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, August 27, 2007

The Cost of Public Information

As a taxpaying resident of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, I wanted to know just what almost $33,000 of the public's money bought when the City contracted with an out-of-state private consultant to conduct a survey about police service here. The City Clerk told me she would be happy to tell me, but it would cost me approximately $537.11 plus the costs of copying the information to find out. Just send a personal check, thank you. If there's any left over, we'll refund it.

My inquiry was precipitated by a July 20, 2007, article in the Coeur d'Alene Press by staff writer Marc Stewart. His article was headlined Survey: Residents feel safe in Coeur d'Alene. Stewart's article briefly reported on the results of a study commissioned and paid for by the City of Coeur d'Alene. The study was reportedly conducted to measure how safe people feel in Coeur d'Alene and how satisfied we are with our police department. The consultant, The Results Group, LTD of Hood River, Oregon, was paid approximately $33,000 to conduct the study and make recommendations based on its findings.

In his article, Stewart reported that, "Three hundred and fifty people were interviewed for the survey and 99 percent said they felt safe while shopping in Coeur d'Alene and 99 percent said they felt safe while at home." The Results Group President Stephen Kane commented that his company had "...never had such a high score."

Later in the article, Stewart reported, "The consultant said the department should stop yielding to 'C.A.V.E. People,' which stands for citizens against virtually everything." In his next paragraph Stewart quoted from the report: "We are aware that there are very small groups of people here and there throughout the community -- who apparently take mean-spirited delight in second-guessing any and everything that city administration and CPD leadership does. However, through their own choices, I believe naysayers and second-guessers will make themselves irrelevant to the future."

I was one of the 350 people selected to be called and interviewed by telephone. None of the questions I was asked during the interview would have elicited anything even remotely close to the "C.A.V.E. People" comment which showed up in the report. The term is not in common usage in Coeur d'Alene. It has been used locally by one particular city council member and a Spokane newspaper gossip columnist who both seem intent on discrediting citizen advocates critically examining local government.

Stewart's article reported that The Results Group, LTD, also interviewed community "stakeholders", people identified by the city administration who would "most likely be key influencers of public opinion". One of those stakeholders was Idaho State Police Captain Clark Rollins. Given the highly inflammatory nature of the "C.A.V.E. People" comments, it is unlikely the consultant would have included them unless several respondents repeated them. I wondered if someone may have encouraged some of the stakeholders (those "key influencers of public opinion") to be certain The Results Group, LTD, interviewers heard the "C.A.V.E. People" message consistently and frequently enough to ensure its inclusion in the final report.

Why would I or anyone else care about the "C.A.V.E. People" allusion? Because the study was paid for with public money, and the newly hired police chief was given a copy of the report. He has indicated he will use it to form the department's action plan and mission statement. Effectively, someone appeared to be using this term to deride and discredit citizens for their efforts to shed light on Coeur d'Alene city government operations. I wanted to see the context surrounding the remarks and know exactly who made them. Couple that with Mr. Kane's comment about the uniquely high score, and it's clearly justified for someone to seek an objective review of the study.

Wanting to know more about the survey's methodology and the extent of the City's financial relationship with The Results Group, LTD, I sent an Idaho Public Records Law request to Coeur d'Alene City Clerk Susan Weathers on August 1. She reponded on August 3 that it would take the City another seven working days to assemble all the information. Her letter of August 14 said the City estimated it would cost $537.11, and it explained how that cost was determined. Her explanation strongly suggested that the City had more extensive dealings with The Results Group, LTD. For example, a Google search using "The Results Group, LTD" revealed this solicitation for The Sergeant's Academy presented by The Results Group, LTD, and sponsored by the Coeur d'Alene Police Department. It was my desire to learn just how much money The Results Group, LTD, is making by having an ongoing financial relationship with Coeur d'Alene. That knowledge would help support or refute any suggestions that The Results Group, LTD, study had been manipulated.

