with Assistant City Attorney Mark Shoesmith about what the city considered he could accept in terms of contributions. Shoesmith would later be involved by assisting in bringing charges to the ethics board.

Harris' attorney, Douglas Antoon, right, in speaking about the Lambert complaint expressed his concern that limiting communication devices might create a slippery slope towards eliminating constituent contacts. Antoon pointed out that this was not the classic use of the government’s assets that are normally prohibited because Harris is not in the role of a candidate.

Board member Schwartz raised an interesting issue about the timing of the complaint. It seems that the violation had to have happened within a specific period of time prior to the election. His question was how could one determine the violation before a date was set for the special recall election. Schwartz argued that one would have to work backwards from the date of the election that had not yet been set.

The board decided to dismiss the Lambert complaint because Harris had rectified it upon being made aware of the possible problem and not because it actually did not constitute a violation, Antoon explained.

In taking the vote on the seven charges facing Harris, Tinnin simply announced the majority vote without identifying how each member voted, a violation of city rules on recording votes for council, which also applies, by the same rule, to all boards and commissions. Several members, especially on the right side of the dais did not respond verbally and one could not tell which way they voted or if they had abstained. I believe that each vote did pass by at least four votes, a majority.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

This is Harris’ bicycle that he rode while going door to door during the campaign two years ago. This bike is a replacement for his original one that was stolen. The Admiral’s group tried to make a big deal of Harris claiming the purchase as a campaign expense. Campaign rules allow for legitimate travel expenses. The bicycle was the only transportation expense claimed by Harris.

An extensive audit was done on Harris’ campaign and the board’s contracted accountant Helen Elliott, left, of Elliott, Pohlman & Co., CPAs, outlined several categories of potential violations. She produced a rather complex and somewhat confusing matrix. The complainants looked at each and every name as a possible violation and hoped for extreme fines. Not all accusations were covered by the two complaints filed and heard on Monday. Harris had been granted time to research and prepare for a later hearing because some of the charges were not as timely made as the others.

This is Attorney Patrick J. Rogers of the Modrall Sperling law firm. He is known for being a First Amendment specialist and representing issues for the State Republican Party. One of his main concerns is fighting voter fraud. When asked, what interest he had in the hearing he said, just a general one, that he actually had put his car in the shop and was waiting to hitch a ride home with one of the board members. Little did anyone know that the voter fraud issue would come to the forefront.

A Harris supporter, Ellen Ward, above left, filed a complaint with the board of ethics and campaign practices against New Mexicans for Democracy, stating her signature was forged on the recall petition.

In her complaint, she wrote that on Sept. 12, she “received letter in mail that thanked me for signing the petition to recall Councillor Don Harris.” The signature Ward made in her complaint along with the printed name and address bear no similarities, at least to this layman’s eye.

Ward believes their are at least eight other possible forged signatures.

“It goes to the sheriff’s department,” Assistant City Clerk Kelli A. Fulgenzi, ieft, said, because the city clerk has to rely on the county clerk for the voter registration information.

An affidavit in support of the recall petitions was filed with the paperwork by the New Mexico for Democracy on behalf of a woman paid by them to collect signatures. The woman will not be named here because there is no verification that she, in fact is the one who collected the signatures. She has not been named by law enforcement as a suspect and I will not publish before the sheriff has an opportunity to start his investigation because it might be perceived as interference.

My take.

The group led by the Admiral was bound and determined to recall Harris. Harris has said that they promised to recall him should he be elected, even before the runoff election took place. New Mexicans for Democracy proceeded with military efficiency including the use of what appears to be covert operatives. It seems that this is a civilianized military coup d'état.

By Harris’ own admissions of his sloppy bookkeeping, the violations seem to be technical and did not encompass individual acts but rather a violation repeated many times because his understanding was wrong, not that he was trying to hide something over and over again.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am just looking for a fair and open process and can’t find one.

In an effort to fully disclose, Harris used a picture of himself that I had sold to him, for personal use, with the caveat that it not be used for political purposes. He used this inaugural picture on his “Keep Don Harris” website. I am not billing him for its use, but it is not signifying either support or opposition of him.

