Sunday, June 24, 2007

Red Light Camera News Escalates.

I had laid off of the Albuquerque Red Light Camera's for a while even though it is the number one reason new people from across the nation find my blog. Not being from Albuquerque and after the City of Santa Fe gave up on trying to place them here I figured I would move on. However, late developments have piqued my interest. First I have seen the city of Albuquerque writing many tickets without much challenge to drivers who have Photo Blocker License plate covers installed. For a while they were also confiscating them as evidence. The validity of the tickets when written based on the state law is iffy at best. If the City of Albuquerque passed a local ordinance they might be better justified. Knowing Albuquerque's propensity for writing new laws I am surprised they have not done this. I am expecting a serious challenge to this soon, if not the legislature may jump into this issue next session.

Why the legislature? In the last session the legislature passed a bill that would have effectively killed red light camera's in New Mexico but the governor vetoed it after receiving assurances that the fines would be lowered to a more fair rate in Albuquerque. The fines were lowered slightly but not enough to stop the legislature from addressing this issue again next session. The unpopularity of these camera's will probably not allow the governor the latitude to veto another bill. Interestingly enough the Governor cited traffic accident reduction as a reason to veto the bill. I have a feeling the next time one of these bills is on his desk there will be a lot of doubt as to whether there has been true accident reduction.

Unpopularity of the camera's reached new heights when a very public battle broke out in the last few weeks between 770 Kob Radio talk show host Jim Villanucci and Mayor Martin Chavez. With 770 Kob having one of the largest listening audiences this will not bode well for Mayor Chavez or his campaign for Governor. Mayor Chavez escalated the battle on his weekly talk show as well.I have mentioned before that I felt the Red Light Camera's were not going to be a plus for Mayor Chavez's Governor Campaign. Many are questioning whether these camera's reduce or increase accidents. The timing of the yellow lights as well as the reliability of the camera's themselves are being questioned. All questions I brought up in my earlier posts. A.P.D. has managed to put out statistics which have always been contrary to findings in other states. I hope, but doubt their statistics are correct.

Also in the news in the past few weeks is a class action lawsuit brought about by Attorney Rick Sandoval. The lawsuit passed a major hurdle when it received certification as a class action and all citizens who have received or will receive a red light camera ticket are included in the case.

As in previous posts I feel the fines are too high, the private company "RedFlex" which the City of Albuquerque contracts with makes too much of a cut, the lights must be timed correctly, and I am too worried that Red Light Camera's cause more accidents then they prevent. I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that the end of the Red Light Camera's will be upon us by the end of 2008. Whether it is constituent pressure, the legislature, the courts, the media, or all of the above I see it happening.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A relaxation of standards or sign of the times?

I am a little behind lately on reading some of the other 43 blogs I subscribe to. I was trying to catch up today when I ran across this post from Mario Burgos. In the post he talks about the nationwide trend of what some call a lowering of standards in police hiring. What triggered his post was an associated press article in last Mondays Albuquerque Journal (subscription required) in which the author describes what many departments are doing to increase hiring and fill positions.

Many departments (actually most departments) around the country are relaxing age and fitness standards, forgiving minor criminal convictions and easing other requirements to relieve shortages in their ranks and find officers who are wiser, more worldly and cooler-headed in a crisis.

I remember when I started in 1988 with the Santa Fe Police Department. I went in to take the written test along with a hundred or so other candidates. There were three openings in the department of around 70 officers from the Chief on down. The three who made through the written test, medical assessment, physical agility, polygraph, background check, and interview process were current City Police Captain Gary Johnson, now Retired Officer Nigel Bridger, and myself. The process was grueling and because there were so many applicants for so few positions the police department could be very picky in who they hired.

Most police officers who were hired back then were fresh out of the military like former 82cd Airborne officer Gary Johnson, I believe Nigel Bridger also came out of the military. I was 24 years old married 3 years and we had our first child on the way. The first two of my three siblings whom my wife and I raised after the death of my mother were out of the home. My brother on his own and my sister off to college. I had one sister left who if I remember right was probably about to be a freshman in high school. I was a Service Advisor at Santa Fe Mazda Volvo and had no medical benefits. I opened the paper and began looking for a job with retirement and benefits.

