Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gang cops rogue again?

Two summers ago and through that fall it was a tumultuous time when law enforcement was under siege and under the microscope by the public and the Minnesota Legislature for what the Metro Gang Strike Force had been doing--miscues with money and property, issues of accountability and oversight, and violation of people's rights. There was a Legislative Auditor's report, a Special Investigation funded by the Department of Public Safety, and many public hearings by the appropriate legislative committees.

Reading the Star Tribune today I felt somewhat what Michael Corleone felt when he stated,  "Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in."  The reports featured in the article are pulling the public back in to see what the heck is happening to Safe Streets Task Force which was supposed to be held accountable by an oversight group which has never met. 

After I read the Star Tribune article and the Department of Public Safety(DPS) reports I am left with many questions which the public has no answers for.  Some of them are as follows:

1. Should the Safe Streets Task Force come under the Violent Crime Coordinating Council(VCCC)?  Why are they not under the VCCC jurisdiction now?

2. By being under the auspices(Safe Streets Task Force)of the FBI, are the state reporting and documenting requirements, such as for forfeiture of money and property, being done by the local police?  Federal law may exempt local police to have to do this.

3. Where can the public get access to the public records of the Safe Streets Task Force for accountability and transparency reasons?  

4. What are the differences between the Minnesota's operating procedures and guideline manual and the FBI's control and policies?  Less accountability? More? Less reporting or more?  

5. Have people's rights been violated, for example, by taking their property illegally or denying their due process?

This is just the tip of the iceberg of questions that should be asked and answered by the appropriate people in front of the appropriate Minnesota legislative committees, Representative Cornish is chair of one, the other is chaired by Senator Warren Limmer

Various comments in the reports and article leave me flabbergasted, "that people who work here have differing opinions regarding exactly what their mission is."  So if there is misunderstanding of what "their" mission is, How is this playing out in the streets? 

So is there again playing out the divvies with law enforcement of who gets the cash or property which may or may not have been seized legally?  One gets that impression..

Quite intrigued by Howie Padilla's comments, who is the St Paul Police spokesman, when he states, hard to respond "to the allegations---when it is attributed to vague sources"  Well, ask to see their statements.

The many good cops, elected sheriffs, and police chiefs I know would find this kind of infighting, finger pointing, and lack of accountability, detestable and embarrassing.  So does the public.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Minnesota Sunset Commission begins with problems

Today was the first meeting of the Minnesota Sunset Commission.  The Commission was an initiative of the GOP reform efforts at the 2011 Legislature.  The Commission was a topic between the GOP Leadership and the Governor.  A compromise was reached in the secret "away from the public" discussions that occurred during the shutdown.

Problems exist as the Sunset Commission meeting brought out today.

Discussion right out of the shoot was over whether or not there was enough time for those agencies that are slated for bye-bye on June 30, 2012 to be able to do their report with the "statutorily specified information"  To add on the timeline problems the Commission must review the agency slated to disappear by January 1, 2012, and hold public hearings and give recommendations to the Legislature by February 1, 2012. Is there fair process for the agencies slated for disappearing to be heard with the time issues for 2012?

As part of the agenda, William D. Eggers, testified, "one of the country's best known authorities on government reform" which a Commission handout described him.  He emphasized for a Sunset Commission to be successful a number of points to meet are necessary.  Some of them are:

Strong staff capabilities
Strong legislative support
Time and space for substantive work, and
Strong legislative support

Discussion centered for a time on whether or not there was enough resources for the Sunset Commission to be able to do a thorough job in reviewing an agency.  The set up as I stated is that the agency slated for bye-bye is responsible for the "statutorily specified information" report.  Can the Commission do its due diligence with no staff specifically tied to it?  It seems that the members are relying on the agency report with current legislative staff who with other duties review the agency report.

It was emphasized that it's important for input by the various stakeholders and customers of that agency slated for disappearing to be a part of the "sunset" process.  Where that process begins is a question waiting to be answered.  Is it when the agency is doing it's evaluation before it submits its report or at the public hearings held before February 1st of the even year?

With the Sunset Commission being "created/compromised" as part of the closed budget talks and away from public scrutiny in July there are some weaknesses in the law.  It is not clear to me if the Sunset Commission is under the Minnesota Open Meeting Law and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.  Hopefully the points raised by discussion at the Commission and ones I raise can be corrected and addressed.  If not, there will be less accountability and transparency for the public in this effort.

Note: There was a handout to members of the Commission and the public entitled, "Chapter 4. Case Study: Shining Light on Sunset.  I would encourage people to review this chapter. The chapter is part of a bigger report entitled:

Executing Government Transformation

This report is from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

Monday, November 7, 2011

GPS, Privacy, and the Supremes

The US Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments for a case on November 8, 2011 that can have an major impact on your privacy/self autonomy and relationship with government.  The case is called, United States v. Jones.  The central questions of the case are as follows:

1. Whether the warrantless use of a GPS tracking device on a person's vehicle to monitor its movements violates the Fourth Amendment.