So let’s get back to the original picture of Sandra Richardson, the wife of Ethics Board member Cliff Richardson.

Maybe I shouldn’t have watched my favorite political thriller movie, “Z,” just before going to the meeting. In the movie, the journalist, represented by a photojournalist, above, photographed people in public places that led to the identities of the assassins of a Greek minister. The movie is based on real events that ultimately toppled the Greek government and led to the colonels taking power as a military dictatorship in the early 1960s.

When I took the picture of Richardson and Lowe, it was because she is a politically active citizen having been associated with the district 4 campaign of candidate Paulette de Pascal. Richardson wrote, what is being called the “Honey-Bee” e-mail. De Pascal wrote, in defending herself and trying to distance herself from Richardson, that someone who wanted to be associated with her campaign wrote the e-mail. Without mentioning Richardson by name, de Pascal gave the impression that she removed her from being a close consultant. However, at the mayoral forum held Sept. 6, at the Broadway Community Center, the Richardsons were present.

After the meeting, Sandra Richardson, left, spoke with de Pascal, center, and Tom Koch, right, about the forum performance. Richardson announced that though she was married to a member of the ethics board, she was going to speak her own mind. She is correct of course, but it also means she will be subject to the role of a public person. In addition she sits on at least two public boards.

Richardson asked, “What are you taking pictures for?” I closed my distance to conversational space and told her I was a freelancer….

She said, “Well, you can’t take my picture.”

I told her, “You are in a public place….”

She shot back, “I know the law, you have to get my permission….”

I lifted my camera to take her picture and she reached out to cover the lens, touching the camera. I told her not to touch the camera and not to assault me.

She stammered, “Don’t you assault me!”

The law sides with me. People in public places are subject to being photographed.

If Ms. Richardson doesn’t want to be subjected to scrutiny, maybe she shouldn’t get so excited or relaxed in public.

There is that one other little thing about this recall; should it succeed, Mayor Chávez would get to appoint Harris’ replacement.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Those Were the Days

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

These are ranks of Albuquerque Police, State Police and New Mexico National Guardsmen lined up against Vietnam War protestors in front of the Student Union Building on the University of New Mexico campus, Fri., May 8, 1970.

There was a discussion last week about alleged abuses at an anti-war rally at the Truman Gate to Kirtland Air Force Base on Sat., Sept. 15. APD officers are accused of being drawn into political debates, engaging in taunts and expressing personal political statements. Further, they possibly cited legally parked vehicles of protestors based on anti-war bumper stickers, while not citing adjacent vehicle without such bumper stickers.

There was also an incident in front of UNM’s administration building, Scholes Hall, on Mon., Sept. 17. A student has been accused of lowering then destroying a Mexican flag that had been raised as part of an on-campus celebration of Mexican Independence day on Sunday, which was apparently left up inadvertently. The 30-year old student has been issued a criminal summons for tearing the flag apart and presenting it to the Air Force ROTC office on campus.

The incident drew a protest from the student community and several makeshift Mexican flags were posted on campus information kiosks.

If you think this is bad, let me tell you of the days….

At Kent State University, Ohio, four students were shot and killed and nine others wounded by Ohio National Guard troops on May 4, 1970, during a student anti-war protest against the Cambodian incursion by U.S. troops.

At UNM, there were fistfights over lowering the American flag to half-staff in honor of the slain Kent State students. Violence broke out between strikers and other students who were referred to as "Jocks," in press reports of the day, because the flagpole was located in front of Johnson Gym.

UNM students took over the SUB and classes were suspended. For several days there were rallies held under the battleship U.S.S. New Mexico's bell, on the campus mall. There was at least one protest march to the Federal courthouse downtown.

Troops were sent in by Lt. Gov. E. Lee Francis, seen above, presiding over the opening of the 1970 legislative session, because Gov. David Cargo was not in the state. A large group of protestors, estimated at about 2,000, had gathered outside the SUB. About 150 of them entered the building and were later arrested. Cargo later told me that it was something he would not have done.