There was an ad for cops so I applied. I also took an aptitude test for the full time National Guard and about the same time I was going through the testing process for the police department I was considering a four year enlistment with a promised assignment at the Hawk Missile Battalion in Albuquerque. My specialty out of high school and my hobby to this day was computer sciences, now commonly called I.T. . I built my first computer, a Timex Sinclair Kit which was then sold by Heathkit when I was about 16. I always had a computer or two, or six in pieces around the house. Thus my M.O.S. of working on the computers at the Hawk Missile site.

Just days before I signed my life away to the military I got a call to meet with then Chief Raymond Sisneros and Deputy Chief Jimmy "juero" Salazar. I was offered the job and thus the choice between military and police was made. I go into this whole rambling on about this part of my life to get to a point. The point is I competed with around a hundred other applicants for three positions. Now we commonly get about 5- 10 applicants at a time and if we are lucky 2 or 3 make it past the initial testing and then 1 or 2 of these make it past the background checks. Back in my day " I feel old saying that expression", you could find some who did little or no experimentation with drugs and drank little alcohol. Believe it or not I never drank a full beer until halfway into my first year as an officer.

Now the pickings are slim and its almost impossible to find someone who has not experimented with drugs, and even quite a few applicants have had a D.W.I. in their past. I will not accept anyone who has had a D.W.I. within the past five years nor anyone who has had more than one. Even someone with one D.W.I. that is over five years old has to have an otherwise squeaky clean record. No one with any felony conviction will be hired. We are bound to minimum physical agility standards for new officers as they must attend the State run Police Academy and will not be accepted without passing minimum physical fitness and agility standards.

Experienced officers who have already passed the police academy enjoy a more relaxed physical agility standard. As I look at our limited pool of applicants I wonder is the relaxation of standards a really an attempt to relax standards or is it just a sign of the times? Like any business model when employee pools are high management can afford to be more picky in their hiring, when they are not you choose from the pool you have. The war in Iraq, the extra demands in Santa Fe and other social economic factors have greatly affected police hiring.

In Santa Fe you have the headquarters for the National Guard, the headquarters for the State police, The headquarters for State Corrections, the County Jail, City Police, and the Sheriff's Office among others all vying for the same personality of worker who would get involved in a military or law enforcement related career. This intense pressure on the employee pool puts Santa Fe at a loss in a job market that is having problems recruiting officers across the nation as it is. I have too admit that with a wider pool some who made the top of the list in the last few years hiring probably would not have in the eighty's but none the less we have a great staff at the Sheriff's Office and all make me proud everyday. As I have fired dozens of deputies over the years I will not hessitate to get rid of someone who does not work at the standards we demand. It is easy to point fingers and show disdain for what some call the relaxation of standards however those same people would point fingers at chiefs and sheriffs for not doing enough to hire more officers at times when those positions need to be filled.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Only the media can make a good thing look so bad!

I usually empathize with the media, for the most part they are doing their job and perform an important function in what makes America the land of the free. Every now and then I read a story that makes me shake my head.

The Albuquerque Journal had a story (subscription required) yesterday on a noble program started to help reduce D.W.I. deaths in Santa Fe County. If you are planning on a Friday or Saturday night of partying or drinking call for a free taxi ride to and from your destination, if the destination serves liquor. Simple enough idea that has reduced drunk driving in other places where it has been tried. The Journal decides to start the story with:

"Need a free ride to Cheeks to see strippers? And a ride home at the end of the evening after downing a few drinks?
Starting this weekend, Santa Fe County government will foot the bill for cab rides to and from the City Different's only topless bar— or any other bar or restaurant that serves alcohol— under a new program aimed at fighting drunken-driving."

Now granted Santa Fe's only strip club qualifies for the program, it is a bar. However, I sincerely doubt that that is what the county had in mind when this program was developed. regardless, when your family member dies from a drunk driver do you really care whether the driver drank at a strip bar, a restaurant, or on a plane? Do you wish the driver had taken a free cab regardless of where he or she had been drinking? Hell yes.

