Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Prosecuting Gang Cases - What Local Prosecutors Need to Know

"Gangs are spreading; they are on your doorstep even if you don't realize it." With those words the American Prosecutors Research Institute introduces its 49-page monograph titled Gang Cases - What Local Prosecutors Need to Know. It was prepared in April 2004 by Alan Jackson, Deputy District Attorney, Hardcore Gang Division, Los Angeles County District Attorneys Office. Since 1999, DDA Jackson has specialized in the vertical prosecution of violent gang members.

The monograph's topics include:
  • What gang evidence can prove: the tip of the iceberg
  • Why do gang members join gangs
  • Will the real defendant please stand up
  • Turf, territory, and membership
  • Witness problems in gang cases
  • California's STEP* Act as a model
  • Getting the most out of a gang expert

*California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Protection Act

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Broken Promises

A poster on Dave Oliveria's Huckleberries blog asked, What am I missing here? The poster, pseudonymed mamaJD, was responding to my criticism of the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, mayor and city council's decision to abandon its acknowledged need for two full-time city employees to be code enforcement officers. Instead, the City decided to increase the value of the City's contract with its present part-time code enforcement officer, an outside contractor who also is the police chief's husband, to enable him to hire a clerk.

MamaJD, I can't answer from your perspective. You may not be missing anything. I am.

I am missing the City of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, living up to the promises it made to my wife and me when we moved here, a move I've come to deeply regret. The promises it made are the City Code, the city's ordinances. I ignorantly and naively believed the laws, the City Code, represented a social contract between the City and me. I would relinquish to the City the authority to take certain actions for the public good, the public protection. I would obey the City Code and accept penalties and punishment if I didn't. In return the City would enforce its Code to protect the public, including me, from those who violate it. The City hasn't lived up to its part of the promise.

Some sections of the city code have been rendered unenforceable by court decisions. The City can't be blamed for that. The City can be blamed for failing to quickly and properly correct the ordinances to bring them into compliance with court decisions. The City can be blamed for failing to keep its ordinances current.

In some instances the City has simply chosen not to enforce parts of its code. That's not only a broken promise, it's nonfeasance, but the only ones who seem to care are those who have been victimized as a result of the City's nonenforcement. Victims, unless they have money to hire attorneys, are of little consequence to our mayor and council. After all, victims are rarely a significant political force.

To many people, maybe to you mamaJD, code enforcement seems trivial. Yes, some of the codes are less consequential. Others, like the building ordinances, electrical ordinances, plumbing ordinances, fire ordinances, health and safety ordinances, and zoning ordinances are important. If they're professionally and diligently enforced by competent code enforcement officers, they help ensure your house and business are as safe as they can be. They ensure your family's health is as good as it can be. They ensure that the value of the largest personal investment you are ever likely to make, your home, is as protected as it can be. When it passed its city code, the City of Coeur d'Alene promised you and me that it would enforce its codes fairly,diligently, and uniformly. I assumed the City's word was good. That was my mistake.

In a later post you talked about how more police were preferable to more code enforcement officers. More police will make you feel better. Better quality and smarter policing would actually make you safer. But improving quality is a long-term solution. Coeur d'Alene's immediate solution to hire more police is political appeasement and desperation. I've grown weary of the argument/assumption that low pay is the sole cause of departures from the police department. It's a factor, but if officers have competent professional leadership at the command level, competent line level supervision, good opportunities for advancement, good opportunities for diverse assignments, good opportunities for advanced education, and overall high job satisfaction, they'll be more inclined to stick around. Does Coeur d'Alene offer those incentives? If it does, then thank the Chief. If it doesn't, then blame the Chief. Both success and failure start at the top and trickle down.

Some innovative departments began partnering with code enforcement teams years ago to combat gangs and drugs. Why? Because while criminals can successfully game the criminal justice system, municipal code and its enforcement procedures are relatively foreign to them. Search warrants they understand. Show-cause orders are a whole different ball game. Aggressive nuisance ordinance enforcement has had some success reducing gang and drug activity. It's not perfect, it's not absolute, but it is working.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Another "Message" Poisoning

Once again the wet affairs (scroll down to Executive Action Department - Department V) remnants of the former Soviet Union have sent a message to dissidents and defectors: If you expose us, you will be poisoned. It's not that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cohorts don't have access to more humane methods of murder. Witness the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. It's that they choose not to use them when a toxic messenger is more useful.

