Whitecaps

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

Name:
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.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

Where's the Outrage?

As Whitecaps noted in a post on December 23, 2006, Coeur d'Alene Press staff writer Tom Greene was asked to leave a December 6, 2006, meeting of the City of Coeur d'Alene's urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corporation (LCDC). Greene was told he needed to leave because the LCDC Board was going into executive session. That reason was, he learned, not true. Had it been true, had an executive session been approved by a vote of the Board, all members of the public would have been excluded, not just reporter Tom Greene.

But as the online minutes of the LCDC 2007 Planning Retreat clearly show, at least three citizens not on the LCDC Board were invited to remain and participate actively in the meeting. Those invited to remain were Coeur d'Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem, Coeur d'Alene City Administrator Wendy Gabriel, and former Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce president Bryan Ogle.

Thus it seems clear that not all the "public" was illegally excluded from the meeting. In fact, the only person excluded appears to have been the one member of the working press in attendance.

First and foremost, where's the outrage from the public that its representative, respected and credible local newspaper reporter Tom Greene, was ordered out of a public meeting with a deceptive claim that the meeting was continuing in executive session? We, the People, are the ones who were deprived of our right to have a news reporter present at the public meeting of the LCDC Board of Directors, the Coeur d'Alene Mayor, and the Coeur d'Alene City Administrator. We should be screaming loudest, but ours should not be the only voices.

Where's the outrage from Coeur d'Alene Press Publisher Jim Thompson and Managing Editor Mike Patrick? Where's their editorial condemning this very flagrant denial of the public's right to have its representative of the free press (their own employee no less!) report on this meeting limited to influential insiders including one whose job is to represent "...affluent clients and corporations who are looking for sophisticated solutions to their needs?"

Where's the outrage from other local news media leaders such as Steve Smith, Editor of The Spokesman-Review, our regional newspaper with its North Idaho Bureau in Coeur d'Alene? Where's the outrage from the news director at KVNI-AM, our local radio station? Where's the outrage from news directors at KREM-TV, KXLY-TV, and KHQ-TV? No, they didn't have reporters at the meeting, but they should stand for the principle that access denied to one reporter is access denied to all reporters.

Where's the outrage from the Idaho Press Club? According to its webpage, "The Idaho Press Club lobbies for and defends open records, open meetings, cameras in the courtroom and other issues important to working reporters and the public. With more than 200 members in chapters throughout Idaho, the Idaho Press Club serves as a unified voice for Idaho’s media professionals." So where's that unified voice?

The Lake City Development Corporation, with the knowing participation of Coeur d'Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem and City Administrator Wendy Gabriel, conducted the public's business in private at LCDC Chairman Charlie Nipp's residence on December 6, 2006, in clear violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law. Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Douglas refused to enforce the law in court, though, instead choosing to send a meaningless letter of "stern warning" to the offenders.

Where's the outrage?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Stern Warning or a License to Disobey?

Today's Coeur d'Alene Press report shows how lightly Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Douglas takes his duty to enforce the Idaho Open Meeting Law (IOML). He won't enforce it in court. He will, however, send a stern letter of warning to violators.

Douglas's toothless warning was reported in Press staff writer Dave Turner's article headlined Prosecutor gives LCDC a warning. The article reported Lake City Development Corporation (LCDC) Executive Director Tony Berns saying there was no intent to hide anything. Prosecutor Douglas evidently accepted that excuse and decided the LCDC didn't intend to violate the law.

The IOML does not require that intent to violate the law must be shown. What it does require is evidence that a member of the governing body knowingly conducted or participated in a meeting which violated the IOML. Apparently Prosecutor Douglas does not believe public officers such as Coeur d'Alene's Mayor, its City Council members, the LCDC Board of Commissioners (one is an Idaho attorney) and its Executive Director had any duty to know the IOML existed and to comply with it. They had a duty to know the obligations the IOML imposed on them. Those who allowed the public to be excluded from the December 6, 2006, LCDC meeting knowingly violated the law.

The Coeur d'Alene Mayor and City Council members, the City Attorney, the City Administrator, and the City Clerk acknowledge their awareness of the IOML every time the City publishes a City Council meeting agenda announcing an Executive Session will be held and every time they publish Council meeting minutes reporting an Executive Session was held. The agendas and minutes specifically cite the IOML sections allowing them to go into Executive Session! The LCDC is a component of the Coeur d'Alene city government. To suggest the LCDC's executive director and Commissioners weren't expected to know and comply with the IOML on and before December 6, 2006, is absurd.