I like Erica who wrote this story and sometimes editors and others can influence the outcome of a story but this was not funny. D.W.I. is a serious problem and we must do all we can to stop it. Poking fun at this program was in bad taste and should serve as a reminder that good journalism is not always sensational journalism.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Chief Johnson Recieves vote of Support from Troops.

Chief Eric Johnson of the Santa Fe City Police Department won the "no confidence vote" held by the Santa Fe Police Officers Association by a two to one margin. Another third of the officers eligible to vote did not do so. One would assume that most of those are satisfied or ambivalent with the way things are going thereby increasing the vote of those who have confidence in Chief Johnson's administration. So what now? The department is not going to fill all their positions over night, in fact several of those who led the effort to have this vote are near retirement. As each position is filled many more are retiring.

While police retirements plans are funded through the State Public Employees Retirement Association somehow counties and municipalities need to find a way to keep officers from retiring at a young age. While I have long been a proponent of the 20 year retirement for officers the down side is we are losing officers in their forty's. This is really young and they still have many good years still in them.

Officers receive seventy percent of their top three years pay at 20 years of service. This tops out at eighty percent for 22 years and 10 months. So officers really are forced to take retirement once they reach these places in time. Imagine having 22 years and 10 months in and you are not ready to retire. If you continue working you are working every day for only 20% of your pay. You can stay home and get 80%. If you leave accept your retirement and come back you lose your seniority and rank. Basically you are starting your career all over again. Senior officers do not want to do this because they find themselves reporting to and below rank to young officers who may have only had five years on the force. Because of this most retired officers leave law enforcement and go into a second career doing something else.

We need to come up with an solution to this problem. We cant go back and increase the years needed to retire, union contracts and backlash from employees would not allow this to happen. If we allow retires to come back and keep their previous rank and pay this will stifle the ability for others to move up and create a situation where career advancement would be slowed to all but a standstill. I have not come up with a workable creative solution to this problem but if anyone does they can save law enforcement in New Mexico. All agencies in New Mexico are facing the same problems.

This would not be as much of a problem if there was a long line of young men and women waiting to be officers. The truth is that young people today are more concerned with making money and having a career that involves big houses, cars, and success in a material sense. Law Enforcement is a public service career. Those in public service do not make that kind of money unless you are appointed in the upper echelons of state or local government. What you do get out of a law enforcement career is a career you can be proud of, a good retirement and a decent middle income life style. I remember when kids grew up wanting to be a cop or a firefighter, not for the money but because they honestly wanted to be a cop deep down in their soul.

I remember one time sitting down at the local Fraternal Order of Police having a beer with several officers. Talk got around to our kids and one by one each one said they did not want their kids to be cops. They talked about their kids having successful high dollar careers where their lives were not at risk. This was sad for me to hear. We need to encourage our young to carry the flag when we are finished. Law Enforcement is a great career that will make your life worthwhile.

Many times I am walking in the mall or at a grocery store and I will run into some young man with his wife and child and they will come up and introduce me to their family. Many years ago when this young man was a child I arrested him, or maybe I cut him some slack and didn't arrest him but gave him a good scare. I have been thanked many times even by those I arrested. Their lives were changed and somehow at least they believed that I played a part in that. That is what being a cop is about.

Friday, June 08, 2007

No Confidence Vote in Chief Eric Johnson.

A faction of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association which is the City of Santa Fe Police Union garnered just enough members (12 of the approximately 25 members who attended the meeting) to force a vote of no confidence on Chief Eric Johnson. Chief Eric Johnson and his administration has always had an excellent working relationship with the County Sheriff's Office. I truly believe he has displayed excellent leadership coming into a department as chief during a time of challenges related to growing pains and internal issues that were not of his making. The union needs to realize that the last time this happened the department suffered for years trying to recover from its internal divisions and the then Mayor and Council treated the Police Department like the spoiled step child for years.