A review and screenshot of The Results Group, LTD, website on August 1, 2007, revealed this statement:

"Did You Know? ... that we don't want ANY one of our clients to ever put anything on a ballot - unless we can count the votes BEFORE the election? Contact us about helping you put together your next funding campaign - or helping you design an election campaign for public office!"

Since Coeur d'Alene will be having an election in November for three councilmember positions, the possible involvement of The Results Group, LTD, in any local political campaigns seemed a logical course of inquiry. Councilmembers who approved the contract with The Results Group, LTD are up for re-election. It will be interesting to see if any of their campaign finance reports reveal any affiliation with The Results Group, LTD, or its principals or agents.

Given all the preceding information, it was my intention to provide the public information sought to at least one and maybe more accredited university behavioral sciences departments (outside Idaho and beyond the reach of Idaho government officials) to ask for an evaluation of the quality and validity of the information for which the citizens of Coeur d'Alene had paid almost $30,000. This would have in effect been an objective peer review of The Results Group, LTD, work.

If anyone used false or misleading information or tactics to manipulate The Results Group, LTD's, report, then arguably the state crime of theft by deception has been committed. The citizens whose $30,000 was spent would be the victims since they would have been deprived of a truthful product. Not only would Coeur d'Alene residents be justifiably upset, so would The Results Group, LTD, if its professional reputation has been harmed by some external manipulation of its honest work product.

I asked the City to waive all the fees and costs associated with my Idaho Public Records Law request. State law provides for that waiver if the public's interest and the public's understanding of the operations or activities of government or its records would suffer by the assessment or collection of any fee. I explained that:

  • The public will better understand the financial relationship that exists between the City and a private contractor, The Results Group, LTD. The public is entitled to know the extent of that relationship so it can evaluate the validity and reliability of the information for which public money was paid.

  • The public will better understand why and how The Results Group, LTD, a private out-of-state contractor was selected to conduct the study in lieu ofusing the behavioral science research services available from colleges and universities.

  • The public, particularly students, will better understand the value of behavioral science research to the criminal justice system.

  • The public, particularly students, will better understand how to assess behavioral science research methodology and how to criticall evaluate contractors who seek to provide it.

  • The public will be able to make the work of this private out-0f-state contractor available for peer review by objective behavioral scientists not under any financial pressure from or obligation to the City. The police department is entitled to receive unbiased information, conclusions, and recommendations, and the public whose money funded the study is entitled to review what the police department received to ensure an absence of any bias.

Included with my waiver request was also a request that in order to make the information sought widely available to the public for its own review, the City should also place it in the North Idaho College Library, the Coeur d'Alene City Library, and the Kootenai Shoshone Area Library (Hayden Branch).

The City determined that I had failed to meet the legal standard required to have the fees and costs waived. By extension, it is also refusing to place the information I sought in the libraries unless I agree to pay for its placement.

So, the City's answer to my question about what did our nearly $30,000 in public money buy us is simple: Give us a check for $537.11 and agree to pay additional costs for copying and we'll tell you. (I wonder if the news media who received the report had to pay for it?)

I won't pay. Given what we know about how Coeur d'Alene City Hall operates, sending a check for $537.11 and agreeing to pay even more if the City says it needs more would be like going to a homebuilder who has already given me reason to distrust him, giving him all the money up front, and then hoping he delivers on his promise to build the house I want without ever showing me the plans. No one would be foolish enough to do that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

US Attorney Recusal - Chapter 2

A Spokane, Washington, newspaper is reporting that Jim McDevitt, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, will ask the US Department of Justice to appoint an outside US Attorney to investigate charges of public corruption in Spokane's River Park Square scandal.

This is the second highly publicized case in Spokane in which McDevitt has asked to step aside in favor of an outside US Attorney.

While the appointment of an outside US Attorney may seem truly extraordinary, it is not. Neither does is imply wrongdoing on McDevitt's part. The US Department of Justice recognizes that US Attorneys are very likely to have social and political interactions which could make it difficult for them to objectively investigate and prosecute figures in their communities.

