Monthly Archives: November 2011

In defense of Chief Burton

The effort led by Doug Lane of the group “Chief Burton needs to resign” seeks the ouster of Columbia police chief Ken Burton in retaliation for the firing of office Rob Sanders. In this pursuit, Burton’s opponents have made allegations that Burton himself has been guilty of excessive force in the past and hid this fact during the interview process. Lane says in today’s Columbia Tribune:

“There is a lot of discontent amongst residents and the judgments he has passed on police officers,” Lane said. “With the recent developments from Dallas, we feel that there are some shortcomings with his integrity by not revealing this information in detail.”

As one of the primary fomenters of dissent and discontent against police overreach in this community, I thought that I would voice my opinion here.

While I certainly have my doubts about Chief Burton’s integrity and his ability to lead the force, I’m not concerned about the decision to fire Rob Sanders. In fact, my criticism of Chief Burton is that he has not been tough enough on issues of officer misconduct and that his department seems too willing to coddle those who have violated the law. This is the general criticism leveled by other Columbia residents (many of whose concerns I represent), and particularly my good friends at Keep Columbia Free.

I am of course concerned if Chief Burton’s hiring was conducted improperly. However, though I and many other advocates of law enforcement reform have been diligent at uncovering corruption and misconduct, we do not advocate that Chief Burton resign or be fired as a result of the allegations presented by Mr. Lane and the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police. First, there is no clear proof that Chief Burton’s hiring was conducted improperly or that he was dishonest about his past. Second, these allegations are not being brought by anyone who was actually harmed or directly knowledgeable about the events in question; rather, they are being brought by a dishonored officer who can’t let go of a grudge, and police unions who put the salaries and pension benefits of their members ahead of any notion of common decency or public safety.

It is worth specifically discussing the issue of police unions further. This past year I went to City Hall with Private Investigator Rick Gurley to speak on behalf of Derek Riley, who was beaten senseless by former CPD officer Chris Hessenflow. In this appearance I warned the City Council that the representatives from the Columbia Police Officers Association were there not to inform or assist with the process of justice but instead represented a privileged elite seeking to immunize themselves from the consequences of law-breaking. And this has been the tone of the engagement between the CPOA and Columbia: whenever an officer is charged with breaking the law, the CPOA is there to deny that a crime happened and to claim that the officer has immunity from criminal prosecution or civil liability.

It is important that our law enforcement be properly trained in the protection of Constitutional rights that wrest law and order from the spume of anarchy. The ability for our society to recognize claims of official misconduct and equitably dispense justice beyond the narrow interests of a powerful few should be our American example to the world. I urge readers to henceforth oppose the heavy handed tactics of the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, the Columbia Police Officers Association, and the misguided attempts of Rob Sander’s friends as they seek to undermine the rule of law.

Tagged , , ,

Zeitgeist

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, November 07, 2011
Contact: Laura Egerdal, (573) 526-0949

Two Initiative Petitions Approved for Circulation for 2012 Ballot

Jefferson City, MO – Secretary of State Robin Carnahan today announced that two initiative petitions relating to cannabis have met state standards for circulation.

The ballot title for the first petition relating to cannabis reads:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

  • legalize cannabis (commonly known as marijuana) for individuals 21 years or older;
  • make medical cannabis available to individuals with a physician’s recommendation including those under 21 with parental or legal guardian consent and physician supervision;
  • create licensing processes for operation of cannabis establishments;
  • release individuals incarcerated or on probation or parole for non-violent, cannabis-only offenses which would no longer be illegal and expunge all records related to such offenses; and
  • allow the legislature to enact a tax on the retail sale of dried cannabis up to $100 per pound?

Annual state government operating costs would increase by at least $1 million with the total increase being unknown. Those costs would be offset by an unknown increase in fee and tax revenues. The fiscal impact to local governmental entities is unknown with some increase in revenue possible.

The petition, which would amend Article IV of the Missouri Constitution, was submitted by Mr. Dan Viets, 15 North 10th Street, Columbia, MO 65201.