Francis also sent the Guard into Northern New Mexico after the Alianza Federal de Mercedes’ armed raid, led by land grant activist Reies Lopez Tijerina, on the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla. State Police Officer Nick Saiz and County Jailer Eulogio Salazar were shot during the attempt by raiders to free several members of the Alianza who had just been released on bail from an earlier arrest. Tijerina’s group was also trying to serve a “citizen’s arrest warrant” on then District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez. Cargo said he would have handled that matter differently also, if he had been in the state. However, that’s another story.

National guard troops stabbed several people including KOB TV news cameraman Bill Norlander, who was seriously wounded when a bayonet strike missed his aorta by about a quarter inch.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

UNM Army ROTC’s Capt. Donald Martinez, left, Head Professor of Military Science Lt. Col. Erik Sevigny, seen here center with UNM Air Force Studies Lt. Col. Curtis Johanson, right, speak with Senior Communications Representative Carolyn Gonzales, far right, after the re-raising of the Mexican flag on Thursday. It was held in an effort to make amends for the destruction of the flag left flying earlier. Lobo Battalion Commander Sevigny explained, in an opinion piece published in Friday’s Daily Lobo, the UNM campus newspaper, how the Mexican flag was allowed to remain flying when the ROTC flag detail failed to lower the foreign flag. He took responsibility for the situation that led to the incident.

Several local bloggers seem to want a piece of these events. I may as well throw in my two cents.

Blogs that take on the flag incident attached portions of the flag code and rightly point out that it is not law. However, none precisely got the details of the code correctly.

“U. S. Code: Title 4, Chapter 1 – The Flag

…Sec. 6. –Time and occasions for display

(a) It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness…

…Sec. 7. - Position and manner of display
…(g) When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.”

As in this picture, taken during my 24-day road trip this summer, at the east entrance of Glacier National Park, Saint Mary, Mont., on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, this display is out of order and the flags should all be of the same dimensions. The flags here are seen from left: United States, Montana state, Canadian and Blackfeet Indian Tribal flag. Blackfeet’s flag, being a sovereign nation, should swap places with the state flag.

“…Sec. 8. - Respect for flag
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.

…(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.

…(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.”

Over at Mario Burgos, one commenter, Hunter, offers up a state flag code that he purports to be from, “Title 6, NMAC GOVERNING THE UNITED STATES FLAG AND PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE.” Only one problem, that’s not what the law of New Mexico reads. First, there is no title 6; the state annotations are by article, then section. However, under state law regarding school flags: “22-2-9. United States [and New Mexico] flag[s]; display regulations.

The flag of the United States and the flag of the State of New Mexico shall be displayed in each classroom and on or within all public school buildings of this state according to the regulations adopted by the state board [department].”

I’m not trying to beat up on Burgos, he posted before he might have learned that the Army took responsibility and he is not in control of the comments submitted to his site.

UNM Police Lt. James Madrid, left, and Commander Debbie Kuidis, center, along with Veteran David Ethridge and associates, watch the proceedings from afar.

Ethridge, and the woman with him, also wearing the flag, are in violation of the code. I’m sure that there will be those who will argue that they are not, however, because it is not a law, it just shows bad form and ignorance in spite of the best of patriotic intentions. The highest profile offender of this particular section was our President’s mother, Barbara Bush.

For those who have read me over the years, you know I love the flag. Not the way patriotic flag wavers do. I respect it and call for its dignified treatment. I love it because it represents a country that is big enough and secure enough to engage in self-criticism. I agree with the Supreme Court when they have prohibited making desecration of the symbol a crime.

Desecration has religious overtones and therefore those who hold differing views may be barred from expressing themselves. In one of the two cases to come out of the Supreme Court, a justice had suggested several alternative charges that fit and did not violate free speech, including, theft, destruction of someone else’s property and arson.