The most recent recipient of the toxic message was former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko who died Thursday in London. It appears he may have died after ingesting alpha particles of Polonium-210.

Before that, it was Ukraine's opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko. In September 2004 he received a dioxin cocktail administered to disfigure and not kill him. Yushchenko went on to be elected President of Ukraine, his photographic images a testament to the reach of Putin and his former KGB cohorts. Long live the message. (Note: The KGB was the international intelligence service of the former Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the country known as Russia developed its own service known as the Federal Security Service (FSB).)

The most memorable message poisoning may have been the first to get serious public scrutiny. In 1978 Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was killed while waiting at a London bus stop. A man carrying an umbrella appeared to accidentally poke Markov with the umbrella tip. The innocent-appearing accident injected toxic ricin into Markov. Markov died three days later.

At a June 2001 joint press conference with both President Bush and Putin in Brdo Pri Kranju, Slovenia, a reporter addressing President Bush asked about Putin, "...is this a man that Americans can trust?" President Bush responded, "... I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. ..."

That is not a reassuring comment from our President.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Google Guide

Every now and again I deviate from my usual blog fare to provide some useful information. Today might be one of those days. You decide.

I use Google a lot, and evidently so do a lot of other people. It's doubtful that any of us use it as effectively as we could, but Nancy Blachman is trying to change that. She has developed the Google Guide which she describes as "...an online interactive tutorial and reference for experienced users, novices, and everyone in between." She says it's more than just a rehash of what we can glean from Google's own website.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gun Control and School Shootings

The Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families (CJC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan program of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. CJC is funded by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

On November 20, 2006, the CJC released a document titled Backgrounder: Gun Control and School Shootings.

The document's lead paragraph reads:
"Could meaningful gun-control laws and regulations reduce school-related shootings? It is a challenging topic to report, given that gun laws and regulations are made at the federal, state and municipal levels. Plus, the issue packs a lot of political heat. For those reasons and more, gun-control proposals – and sometimes the lack of them – need journalists’ scrutiny, especially around the issue of school shootings."
The CJC publication is richly hyperlinked to its referrent documents. It covers topics such as:
  • Shooters and weapons
  • Whither gun laws?
  • What can schools do?

For people interested in better understanding school shootings, the people who do them, and some possible solutions, this is worth reading.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reducing Prison Construction, Criminal Justice Costs, and Crime Rates

Under current long-term forecasts, Washington State faces the need to construct several new prisons in the next two decades. Since new prisons are costly, the 2005 Washington Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) to project whether there are “evidence-based” options that can:

  • a) reduce the future need for prison beds,
  • b) save money for state and local taxpayers, and
  • c) contribute to lower crime rates.

In October 2006, the WSIPP released its report titled Evidence-Based Public Policy Options to Reduce Future Prison Construction, Criminal Justice Costs, and Crime Rates. This report describes its findings and discusses how it conducted the analysis. It reviews evidence-based adult corrections, juvenile corrections, and prevention options and analyzes the effects of alternatives.

Other states, including Idaho, facing an apparent need to increase the number of prisons or expand existing ones or both, would benefit from studying this report as much for its methodology as for the data it presents.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Explosions Shake Coeur d'Alene Place Home

On November 3, 2006, our home in Coeur d'Alene Place was shaken by a series of explosions. Let me be very clear here. Though the explosions were extraordinarily loud, I didn't just hear them. I felt them. They sharply jolted our house. There were at least six explosions (I lost count) between 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. The first explosion jarred our house so severely that I ran outside expecting to see that a car or truck had struck the house or there had been a natural gas explosion. All subsequent explosions shook our house as intensely as the first. After one of the explosions I called 9-1-1 and was told by the public safety answering point (PSAP) calltaker that the explosions were a "fireworks" display at the Lake City High School football game. The calltaker told me a permit had been issued for the display.

When we moved to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in August 2000, we knew and readily accepted that outdoor events on and around the Lake City High School fields would generate a certain amount of noise from bands, public address announcements, vehicles, spectators, and participants. But using explosives to produce blast waves that shake our house or other nearby homes once or several times is neither normally nor appropriately associated with school events.

On the following day, Saturday, November 4, 2006, I walked through an open gate onto the field where the explosives had been detonated. It was easy to identify the explosive discharge site by the yellow barrier tape and some wrappers from the explosive materials.

Standing at the explosive discharge site, I had a clear view of our house approximately 600 feet away. The few intervening trees and berm insufficiently attenuated the propagation of the blast waves that struck our house so forcefully. A blast wave is defined by the US Department of Defense as "A sharply defined wave of increased pressure rapidly propagated through a surrounding medium from a center of detonation or similar disturbance." Readers are referred to the American Pyrotechnics Association's Glossary of Pyrotechnic Terms for other pyrotechnic terminology used in this blog post.

It is important to very clearly understand that "fireworks" are federally classified and regulated explosives. The National Council on Fireworks Safety explains it this way. "Fireworks are classified as 'explosive' for transportation purposes, under regulations of the U.S.Department of Transportation (DOT), because of the chemical compositions contained in fireworks devices. Other Federal agencies use the DOT system and definitions in their regulations affecting the fireworks industry." The display fireworks used on November 3 at Lake City High School were classified as Division 1.3G, formerly known as Class B special fireworks. Fireworks are explosives.

People too often trivialize the dangers associated with "fireworks". For a more detailed discussion, see my post of June 30, 2005, titled Harmless Fireworks or Lethal Explosives? Even when being handled by skilled, trained, and disciplined pyrotechnicians or explosive ordnance disposal technicians, fireworks are lethal explosives. Doubt that? Read the June 30 Whitecaps post entitled What Happened in Worley? The explosive materials used in fireworks require the safest storage, handling, and transportation.

On Tuesday, November 7, 2006, I was reading the Coeur d'Alene City Council agenda for that evening's meeting. Consent Calendar item 4 stated, "Ratifying approval of Fireworks Display at Lake City High School for Friday, November 3, 2006." That item raised several questions. First, since Council approval for the explosions was evidently required or it wouldn't have been sought, when did deliberation and voting on it occur? Second, why was this item on the Consent Calendar for "ratification?" The Consent Calendar is for items considered routine by the City Council. All the items are grouped and enacted by one motion "...unless requested by a Councilman or a citizen that one or more items be removed for later discussion." My immediate reaction was that while the Coeur d'Alene City Council might consider it routine to quietly and privately issue a permit allowing someone to shake my house with explosives, fray my nerves, and terrify our pet, I did not.

On Tuesday, November 7, I composed and sent via certified US mail a letter to Coeur d'Alene School District 271 Superintendent Harry Amend and to Coeur d'Alene City Clerk Susan Weathers. A copy of the letter was sent to Greenstone Homes, the homeowner's association for Coeur d'Alene Place. One purpose of the letter was to first complain about the inappropriate use of explosives at a school event and to protest the City of Coeur d'Alene's allowing their use to occur without all the appropriate permits. The second purpose was to gather some more detailed information about the use of the explosives to better determine if proper safety measures had been followed. The letters articulated my complaint and requested that both the School District and the City of Coeur d'Alene to provide some specific information pursuant to the Idaho Public Records Law. The School District's and the City's responses to my letter will be discussed later in this post.

Since the City Council was meeting that same evening, I decided to attend the meeting, read a statement during public comments, request the City Council withdraw Consent Calendar item 4, and schedule its discussion at a later date after it had the opportunity to review my letter. Prior to attending the meeting, I went to the City's website and downloaded the two pieces of paper comprising the application for the pyrotechnic permit. Those were the same items Council members received as part of their meeting preparation package. During my five-minute statement to the Council, I stated my complaint using the facts cited above. I referred Council to each document and pointed out the clear deficiencies on each.

The first document was on letterhead labeled City of Coeur d'Alene - Office of City Clerk. (I have obscured the personal telephone numbers even though they were part of the public document.) It was a form clearly designed and intended to be used to apply for operation of a fireworks stand and not for a pyrotechnic display or other explosions. Remember, this document was in the City Council's package for the November 7 Council meeting (four days after the incident). With that in mind, note at the bottom of the form that the City Council Approval Date, Date to Fire Dept., Final Inspection completed, and Bond returned lines are blank. Note, too, that this form was signed and presumably dated on 10/13/06, three weeks before the proposed event. That date is important, because City Code Section 8.12.040B requires, "Any person desiring to make a public display of special fireworks, other than nonaerial common fireworks, within the City shall file his application for a permit with the City Clerk at least twenty (20) days in advance of the proposed event."

