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.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Trust and Confidence Violated

If one particular Huckleberries Online (HBO) weblog post by Dave Oliveria is accurate and complete, Idaho State Police (ISP) Captain Clark Rollins has violated the trust and confidence of at least one Idaho citizen. In doing that, Rollins has jeopardized the ability of his fellow law enforcement officers in all agencies to acquire useful information from citizens.

The particular blog post on February 22, 2007, was headlined "Huckleberries Hears That Spen-Sah ...". In that post, Oliveria quotes a communication purportedly passed from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, City Administrator Wendy Gabriel to other City department heads. Gabriel was informing other City department heads that Captain Rollins telephoned her with information from a conversation he had with Larry Spencer. Spencer is a vocal critic of parts of a multimillion dollar project underway in Coeur d'Alene. Rollins reportedly told Gabriel that Spencer's complaint was civil, not criminal, but he (Rollins) was just providing Gabriel with "a heads up" about what the ISP's response to Spencer would be. That wording, if accurate, means Rollins called the City Administrator to discuss the ISP's response with her before he even notified the complainant.

So what's wrong with the ISP Captain in charge of criminal investigations for the five northern counties of Idaho passing along information to a City Administrator?

First, it violated the ISP's own promise to Idaho's citizens. From the ISP's website:

Help Us

If you suspect someone, or have any information involving drug or criminal activity in this area please contact us.

By providing us with as much information as possible you will better equip us in handling and investigating any incidents.

The Idaho State Police actively solicits information on criminal activity within the State of Idaho. Any information received will be disseminated to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

The anonymity of the sender and the privacy of all information contained in any messages received will be respected.

Coeur d'Alene City Administrator Wendy Gabriel does not work for a law enforcement agency nor is she a law enforcement officer. By disclosing Larry Spencer's identity and information to her, Captain Rollins violated the State's promise to respect the anonymity of the sender and the privacy of the information. That's a "trust and confidence" violation.

But was there really any harm in what Rollins, Gabriel, whoever "leaked" Gabriel's communication to Oliveria, and Oliveria did?

Yes. Imagine the chilling effect their combined actions would have on a citizen who may have information about a major crime or public corruption. Is that person as likely to go to the ISP now and risk having his complaint information and personal identity passed to a non-law enforcement person, spread throughout the city or county government, and ultimately posted on the Internet in a regional newspaper’s weblog read by several thousand people every week?

Second, the information Rollins' passed to Gabriel appeared to have no criminal or public safety predicate. There was nothing in the information Oliveria attributed to Gabriel suggesting Spencer posed a threat to anyone's safety or he planned to commit a crime. There was nothing in that information suggesting Gabriel perceived a threat to the personal safety of anyone in the City government. In short, Rollins had no business passing the information along to anyone.

When a citizen contacts the police with a complaint or concern, he should expect his information will be provided to others in public safety and used for legitimate law enforcement or public safety purposes. The citizen also has every right to expect it will not be provided to anyone, including law enforcement, who may use it to discourage legitimate dissent or publicly discredit a citizen activist engaging in lawful conduct.

Professional law enforcement organizations recognize the importance of lawfully-obtained criminal intelligence in protecting the public safety. They don’t want to lose that valuable tool by allowing it to be abused for political purposes in violation of citizens’ civil rights. Neither do they want to chill the willingness of citizens to come forward with information by betraying those citizens’ trust and disseminating the citizen’s information for other than legitimate law enforcement and public safety.

In its July 2003 concepts and issues paper titled Criminal Intelligence, the International Association of Chiefs of Police National Law Enforcement Policy Center notes on page 2:

“While intelligence plays a key role in law enforcement operations, history tells us that it can also be the instrument of abuse if such operations are not properly organized, focused and directed. Particularly during times of national emergency, one must be particularly vigilant to prevent aggressive enforcement and intelligence gathering from becoming incursions upon constitutional rights. Aggressive intelligence gathering operations that resemble fishing expeditions have been employed improperly in the past to garner sensitive or confidential information on individuals for whom there is no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Once documented, such information can develop a life of its own if sufficient safeguards are not built into the screening, review, and management of intelligence files. If passed on to other law enforcement agencies as intelligence, it can form the basis for abuse of civil liberties and potential civil liability.

