Monday, July 20, 2009

Crime Alert

What’s Wrong With This Picture?
A month ago I found this one car hit and run wreck abandoned in my neighborhood early in the morning. I called 911 and eventually a total of seven public safety vehicles descended on the scene. They included the Albuquerque Police Department with four units, an Albuquerque Fire Department pumper to clean up the hazardous materials leaking from the car, and a University of New Mexico Police Department officer who was patrolling adjacent school property. A security guard also was on scene early. For all the standing around and looking that officers did, ultimately nothing happened. The vehicle was reported stolen shortly after the crash.
Nine years gone from the department, and I find that this group couldn’t investigate anyone into jail. All the proof was there. What was missing was the knowledge of how to go about conducting a successful crime scene probe. I don’t blame the officers; their reasoning made sense to them, they simply lacked proper training, mentoring and experience. The responsibility belongs to the leadership of the department and ultimately the Chief Public Safety Officer Pete Dinelli and Mayor Martin Chávez.
The Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association endorsed Chávez yesterday. The last APOA contract included 41 percent raises for some officers over the life of the multi-year contract.
Chávez, “has an unmatched and proven record of being tough on crime,” APOA President Joey Sigala said, according to KKOB’s Peter St. Cyr's blog post on, "What's the Word."
Sigala is young and has no real experience with any other mayor to be qualified to render such an opinion.
Chávez’ record on fighting crime is not so good. However, his record of paying officers is good, as a matter of record no mayor has increased officers salaries as much.
Chávez gave an up to 14 percent raise during his first term and the huge increase in the last contract. In 1999, Chávez shook hands with then APOA President Alex Marentes with Vice President Paul Pecheco after signing the contract.
Don’t confuse financial support for officers with being tough on crime. Chávez is not above manipulating the labor relations process. He appointed the APOA's chief negotiator Lawrence Torres, right with Marentes in 1999, to be director of employee relations.
Chávez does window dressing better than most. He is fond of public displays in a carnival atmosphere while announcing his pop idea of the month. He has expended a fair amount of money in trying to brand offenders through public humiliation beyond the sentencing authority of the courts. He has run off convicted sex offenders without the use of due process. He unwittingly promotes gangsters by publishing their pictures in the newspaper. Publishing sex offenders and convicted DWI offenders pictures may have a desired affect, but gang members will wear their exposure with pride. The photos will be used to enhance their reputation of being publicly recognized by the government as being bad, their intimidation factor goes up, not down.
Chávez has done some things that support the crime fighting effort, number one is his long standing graffiti removal program.
I became president of the APOA 25 years ago. after the union made a negative endorsement of mayoral run-off candidate Jim Baca. Mayor Ken Schultz made a fair settlement in negotiations considering the times. That endorsement was the product of an open meeting and the will of the membership. Sigala’s endorsement wasn’t.
It isn’t my APOA or APD anymore and it’s unfortunate, because the community is deserving of better.
The majority of officers work hard, with honor and distinction. They deserve the greatest support possible. I am glad to see others, like Lieutenant Jan Olstad, above, standing on the freeway at a wreck summonsing assistance. I don’t miss the younger persons' game.
I don’t begrudge officers a penny of what they earn today and would oppose any effort to renege on the contractual agreement. Senior officers are making almost double what I made when I retired nine years ago.
With crime being a major topic in the newly beginning mayoral campaign, all three major candidates are playing the police card.
Crime is always a political issue in a mayoral race. Police manpower is the obvious target. It is simplistic to believe that a larger police force will solve the crime problems. It is just as simple to believe that moving some officers from specialized units to street patrol will reduce crime.
Albuquerque has always had a crime problem. Mayors and political leaders do not have much effect on solving the problem. A mayor’s greatest ability in affecting crime rates is in appointing the right chief, then supporting him with the proper level of budgeting.
The publicly financed candidates are: incumbent Mayor Martin Chávez, opponents, former Democratic State Senator Richard Romero, and current Republican State Representative R.J. Berry.
So what’s wrong with this picture?
I now know what’s wrong; we have Los Angeles Police units patrolling downtown Albuquerque.
Oops! Maybe not, there was a television production crew filming the TV series “Crash” at Fourth Street and Gold Avenue Friday.
Crash stars long time New Mexican, Dennis Hopper, seen here speaking to the Albuquerque Press Club, circa 1970, about filming in New Mexico. He had co-written with Peter Fonda and directed, Easy Rider in 1969.