The second document was on letterhead labeled Coeur d'Alene Fire Prevention Bureau Office. Pay particular attention to the form's instruction which reads, "Please describe all operations and installations requiring a permit. ... all operations and processes must be described below." I question that the eight-word hand written response on the line below sufficiently describes all operations and processes. Directly below the space allocated for that description was a certification required by the City. Read the certification carefully and you will see its clear intent is to hold the applicant accountable for conforming. Now look where the applicant's signature should be, and you will see this form was not signed by the applicant. Why did the person accepting the application on behalf of the Coeur d'Alene Fire Department Fire Prevention Bureau Office not require the applicant, identified on the Clerk's form as Bill Reagan, to sign this form? Yet the date indicates the form was signed on 10/13/06. The absence of essential information, including the applicant's signature, should have invalidated this application. Again, this document was in the City Council's package for the November 7 Council meeting, yet just as in the City Clerk's form, the bottom of this form indicates no receipt was ever issued (although what appears to be a check number was printed above this item). The person who collected the fee on behalf of the City was not identified, although presumably that person was "Cashier". The information about the inspection was blank. It is crucial to note that according to the Coeur d'Alene Fire Prevention Bureau Office's own form given to the City Council on November 7, 2006, no permit issuance or expiration dates were entered.

Not included in the package given to the City Council on November 7, 2006, was a copy of the actual pyrotechnic display permit. Was one issued? Was the applicant just given a verbal approval? The City's own records don't answer those questions.

The deficiencies in process noted above might be dismissed as carelessness and sloppiness by the City Clerk's office and the Fire Department's Fire Prevention Bureau Office. However, for both the City Clerk's office and the Fire Department to totally ignore the City Code's clear requirement for a blasting permit for this event goes far beyond carelessness and sloppiness.

Coeur d'Alene City Code 15.06 is titled "Fire Safety." Section 15.06.060 describes the circumstances under which explosives may be used in the City of Coeur d'Alene. Section 15.06.060 B reads: "Permit Required. A blasting permit shall be required prior to the use of any explosive within the city. Permits will be issued by the fire department after compliance with the requirements of this section (emphasis mine)." This ordinance makes no distinction among or between classes of explosives. It is clear that the blasting ordinance as written, passed, and enacted applies to fireworks or pyrotechnic displays as well as other applications of explosives because as explained earlier, fireworks are explosives.

Because the applicant for the November 3 pyrotechnic display at Lake City High School failed to obtain all the proper permits, the Fire Department was obligated to forbid the pyrotechnic display until the proper permits had been obtained and the City Code-prescribed safety procedures implemented. During my comments to the City Council meeting on November 7, I pointedly asked the Mayor and Council if the applicant had obtained the required blasting permit. None of them answered. Again, no blasting permit or supporting applications and paperwork were in the Council's meeting package.

Immediately after I finished reading my statement to the City Council, the following exchange occurred:

Mayor Bloem: Thank you. Any questions? Dixie?

Councilmember Dixie Reid: Oh, I guess my question would be, what purpose does it serve to not to ratify something that we have already, um, that we've already done? I don't understand your purpose, Bill.

Bill McCrory: It's a good question, because I don't understand myself why the Council is ratifying an event that's already occurred. What the ratification process involves or why it's even being done. Uh, that would be a question I'd have.

Councilmember Dixie Reid: I can answer part of that question for you. The Council was called and asked if we would, um we don't vote over the phone but, what we thought of it, if they could go ahead and issue it and we could ratify it this evening. And the majority of the Council said yes.

Bill McCrory: Okay...

Councilmember Dixie Reid: Because it was something for the high school and sometimes those things come up at the last minute and so that's why it's on the Consent Calendar and why the Council, why it happened without coming through this body.