In October 2004 Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden published the user-friendly 25-page Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual. It is available online or from the Attorney General's Office.

Then on August 23, 2005, Attorney General Wasden and his deputy lectured at a workshop in Coeur d'Alene on the Idaho Open Meetings Law and the Idaho Public Records Law. That workshop was sponsored by the Idahoans for Openness in Government and The Spokesman-Review. It was open to the public, and the people who attended came away much better informed about these two laws. Coeur d'Alene's Mayor and City Council members just could not find time to attend, but Coeur d'Alene City Attorney Mike Gridley and Kootenai County Prosecutor Douglas were there. Yet Prosecutor Douglas doesn't expect Coeur d'Alene city government officials to have the level of knowledge and understanding of the IOML that the Attorney General makes readily available to us average citizens.

Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas has sent an unmistakably clear message to every local official in Kootenai County: No matter how egregiously you violate the IOML, his office won't prosecute. You're above the law; it doesn't apply to you.

His message is equally clear to citizens who object to having the public's business conducted in secret: So what?

Correction on 12-30-2006: The correct date of the LCDC meeting was December 6, not December 20 as posted originally. The date has been corrected in the blog text as well.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Turning Up the Heat On Coeur d'Alene's Government

It was extremely easy for the Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney to use his discretionary authority to dismiss the complaint of a private citizen when Coeur d'Alene's Mayor and City Council evaded the Idaho Open Meeting Law in October 2004.

It will be much harder for him to dismiss the equally legitimate complaints from both the Coeur d'Alene Press and former state legislator Gary Ingram, the author of the Idaho Open Meeting Law. Those complaints have been chronicled by the excellent reporting of Coeur d'Alene Press staff writer Tom Greene in Press articles on December 21, 2006, December 22, 2006, and December 23, 2006. All three articles recount the involvement of various city officials in a blatant and undeniable violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law. That violation occurred at a meeting of Coeur d'Alene's Lake City Development Corporation (LCDC) held a LCDC board member's home on December 6, 2006.

For those who are interested and who may believe that the LCDC is somehow independent from the government of City of Coeur d'Alene, go to the City of Coeur d'Alene website and click on Boards/Cmtes/Commissions. Then follow that link to the Lake City Development Corporation website. Finally, click on the About Us button to learn who is on the LCDC Board of Commissioners. Readers will notice that two members of the Coeur d'Alene City Council, Dixie Reid and Deanna Goodlander, sit as members of the LCDC Board. Re-reading reporter Greene's article from December 22, 2006, reveals that Mayor Sandi Bloem was also present at the December 6 LCDC meeting where Greene was asked to leave in violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law. All of the officials present, Director Berns, the LCDC Board of Commissioners including two Coeur d'Alene City Council members, and the Coeur d'Alene Mayor had an absolute obligation to know and comply with the Idaho Open Meeting Law.

It is important to understand that in regard to executive sessions authorized at public meetings, "...executive sessions take place only at meetings. Before any executive session may be held, there must be a valid open meeting and a vote to hold an executive session. Every such 'meeting' must satisfy the notice and agenda requirements of section 67-2343. If the governing body of a public agency (Note: LCDC is a public agency) then wishes to consider matters which may legally be considered in a closed meeting, an executive session may be held if two-thirds (2/3) of the members vote to hold an executive session. Prior to such vote, the presiding officer must identify the authorization under the Open Meeting Law for the holding of an executive session. Then, when the vote is taken, the individual vote of each member of the governing body must be recorded in the minutes (per Idaho Code Section 67-2345(1))." This was taken verbatim from the October 2004 edition of the Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual, Answer to Question No. 19 on page 16.

The title of this Whitecaps post is "Turning Up the Heat on Coeur d'Alene's Government." The subtitle might also include, "...and the Kootenai County Prosecutor."

Correction on 12-30-2006: The correct date of the LCDC meeting was December 6, not December 20 as posted originally. The date has been corrected in the blog text as well.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

What could possibly go wrong when explosives are used at a high school football game?

For one thing, a 16-year-old boy may be crippled for life according to an article in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer headlined Boy hurt by cannon blast feels twice wounded - Accident in football town elicited threats, not get-well wishes.