This television prop was just being driven to the on-location set.
However, maybe there is a metaphoric movie truth or two in this campaign.
We are being asked to suspend our disbelief. And
It doesn’t have to be real; it only has to look like it is.
Might work for movies, it shouldn’t work for politics.
The most recent Federal Bureau of Investigation’s crime reports, that looks at selected crimes, shows that the number of violent crimes, murders, robberies, aggravated assaults, and motor vehicle thefts went down, while forcible rapes property crimes, burglaries, larceny-thefts, and arsons numbers rose in Albuquerque.
There will be a spike in murder numbers for this year because of the 11 bodies found buried on the west mesa; though the crimes occurred several years ago.
Chávez told my blogging colleague Peter St. Cyr’s What's The Word, that crime is "unacceptably high." He wants another 100 police officers added to the force.
Fourteen years ago, during his first term, Chávez told officers his plan for increasing the department’s strength. He proposed that by 1998 there would be 1,078 officers.
Here, a recent APD Academy class goes on its final traditional run to downtown and past headquarters. There is a legitimate question as to how many officers are currently on the job.
Romero said that he wanted a greater presence of uniformed officers on the streets.
Berry blames crime on illegal immigration. He is enamored by the “kick ass -- take names” attitude of Republican Sheriff Darren White towards the cross-jurisdictional federal issue.
Berry used his burned out stolen pickup truck, as a backdrop during a press conference on crime where he announced his plan to prioritize property crimes without addressing what will be reprioritized.
None of these candidates are very well informed about the philosophy of policing and either they aren’t listening to their advisors, or their advisors aren’t doing a very good job of advising.
This group, with almost 140 years of combined experience in law enforcement, stood behind Romero at his crime press conference; they are all retired Albuquerque Police officers: Captain David “Marty” Gilmore, Chief Sam Baca, Lieutenant Edmund Perera, who recently graduated from UNM Laws School and passed the Bar Exam, Sergeant Earl Holmes, who is now the Attorney General’s Investigations Division Director and Detective Michelle Garcia, who is the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff.
Sir Robert Peel founded modern policing, 180 years ago, when he developed the London Metropolitan Police Department at Scotland Yard in 1829. He developed Peel's Principles, which are still completely valid.
Peel wrote in his nine principles:
5. Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.
Another Peel theory was that, “Crime news must be widely distributed.” In Albuquerque the APD public information officers refuse to distribute information about crime widely. I have asked the Chief of Police, on more than one occasion that I be included on the E-mail list of news outlets. Once Chief Schultz, in my presence, told PIO John Walsh to put my name on the list. It didn’t happen and Walsh said he was technically challenged to the point that he couldn’t accomplish the task. There are six news outlets on his list; four television news desks, one news radio station and the daily newspaper’s police beat.
The news coverage of such crimes as the serial killings on the west mesa and the small child buried in a city park earlier this year became more about the emotional demonstrations of grieving families and distraught neighbors. No doubt families and friends grieve in different manners and public outrage may abound.
News coverage of these events sometimes takes on a surreal or circus quality. I've attended such events, but never posted before. There is something morbid about doing stories of the public grief. Some believe there is a cathartic release in such public demonstrations and there is nothing more compelling for television news than raw emotion.
Shoving a microphone in the face of a grieving family member is the act of a mental dwarf, to paraphrase Linda Ellerbee, former NBC Overnight host and author of, “’And So It Goes’ Adventures in Television."
It was once described to me by a police video professional that, "it is not motion pictures, but emotion pictures." A TV news videographer warned never to stand between a TV camera and an emotional event.
Mayor Chávez was also in office in 1996 when five citizens were killed in what was known as the Hollywood Video Store murders.
Then Chief Joe Polisar, left, leaves a press conference, on the front steps of police headquarters, where he announced the status of the ongoing mass murder investigation. Investigators brought the case to a successful conclusion by making multiple arrests days later. District Attorney Bob Schwartz, in blue denim jacket, and the FBI agent assigned to the case spoke to a large press gathering. This was before bloggers were reporting news. Today a hundred investigators are assigned to the west mesa homicides and yet the politicians are indirectly beating on officers for their lack of progress.
The mayoral candidates seem to be jumping up and down and waving their arms while making noises about crime that are inconsistent with Peel’s principles.

No comments: