Monday, April 21, 2008

A zero tolerance policy that we do need.

Some years ago I watched the ACT-UP lunatics in a conflict with San Francisco police. I yelled out: “Hit ‘em.” A woman standing there asked me which side it was that I wanted hit. I told her: “I don’t care, they both deserve it.”

I mention the story because I came across a story that at first sounded like a “hit ‘em” situation. It was a conflict between a lawyer and a cop. But as I read the story it was clear to me that I was rooting for the lawyer.

Eric Bryant is the attorney and he was in the SanSai Japanese Grill in Portland when he say Chad Stensgaard driving his police vehicle. Stensgaard parked in front of the restaurant, right next to a “No Parking” sign and came inside. Bryant assumed, at first, that this must be official police business. But Stensgaard instead sat down and watched a baseball game on the television while waiting for some takeaway. Bryant had even pointed out that the parking was illegal and the cop gave him a smart-ass reply.

What the cop didn’t know what was that Bryant knew the law and that meant he knew that he could file charges for parking violations against the police officer. In fact the police officer was violating numerous laws -- as is usually the case with one offense due to over-legislation. Stensgaard was involved with illegal parking, illegal stopping, disobeying parking restrictions on state highways and illegal operation of an emergency vehicle. Total fines for all the charges could be $540.00. And Stensgaard got a summons to appear in court on the charges.

Bryant says the matter is simple: police should not be allowed to misuse their authority. Alas, police think that the purpose of police authority is so that they may misuse it. Let us take this story from the LaCrosse (Wisc.) Tribune as an example.

An anonymous blogger in Whitewater, Wisconsin has been critical of the police chief and how he runs things. He has been critical of various aspects of the town government as well. He recently criticized government roundups of alleged illegal immigrants for instance. Police chief James Coan did not take kindly to be criticized so he had city employees begin an investigation in order to try to find out who was publishing the blog.

Coan used his position in the police department to get two detectives, the director of public works, the information technology officer and the city clerk involved in searching for the identity of the blogger -- all at taxpayer’s expense. Coan had the blogger listed as a “suspect” even though he had broken no laws.

Coan tried to bullshit his way out of the mess he created by claiming that the blogger was a “potential threat” because he was “so extremely angry at me”. Police Detective Tina Winger, wrote e-mails justifying the use of tax funds for a private vendetta by the police chief because she perceived the author to be “an anti-government radical.” Oh, dear what with Frau Winger make of someone like the real John Adams or Tom Jefferson or people like that? She said that the blogger “is someone we want to keep an eye on...”

Coan and his Keystone cops went so far as to interrogate people and threaten them. All of these were people he wrongly believed to be responsible for criticizing him in the blog. One man falsely accused of writing the blog was Laird Scott. He said the police chief came to his home to interview and repeatedly told him to stop publishing the blog.

City Manager Kevin Brunner tried to excuse these illegal actions by saying it was valid and a means to “engage in some civil discourse with that person”. That the police told other people, not connected with the blog, to stop publishing doesn’t sound as they were interested in dialogue. It sounds like they were interested in intimidation. And Brunner says he doesn’t have any idea why, if the goal was dialogue, that the blogger was called a “suspect” and “person of interest”. I have an idea, Mr. Brunner. The reason is simple: your excuse is pure crap and you know it. Your cops were acting illegally and using their authority to try to intimidate someone they found annoying, but who was not violating the law.

The police also did license plate searches. Federal law says that law enforcement can’t use such information for non-law enforcement issues. Coan says he was within the law to do it anyway because criticism of himself was “a threat” and that he had “other police-related reasons” which he couldn’t divulge. So the city manager says it was done for a dialogue and the police chief says it had nothing to do with dialogue but was because criticism of himself is perceived as a threat. I guess the city manager is incredibly stupid in this case. At the very least his excuse ought to correspond with the excuse used by the police chief.

The real blogger told the local paper that his goal is to see government reformed. Mr. Scott who was falsely blamed by the police chief of being the blogger says he thinks that is wrong. He thinks the blogger is too optimistic. “John Adams wants to repair the city government. I think it’s broken and can’t be fixed.”

So reading about the attorney who laid traffic violations against the police officer in Portland gets my support. I applaud his effort. Police officers need to stay within the law. They don’t. And they get away with it most of the time. In my humble view we have a lot of criminals wearing police uniforms and using the law for their own personal agendas. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least half of all police officers deserved prison and another quarter deserved to be sacked.

There is a lot of talk of zero tolerance but this zero tolerance is always applied to the wrong people -- school children, the pubic, etc. If zero tolerance makes sense anywhere it makes sense when applied to cops who violate the law. Mr. Stensgaard should pay the traffic fines. In addition he should removed from duty, without pay, for some period of time as well. Police chief Coan in Whitewater, however, ought to be sacked entirely. The city employees, including the police detectives, who co-operated in his vendetta ought to be relieved of duty without pay for a period of time as well. The two police detectives should get double the time of the civilian employees since they are supposed to be “law enforcement” officers.

It is time to have zero tolerance of police officers who abuse their authority.