Bill McCrory: My concern is very personal. It was our house that was shaken. It was our house that was jolted. I have an extensive background in explosives. I have a pretty good idea why it happened. I'm very concerned, as the letter will indicate when it arrives, about the safety measures the operator, that is, the pyrotechnician or the company that did the pyrotechnics, followed. Their procedure should have prevented that from happening. Um, there are a number of things that professional pyrotechnicians do that should have prevented that from happening and it didn't. My concern is that if the City doesn't closely monitor what these people do, and I don't know who the applicant is, it's a gentleman named Bill Reagan or Reagan (note: alternate pronunciation). I don't know his background in pyrotechnics; I suspect it's not very much, because he's not associated with the company out of Olympia that actually did the display. But it really probably serves no purpose other than to say there is a letter coming. You might want to consider some of the things in there, particularly for future actions. Maybe, it's certainly not going to..., you can't suck the explosives back into the mortar tube from Friday night. But, it's pretty important in future events to consider some of the things that I've mentioned in the letter, including when an event like this is going to be approved this close to a residential neighborhood, we're talking within 600 feet of our house and there were some houses on Parkside, in Parkside, that are even closer, ah, that would have also received the blast wave from it and been shaken equally heavily I would suspect. Maybe consulting with the community and making the community a little bit more aware of these types of events. Ah, people don't expect explosions at school events. When we bought property near the high school, we knew there was going to be noise. Actually, we welcome it. It's kind of neat. There's no problem with it at all. Explosions are not noise. I'm disappointed myself at District 271 that they allowed a pyrotechnic display, that is, a fireworks display or an explosives display on school property and that they weren't the applicant. That's...I...I have a problem with explosives, with fireworks, because I lost friends that I worked with that were trying to render safe explosives that were fireworks. And so I'm very sensitive to just how dangerous fireworks are. We tend to use the dismissive term fireworks. They are explosives. They will kill you faster. They will incinerate you faster that a lot of the commercial explosives that are probably covered by your blasting ordinance. Commercial explosives are extremely safe. Fireworks, you look at them crossways, and they may go up on you, especially illegally imported ones. So I'd like the City to very carefully consider these applications very closely as they come up. And that was really my purpose for wanting to be here tonight was to use this as an example. Short answer.

Councilmember Dixie Reid: Okay, thank you.

Mayor Bloem: Okay. Any other public comment?
After receiving additional public comment on other matters, the Councilmembers present (Councilmember Edinger was absent) voted unanimously to accept the Consent Calendar including item 4 as written on the agenda.

The next day, Wednesday, November 8, 2006, shortly after noon I received a telephone call from Mr. John Brumley, the Principal of Lake City High School. He asked if he and I could meet at a mutually convenient time and place to discuss my letter. I immediately drove to the school and met with him and Jim Winger in Mr. Brumley's office. Mr. Brumley said that School District 271 Superintendent Harry Amend had received my letter than morning and had then come to Mr. Brumley's office to discuss it.

After offering what I believe was a sincere and genuine apology for the disturbance we had experienced, Mr. Brumley explained that a "loyal school supporter" (whom he did not name) had attended a game in Meridian "last month". There, the game ball had been delivered to the center of the field by helicopter, and there had also been a fireworks display. The Lake City High School supporter offered to make all the arrangements and pay all the expenses associated with a similar event at the school's football game on November 3. The school accepted the supporter's offer.

Mr. Brumley, Mr. Winger, and I discussed my concerns involving the use of explosives at any school event, particularly an event near a residential setting. Mr. Brumley commented that the school's telephone system had recorded some complaints about the event. They reiterated numerous times that Lake City High School wanted to be a good neighbor to the surrounding community. The school had no desire to create the level of disturbance the fireworks display clearly caused. They also affirmed that the planning of future special unusual events would seriously consider the effects on the surrounding community.

I explained to Messrs. Brumley and Winger that the pyrotechnics contractor, Entertainment Fireworks, and the Coeur d'Alene Fire Department had primary responsibility to ensure that the pyrotechnics display was designed, sited, staffed, inspected, and presented not only safely but with minimal disruption to the surrounding residential neighborhood. I expressed my opinion that neither Entertainment Fireworks nor the Coeur d'Alene Fire Department had satisfactorily fulfilled their professional duties and responsibilities to either Lake City High School or the community. Our meeting was cordial, and again I note that within four or five hours of receiving my letter, School District 271 made a timely and sincere effort to resolve the situation amicably. In my view, it succeeded, and I sent a follow-up letter to Superintendent Amend (with a copy to Greenstone Homes) expressing my thanks for SD 271's prompt and sincere response.