The ballot title for the second petition relating to cannabis reads:

Shall Missouri law be amended to:

  • legalize cannabis (commonly known as marijuana) for individuals 21 years or older;
  • make medical cannabis available to individuals with a physician’s recommendation including those under 21 with parental or legal guardian consent and physician supervision;
  • create licensing processes for operation of cannabis establishments;
  • release individuals incarcerated or on probation or parole for non-violent, cannabis-only offenses which would no longer be illegal and expunge all records related to such offenses; and
  • allow the legislature to enact a tax on the retail sale of dried cannabis up to $100 per pound?

Annual state government operating costs would increase by at least $1 million with the total increase being unknown. Those costs would be offset by an unknown increase in fee and tax revenues. The fiscal impact to local governmental entities is unknown with some increase in revenue possible.

The petition, which would amend Chapters 105, 195 and 263 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, was also submitted by Mr. Dan Viets, 15 North 10th Street, Columbia, MO 65201.

Before any constitutional changes can be brought before Missouri voters in the November 2012 election, signatures must be obtained from registered voters equal to eight (8) percent of the total votes cast in the 2008 governor’s election from six of the state’s nine congressional districts. For statutory changes, signatures must be obtained from registered voters equal to five (5) percent of the total votes cast in the 2008 governor’s election from six of the state’s nine congressional districts.

Signatures on behalf of all initiative petitions for the 2012 ballot are due to the Secretary of State’s office by no later than 5 p.m. on May 6, 2012.

Before circulating petitions, state law requires that groups must first have the form of their petition approved by the Secretary of State and Attorney General. The Secretary of State then prepares a summary statement of no more than 100 words and the State Auditor prepares a fiscal impact statement, both of which are subject to the approval of the Attorney General. When both statements are approved, they become the official ballot title.

– 30 –

To find out more about Missouri’s Secretary of State’s office, visit www.sos.mo.gov

In which I disagree with Hank Waters on policing

Today in an editorial in the Columbia Tribune, Hank Waters writes:

For understandable reasons, police have a military mentality. Often they are confronted with maddening subjects who might be dangerous or life-threatening. Officers have a duty and a right to use force when necessary to control a situation.

I don’t disagree with the latter part of this statement, that law enforcement must confront dangerous suspects against whom it is necessary to use force. Where I do disagree with Mr. Waters is the notion that this mentality needs to be described in military terms; militaries and police forces are different things for different uses. Let me turn to former Cato scholar and police militarization expert Radley Balko to explain:

The problem with this mingling of domestic policing with military operations is that the two institutions have starkly different missions. The military’s job is to annihilate a foreign enemy. Cops are charged with keeping the peace, and with protecting the constitutional rights of American citizens and residents. It’s dangerous to conflate the two. As former Reagan administration official Lawrence Korb once put it, “Soldiers are trained to vaporize, not Mirandize.” That distinction is why the U.S. passed the Posse Comitatus Act more than 130 years ago, a law that explicitly forbids the use of military troops in domestic policing.

Over the last several decades Congress and administrations from both parties have continued to carve holes in that law, or at least find ways around it, mostly in the name of the drug war. And while the policies noted above established new ways to involve the military in domestic policing, the much more widespread and problematic trend has been to make our domestic police departments more like the military.

America was founded on this notion, that the military was to be kept in separate from the functions of domestic law enforcement. Early colonists were victimized by the depredations of what we may fairly describe as a military police force wearing the redcoats of the British Empire; sometimes these soldiers weren’t even Englishmen, but mercenaries from foreign lands. In those days Americans were subject to the over-enforcement of the customs laws, laws that were enforced through the use of writs of assistance (general warrants allowing British law enforcement to search for smuggled goods within any suspected place). One might draw a parallel between the brutality of these British law enforcers to the SWAT teams that today conduct military raids on domestic soil under the guise of looking for drugs, or for the service of warrants that implicate non-violent offenses. It should be no surprise that the SWAT teams and paramilitary policing of this current age is also financed through the same kinds of seizures and forfeitures that once paid a British King’s soldiers and mercenaries. We may turn to the noble words of James Otis, an American lawyer who protested this corrupt military enforcement and their use of these evil writs of assistance:

In the first place, the writ is universal, being directed “to all and singular justices, sheriffs, constables, and all other officers and subjects”; so that, in short, it is directed to every subject in the King’s dominions. Every one with this writ may be a tyrant; if this commission be legal, a tyrant in a legal manner, also, may control, imprison, or murder any one within the realm. In the next place, it is perpetual; there is no return. A man is accountable to no person for his doings. Every man may reign secure in his petty tyranny, and spread terror and desolation around him, until the trump of the Archangel shall excite different emotions in his soul. In the third place, a person with this writ, in the daytime, may enter all houses, shops, etc., at will, and command all to assist him. Fourthly, by this writ not only deputies, etc., but even their menial servants, are allowed to lord it over us. What is this but to have the curse of Canaan with a witness on us: to be the servants of servants, the most despicable of God’s creation?

Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient.

This wanton exercise of this power is not a chimerical suggestion of a heated brain. I will mention some facts. Mr. Pew had one of these writs, and, when Mr. Ware succeeded him, he endorsed this writ over to Mr. Ware; so that these writs are negotiable from one officer to another; and so your Honors have no opportunity of judging the persons to whom this vast power is delegated. Another instance is this: Mr. Justice Walley had called this same Mr. Ware before him, by a constable, to answer for a breach of the Sabbath-day Acts, or that of profane swearing. As soon as he had finished, Mr. Ware asked him if he had done. He replied, “Yes.” “Well then,” said Mr. Ware, “I will show you a little of my power. I command you to permit me to search your house for uncustomed goods” – and went on to search the house from the garret to the cellar; and then served the constable in the same manner!

But to show another absurdity in this writ: if it should be established, I insist upon it every person, by the 14th Charles Second, has this power as well as the custom-house officers. The words are: “It shall be lawful for any person or persons authorized,” etc. What a scene does this open! Every man prompted by revenge, ill-humor, or wantonness to inspect the inside of his neighbor’s house, may get a Writ of Assistance. Others will ask it from self-defence; one arbitrary exertion will provoke another, until society be involved in tumult and in blood.

It is because American law enforcement has adopted the tactics of the colonial British military and mercenaries enforcing the King’s law that we’re having the discussion about SWAT teams and law enforcement corruption today. It would behoove Mr. Waters to understand this history, and be aware of the proper distinction between a military and a police force. When those lines are blurred, civilians pay the brutal price:

Is the proposed downtown Columbia CID tax “taxation without representation”?

In a email to me about the proposed new 1/2 cent sales tax increase in downtown Columbia, attorney Skip Walther noted:

The sales tax would be an increase, but it would be paid by residents and by visitors who do not reside in Columbia.

Let’s examine this process. The number of registered voters downtown who can vote on this proposition is 113 according to the voter list I obtained from Wendy Noren’s office. I am aware that registered voters who wish to change their registration to downtown may also vote on this issue, but that number is sure to be small. Moreover, of the 113 eligible voters who can cast a ballot, I am personally aware that at least 20 of these voters have moved and no longer reside in Columbia. We can say there is a functional voter pool in for this ballot measure that is less than 100%, and that a municipal mail-in ballot election will see very few people actually turn in a ballot.

In other words, for a majority that cannot be over 60 people, a 1/2 sales tax increase could pass in downtown Columbia that will take an estimated $300,000 out of the local economy. Note very carefully what Skip says; he acknowledges that both residents (who get to vote) will pay this tax along with people from outside Columbia (who don’t get to vote).

I don’t like this. The Community Improvement District spent $4,000 with Progressive Political Partners to run the campaign for this tax (Full disclosure: I was paid by PPP for opposition research in the 2010 cycle). It doesn’t seem quite fair that a vote of less than 60 people will affect anyone who lives in or visits Columbia and transacts business downtown; it feels like the CID is trying to take advantage of a specially created voting district where only a very few people can vote to ram their agenda through.

