Monday, March 27, 2006

WAIT A MINUTE OFFICER, SHE'S GOT A DESIGNATED DRIVER

More than 2,200 people have been arrested inside bars during the past six months by agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). Drunken bar patrons were arrested for public intoxication. Employees of bars and restaurants licensed to sell alcoholic beverages were arrested for being drunk on the premises. Bar employees were arrested for selling alcoholic beverages to drunken customers, a serious violation of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. These arrests were made in an attempt to reduce the state's drunk driving problem. Texas happens to have the nation's highest rate of DWI cases.

The way the NBC Today show, the NBC Nightly News, and most of the MSNBC news shows reacted to this story, you would think that a major violation of civil rights was being committed by the TABC agents for arresting drunks inside those bars. The news correspondents, who interviewd TABC spokespersons, implied that the arrests violated the right to privacy because they were being conducted on private property, They questioned why the arrests could not have been made once the drunks had exited the premises. The arrest of drunks, who had a sober designated driver present, was a major concern expressed by the correspondents.

TABC should be commended, rather than criticized, for cracking down on drunks inside drinking establishements, and for arresting those who continue to serve them alcoholic beverages. Because places that are licensed to serve alcoholic beverages are open to the general public, the laws of Texas and most other states recognize them as public places. Accordingly, bar patrons are legally excluded from any expectation of privacy. In Texas, all employees of licensed drinking establishments are required to attend a state-run training program which is designed to prevent the serving of alcoholic beverages to persons who appear to be intoxicated. Thus, there can be no excuse for drunks to be served in bars or restaurants.

How did the TABC agents make those arrests? Sometimes they were made by undercover officers, sometimes by agents conducting their routine bar checks. Actually, TABC has always arrested drunks in bars and those who served them. It is only the revelation that there have been more than 2,200 such arrests within the past six months that has led to this brouhaha.

And, how did those terrible TABC agents conduct those arrests? Well for starters, only those persons who appeared to be so drunk that they constituted a danger to themselves or others, were arrested. And, not every drunk was taken to jail. In some cases, they were cited for public intoxication and released to a reponsible party, such as a sober designated driver. Those who served the drunks were also arrested. Some would ask, why arrest - a citation is considered an arrest - those who did have a sober designated driver on the premises? Well, in order to make a case against those who serve drunks, there has to be a drunk that was served. The arrest for public intoxication is the proof needed to convict those bar employees. And, what about those cases when the arrest of bar employees resulted in the closure of a bar because there would be no one left in charge? That's just tough!

If there is any criticism to be made, it should be of the local police agencies which shy away from conducting routine bar checks. For some reason, political or otherwise, local agencies prefer to leave the enforcent of drinking violations in bars to TABC, the state agency. To compound the problem, many drinking establishments hire off-duty police officers for security. Since these officers are usually hired and paid directly by the proprietors, rather than by their own agency, they tend to enforce only "house rules" in order to keep their off-duty jobs. It should be embarrassing as hell for a local police agency to have TABC agents enter a bar and arrest several drunks, and those who served them, when local officers did nothing about obvious law violations committed in their presence.

When I was a California law enforcement officer in the 50's and 60's, my agency conducted frequent routine bar checks, arresting drunks inside and those who served them. Often, the bars had to close on those occasions because there would be no one left in charge. There were several reasons for those bar checks. Studies have shown that many cases of domestic violence, including murders, resulted when an intoxicated spouse returned home and a fight would ensue. Most bar brawls take place because patrons have been served too much. These drunken brawls often result in aggravated assaults and, not too infrequently, in killings. And, of course, many drunks leave bars and are involved in serious automobile accidenst, although at the time, DWIs were not our main concern - the possible violence was. Finally, the suppression of prostitution in bars was accomplished through the use of frequent routine bar checks.

Again, TABC is to be commended for arresting drunks in bars and for arresting those who serve them. On the other hand, local police agencies should be condemned for not making frequent routine bar checks, which would not only reduce DWIs, but would also prevent many acts of violence. Claiming a manpower shortage is no excuse for not conducting those bar checks.