Back on November 18, 2006, I posted Explosions Shake Coeur d'Alene Place Home. That blog post recounted how the City of Coeur d'Alene improperly issued a fireworks display permit, failed to enforce its own ordinance requiring a blasting permit, and failed to oversee the safe of the use of the fireworks at a high school football game in Coeur d'Alene on November 3, 2006. As a result, our house was shaken by explosions.

Mixing judgment-impaired overzealous fans, derelict indifference to safety by city officials, and explosives at a high school football game is a bad idea. "What's the big deal? It's just a football game," the fans and the city officials will say.

Ask Brett Karch, the Snohomish boy who at one time hoped to enter the military but now just hopes to be able to walk on two legs again.

ADDENDUM, 12-21-2006: After reading the P-I's article, please also take time to read the SoundOff Commentary hyperlinked after the end of the article. The commentary is readers' responses to the article.

Public Corruption Again

Previous Whitecaps posts on December 1 and December 13 drew reader attention to intensified Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) focus on public corruption.

A December 20,2006, newsday.com post headlined Bruno eyed in probe reports that the FBI is investigating New York state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno for charges which, if proven, would constitute corruption of his public office.

Today's New York Daily News editorial comments on the FBI's investigation of Bruno. Its title is Why the FBI is joltin' Joe. A few lines from the Daily News editorial ought to be considered carefully by our own officials: "...it is not too early to diagnose why he and so many others in Albany have drawn law enforcement attention: Because they have been playing with the taxpayers' money without regard to accountability or transparency. They have simply been doing what they wanted, in the dark, under rules they make up as they go along."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Doing the Right Thing

It's highly unusual, but occasionally an elected or appointed government official does the right thing: He tells his agency's legal counsel, "Thanks for your advice, but I'm going to do what's right, not just what's legal."

Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell is one of those rare public officials who has the character and integrity to do what he knows is right in spite of his agency's legal counsel telling him he doesn't need to. McDowell has recused himself from ruling on the proposed buyout of BellSouth by AT&T. Mr. McDowell, a former telecommunications industry lobbyist, received a letter from FCC General Counsel Samuel Feder telling McDowell he could legally participate in the deliberation and vote. Mr. McDowell said that regardless of the legality of his participation, he was personally uncomfortable taking part.

Mr. McDowell's refreshing decision to reject his agency's legal counsel's advice was reported in Monday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer in an Associated Press story headlined FCC commissioner won't vote on AT&T deal.

I wonder what would happen if more elected and appointed officials at all levels of government rejected the advice of paid consultants (attorneys) and did what was right, not just what they could legally get away with? Why, that could result in a pandemic of good governance worthy of the people's trust and confidence!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Fugitive Safehouses in Kootenai County?

In Thursday, December 14, 2006, newspaper articles, both The Spokesman-Review (headline: 24 sex offenders rearrested) and the Coeur d'Alene Press (headline: Arrests made during sweep) reported that during the past two weeks Kootenai County law enforcement officers had arrested 24 registered sex offenders for failing to properly notify the county of their residence addresses.

Commenting in the Press article, a sheriff's lieutenant said, "We worry about the guys we don't know about. We need people to pay attention to where their kids are going and who they're going there with."

Exactly! So Whitecaps wonders why neither newspaper listed the street address where each of the alleged offenders was living? Why not disclose these addresses since the occupancy was illegal?

Since May 2004 some Coeur d'Alene residents have been fighting the Mayor and City Council here in the "City of Expedience" to get enforcement of the City's existing zoning ordinances against illegally operated rooming houses. Illegally operated rooming houses are prime candidates to become fugitive safehouses. Since the houses are operating illegally, they are not inspected by the City to see if they conform to commercial occupancy life safety codes. The City's allowing the illegal rooming houses to operate endangers legal and illegal residents, neighbors, and public safety responders who may be summoned there. Registered sex offenders and other persons just released from custody need safe, legally operated residences, not fugitive safehouses.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Public Corruption Investigation

In its Wednesday, December 13, 2006, online edition The Tri City Herald (serving Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland, Washington) has a story headlined 2 ex-attorneys indicted in dollars-for-deals case. In it, Herald staff writer John Trumbo reports that a federal grand jury has indicted two Tri-City attorneys on various charges of theft, soliciting a bribe, bribery, and conspiracy. The story is worth reading for two key points.