For a detailed explanation of what can lead to an outside US Attorney being appointed, see the Whitecaps post titled McDevitt's Recusal dated May 20, 2005. The two hyperlinks in that post have been updated, however newspaper subscription may be required to open the link to the newspaper story.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The US Intelligence Community

The US Intelligence Community is a collection of agencies responsible for various intelligence functions for our government.

The "official" version of who's who in the US Intelligence Community is available on the Community's own website.

A more readble description of the US Intelligence Community has just been updated by its author, Jeff Richelson. The book is titled The US Intelligence Community, Fifth Edition.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Preferential Treatment?

Are there citizens who sometimes receive preferential police treatment because of their occupation or perceived prominence in the community?

In the last few days our local newspaper, the Coeur d'Alene Press, has reported how local police handled two different instances of citizens allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In the first case a 66-year old retired Air Force fighter pilot failed a field sobriety test, passed the legally required breath test, but was evaluated by a police drug recognition "expert" as being under the influence of drugs. He was arrested and booked into the county jail. Two laboratory urinalyses revealed no drug impairment, and the charges were eventually dropped after waiting several weeks for the laboratory results.

In the second case a 53-year old high school coach failed a field sobriety test and passed the legally required breath test. The officer suspected drug impairment, however there was no police drug recognition "expert" available to evaluate the suspect. The coach was cited and given a ride home by the police officer. Unlike the suspect in the first case, the costs of towing the coach's car were paid by the city, and the coach received a personal apology from the police chief. Charges against the coach were dropped after the police chief contacted the state laboratory and requested them to expedite the testing which normally takes two weeks.

These two local arrests raise the question asked at the beginning of this post: Are there citizens who sometimes receive preferential police treatment because of their occupation or perceived prominence in the community?

Reading the two stories linked for the earlier examples, one could easily answer "maybe."

But are there ever instances when the answer changes from "maybe" to "absolutely?"

Yes, if the driver suspected of driving under the influence is a police officer.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reviewed "...seven years' worth of internal discipline records, arrest reports, accident reports, license-suspension files and court documents statewide," and found conclusive evidence that police officers often receive preferential treatment when facing drunk driving arrests themselves. In their August 6, 2007, online article titled A broken system works in favor of cops busted for DUI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer investigative reporters Eric Nalder and Lewis Kamb noted, "Cops confronted with a drunken-driving arrest fare better than the average citizen."

Carefully reading the Post-Intelligencer article will reveal that many of the officers involved apparently believed their occupational choice (law enforcement) entitled them to the preferential treatment they sought and sometimes received. They wanted sympathy and empathy, not objectivity, from their fellow officers, and they apparently had no reservations about expressing that expectation of entitlement to the arresting officer.

Addendum, August 8, 2007: There is a followup article titled When cops let fellow cops drive drunk in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It talks about the very real, personal consequences to an officer whose fellow officers empowered his career-ending addiction. We, the people, contribute to addictions by police officers when we set unreasonably high and unattainable expectations for their performance. Law enforcement is an occupational choice, not a calling.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Judicial Security

If federal and state judges are concerned for their own safety, even inside their supposedly "secure" courtrooms, how attentively will they be able to focus on their cases?

The murder of a Georgia Superior Court judge in his courtroom in March 2005 certainly brought the issue of judicial security to the public's attention.

In 2005 the National Center for State Courts and the National Sheriff's Association commissioned the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, to prepare a plan for judicial security. That plan, A National Strategic Plan for Judicial Branch Security, was authored by Pamela Casey and presented to the sponsors on February 7, 2006.

Then on July 9, 2007, the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, released an updated report titled, Judicial Security: Responsibilities and Current Issues. That updated report focused attention primarily on the security of the federal judiciary but also recognized that state judges far outnumber federal judges and are equally at risk.