I was once President of the P.O.A. and a few months after my presidency ended the Union voted for a vote of no confidence on then Chief Donald Grady. At the time the union membership was sharply divided. Appointed as an agent of Change by then Mayor Debbie Jaramillo, the first Black Chief in Santa Fe's history was controversial and his tenure created deep divisions in the City Police that remain to this day. The Department was divided into two camps led by myself as President and Sergeant Frank Novelli who was a radical activist who would become President. The group led by Frank Novelli wanted Grady removed at all costs. Racial comments were often thrown about behind closed doors and really disgusting things such as pubic hairs placed in cake which was given to him were the types of things the situation had degenerated into.

The Chief eventually resigned and the department went through a string of Chiefs and years of internal strife. The union membership developed a reputation as unreasonable and as such raises and support from the Mayor and Council was diminished. The City Council thought of the Union as spoiled and impossible to work with. It really is the basis for a lot of problems the department still has today.

One problem with the City Police Union as the current president admits, and I will attest to from the days I was President is the fact that so few members exercise their voice in meetings by showing up at all. This usually means only the most disgruntled show up and therefor have a larger role in guiding the actions of the union. The current vote to hold a no confidence vote came at the most inopportune time as the city is about to vote on a new union contract with significant raises. Those who pushed this issue at this time probably were not thinking about the big picture and only were interested in pushing their agenda.

I have known Chief Johnson since the days we worked the streets together in the late eighty's and early ninety's. He started when he was 18 years old which was allowed back then. I remember that if he wanted to buy ammunition for his pistol he had to get someone over 21 to buy it for him. You can not buy pistol ammunition unless you are 21. Eric is the kind of dedicated cop you could always count on. In those days just 4 or 5 of us covered the whole city. If one of your fellow officers called in sick the rest of the guys or gals had to cover the slack. It could mean the difference between having backup at a crucial time or not. Eric was the kind of patrol officer you knew would always be there, never called in sick and always was an eager and ready young cop. Ready to be there as a backup when you needed one.

While I don't know what will end up happening with this whole no confidence vote thing, I do know that Eric really cares about what happens in the police department. He is a cops, cop and really as a subordinate you can't ask for much more when you choose a leader. He inherited the current scandals involving the detectives under investigation and he inherited the problems with hiring and retention. The current increases in crime rates in the city can at least partially be attributed to those issues. Hiring and retention are issues all departments face and are part of a societal change which will take years to overcome. The City could do much worse for a chief. I am told by my old buddies in the City Police that the vote was divided between newer officers who voted for the no confidence vote and older more experienced officers who voted against it or chose to abstain from voting. My guess is the older officers remember the last time this happened and also know that the problems will not be solved through this vote.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Don Diego writes new verse to Paris Hilton Parody.

Here is Paris Hilton's Booking Photo, much nicer than booking photo's you will see at Santa Fe County Jail.

Don Diego wrote a new verse to the hilarious song about Paris Hilton going to jail. Here are his first and second verses.

By Don Diego (from comments section of the Free New Mexican Website)

I hear the train a comin, it's comin round the bend - I ain't seen my eye shadow since I don't know when. I'm stuck in Century Regional just tryin to stay alive, but that limo keeps a rollin on down to Rodeo drive.

When I was just a baby, my momma told me hun - Don't go to all those parties don't you have too much fun. But I drank a few martinis and jumped into my car - Now instead of takin pictures, I'm stuck behind these bars.

Excellent work Don Diego, I see a Music Award comin, its comin round the bend.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Paris Hilton in Jail!

By Don Diego (from comments section of the Free New Mexican Website)

I hear the train a comin, it's comin round the bend - I ain't seen my eye shadow since I don't know when. I'm stuck in Century Regional just tryin to stay alive, but that limo keeps a rollin on down to Rodeo drive.

I read the above comment from Don Diego on the Free New Mexican Website. I don't know if he wrote that himself or if he got it from somewhere. If he wrote it himself he should finish the song and get it to Al Yankovic. I was ROFL, when I read it. Whether of not Paris should have gone to jail is completely up to the judge but it is interesting that I have seen battery suspects, repeat DWI offenders, burglars, and many others receive less than what her full sentence is and then get out in half the time with good time.