On November 10, 2006, I received via US mail copies of the City of Coeur d'Alene's records regarding the permit for the fireworks display on November 3. The City's response was to send copies of the two documents (City Clerk and Coeur d'Alene Fire Prevention Bureau Office) hyperlinked earlier. Some additional information had been handwritten in the City's internal use boxes on both documents. That information confirms that the applicant paid $100 for the permit, there were no Fire Department inspections performed, and the actual permit for the November 3 display was the Council's ratification vote on November 7. Notably absent was any blasting permit and associated paperwork. With that the City implicitly acknowledged it had failed to enforce its blasting ordinance prior to the use of explosives in the City of Coeur d'Alene on November 3, 2006.

To give readers some idea of how inadequately the City performed its duties to oversee the safe and minimally disruptive use of explosives in the city, here are the questions I asked in my letter. Those questions and requests in red were unanswered by the City.

1. Who was the sponsor for the portion of the event involving explosives? What is the name and title of the person from School District 271 (SD 271) who authorized the necessary permit applications? Who from SD 271 applied for (signed) the necessary permit application. To whom were those applicatons submitted and when? I request a copy of all the applications and all associated documents submitted before November 3, 2006. (Note: The letter was composed and sent before my meeting with Messrs. Brumley and Winger from SD 271. Prior to that meeting, I assumed that SD 271 would have been the sponsor and the applicant. My assumption was incorrect. The sponsor and applicant was identified as Bill Reagan on city forms.)

2. Who was the event's pyrotechnic operator? I request a copy of the operator's or the company's license issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. I request a copy of the operator's site plan. All the information in this file should already be on file with the City since it would have been impossible for the City to evaluate the permit applications without it.

3. I request a detailed description of the salutes. Identify the salute powder in each salute. What was the salute's outer container or mortar? How much salute powder was used in each salute? How many salutes were aerial shells and how many were ground display pieces? Of those that were ground display pieces, describe their placement and orientation. Were the salutes ignited manually or electrically. (Note: As explained in the hyperlinked glossary for terminology, a "salute" produces an explosive sound as its primary effect.)

4. Identify by name, title, and agency the City official(s) who reviewed the applications and approved the permits for the use of explosives in the pyrotechnic display. What is each official's training and experience that prepared him to technically evaluate the permit application and to assess the safety and suitability of the display site's placement with an unobstructed path to private residences in Coeur d'Alene Place and Parkside? I request a copy of the permits and all associated supporting documents prepared and issued prior to November 3, 2006.

5. Identify by name, title, and agency the City official(s) who conducted the range safety survey prior to the permit approval to determine the possible adverse effects of the explosions on the Coeur d'Alene Place and Parkside residences and their occupants. What is each official's traning and experience in conducting explosive range safety surveys? I request a copy of the written range safety survey with any supporting documents prepared before November 3, 2006.

6. Identify by name, title, and agency the City official(s) on site and with the operator's spotter at the display site during the display setup and presentation to ensure prescribed safety measures and practices were followed. What is each City official's specific trainng and experience with pyrotechnic displays and materials that qualified him/her to oversee safety on behalf of the City?

7. Identify by name, title, and agency the SD 271 and City official(s) responsible for contacting the surrounding neighborhood residents before the November 3 event to inform us that permits had been requested and to tell us what to expect during the pyrotechnic display. When and by what method did those contacts occur? What opportunity did SD 271 and the City provide for citizens in our residential neighborhood to comment on and ask questions about the proposed pyrotechnic display?

8. How many telephone calls did the local public safety answering point (PSAP) receive to report the explosions or complain about the pyrotechnic display? How many comments have SD 271 and the City received in addition to the ones received by the PSAP? (Note: The PSAP received at least one -- from me. This question was submitted to the Director of 911/Central Communications via email on Friday, November 17, 2006. Thus far no reply has been received.)

Finally, reread the earlier transcript of the comments and questions Councilmember Dixie Reid made in response to my unsuccessful request to have the Consent Calendar item number 4 withdrawn for consideration at a later time. Pay particular attention to the parts in which she explained that the request needed to be approved over the telephone by the Council members and ratified later in a Council meeting because it was in conjunction with a high school event and had come up at the last minute. No, it hadn't come up at the last minute. The permit application forms were dated 10/13/06, three weeks before the November 3, football game. The City Code section cited earlier requires that.

