Saturday, September 05, 2009

Tell the Cops; They’ll Believe Anything

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Three-term and incumbent mayoral candidate Martin Chávez walked away from a Fraternal Order of Police candidate forum with the endorsement of the Albuquerque Lodge Number One.

Statewide, the FOP represents about 2,300 to 2,400 active and retired state and local police, sheriff’s deputies and federal law enforcement officer members in numerous local lodges. Albuquerque Lodge 1 has the state’s largest membership with about 1,000 members.

The special meeting hosted Chávez and his two rivals, State Rep. R.J. Berry, left, and former State Sen. Richard Romero, right. The event was scheduled for two and a half hours, but lasted just over an hour, as all questions, posed by a three member political screening committee or written and submitted by audience members, were answered.

The committee was made up of Robert “Radar Rodasovich, Julie Jensen and Toby Gallegos.

The committee put forward a politically sensitive question about the need for the mayor to have a police protection detail.

Chávez, in defending his three officer rotating detail, two of whom were on-duty in the room, left, said there were credible threats made against him requiring their service and that every major city mayor had protection.

Romero questioned the need and Berry challenged that two similar situated southwestern cities, Tucson and El Paso, had no such details.

There were two distinct entourages present; Romero’s group of retired officers that stood behind him at an earlier press conference, which I posted, lead by former Chief Sam Baca, right, and Chávez supporters lead by Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association President Officer Joey Sigala, below left, with Vice President of the APOA Dan Champine, and members of the mayors protection unit. Both groups were conspicuous in their supportive applause to their candidate’s answers while the larger audience was selective in their applause to specific answers.

After 40 plus years of playing politics, one gets a sense of a room. However, it was difficult to ascertain a preferential leaning from the larger group based on their near evenly distributed applause.

Chávez’ Security Detail Sergeant Louie Sanchez, above, who was off-duty, posed a question while retired, rehired Officer Robert Valterria, below, asked about the future of the Reserve Officer program.

FOP Chaplain Harry Tipton, above, was in Chávez’ administration as Director, Department of Corrections before the County took it over. Now retired, Tipton told me that he supports Chávez based on him having always been treated well by the mayor.

Other questions came from the audience, including from Gloria Samson, right, an associate member of FOP ABQ Lodge #1.

More than 75 people attended, yet only about 40 Lodge 1 members were eligible to vote. The number of votes each of the three candidates received was not announced.

“The members of the FOP have expressed their wishes through their vote,” FOP President Bob Martinez, above, said through a news release Friday. ”I am please to announce that our current Mayor, Marty Chavez, is the choice of the FOP to lead the City of Albuquerque for the next four years”.

I met Officer Sigala for the first time and he said he had heard my name. I mentioned it’s been 25 years since I held the same office, APOA president. He asked if I’d like it back. An emphatic, “No thanks,” was my answer.

Moments later, Chávez came by shaking hands and greeting people.

He hid a thumbs-up signal to Sigala behind his notebook and gave him a wink and a nod. The fix was in. That’s what politics is about: rallying a base, getting them to meetings, and supporting your candidate.

Sigala delivered. It’s the second time. He also delivered the APOA, though it appeared that one was tainted by the fact that Chávez’ campaign headquarters was flying the APOA’s endorsement banner the week before the vote took place.

The FOP local lodge is the parent organization of the APOA, which represents the rank and file officers, through the rank of lieutenant for sworn APD and Airport police officers.

In other news coming out of the meeting, APD Commander Conrad Candelaria, left, is still awaiting word after being interviewed by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s office as a possible U.S. Marshal. If he is not appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate he has previously said he's considering making a run for Bernallilo County Sheriff. Likewise, retired APD Commander Marie "SiSi" Saenz-Miranda, who also worked as a Deputy Director at the state’s Department of Public Safety told me she is running for the Democratic nomination for Bernallilo County Sheriff.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

There are a few points subject to fact checks that are just black and white.

Chávez skipped a North Valley candidate forum three weeks ago to attend an FOP endorsement interview according to his campaign Communications Director Joan Griffin at the time. North Valley neighborhood associations did not make an endorsement.

Chávez has repeatedly stated that he has doubled the number of APD officers.

In 1993, when Chávez, above, entered office there were 779 officers. In three years he had added 41 officers. The left column was the year, the center column was the authorized strength and the right column was the actual number officers. During a 1995 city-wide briefing for police officers, Chávez, as part of a sales pitch for his doomed quarter percent public safety tax was touting his growth projections Today, 11 years later, there are less than 1,100 officers, the same number he projected for 1998 .

Chávez needs to take this endorsement and run.

The next part of this post has nothing to do with Chávez and I would write this even if one of the other candidates had gotten the endorsement. So don’t take it personally mayor.