First and foremost, the criminal allegations were investigated by federal authorities because The Tri-City Herald newspaper successfully pursued public disclosure requests and then published timely, factual stories. Clearly some local attorneys and Benton County District Court officials knew or should have known about the scheme, but they kept it quiet. It was not until the newspaper's reporting that some of the money allegedly being collected for a Kennewick youth program was being pocketed by the accused that things started happening.

Second, the indictments were issued by a federal grand jury after an FBI investigation. There was no opportunity for local authorities to intervene to circumvent the criminal justice process.

The allegations in this case, raised first because of diligent newspaper reporting, are the kinds of cases the FBI anti-corruption efforts are targeting nationwide.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Hiding the Public Record ... In Plain Sight

My December 8, 2006, post titled Is the Public Record Accurate? revealed that the Coeur d'Alene City Council had conducted city business in secret and agreed to ratify its illegal conduct at the next Council meeting. Specifically, on or about October 13, 2006, City Council members were contacted individually by telephone and asked to authorize a permit for a fireworks display at a November 3 high school football game. A majority of Council members contacted agreed. They also agreed to ratify their action at the November 7 City Council meeting, four days after the event for which the permit was to be issued.

The Coeur d'Alene City Council's secret action deprived the public of an opportunity raise timely objection to the use of explosives on school grounds in close proximity to private residences in Coeur d'Alene Place. This kind of secret deliberation and voting is what the Idaho Open Meeting Law was designed to prevent.

The method the City Council used to ratify its illegal action at a later Council meeting should also be scrutinized. The ratification vote was not a separate agenda item. It was included in the Council's Consent Calendar. The agenda for the Council meeting contains this preamble before the Consent Calendar items to be considered:

CONSENT CALENDAR: Being considered routine by the City Council, these items will be enacted by one motion unless requested by a Councilman or a citizen that one or more items be removed for later discussion.
Perhaps the Council considered ratifying an illegal action to be "routine," but I didn't. At the November 7, 2006, Council meeting I requested the proposed permit ratification be removed from the Consent Calendar and considered at a later meeting. As noted in the indented preamble above, that was my right. Note, too, that any one of the Council members present could also have made the request. I was not at all surprised when the Council unanimously (with Councilman Edinger absent) chose to ignore my request. Having been caught violating the Idaho Open Meeting Law, they would hardly want their actions to be publicly scrutinized at another Council meeting.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Is the Public Record Accurate?

The approved minutes of the Coeur d'Alene City Council, a public record required by law (Idaho Code 67-2344), is hardly at the top of anyone's reading list ... unless the reader is looking for a correct account of what happened at a Council meeting.

Someone reading the Council's approved minutes would reasonably expect the minutes to be correct, accurate. However, a reader would be wrong to assume that the Council's minutes would be a complete account of the meeting. The law only requires that the minutes be correct. That raises an interesting question: How much information (context) must be included for the record to be correct, for the record to leave the reader with an accurate understanding of what happened?

Idaho Code 67-2344 clearly states which specific information must be included in the Council's minutes. More information may be included as long as the required information is present. But Idaho Code 50-207 requires that whatever the City Clerk includes in the minutes, it must be a "correct journal of the proceedings." In other words, whatever the City Clerk includes in the minutes must be accurate. To say otherwise, to say that the City Clerk need report accurately only the information required by I.C. 67-2344 while allowing the rest of the information in the Council minutes to be inaccurate, would be to allow the City Clerk to distort the public record thereby rendering it untrustworthy. That can hardly have been the intent of the Idaho legislature.

Although the Coeur d'Alene City Clerk makes contemporaneous notes during the Council meetings, the Coeur d'Alene City Council meetings have also been recorded on audio tape casettes or more recently on digital video discs (DVD). The City Clerk has access to recordings of the meetings when preparing the minutes. This alone makes accuracy achievable. It is not as if the City Clerk must rely entirely on her listening and writing skills to create an instantaneous record that may not be changed in the interest of accuracy. Indeed, the minutes of a City Council meeting are provided to Councilmen so they can publicly correct inaccuracies before they approve the minutes during the next Council meeting.