Finally, proprietors of drinking establishments, who want off-duty officers for security, should pay the police ageny for those services, and not the officers. The officers would then be assigned to these off-duty jobs and paid for this extra work, by their own agency. In this way, the proprietor could not detrmine which officers to hire or fire, and the off-duty officers could enforce all laws in their assigned establishments, and not just "house rules." Arrests of drunks in bars and those who served them, whether by off-duty officers working security or by local and state officers making bar checks, will help to reduce the rate of DWIs, murders, and other violent crimes.

Monday, March 20, 2006

IS IT PROFESSIONAL COURTESY OR IS IT PROFESSIONAL IRRESPONSIBILITY?

To those of you in the police service, let me urge you to read this whole piece before you blow your top. If you do get pissed-off before you finish, stop a moment to cool-off, and then continue reading until you reach the end.

There is nothing that aggravates the public more than to see a speeding police car without its emergency lights or siren on, and the perception that an off-duty officer will not receive a citation when he is pulled over for a traffic violation. The public is not upset with a police emergeny run, even when the police car is driven at a highly dangerous speed. A motorist's worst nightmare is having a traffic collision with a police car. The public believes, rightly or wrongly, that a civilian will not be subjected to a fair and unbiased investigation of the accident. The public is also irritated by the perception that the police will give favorable treatment to the mayor or some other important public official, or to an influential member of the community.

Recently, the Houston Police Department gave chase to a Corvette which was weaving in and out of traffic, sometimes reaching speeds of over 100 mph. When the Corvette pulled over and stopped, the driver turned out to be an off-duty sheriff's deputy. The pursuing officers did not give the 12 year veteran deputy a ticket, although, to their credit, they did notify his supervisor. The media caused a brouhaha of sorts after some television reporters heard the police radio transmissions on the chase and arrived in time to observe the police letting that deputy go without giving him a ticket. Because of the media attention, the deputy cannot expect to avoid being disciplined by the sheriff's department.

If the driver of the corvette had been a 17 year old youth, would the officers have called his father and let him go without a ticket? If the driver had been an employee of Wal-Mart, would they have called his supervisor and let him go without a ticket? Of course not. A civilian would have been arrested in a hot New York minute for reckless driving and/or some other charges.

Officers claim that when they give breaks to off-duty officers for traffic violations or for some other offenses, they are merely showing "professional courtesy" to the transgressing officer. That type of professional courtsey may involve taking officers home who have been detained for public intoxication or for disorderly conduct. Sometimes it involves taking an officer home who has been stopped for drunk driving, although in that case they will often notify the officer's supervisor, especially if that officer is from another police agency. Often, such favors are also extended to the immediate family members of a police officer.

Professional courtesy? What is professional about an officer deliberately disregarding traffic laws in his police unit when he is not on an emergency call? What is professwional about not giving a traffic citation to an off-duty officer when a civilian would have been cited for the same offense? What is professional about taking a drunk driver home because he is an officer, when a civilian would have been jailed under the same circumstances? It is a professional courtesy when a doctor provides another doctor or his family with free medical services, or when a lawyer provides another lawyer with free legal services, but NOT when a doctor refuses to testify against another doctor or when a police officer lets another officer off for a law violation. However, an acceptable form of professional courtesy is the assistance provided by officers to the spouse and children of deceased or disabled comrades.

If officers believe that they will be given breaks when violating the law they are emboldened to behave irresponsibly. Professional courtesy, as the police see it, is really an act of professional irresponsibility or, in some cases, police misconduct. It is unethical and discriminatory to apply a double standard in disposing of law violations. whether committed by police officers or by civilians. There is, understandably, a strong bond in the police brotherhood, but in order to maintain the public's respect and support, the police must stop showing favoritism to their own, when they would not do so for civilians under the same circimstances. Professional courtesy, as defined for the police, should be limited to helping out the immediate family of a fallen or disabled officer, and to treating everyone with respect and courtesy whenever possible, absent of any police misconduct, and in a nondiscriminatory manner.

LET THERE BE NO MISTAKE! Police officers should have the discretion NOT to make arrests or issue citations for minor violations, but that decision should not be based on whether or not the offender is another officer. Letting someone off with a warning is often more appropriate than issuing a citation or making an arrest. Many officers will not issue a traffic citation to a civilian when they believe that he cannot afford the fine. Police officers in California refused to arrest or file charges against a desperate mother who burglarized a bakery to steal several loaves of bread, because she had no food for her three children. Instead, they persuaded the baker to keep providing the mother with day-old bread. However, the deputy with the corvette should have been cited, if not arrested for reckless driving.