I went to grab something to eat and had in mind a location where I knew there were tattered flags displayed. To my surprise, I found new flags, but that doesn’t get them off the hook. On my little three-mile loop, I encountered nine flag displays. Each was in technical violation of the flag code. I doubt any of the sites would be recognized for their error, nor would they sadden a patriotic heart. The errors included: use as advertising, sizes, improper sequencing with the state flag and failure to light a flag that is not lowered at dusk.

The case at hand is a simple one and is being properly handled. The Mexican flag was left to improperly fly. Yet the student’s response was based on a misinterpretation and showed no respect for a friendly nation. Removing the flag and forwarding it to an appropriate party, be it one of the ROTC units’ flag details, the UNM president’s office or campus police, with an admonition, as to why it should not have been left flying, would have been responsible.

The Eye on Albuquerque blog wants to cast blame and considers the possible criminal actions, as not only understandable, but “justifiable.” It’s not about blame; those ROTC students and our future “heroes” on the flag detail learned a lesson. I’m pretty sure the critics have not.

According to a comment left on the Eye a couple of days ago and featured by them, a person claiming to be the remover of the flag wrote their own explanation. I normally don’t try to get into the middle of criminal charges, preferring to allow the justice system to play out. However, the writer does not take responsibility for the tearing of the flag as alleged and makes the same error of confusing the flag code with federal law. He posted a secondary comment on the Eye claiming to be who he said he was.

On that Monday, Sept. 17, I was trudging my way to school at about 11:45 a.m. when I saw an Air Force officer in his “zoom suit” flight uniform, walking into the Air Force ROTC Aerospace studies building, at the corner of Yale Boulevard and Las Lomas N.E. There was a man moving quickly towards the corner yelling, “Colonel, excuse me sir!” When he got no response the man picked up his pace passing me. He seemed quite agitated and in an emotional state. He had nothing in his hands. Moments later, about the time it took to walk three quarters of a block, he passed me going the other way. It struck me as odd.

After this most recent comment, I checked out the poster’s “My Space” site and found the picture of the man who passed me. So that raises another question. In his explanation, the accused wrote he approached the Army ROTC, while the UNM Police reported that he returned the torn flag to the Air Force ROTC detachment, prompting the criminal charge.

Even though I might have lowered the flag, its destruction is uncalled for and unnecessary. He’s not being called out for lowering the flag, but for destroying it.

Yet this issue falls so nicely into the realm of the hate mongers. It disgraces what the American flag stands for. In our country, it’s first, but we are not alone in this world and there are many students from other lands attending our university. Our culture is one of diversity. There is plenty of room for the recognition of the backgrounds of those who join us in our land whether they are visitors or new citizens. Allowing them to honor their background does not attack ours. If we stripped away all that is foreign for just what is the product of our geographic boundaries, we’d live a pretty mundane life.

I offer a posting by former Albuquerquean Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez who makes good points for a multi-cultural existence.

As for the protestors, I guess that both groups should be glad that we’ve come a long way from the spring of 1970, when you might have gotten shot, stabbed or beaten up for protesting.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

It’s Constitution Day!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is University of New Mexico School of Law Dean Suellyn Scarnecchia, left with UNM Law Professor Chris Fritz, center and UNM History Professor Mel Yazawa, right, after a Constitution Day symposium, Monday. Scarnecchia serves as co-chair of the Governor’s Ethics Reform Task Force.

The final draft of the U.S. Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787. Since 2004, any federally funded public educational institution must celebrate the day by law.

Fritz’ topic was “The People’s Sovereignty and American Constitutionalism,” while Yazawa’s presentation was “Why the Founding Fathers Hated Democracy.”

I’m a fan of James Madison, the fourth president, who by some is considered the “Father of the Constitution.”

However, long before that he had fought hard for what would become the first amendment. In 1776, he and his political ally, Thomas Jefferson, had written the Virginia constitution that included much of what would end up in the First Amendment.

Virginians were not very inclined to ratify the U.S. Constitution, but with the influence of Madison, it narrowly passed. New York ratified, by a three-vote margin, with the recommendation that a “Bill of Rights” be added. Massachusetts also ratified by a slim margin.

One of the first acts of the new congress was the passage of the Bill of Rights.

