Tag Archives: Columbia Missouri

My Complaint to the Columbia Citizens Police Review Board

Dear Citizens Police Review Board,

During my remarks to the CPRB on August 11th, 2010, as an appellant to the Viets complaint filed in the Kinloch affair, I asked CPRB member Susan Smith a series of questions, to wit:

1)      Were any of the officers implicated in the complaint former students of yours?

2)      How many current Columbia Police officers were formerly students of yours?

3)      Do you think that this represents a potential conflict of interest?

To my questions, Ms. Smith replied, and I paraphrase 1) I don’t know, 2) I don’t know, and 3) I refuse to answer the question. Additionally, I note that in her answers to 1 & 2, Ms. Smith noted that it was impossible for her to know, since she teaches classes of 400 people and cannot be expected to remember all of her students. You may watch video of this interaction here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRRQHvmiMis).

The direction of my questions is clear; I think that the true answers to these questions might indicate a conflict of interest. However, I wish to begin by arguing that whether or not Mrs. Smith might face a conflict of interest in these proceedings, she is in clear violation of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) Code of Ethics, which is the binding legal code governing her participation on this board. Specifically, Mrs. Smith’s lack of clarity and refusal to answer implicates the standards NACOLE has created for Personal Integrity (emphasis mine):

Demonstrate the highest standards of personal integrity, commitment, truthfulness, and fortitude in order to inspire trust among your stakeholders, and to set an example for others. Avoid conflicts of interest. Conduct yourself in a fair and impartial manner and recuse yourself or personnel within your agency when a significant conflict of interest arises…

I should also highlight the NACOLE stipulation for Transparency & Confidentiality:

Conduct oversight activities openly and transparently providing regular reports and analysis of your activities, and explanations of your procedures and practices to as wide an audience as possible…

And additionally, the clause titled Outreach and Relationships with Stakeholders:

Disseminate information and conduct outreach activity in the communities that you serve. Pursue open, candid, and non-defensive dialog with your stakeholders…

I argue that Ms. Smith’s answers during the board meeting fail at meeting any of these ethical codes. It is clear that her answers do not meet the highest standards of personal integrity or truthfulness, and it is not clear that Ms. Smith has been forthright in avoiding the conflicts posed by her dual roles as an educator for law enforcement and an adjudicator for complaints made against law enforcement. Finally, it is abundantly clear that Ms. Smith has engaged me and other members of the public in a defensive and obfuscatory manner.

Specifically, Ms. Smith is a criminal justice instructor at Columbia College, and hence, an educator for students who may later be employed by the Columbia Police Department. A conflict of interest may not necessarily exist between a teacher and a former student, but the existence of any such relationships should be forthrightly declared to meet the NACOLE ethical standards. Moreover, even without the existence of any relationship that may compromise Ms. Smith’s ability to serve as a board member, Ms. Smith does have significant investment in her reputation as a criminal justice educator that may compromise her decisions on this board, especially if she is facing a decision that implicates her current, former, or future students with public disciplinary action.

Let me also note it is implausible that Ms. Smith should not be able to answer 1 & 2 in the affirmative; though she may teach large lecture classes, I do not find it plausible that she only teaches large lecture classes, or that she has never developed relationships with students. I ask that the board clarify Ms. Smith’s response to these points and discern if her answer during the board meeting is factually representative of the whole truth (that she only teaches large lecture classes, and that she does not know if former students currently serve on the police agency she sits in judgment on). I am also including an email (following page) from a former student of Ms. Smith indicating that she does teach smaller classes and does remember students as far as 3 years back as a further indicator that I do not believe Ms. Smith’s statements were plausible or in line with  NACOLE disclosure standards.

Most importantly, it is clear to me that Ms. Smith has done very little to engage citizens and build trust. The NACOLE ethical code is designed with that highest aspiration in mind and it is my judgment that Ms. Smith does not meet this standard.

For these reasons, I ask the Citizens Police Review Board to evaluate the fitness of Mrs. Smith to serve as a voting member of the board and to consider her removal under Ord. (Ord. No. 20331, § 1, 7-20-09), particularly:

(e)    The board may recommend to the city council that a board member be removed from the board if the member persistently fails to perform the duties of office.

Sincerely,
Eapen Thampy

Policy Analyst
Americans for Forfeiture Reform
www.forfeiturereform.com
573-673-6951

from CoMo Citizens <comocitizens@live.com>
to Eapen <eapen.thampy@gmail.com>
date Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 1:39 PM
subject RE: Request for Susan Smith’s removal from the CPRB
mailed-by live.com
hide details 1:39 PM (27 minutes ago)

I think that this letter is great, and if you have not sent it out please sign CoMoCitizens to it as well. I know for a fact that she does not teach large classes of 400. The classes at Columbia College only allow for 25 to 30, maybe a few more, students in a class at one time.  As a recent graduate of Columbia College, I have experienced the small class sizes that Columbia College has to offer, and it is almost impossible to not get to know your instructor.  As a matter of fact, Susan Smith remembered my wife who she had met 3 years ago only once.  I think that it would be in the best interest of all Columbia citizens if we did not have such a biased individual on the CITIZENS Police Review Board.  She has clearly shown her biases in previous Police Review Board meetings.