In the same manner, intelligence operations are misguided that directly or indirectly gather information on persons based solely on their dissident political activities or views, because they espouse positions or philosophies that are perceived to threaten conventional social or political doctrine, traditionally accepted social mores or similar societal values or institutions, or because they have cultural connections with terrorists. Use of law enforcement resources to intimidate, inhibit or suppress such activities or harass such individuals under the pretext of legitimate police concern for maintaining social order are at best misguided and, in the worst case scenario, constitute a threat to the principles of law enforcement in a democratic society. Additionally, misguided intelligence gathering is a waste of valuable resources that are desperately needed to ferret out wrongdoers and persons who pose real threats to national and local security.”

This whole incident stinks.

Rollins was wrong if he passed Spencer's information to Gabriel as reported. That was an official betrayal of public trust. If his conduct has not been investigated by his superiors at the ISP, it should be. Most law enforcement agencies have strict policy guidelines on how citizen-provided information (intelligence) can be properly gathered and disseminated. It is hard to imagine that his telephone message to Gabriel was within ISP policy.

Gabriel was wrong when she disseminated Rollins' information to other City department heads. The implication is they would somehow use the information Rollins provided if and when they formulated responses to Spencer's criticisms.

Whoever "leaked" Gabriel's information to Oliveria was wrong, because s/he knew Oliveria was likely to publish it on his blog exactly as he did. It appears the intent of the "leaker" was to discourage Larry Spencer from participating in lawful dissent or to discredit him as a critic of the City's business dealings.

Oliveria was wrong in publishing Gabriel's communication on his weblog. Idaho State Police Captain Clark Rollins' conduct should have been pursued as a news story rather than posted on a weblog. The story here was not that Spencer requested to make a complaint with the ISP, a request denied reportedly for lack of criminal jurisdiction. It was that ISP Captain Clark Rollins thought it was appropriate to supply Spencer's identity and information to a person who had no legitimate public safety reason to have it. That is the type of police conduct that draws the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union and aggressive newspaper reporters.

It is also police conduct that damages the trust and confidence of citizens and other law enforcement agencies alike. If I were still in law enforcement, I would be much more wary about passing sensitive law enforcement information or finished intelligence to the ISP.


Blogger Dogwalkmusings said...

It points out the blurring of fun and games blogging and serious journalism and the responsibility that goes with it.

Like oil and water, they often don't mix.

2:29 PM, February 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this very informative piece. I couldn't agree more. Would I now endanger myself, my family and my property by depending on anonymity with the ISP. Not on your life...or more importantly, my life. Yes, there should be an investigation of this officers very questional judgement.

3:24 PM, February 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chilling. How cozy are the various governments in North Idaho? If corruption is reported, is the whistle-blower at risk? Ask Starr Kelso.

6:22 PM, February 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with all you say on this matter 100%. It's another example of Olivera and the Spokesman taking a "ready, fire, aim" approach to journalism. Olivera continues to use his blog to get at those he dislikes at the expense of basic civic responsibility.

6:07 AM, February 27, 2007  
Blogger Bay Views said...

Amen, Brother. I just posted on this myself.

3:09 PM, February 27, 2007  
Anonymous brentandrews said...

"In short, Rollins had no business passing the information along to anyone."

This is beautiful, Whitecaps, you are exactly right. I wrote a long diatribe in the HBO comments area in this very vein but then stopped myself, and didn't post it. Sometimes I hate to always be the guy criticizing the police. In this case, the captain clearly violated the public trust. What he did ought to be criminal. Thanks for your brave stand -


11:33 AM, March 02, 2007  
Anonymous brentandrews said...

Let me clarify that I think Oliveria did his job as a journalist, here, and it was the police captain who was wrong. Why kill the messenger?

11:35 AM, March 02, 2007  
Anonymous BackwoodsBob said...

Great post Bill! I couldn't agree more with everything stated here.

I find it unprofessional at best, and well... I am exhausted over the "over the counter - the citizens will get over it approach to government."

The lack of responability on Dave Olivria's part and his promoting and participation in name calling just shows his lack of professionalism and maturity.

Anything to sell a blog or paper... C'mon! It may be business, but... It's BAD business! I for one will not support this type of character assasination or the lack of action to prevent public links to child accessable pornography.

As for our law enforcement agencies and local government oficials... They better get their poop in a group... something like having your sh#+ together.

Anyway.. enough ranting on my part... Thanks!

6:31 AM, March 03, 2007  
Anonymous Spencer said...

I think it has a chilling effect on people who care enough to be involved.

1:52 PM, March 03, 2007  

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