I don’t give much credence to the vote Thursday night. Immediately destroying ballots does not accurately tell the outcome of the event.

There is dishonor in not being honest. By failing to announce the results: the number of ballots cast, the number of votes each candidate received, and the order of placement, the FOP members, guests, press and public have no idea how the FOP feels beyond the statement of an endorsement.

I was a career long member of the FOP and after retirement separated from the organization when the dues became, what I considered exorbitant. I wasn’t attending events or using the facilities and found I had less in common with the current officers. The law enforcement industry continues and I don’t see that it is always for the best. I had an on-going struggle with the FOP to have it act in a professional manner.

Though I was twice elected to high office, I was unsuccessful in getting the organization to even follow its own rules.

Thursday night was no exception. I was greeted as a long missing brother and even offered a reapplication form. Nothing much has changed, except they now meet at the Moose lodge while construction proceeds at the FOP site. There are fewer old-timers and more young faces I don’t know, but the attitudes stay the same.

Recently retired Officer Vince Harrison, who was on Chávez’ protection detail and threw me out of the mayor’s announcement event, came and shook my hand. He clarified both his retirement and that he was not officially present as a campaign worker. Harrison flashed the peace sign. Better than I have received from others.

This is the back of the T-shirt APOA President Sigala wore. It has a blue line on the front and a fictional quote attributed to the character that Jack Nicholson played in the movie, “A Few Good Men.” After saying, “You can’t handle the truth,” the fictional character, U.S. Marine Col. Nathan R. Jessup uttered a tirade during a court martial, just before he admitted to ordering a murder.

The quote starts with the line:

I have greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom…

The APOA badge/logo appears below and the quote goes on:

I have neither the time or inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said, ‘Thank You”, and went on your way.

If this is the current mindset of the APOA's leadership of working police officers, supported by the civilian leadership of our city, then we, the citizenry, are indeed facing serious circumstances.

The irony of the quote in Albuquerque is staggering. The real life incident that led to the making of the movie was inspired by the actions of a Judge Advocate General's team of lawyers that included the sister of the film’s writer Arron Sorkin (Malice, The American President and West Wing) and former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, below.

There was nothing honorable in Jessup’s quote and I can assure you that no police officer has a greater responsibility than I can possibly fathom. Nothing I did as police officer is anything more than what my favorite police philosopher Sir Robert Peel had to say on the matter. To paraphrase him, a police officer is an ordinary citizen who devotes their full time and attention in: the detection, recognition, and suppression of crime, the apprehension of offenders and the maintenance of good order.

Police work is not magic, or rocket science, it is about dealing with people. It's ugly at times and distasteful; it's often hard work and challenging, but the dedicated men and women of our law enforcement community are quite capable of fulfilling the job requirements professionally without insulting the public they serve.

All three candidates are concerned with public safety. All three candidates have differing ideas on how to improve public safety in our city.

Mayor Martin Chávez now has the endorsements of the two police organizations closest to the working officers.

The Campaigns are coming into full swing as the final month emerges. The campaigns, and even the campaign staffs are not, nor do they appear dissimilar. Berry's Campaign Manager Dana Feldman and Chávez' Communications Director Joan Griffin speak before the event. Every interaction appears to be a political move on a three dimensional chess board.

We can expect more yard signs to crop up and television ads to appear. Don't be surprised if you see negative advertising using low quality video of various opponents saying something "damaging" taken out of context, as all three campaigns record these events religiously looking for the slightest stumble.

Video "watchers" for the campaigns are: Berry's Tito Madrid, Chávez' Jacob Winowich, and Romeros' Benito Aragon.


All official requests for the vote count were denied.

However, I learned through a back channel that Chávez won by a single vote. I was unable to learn the placement of the other candidates.

"I am unable to confirm or deny the count," Martinez said in an interview seeking verification because he was not told what the numbers or order were.

Come the October 6 election, the front-runner must receive 40 percent of the votes cast to avoid a runoff.

As important as these numbers are to the candidates in claiming the endorsement, they are even more important to the public as a poll.

Though 40 FOP voting members is an extremely small statistical sample for the purpose of polling, police officers are a good demographic for questioning because they are reasonably well informed on the issues and they have a high likelihood of voting. The Thursday vote is totally unscientific as a reliable poll, yet a one-vote margin is very significant in view of the 40 percent requirement and does not bode well for predicting a clear winner.


Anonymous said...

Great unbiased article Mark. I just wished the eye on albuquerque took notes from this blog.

A proud retired APD Officer

Father O'KC said...

The putative Jessup quote is disturbing. No leader in our 'nation of laws' should profess admiration for, or model his behavior after, such hubris.