Donnie

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Why would Columbia Police Department delay the execution of 57% of SWAT search warrants between 2007-2010?

Brennan David at the Columbia Tribune writes:

Columbia’s SWAT team served 106 narcotics search warrants between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 11, 2010. The Tribune, through an open records request, received 99 of those search warrants; the others were considered closed records for various reasons.

Of the 99 SWAT narcotics search warrants granted by the Boone County Circuit Court to Columbia police, officers executed 43 percent of them within hours of being issued. Of those, 65 percent resulted in one felony arrest, and 18 percent resulted in misdemeanor arrests.

But the percentage of warrants producing a felony arrest dropped drastically to 37.5 percent when investigators waited one day before serving the search warrant. In those cases, 50 percent produced misdemeanor arrests.

“This does not surprise me,” Dresner said. “I think the nature of drug sales is that it is a very immediate transaction. For consumers and dealers, once there is a product available, it travels fast, and sales occur very quickly.”

What isn’t being said here is very important. It’s that the police have financial incentives to delay the execution of a warrant, particularly when illicit substances are present. They’d rather serve the warrant when they might find a suspect in possession of large quantities of cash, which they can seize through a civil procedure without the trouble of obtaining a conviction. This is particularly true when cannabis exclusively is involved; it is not a dangerous substance, and complaints relating to its distribution are usually related to the amount of traffic, not the hazard of the plant itself. The proceeds of these seizures can be retained for the Columbia Police Department’s budget through a loophole that allows the federal government to appropriate these seizures and disburse cash and equipment back to the Columbia Police Department. In the last ten years, the Columbia Police Department has received roughly $210,000 from the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program, though that figure does not capture the full amount of money benefiting law enforcement free of legislative stipulation and civilian oversight. The Missouri Constitution (Article 9, Section 7) mandates the proceeds of these seizures be sent to education, but with the involvement of the federal government and the laxity of legislative oversight this constitutional requirement is circumvented with ease and negligible oversight.

In other words, the Columbia Police Department has for years been pursuing low-level crimes with SWAT raids not for the purpose of making this community safer, but for the purpose of obtaining funding for all the things their budget doesn’t give them. As the United States Appellate Court for the Fifth Circuit said in 1992:

As was obvious at the oral argument of this appeal, each member of the court was deeply disturbed by the actions of the federal and state agents in appropriating Scarabin’s money — candidly acknowledged by counsel for the DEA — actions that would have constituted illicit money laundering if perpetrated by private parties. We were even more distressed by the revelation that those activities were not merely condoned but were actively advocated and supported by officials of the DEA in positions to make and implement policy.

Money laundering indeed. I want to point out that civil forfeiture came into the law enforcement toolbox during the 1980’s, when the government started taking on the Mafia and other large, sophisticated organizations. We forgot, however, that when we went beyond the Constitutional protections against unwarranted search and seizure that our law enforcement stopped acting like law enforcement and began behaving like the criminals they sought to prosecute.

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No budget? No Problem!

Found this brochure for an asset forfeiture conference aimed at state and local law enforcement. The location of the conference is Hollywood, Florida during April 15-16 2009. The brochure advertises a variety of seminars designed to educate local law enforcement about the forfeiture process and how to turn seizeable property into money that goes to law enforcement budgets.

Most tellingly, the brochure starkly proclaims that law enforcement can become self-funding free of legislative constraints:

In last twenty years economists from Oliver Williamson to Ronald Coase famously declared “Incentives matter”. And we are learning that they do matter very much, particularly in terms of how institutions and structures function. If structures like representative democracy need clear and distinction separation of powers to function well (if at all), then they need to happen through incentive-compatible channels. Democracy itself breaks down when executive branch agencies conduct their affairs in obscure and impermeable fashions, obtain funding without regard for legislative stipulation and judicial mandate, and lose the incentives to listen to the communities that they serve.

Because when the federal government helps law enforcement pay their bills free of our consent, we lose the ability to shape the policies that guide our law enforcement. Now federal dollars incentivize law enforcement to prioritize cases and methods that result in property they can seize, rather than prosecute crimes of violence that are less lucrative. We serve search warrants on people who have never been implicated in the least hint of violence with paramilitary squads in the land where Patrick Henry once declared “Give me freedom or give me death”. In Missouri, our legislators and judges told us that crimes where fines or forfeiture happened would be prosecuted fairly and the money given to schools, to help the young do greater things that we can. This is no longer the case, and we are incalculably poorer for it.

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More forfeiture advocacy–Columbia City Council, June 7th, 2010

I spoke to the Columbia City Council last night, delving into specifics on how forfeiture money is retained by local and federal law enforcement in circumvention of of the Missouri constitution (Article IX, Section 7) and Missouri statutory law (RsMO 166-131, RsMO 166-300). Here is a link to the video; I speak at 2:27:30.

Here is the white paper I sent to the Columbia City Council last month in Microsoft Word format (*.doc). The topic is forfeiture money and how allowing law enforcement to retain the proceeds of forfeiture skews their incentive structures and disconnects law enforcement policy from voter and legislative preferences.

Addendum: here is the link to the 1990 Missouri Supreme Court opinion I cite (Reorganized School Dist. No 7 v. Douthit).

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