For example, the minutes of the September 5, 2006, Council meeting stated that, "Councilman Reid wished her grandson Riley Chase a Happy Birthday," during the Council Announcements agenda item. At the next Council meeting on September 19, the minutes (under Consent Calendar) reflect Councilman Reid instructed the City Clerk to correct the September 5 meeting's minutes so the spelling of her grandson's name, Reiley, would appear accurately in the public record.

Whether a public record is correct, though, can be a subjective judgment. The words used in the record may be correct and still convey a misimpression of the event if they are incomplete. Again, the law only requires correct, not complete. If a misimpression results, it may be innocent error. But if it is not innocent error, if a public record seems to include the correct words but selectively excludes context, the record can become an instrument of propaganda or disinformation. That transformation would destroy its value and credibility as a public record.

I have picked two examples to demonstrate how challenging it can be to accurately complete the public record. Both examples are from Coeur d'Alene City Council meetings in which I participated as a speaker. Please look at the actual words spoken in the meetings (transcribed as accurately as I could from the City's own audio tape and DVD) and compare them with the characterization in the Council's minutes. Ask first, "Were the words reported in the Council's approved minutes correct as required by law?" Then ask, "If the words were correctly reported, what impression did I form when I read them? Did I get a different impression reading the transcript?"

Example 1: Several of us who live in Coeur d'Alene Place spoke during the Public Comment agenda item at the May 18, 2004, Coeur d'Alene City Council meeting. Our concern was the City's failure to enforce its zoning ordinance, thereby allowing an illegal rooming house lodging four convicted felons (two on parole, two on probation) to be operated in a residential area zoned for single-family homes. In an April 14, 2004, letter to Councilman Ron Edinger, I pointed out that Idaho Code 20-234 required the state to notify the county sheriff of parolee residences and that the same law required the sheriff to notify the police. So in response to the public's comments at Council meeting on May 18, 2004, Councilman Edinger summoned Police Chief Carpenter to the podium. The minutes of the May 18, 2004, Council meeting characterize both Councilman Edinger's question and Chief Carpenter's answer. Please read how the minutes characterize both, but pay particular attention to the way the minutes characterize Chief Carpenter's answer.

FROM THE COUNCIL'S MINUTES: "Police Chief Carpenter noted that the state is required to notify the local police if a violent offender is released; however, they are not notified of other types of felon releases."

Compare that with the verbatim transcript of the exchange between Councilman Edinger and Chief Carpenter:

EDINGER: ...And, you know, it just seems strange to me that, you know, uh, you have a half-way house or whatever you want to call it in a neighborhood where there’s children, and they don’t have to do anything. I mean, you know, they don’t have to go around and ask the neighbors for, ah, is it all right, or anything of this nature. So I guess my question to, ah, the Chief...Chief, you’re back there scratching your chin. Uh, doesn’t the State or, uh, or Sheriff’s Office or the parole people or...doesn’t somebody have to, uh, uh, make the people in these neighborhoods aware of what’s going into some of these homes?

CARPENTER: You know, I think with the violent sex offenders, yes they do, but on every burglary and grand theft person, um, I’m not real sure about their Constitutional rights. I don’t know if Mike would have an idea. But we have a (unintelligible) all over town and that doesn’t happen. We’re not notified, so I’m assuming that there isn’t anything mandatory. If we have a violent offender, yes. But if we strictly have property crimes or drug, um, we are not notified of that.

EDINGER: Okay, thank you.

A person reading only the Council's minutes, maybe someone unfamiliar with the Idaho Code but interested in the quality of law enforcement leadership in Coeur d'Alene, might conclude Chief Carpenter gave an acceptable and authoritative answer to Councilman Edinger's question, even though her actual answer during the meeting revealed her unfamiliarity with Idaho Code 20-234 (CARPENTER: "We’re not notified, so I’m assuming that there isn’t anything mandatory.") At its next meeting on June 1, 2004, the City Council (including Councilman Ben Wolfinger, a Sheriff's Department Captain) voted to approve the minutes of the May 18 meeting with no corrections.

Example 2: I spoke first during the Public Comments agenda item at the November 7, 2006, Coeur d'Alene City Council meeting. I read my five-minute statement into the Council's record. The statement discussed the City's allowing an improperly licensed use of explosives at Lake City High School on November 3. After I finished reading it, Councilman Dixie Reid and I had a verbal exchange which was reported verbatim in my Whitecaps November 19, 2006, weblog post titled Explosions Shake Coeur d'Alene Place Home.