If this vote had happened at the ward level or the city level during a regular municipal campaign, a much larger number of people would be able to vote on a tax that affects consumers both inside and outside of Columbia. That would be fair. That would be a tax that has been vetted through an appropriate democratic process, and I would accept the result as legitimate.

But I don’t think it’s legitimate to game the system in the way the CID appears to be doing, which is taxation without sufficient representation. This tax should be held to a vote of a larger population, and we shouldn’t let specially created government agencies try to enact their agenda through political gamesmanship.

Taxation without representation is a core issue for Americans since the Revolution. In a time of economic stress, where ordinary citizens are struggling to pay rent, keep food on the table, and just get by, the efforts of government agencies to raise taxes without sufficient justification or democratic choice serves as a lightning rod to the people who are most disaffected and marginalized. Do we want to live in a society where we risk the further fragmentation of our polity? We have already seen a tremendous amount of anger expressed (somewhat incoherently) by the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements. Do we need to give people a reason to further distrust government and advocate for radical changes in a process that is filled with violence and incivility?

I think not.

CID picks students and low-income households to be losers with new tax

In an interview in the Columbia-Missourian today, I’m quoted discussing the negatives of the proposed new 1/2 cent sales tax being pushed by the Community Improvement District in downtown Columbia. I particularly want to bring to your attention this excellent quote from yours truly:

“It’s absolutely ludicrous to me that we want to impose another sales tax downtown,” he said. “An extra five or 10 dollars a month makes a difference to some people.”

While people on the CID board like attorney Skip Walther and executive director Carrie Gartner might take home handsome salaries, many residents in and around the downtown area do not. As a former university student, I can particularly attest to the fact that many students live on extremely limited budgets from which they must finance their educations and living expenses. Moreover, facilities like Paquin Towers are home to numerous disabled and low-income elderly people, and the area around downtown is also home to numerous low-income households (I particularly remember the Section 8 Housing in the vicinity of Lyon Street, where I lived in 2006-2007).

A 1/2 cent sales tax increase may not feel like much to an attorney billing upwards of $200/hr, like Skip, or an executive director of a government entity making $60,000 a year, like Carrie. But for students scraping up the dimes and nickels and quarters together to get a cheap sandwich at Quintons or a solitary beer at the Heidelburg, that sales tax makes a difference. For the elderly veteran on disability who spends $100 on groceries at the Mini Mart a week, an extra five or or ten dollars might make the difference between going hungry or eating on that one night a month when it matters.

At some margin, we should consider the impact of these kinds of taxes on the people who are the poorest and most politically weak. In this case, I see a large population of people who are going to be marginally worse off for benefits that are nebulous, ill-defined, and carry no real definition that we can hold anyone accountable for. We can and should do better with our public policies, and I urge the CID to consider this argument and withdraw its ballot proposition.

“You raise ‘em, we cage ‘em”

From LawOfficer.com:

NORTH HIGHLANDS, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California school police officers union has generated community outrage for selling T-shirts with a picture of a child behind bars and the slogan: “U raise ‘em, we cage ‘em.”

The Sacramento Bee (http://bit.ly/sDbEnl ) reports that community leaders say the shirts are offensive and fuel mistrust of the Twin Rivers Police Department in North Highlands.

The Twin Rivers Police Officers Association came up with the shirt idea in 2009 to raise money for fallen officers. Association President Arlin Kocher says less than 30 shirts were ordered and most were sold for $12 to union members.

Kocher now says the shirts were a mistake and the union stopped selling them at the police chief’s request. The department has been under increasing scrutiny since an officer was shot last month.

Absolutely disgusting.

More on the Downtown Columbia, Missouri CID proposed sales tax

The good folks at Keep Columbia Free have posted the letter I drafted in opposition to the the proposed Community Improvement District sales tax that is up for vote till November 8th, 2011.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.