Madison advocated that free speech was a necessary part of the public, political and governmental process. He believed in “The Marketplace of Ideas,” where all thoughts could be aired. He opposed the censoring of opinions, arguing for more speech, not less.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

This is a protest by, on the mall near the Student Union Building on Monday. As part of the protest, this American flag was flown upside down, the international sign of distress. The pole was laid across the arm of a bronze statue. As I went to photograph it, a gust of wind caught the flag and dislodged it, where it then fell to the ground. I immediately picked it up and laid it against the statue. “I’m with you brother,” an older man, who was sitting nearby playing a guitar, said. This young man walked over with a ball of cord to replace the flag and to tie it down. The guitar player said that there were vets who would not appreciate this and he had been a member of SDS. The Students for a Democratic Society was a late 60s radical organization that spawned several other violent groups. I told this young man that I did not object to the use of the flag as a protest symbol, but it didn’t belong on the ground. The young man’s answer to both the guitar player and me was “God bless America.”

The great Anonymous writes in response to my last posting. However, hiding behind anonymity, the cowards of the Internet, those who spew rather than converse, boldly assert things they aren’t willing to say to your face.

Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the majority of the 85 Federalist Papers advocating ratification of the Constitution, along with Madison, who penned 28 of the articles and John Jay, all wrote under the pseudonym “Publius,” and were collectively published in respectable large circulation newspapers of the day.

Skulking on the Internet, in anonymity, scores little to no points with many, even when a good argument is put forward.

My only dig to the anonymous poster will be to quote verbatim, with misspelling, grammatical errors and the works….

“using any part of the rodney king case to prove your point is sort of like using the OJ Simpson acquittal as proof the system works... it just doesnt fit the sceme of your comments. You built a hell of a straw man there, brought tears to my eyes, then turned around and disparaged your own. Just to make a point of calling ths council criminals and in the end calling your own old dept. the same. Does that mean you are a ''gang member'' as well? by your logic it seems so.”

OK, let’s take it from the top: O.J. Simpson’s acquittal was proof the system works. Had it not been for a “Bad Cop,” Los Angeles Police Department Homicide Detective Mark Furman’s inability to honestly admit to having made prior racists remarks, for which the rest of his direct testimony was impeached, and for questions of evidence collection, handling and laboratory procedures, Simpson might well have been convicted. However, the jury was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Despite the protestations of nearly all in law enforcement, the case was rightly destroyed by just such bad police work.

As for disparaging my own, I don’t. Those I write about worked very hard to earn my comments.

City Council accepted the recommendations of its police department to reject the fundamental philosophies of the criminal justice system. They disregarded: due process, the presumption of innocence, access to the proper courts, in approving the City’s use of the red light and speed cameras, through the Safe Traffic Operations Program, also known as the STOP ordinance. My postings on these points are fairly mild.

In my web logs about gangs, I suggested that there were times that being in a gang, as defined by the Webster dictionary, was not necessarily a bad thing. Brute force by a large overwhelming power, properly applied can be a good thing. Guilty as charged, for me being a member of “that gang.” Some members of the police department, possibly many police departments across the country, have elements that meet the legal definition of a gang.

Because Anonymous and schmedlap didn’t accurately read my postings, let me try again.

It’s sarcasm and a political parody. I was poking fun at the council for passing ordinances that can’t possibly withstand court challenges, but make their constituents believe in a false sense of security. By the ridiculous gang ordinance they passed, their own definition of a gang could apply, just as easily, to them. I don’t expect people to laugh at it. They shouldn’t, it’s not funny.

Late last week, at the same spot on the mall, a musical group had placed Mexican flags on the statues as part of the ambience for their entertainment.

I don’t know what it means. However, isn’t the Constitution great?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Then the World Turns Blue

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is Officer Mike Tarter tending to his face after having been struck during a knockdown fight with a motorist whom he’d arrested in August of 1970. Tarter made a radio call for help, but by the time responding units arrived, he had overcome the reprobate, then cuffed and stuffed him into his police car.