2. Whether the government violated the person's Fourth Amendment rights by attaching the GPS tracking device to his vehicle without a valid warrant.

The US Government argues that there is no privacy interest for an individual because the person's vehicle was "knowingly" in the public venue.  Other words, where the vehicle goes it can be seen all the time in public.  To bolster their argument they refer to a Supreme Court case that was decided in 1983 which had its origin in Minnesota called United States v. Knotts.  The case states that there is no violation of the Fourth Amendment when "technological enhancements" are used to follow a vehicle when in public view.

It is important to note in 1983, there was no such thing as GPS monitoring devices with links to satellites which gives specific location such as latitude and longitude and also time information.  What was used in the Knotts case was a beeper device where there had to be close monitoring by law enforcement because it relied on radio signals.  This is not the case with the current GPS tracking processes.

With current GPS technology a tracking device could be placed on a vehicle and could track an individuals movements for a week , three weeks, six months, or even a year with no judicial oversight or accountability.

The US Government argues that an individual has no expectation of privacy because a person's movements can be "readily" viewed in the public.  Other arguments voiced by the government is that there is no "widespread, suspicionless" abuse of GPS tracking.  To sum up their argument, GPS tracking "is used to gather information that could be observed by any member of the public, and cars have traditionally been afforded diminished Fourth Amendment protection.

Lying underneath this case is the crucial role of continuing improvement of technology, how law enforcement uses it, and then how to reconcile it with our constitutional protections.

The arguments on the other side of government state the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy not expecting "a satellite-based GPS device would not be affixed to his vehicle and used to generate and permanently store GPS data about his movements and locations." and constitutes a Fourth Amendment search.

Their argument continues that the US Government relies on US Supreme Court decisions that dealt with the "now-antiquated" beeper.  Technology has changed the discussion because location data can now be gotten and stored where it could not be "obtained through visual surveillance."

The case has a great number of Amicus briefs in support of the person and against the US Government position.  From the Cato Institute, ACLU, to Gun Owners of America are some of the organizations.  The briefs of the US Government, Mr Jones, and others can be accessed on the ABA website.

GPS technology can be useful to law enforcement, but at what expense.  Is it at the expense of our self autonomy, individual privacy, and freedom of association?  Should law enforcement be able to place an item on a vehicle with no accountability or independent oversight?  How much of a price are we willing as people to pay for technology's newest addition to law and order?

Back in 1989, the Minnesota Legislature enacted into law procedures for getting a mobile tracking device and a standard for law enforcement.  In 1989, there was only the "beeper" technology.  I was involved in working with members of the Legislature on that legislation.  There should be a legislative hearing in the future to get an idea how technology is advancing, how law enforcement uses it, and impact on our civil liberties.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's Up? Gov Dayton and Speaker Zellers

I read the front page story of the Star Tribune today titled "Stadium Plans Thrown Into Limbo".  When I got to the part of the story stating Speaker Zellers had "repeatedly told Dayton he opposed a special session and felt the issue could wait until next year" and then to read Gov Dayton's response that he was "very surprised" by those comments, my first thought, "What's up with these two?

There was a disconnect here of some kind, either of them not listening to each other, maybe talking in a low low tone, maybe hearing problems, who knows.  But when you have the #1 and #2 most powerful people in Minnesota not understanding each others position it allows for the public to be concerned and to ask questions.

Many political people would rate this as inside baseball and of no consequence.  It may remind them of the scene in the movie "Casablanca" when Rick's Place is shut down by Captain Renault, played by Claude Rains who knows gambling takes place there all the time and says:  "I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

But to the public it is a different matter.

If the Governor and Speaker have unplugged communication on simple matters on what each thought of a special session to be held later this month, Will they be able to tackle the big issues facing Minnesota and communicate in the future?

What also complicates their rapport is the penchant of secrecy that surrounds the stadium issue and which also was a characteristic of the budget shutdown.  Each side making comments about what they said or did, then others saying that's not entirely correct or totally false.  When the public does not know who to believe, it is not good government.

Simple solution would be to have their conversations recorded at their meetings, just like many public bodies do such as the school board or city council.  Simple, yes, but more than likely will never happen.  So what's the solution.

How about reading, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Seriously, just how many people know the facts about the politics and policy issues as it relates to the stadium discussions, only a handful.  The Governor and Speaker are a part of the handful which the public looks to for leadership and direct communication as to what's up with the stadium, not the miscommunication that two people may have.