Please compare the content of my prepared statement and the transcript of my exchange with Councilman Reid to how the City Clerk characterized both in the November 7, 2006, Council meeting minutes. The link is to the Council's packet for the following meeting since the minutes of the November 7 meeting have not yet been posted on the City's website. Here's a link to a scan of the November 7 minutes with Public Comments consolidated onto one page and all subsequent Council activity excluded.

In my opinion, both sentences used by the City Clerk in the Council minutes to characterize my five-minute statement and subsequent exchange with Councilman Reid were incorrect. The words reported were used in my statement and in my exchange with Councilman Reid, but did the two-sentence reporting in the minutes correctly convey what was said? In my opinion, they did not.

In the link to the scan of the November 7 minutes, look at the City Clerk's characterization of the comments made by Mr. Dennis Hinrichsen. Mr. Hinrichsen publicly commented on a different issue after I finished my comment. Notice down in the characterization that Councilman Reid's statement regarding LCDC's use of executive sessions was included. Notice further down in it that Councilman Kennedy's comments were included.

Now go back to the City Clerk's characterization of my statement. There is no mention of Councilman Reid's comments (included verbatim in my November 19, 2006 weblog post linked above). Those comments by Councilman Reid revealed that City Councilmen had been contacted by telephone and a majority had verbally authorized the pyrotechnic permit for the November 3 use of explosives at Lake City High School. The Council then agreed to ratify its earlier "telephonic non-vote" at the next Council meeting.

That seems to be a clear violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law. City business, the Council's authorizing a permit, was conducted in secret over the telephone. Ratifying that illegal action at a Council meeting after the event deprived the public of an opportunity raise timely objection to the use of explosives on school grounds in close proximity to private residences in Coeur d'Alene Place.

Councilman Reid's comments to me at the Council meeting but not mentioned in the minutes were evidence of the apparent violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law. (What is not in the minutes is on the DVD for which I paid the City's $30 fee to obtain.) In this example, the minutes of the City Council meeting, an official record required by law to be correct, appears to have excluded evidence of a violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law by some members of the City Council. Councilman Reid's comments were relevant to the issue of my request that the Consent Calendar item be withdrawn until after the Council had an opportunity to review my letter, yet there was no mention in the minutes that she commented at all.

Some will no doubt say this is a small matter of no significance. Maybe. Then again, the public depends on the accuracy of its public records to judge the quality of its elected officials and government employees and their work. If those public records are incorrect because of laziness, carelessness, indifference, or malice, the public's ability to have timely and effective participation in its government is diminished.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Eerie Similarities - San Francisco vs Kootenai County

The San Francisco Chronicle has begun a three-part series titled The Use of Force. It examines the use of deadly force by San Francisco police officers.

The Sunday, December 3, 2006, leadoff article by Chronicle staff writer Seth Rosenfeld was headlined When officers resort to gunfire. It reviewed four officer-involved shootings that resulted in lawsuits against the City of San Francisco. The City settled all four lawsuits but was required to provide the press with the police department's own investigative reports of the incidents.

In reviewing the official police reports about the four shootings, The Chronicle and its experts (University of South Carolina criminology Professor Geoffrey Alpert and former Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Lou Reiter) found a disturbing pattern in all four shootings. Quoting from the Chronicle article:
  • "In the moments leading to the shootings, officers used faulty tactics, needlessly placing themselves in danger, then shot their way out."
  • " The department's internal investigations resulted in reports that did not mention the missteps. "
  • "The public did not receive a full account, and police officials may have lost opportunities to discipline or retrain officers and to improve operations to help prevent more shootings."

If these findings don't sound familiar, reread Whitecaps' February 16, 2005, post titled Theft, Gunfire, and Death in Hayden, Idaho: Part II. Then look at the March 2, 2005, post titled Worthy of Trust and Confidence?. The first post discussed the shooting death of Michael Madonna in a confrontation with two Kootenai County sheriff's deputies. The second was Whitecaps' response to the subsequent effort by the Sheriff's Department to conceal the facts of an avoidable deputy involved shooting from the public.

