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.

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.


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