It appears that once again the Coeur d'Alene City Council may have violated the Idaho Open Meeting Law. It deliberated the permit application and took a telephone vote to authorize the pyrotechnic permit outside a scheduled public meeting. (If, as Councilmember Dixie Reid said, the Council did not take a telephone vote, how then could she state the majority of the Councilmdmbers said "yes" to the request.) I wonder: Who called the council members and when were those calls placed? If this process was consistent with the spirit and intent of the Idaho Open Meeting Law, then at what scheduled public meeting before November 3 was the permit application deliberated and voted on? Who offered and seconded a motion for approval? Where is the recorded vote of each council member? No, this permit application was improperly reviewed and approved by the Council. Attempting (successfully as it turns out) to legitimize an illegal deliberation and vote by "ratifying" it in the Consent Calendar four days after the event deprived the public of an opportunity to discuss and comment on the permit. Had the Council complied with the spirit and intent of the Idaho Open Meeting Law, perhaps our house would not have been jolted by a half-dozen or more explosions on November 3.

The City of Coeur d'Alene, which proudly displays the self-congratulatory "City of Excellence" motto on its fire apparatus, failed its citizens. It is bad enough that the City does not effectively enforce state and federal prohibitions on illegal fireworks and illegal explosives during the July 4 holiday period. It is completely unacceptable that residents in our own homes must also endure City-authorized house-shaking explosions from an entertainment event regardless of the event's perceived value to the community. So how will the City respond? My guess is that the City will try and amend its blasting ordinance so it does not apply to pyrotechnics. I hope I'm wrong, but that's how some officials think in the "City of Expedience."

Addendum, 11-25-2006: Idaho Code, Title 39-Health and Safety, Chapter 26-Fireworks, Section (1)(a) allows a jurisdiction to issue a permit for a public fireworks display, "After determining that the public display will be supervised by a qualified person and will not constitute an unreasonable hazard to persons or property." It goes on to say in Section (3) that, "The permit shall be nontransferable, shall list ... the types of fireworks and uses that will be allowed." There is no indication that the Coeur d'Alene Fire Department of City Council issued anything more than a verbal permit for the display. However, even if the Fire Department or Council relies on the information in the two pieces of paper comprising the application, the City failed to comply with the part of Section (3) requiring a specific listing of the "...types of fireworks and uses that will be allowed." Thus, the permit it "issued" violated state law by failing to meet the requirements of Section (3).

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Congressional Oversight - It's Baaaaack

For the past few years, congressional oversight has been lagging at best. With the change in makeup of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate as a result of the recent elections, congressional oversight is regaining public attention. What is it (oversight) and how do they (Congress) do it?

The answers are in the Congressional Oversight Manual which was completely updated October 21, 2004, into a 146-page booklet. That was then updated again on January 3, 2006, in a 6-page report for Congress.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cops and On-Duty Sex

Reporter Marc Stewart's November 2, 2006, Coeur d'Alene Press article headlined Deputy allegedly had sex on duty says a male Kootenai County deputy sheriff has been fired for on-duty sex with a woman.

How frequently do police officers and deputies engage in on-duty sexual activity in violation of departmental policy if not state law? That's one statistic unlikely to be voluntarily revealed to the public by law enforcement agencies. It happens more often than the public might think.

On October 29, 2006, The Salt Lake Tribune ran an updated article headlined Sex offenses snaring officers. The subhed read, "Utah trend: Careers thrown away; Nearly half of the peace officers whose certifications were revoked in the past five years were in hot water for incidents involving sexual misconduct." It reported that an analysis of 94 Utah peace officer certification revocations between 2000 and 2005 revealed that 43 revocations were for sexual misconduct.

The Tribune figures were provided by the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training.

While it's easy to focus on each offending officer or deputy specifically and characterize these as isolated incidents, it's important for administrators to ask the larger questions: Are our pre-employment psychological screening and background investigation procedures adequate to detect the personalities likely to engage in prohibited behaviors? Are instances of on-duty sexual misconduct (and other volitional misconduct as well) occurring because of inadequate or inexperienced line supervision?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Should News Media Test School Security?

Since the Columbine high school massacre, any violent or potentially violent incident at or near a school draws media attention. Community members read, listen, and watch with interest the news accounts of the incidents.

Because school security incidents are so newsworthy, some news media have begun conducting their own tests of security at schools in the area their medium serves.

The question is: Should news media test school security?

At its website Poynteronline, The Poynter Institute provides two different journalistic perspectives. The website links readers to the decision-making processes two different media outlets used. One outlet chose to test, the other chose not to test. Both sides are worth reading.