There is a phenomenon in police work, which goes beyond human nature, it goes beyond loyalty; I call it, “then the world turns blue.”

It works like this; an officer is going about their business when things get out of control. It might be a violent physical attack on the officer who makes the radio call that they are extremely reluctant to transmit. In New York City it’s a Signal 13. In Albuquerque, the ten-code number designation is 10-83, Officer Needs Help! The ten-code designation prior to it is 10-82, Officer Needs Assistance!

The reason officers are so reluctant to call an 83 is that if they do, every officer who hears the call, will drop whatever they are doing, except in the presence of a felon, and go. They don’t just drive over to the location; they materialize as if transported in Star Trek. To the officer who needed help, it often seems like the longest period of time in their life. Often, it’s a matter of minutes, but usually within seconds, the sound of the first siren can be heard. It’s followed by others until a chorus of sirens surrounds the officer and the volume increases. “Then the world turns blue,” as responding units arrive and overwhelm the situation.

It’s a beautiful thing!

For the distressed officer, it doesn’t matter who shows up first: it could be a rookie, a person with whom they have petty disagreements or some unknown detective. The fear that they might have died or not gone home goes down a notch. There are no differences. We’re blue.

The world is now all right because the gang’s all here! Force is applied to restore order. In the vernacular of the street, it’s “stick time.” That might date me as an old guy. New technologies of: expandable batons, mace and electronic stunning devices, now come into play. Stick time may now be replaced with “lighting ‘em up.” It’s still all force.

Once things settle down officers may stand around as if nothing ever happened. These officers had responded to the scene of an 83 call at an anti-war march Sept. 21, 2001, when some protestor left the sidewalk to walk in the street.

A sergeant while pursuing a protestor was pushed and lost his glasses. Charges of incitement to riot were later thrown out of court. Officers exercised one of Sir Robert Peel’s principles for policing that he wrote in 1825: “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,” after the fact.

Officers sometimes spoke of their reluctance in needing to call an 83 and wished aloud that there were an alternative, something like an 82 and a half. The reason is, officers risk their lives and potentially endanger citizens by racing at breakneck speeds to cover a fellow officer in need of help.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

These police cars were scattered across northbound Interstate Highway 25 at the end of a high-speed chase where a man had stolen a pickup truck in Socorro and was pursued into Albuquerque by State Police. APD officers using spike strips punctured the tires and a State Police officer forced the truck into a concrete dividing barrier.

There are times when my tongue-in cheek comments aren’t taken well by some readers. Then there are times when my sarcasm is meant to be deadly serious. On occasion, a statement I make causes a strong reaction.

One particular reader, who seems to wish to remain anonymous by using only the screen name “Joe Schmedlap,” in posting on this and other sites, has indicated that he is a retired Albuquerque Police Department command level officer, either a lieutenant or captain.

“Legal definitioin (sic) of a gang: three or more persons acting in concert under a common symbol/name and engaging in ILLEGAL acts.” Schmedlap wrote. “So no Mark, a police dept. can NOT be a gang as it lacks the whole third act - i.e. criminal enterprise.”

Schmedlap may have led a charmed career. Maybe he never responded to an 83 call where violence had been brought to bare against an officer. Maybe he had never been at the end of an extended high-speed chase where adrenaline was flowing like Niagara Falls. Maybe he was lucky enough to never have pulled up on the end of a chase where the occupants ran on foot and shots were fired by fellow officers at those fleeing. Maybe he never saw a driver, after surrendering, beaten into the ground before being handcuffed. He may have never stood in a nightclub parking lot where widespread fighting was taking place and watch a lieutenant scream for any officer present to give him a stick so he could hit someone. Maybe he never saw a different lieutenant use force at a similar disturbance, then instruct a sergeant to record use of force indications against three officers, who had not employed any force, to cover his own deeds.

Officers are trained to use restraint, even in high stress situations, but training sometimes gets put aside or fails them. However, force is applied in a release of controlled rage. There comes a moment when the force has overcome the resistance. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish that instant and different officers perceive that moment differently. On occasion, pulling back is delayed because of the depth of the emotions involved in the fight. If self-control is not regained, excessive force may result. Usually, other officers will intercede before the act is considered criminal.