The police should NOT claim they are practicing professional courtesy when they allow a fellow officer, who has broken a law, to go free. Once an officer buys into the professional courtesy mindset, he will feel inclined, if not compelled, to provide fellow officers favorable treatment in minor traffic accident investigations, in domestic disturbances, and in disorderly conduct incidents. And that mindset results in the ROUTINE PRACTICE of not issuing traffic citations to fellow officers. About the only off-duty officers who will then be ticketed are those deemed as "assholes" because they got pissed-off and were dumb enough to take their anger out on the officers who stopped them.

When a private citizen operates a motor vehicle within the speed limit, or at no more than 5 mph over the limit, he usually does so because he is afraid of getting a traffic ticket. When an off-duty police officer believes he can drive at excessive speeds with impunity, that is exactly what he is going to do.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

THE LATEST ASSAULT ON THE DEATH PENALTY: THIS RED HERRING MAY HAVE LEGS

You've got to give them credit. The death penalty abolishionists are persistent. Now they've come up with a new idea - that lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusal punishment in that the condemned may suffer extreme pain while undergoing execution. It is amazing that it has taken them all these years to come up with that red herring, albeit a red herring that may have legs. These claims have stopped executions in Florida, Missouri, and California. In the Missouri case, even newly sworn-in U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a staunch conservative, voted to stay an execution on those grounds.

The Florida case is unusual, in that it was filed as a federal civil rights lawsuit, rather than as the traditional appeal of a criminal conviction, and should it succeed, such lawsuits will be filed for every pending execution. In this case, a bank robber who killed a police officer and wounded his partner, was granted a stay of execution by the U.S. Supreme Court while he was already in the death chamber, strapped to the gurney with IV tubes inserted, as the executioner awaited orders to start the flow of lethal drugs. His lawyers had argued that the lethal doses used by Florida can cause pain and thereby denied this cold blooded cop killer his civil rights to protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

In the California case, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel was concerned that the condemned are not unconscious and may suffer extreme pain during executions. The San Francisco jurist ordered the State of California to change its lethal injection method of execution. He ordered the usual mix of injections replaced with a lethal dose of barbiturates to be administered by a physician. No physicians were willing to do this because they believed it would be a violation of their Hippocratic oath - to do no harm. The doctors' refusal to participate in an execution amounts to a moratorium on the death penalty in California.

Pardon me while I shed some crocodile tears for those who kill their victims in cold blood. God forbid that they should suffer any pain during executions. If it were up to me, I would bring back the electric chair. The condemned were scared shitless at the sight of "Old Sparky" and they probably experienced some extreme pain while they were getting fried. That method of execution definitely acted as a deterrent to murders.

The abolitionists, who are so concerned for the condemned, claim that they are not unconcerned for the victims and their families. Maybe so, but they are certainly not concerned for any future victims since abolition of the death penalty would eliminate the deterrent of executions.

Why do I believe that this latest claim is a red herring? Ten years ago, our veterinarian advised that it was time for Suki, our beloved 15 year old dog, to be put down. I held Suki in my arms, and while she looked at me with her trusting eyes, the vet gave her two injections. Then he said to me, "That's it, she's gone." It is still gut-wrenching for me to recall those final moments with Suki, but I feel it is important to do so in the context of this execution by injection controversy. While holding Suki, I did not detect the slightest twitching or any other indication whatsoever, that she was feeling any pain in her final seconds of life. She just went to sleep and I really did not realize that she was dead until the vet told me so. That is why I am convinced that the condemned do not feel any pain during their execution. On the other hand, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has noted that three veterinarians claim Florida's method of lethal injection would be "prohibited if done to dogs and cats." Hmmm, three veterinarians? That sounds like one of those old "three doctors say" ads.

Even if the condemned were to suffer some pain, it does not come anywhere near the pain suffered by their victims. It must be noted that the overwhelming majority of convicted murderers are not sentenced to death. Only those convicted of the most heinous killings are likely to receive the death penalty. So why are we so concerned about the possibility that they may suffer some pain during the final seconds of their lives? Unfortunately, it is not inconceivable that this latest assault on executions may eventually result in the abolition of the death penalty.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

MORE MODERN KEYSTONE COPS

Here are some more true stories regarding my previous Modern Keystone Cops blog.