In the Madonna shooting, one deputy failed (twice) to maintain control over his prisoner, Michael Madonna. Madonna was able to reposition his handcuffed hands from behind him to his front, run into his house, recover a firearm, and turn and shoot at a pursuing deputy and a Coeur d'Alene police officer. Compare this to the Chronicle's first finding: "...officers used faulty tactics, needlessly placing themselves in danger, then shot their way out."

The Kootenai County Sheriff's Department failed to release relevant information to the public about the deputies' conduct in controlling both Madonna and the woman with him. The subsequent administrative hearing, conducted by carefully selected law enforcement officers (no civilians present), found no fault with the deputies' conduct. This sounds eerily similar to the Chronicle's second and third findings quoted above. (Thankfully, the meticulously completed Idaho State Police investigative report obtained by Whitecaps revealed what the Sheriff would not.)

In reading The Chronicle article, I was struck by the behavioral similarities of the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department and the San Francisco Police Department command staffs: Cover it up and conceal the facts from the public. This persistent and always misguided cover and concealment tactic damages public trust and confidence in our local agencies.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Wikis, Bloggers, and Spies -- Oh, My!

Today's New York Times Magazine has an excellent article titled Open-Source Spying by Clive Thompson (free online subscription may be required). His lengthy article raises a fascinating question: Could our national intelligence agencies do their jobs better if their operational and analytical models more closely resembled those of Google or Wikipedia than the CIA or former KGB? He makes a good case for answering that question with a resounding, "Yes!"

Friday, December 01, 2006

Public Corruption - Getting Close to Home?

The November 23, 2006, deseretnews.com had a very brief online article headlined FBI unveils corruption tip line. Part of the article notes, "The FBI's Public Corruption Tip Line, 1-866-50-BRIBE (2-7423), will be made available for residents in Utah, Idaho and Montana who believe public employees or public officials may be involved in corruption."

A more detailed article compiled from staff reports appeared in the November 30, 2006, print edition of The Spokesman-Review on page B1 of the Northwest Idaho Edition. The article, which did not appear on the webpage edition, was headlined "FBI starts tip line for public corruption."

The creation of the Utah-Idaho-Montana tip line coincided with federal indictments of three Utah school employees who allegedly misappropriated several million dollars.

School employees? How can alleged corruption by county school employees be considered federal corruption? They're not elected public officials. Don't the federal public corruption laws apply only to elected officials? And why is the FBI involved in a local matter? Why make a "federal case" out of something local?

The Spokesman-Review article quoted Tim Fuhrman, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Salt Lake City Division (the office responsible for overseeing all of Idaho's FBI special agents). Fuhrman said, "However, any individual who serves the public and abuses that trust given to them by the citizens he or she serves can be the subject of a public corruption investigation and possible prosecution."

How big is the FBI's anticorruption effort? According to the FBI's Public Corruption webpage , "Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities — behind only terrorism, espionage, and cyber crimes. Why? Because our democracy and national security depend on a healthy, efficient, and ethical government. Public corruption can impact everything from how well our borders are secured and our neighborhoods protected…to verdicts handed down in courts of law…to the quality of our roads and schools."

Is the FBI's anticorruption program a short-term public relations effort? Hardly. Reading the Public Corruption section of the FBI's 2004-2009 Strategic Plan should make it clear to both the most casual reader and the most corrupt public officials it is a long-term systematic nationwide commitment to protect the public.

In Idaho we have state laws prohibiting bribery and corruption. Why does the FBI make a "federal case" out of something that could be handled locally? The very simple and accurate answer is that local officials (police, sheriffs, prosecutors, judges) are unwilling or unable to properly investigate and prosecute it. They are local officials subject to local social, political, and economic pressures. If the local authorities were properly investigating local-level public corruption and successfully prosecuting it, there would be no need for federal involvement. It's when the local authorities cannot or will not perform their duties that the federal government will step in.

In my December 7, 2004, Whitecaps post Corrupted or Co-opted, I talked in more detail about subtleties of public corruption and what must be shown to prove it.

It is very simple for we, the people, to keep the feds out of local affairs. Demand that our local officials do their jobs diligently, impartially, and honestly. Demand that local officials keep the public's records and the public's meetings open to the public. Support newspapers, their publishers, reporters, and editors, that report public corruption. Then when corruption surfaces and the local judges, prosecutor, police and sheriff won't meet these demands for accountability to the public, call the FBI at 866-502-7423.