Maybe Schmedlap can ignore the findings of several civil judgments for excessive use of force, or for judgments in dog bite cases or changing the warrant requirements of the party patrol. Maybe Schmedlap can’t remember when police commanders were found guilty of civil rights violations against a fellow officer who received a substantial judgment. Maybe he forgot guilty pleas and convictions against officers for felony crimes. Maybe Schmedlap conveniently disregards the number of officers who were fired or resigned in the face of complaints, or during internal affairs investigations. Maybe he never served with officers who engaged in unlawful acts that impeded the ability to obtain convictions in two police officers’ murders. All of those cases constituted either illegal acts or constitutional breaches. When done in concert with others or when others refuse to take action to stop such acts, that amounts to Schmedlap’s missing “criminal enterprise.”

Maybe Schmedlap forgot the Singers. California Highway Patrol Officers Melanie and Timothy Singer, the married couple that observed a vehicle traveling at high speeds on the 210 Freeway in Los Angeles, one night in the early morning hours of March 3, 1991. Melanie Singer gave chase and that put in motion a series of events that ultimately caused the deaths of 54 persons. Los Angeles Police Officers took over that chase and car stop. Two of them would eventually serve federal prison time for the violation of civil rights of the driver, Rodney King.

I don’t mean to beat up on my former department or officers across this nation, but I won’t try to deny their faults either. If Schmedlap is whom I suspect, then he knows from personal experience that all departments are limited in recruiting prospective police officers from the human race. Despite their best efforts, police officers come with all the human flaws and weaknesses.

Sorry Schmedlap, the definition of a gang, Webster’s or the City Council’s still fits.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hot Time in Roswell

What's wrong with this picture?

This is a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar airplane being dismantled at Roswell Industrial Air Center. The jaws of the machinery cut through a wing tank that had some residual fuel left in it and caught fire at about 12:17 pm Sept. 5, 2007.

The Roswell Daily Record’s Staff Writer Duane Barbati wrote that Roswell Fire Department Division Chief Ruben Sanchez said the fire was out within five minutes.

The internal digital clock within my camera indicated my first frame was shot at 12:18 pm shortly after the fire stared. Airport fire engines backed up by the Roswell Fire Department put retardant on the plane at 12:21 pm. The airport’s fire engine shut down its water foam mixture at 12:27 pm for the first time amidst white smoke, some nine minutes after the fire started.

If I had been a passenger sitting on the runway in a large plane like this with a wing on fire, I’m sure I would not have thought the response quick enough. This fire was fed by leftover fuel or vapors according to the record’s quoting of RIAC’s Spokesman Dennis Ybarra.

Flames were not visible yet there was white smoke. “Black smoke indicates that a fire has fuel to feed it,” said Emergency Manager Teresa Barncastle of the Roswell/Chavez County Office of Emergency Management, who is investigating the incident. While white smoke means the fire has lost its fuel source.

We were in Roswell to cover an economic event, the inaugural jet service to and from Dallas by American Eagle, a feeder division of American Airlines.

Overheard amongst some of the assembled Roswell folks was a conversation, upon seeing the billowing black cloud, there was a sense of apprehension that the main event had crashed. About the same time, a flight of two New Mexico Air National Guard F-16s roared overhead practicing instrument approaches and another comment was overheard, hoping that it was not an inappropriate fly-over demonstration.

So what's wrong with this picture?

Roswellians seem to be a little sensitive when it comes to aircraft publicity. Several years ago, local State Representative and Minority Whip Dan Foley had arranged for a National Guard flyover for the grand opening of a local Toyota dealership. The resulting publicity is a sore point in town.

Of course the 1947 Roswell Unidentified Flying Object incident is a big draw on its sixtieth anniversary in July. There is an UFO museum in town and officials wear lapel pins touting the event.

It seems easier to put out a scrapped airplane fire than it is the UFO controversy.