A MAN WITH A GUN. A small town police detective was out one night with a civilian ride-along when he was notified on the radio that a suspect of a shooting in another town was drinking in a local bar. Upon arriving at the bar, the officer called for backup. The radio dispatcher gave out the call as "a man with a gun" at the bar. Without waiting for the backup, the officer gave the civilian ride-along a rifle and instructed him to position himself at the side of the bar where he could see the backdoor, in case the suspect tried to escape that way. The detective than entered the bar through the front entrance. The first backup officers to arrive on the scene were two state troopers who did not know the ride-along, rather than local officers who did know him. All the state troopers knew was that there was a man with a gun at the bar and the first thing they observed was the ride-along standing outside holding a rifle. The troopers approached the ride-along with their weapons drawn and ready to shoot. Fortunately for the civilian, he had the good sense to drop the rifle and yell, "I give up." One can only imagine what might have happened had he not immediately dropped the rifle.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY. The city manager called a meeting of all the city's police officers so he could introduce the new Chief of Police. As part of the introduction, he mentioned that the chief was a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a degree in Animal Husbandry. At the end of the introduction, he turned the podium over to the chief who made the usual blah, blah, blah, introductory remarks. When the chief finished, he invited the officers to ask him some questions. After several officers had asked the usual kiss-ass questions, another officer exclaimed, "Animal Husbandry? I didn't know they gave a degree in how to have sex with animals." The chief's face turned as red as a strobe light and if looks could kill, there would have been one dead police officer. Except for an angry new chief and a dumfounded city manager, all those in attendance howled with prolonged laughter. Of course, the officer responsible for the uproar would soon be looking for another line of work.

OH SHIT! SHE'S A TRANSVESTITE. Four undercover vice officers entered a bar to investigate reports of prostitution in that establishment. One officer entered first and sat at the bar. The other three then entered and sat at a table. In a short while, a good looking woman sat down next to the officer at the bar. They negotiated a price to have sex in the alley behind the bar. Once in the alley, the four officers arrested the prostitute and discovered SHE WAS A HE. Being practical jokers, they made a deal with the transvestite. They would let her go if she showed up at another bar the next night and have sex with one of their friends if he tried to hit on her. They threatened to find and arrest her if she went "sideways" on them. The next day they met with a patrol officer who was always bragging about his sexual conquests and how easy it was for him to pick up women. He accepted their invitation to go out that night for a couple of beers. The five officers entered the bar and sat at a table. After a while, the transvestite entered and sat at the bar. The conversation among the officers soon turned to the "woman" at the bar. The braqgard said he could pick her up and get in her pants. When the other officers doubted him, he got up and sat down next to the transvestite. After a few drinks, they left the bar together. The next day the four pranksters asked the patrol officer if he made out that night. Although he had what appeared to be a depressed look, he nevertheless replied, "I sure did, and she was a really great piece of ass." At that point, the four officers broke out in uncontrolled laughter. Realizing that he had been set up, an angry cursing red faced officer turned around and stomped out of the building.

DUMB SON OF A BITCH. Pat, one of the older officers in a police department, lived by himself and had only one close friend, a civilian drinking buddy, The officer was not too bright and prone to lose his temper. The younger officers enjoyed pushing his button and watch him get pissed off. One afternoon, on the way back to the station, a couple of detectives passed by Pat's favorite hangout, the Friendly Tavern. They observed Pat's drinking buddy sitting by himself at the bar, minding his own business. They saw Pat at the station. One of the detectives said, "Hey Pat, I thought Joe was your best buddy." Pat replied, "He sure is." The detective went on, "Well if he's such a good buddy of yours, how come he's over at the Friendly Tavern bad mouthing you before everyone?" Pat said, "He wouldn't do that." The detective said, "Like hell he wouldn't, we just passed by there and he's telling everyone that you're a dumb son of a bitch." A pissed off Pat said, "You're not kidding me, are you?" The detective replied, "Would we kid you about something like that? I'm telling you he's over there right now calling you a dumb son of a bitch." Pat rushed out of the station. He entered the bar and, without a word, cold-cocked poor old Joe with his night stick. As he stood over his unconscious buddy, the bewildered bar patrons heard him shout, "That'll teach you to call me a dumb son of a bitch."