Thursday, July 31, 2014


Just keyboard warriors? Behold one cop's response to the arrest of Professor Ore. Here's what a bunch more had to say. Are you mad yet?

REM870 is a reference to a shotgun commonly used by police

On August first, ASU English professor Ersula Ore will be sentenced for "passively resisting an unlawful arrest" after Officer Stewart Ferrin confronted her for jaywalking and obstructing traffic in closed off a construction zone near the university.

The case sparked outrage, protest and even some drama at one of the Tempe city council candidate forums when outraged community members vocalized their frustration with local cops. As the scandal put pressure on ASU, the officer was put on leave and the two top bosses at the university cop shop were eventually replaced. Local dissident cop blog, The Integrity Report, has been documenting the internal shakeup which at least some officers seem to hope will create an opportunity to rein in a police force that they allege (with a good deal of evidence) is unaccountable and out of control.

Professor Ore (Photo via Phoenix New Times)
But since Ore took responsibility for her act of self-defense, much of the tension has dissipated from this once highly controversial and contentious case. Coverage was mixed in the media but it has mostly dropped off the radar as she moves towards sentencing.

Notable exceptions include a recent exchange of letters to the editor, one by former Mesa cop Bill Richardson defending Ferrin's character, followed by a response challenging it ("Letter: Police officer's personality doesn't matter"), both run in the State Press, ASU's east campus newspaper. Over the course of the scandal, one particular local weekly news blog/magazine left some very interesting things out of the story, but we'll come back to that at the end.

We at Down and Drought pay a lot of attention to the police, including cop online forums. So when we saw last week that New York Magazine had run a piece focusing on the comments from officers on various cop websites regarding the recent death of a cigarette vender, who appears to have died as a result of very rough treatment by the NYPD, we thought we'd give the Ore case the same treatment. We thought: let's see what cops have to say online about her case, under the cover of (what they think is ) anonymity.

As the NY Magazine article points out, in order to post on cop forums like, you have to register and be verified as an actual cop or retired law enforcement officer. boasts over 200,000 members and claims that they "confirm the status of all officers registering... by calling that officer’s department directly." Which means when you read opinions from commentators on their forums, you can be pretty sure you're getting the thoughts of a cop or former cop.

We were able to track some of these officers back to their departments ourselves through basic internet searches and confirm that they are in fact cops, but we weren't able to link any of them directly to ASU -- although some of the comments we looked at demonstrated knowledge of policing in Tempe and Arizona.

That said, it's important to note that the comments we're sharing here, while outrageous, weren't out of step with the general tenor of comments we found. No comments defended Ore and most posters thought that Ferrin had been too forgiving with her. As we've demonstrated before, Phoenix and Tempe police have notoriously bad senses of humor (see here, and here, and here). So there's no reason to think that they are any better than online cops in terms of their opinions.

So let's dig in and see what some cops had to say about the Ore arrest. To get things started, here's one officer making a joke referencing sexual assault. Remember, Ore objected vocally on the video about Ferrin's manhandling of her causing her dress to hike up. Thus an officer naturally thought this was an appropriate joke to make.

 In the same comment thread, another officer chimes in:

In a different post on the same site, user "SgtDavidWilliams" rushes to Ferrin's defense, counseling that she's lucky she didn't get the rougher treatment he thinks she deserved:

Advocating for less tolerance and a higher degree of violence was common in the online cop forums we looked at. Most officers took the position that Ferrin had been too kind in his interaction with Ore.

Officers also frequently argued for liberal use of the Taser. One user hinted in a "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" sort of way that "I did see a taser on his belt, correct?" In the comment below, the reference to "sparky" (the taser) may or may not be a double entendre also alluding to the ASU mascot, but it certainly indicates a casualness that is disturbing when it comes to the use of a weapon that has been linked to many deaths over the years.

Along similar lines was another comment boasting that the "college professor would've met the pavement far sooner had I been arresting her." Yet another joked that Ferrin should "probably work on that straight arm bar takedown." Later in the thread another member says, "She really needed to taste the color of the paint on the hood."

Another set of comments focused on Ore's race and gender, reflecting the usual tact and sophistication that one tends to expect from the reactionary right.



In an era of increasing skepticism and worry about the police, even on the traditionally law and order right, comments like those we found don't do cops any favors in the PR department. If white middle class people -- the traditional base of support for law enforcement, no matter how brutal -- are worried about their interactions with police then it's an indication of something significant going on. Police should be worried. The carte blanche they've had for, well, basically forever may be in danger.

And those curious omissions I mentioned at the beginning? One of the curious features of the Ore coverage was the oddly reactionary treatment from the Phoenix New Times, spearheaded by Ray Stern. Stern went pretty hard against Ore. He conceded Ferrin's approach appeared "mildly thuggish," but when Ore pleaded guilty he pronounced somewhat smugly that, "it looks like Ore's done fighting the good fight. We're not expecting her to follow up on the threat she made in the video to sue the (bleep) out of the officer or ASU."

In one article, Stern in passing gives us a brief history of Stewart Ferrin, who it was revealed early on hails from a law enforcement family and had long harbored aspirations of continuing that legacy. But what legacy? Strangely, Stern fails to mention another little bit of Ferrin law enforcement family history -- one detailed in the very archives of the Phoenix New Times itself!

In a September 1998 article entitled "Thrust and Parry," the New Times detailed in a feature article the story of Alvin Yellowhair, a Native American student at ASU who alleged that Stewart Ferrin's father, John Ferrin, then an officer with the Tempe PD, had beaten and sodomized him with a nightstick after arresting him at a party.

"Advocating for less tolerance and a higher degree of violence was common in the online cop forums we looked at." 

The case, which involved missing evidence and allegations of obstructionism from city officials, was eventually ruled in Ferrin's favor, and he came out the winner in a lawsuit by Yellowhair, too, which was finally resolved by jury in 2005. But the case led to allegations of an out of control police force without proper supervision and the revelation that the senior Ferrin, at that point, had had four citizen complaints against him which the city didn't want to reveal. Does any of this sound familiar? White cop, civilian person of color, ASU, use of force, out of control police force, potential cover up and lack of investigation? Quite an omission, if you ask me!

But Stern's probably right when he says that "ASU's very sensitive to the pubic perception, especially given President Michael Crow's goal to attract 100,000 students to lucrative online-degree programs." Indeed, the University should be concerned about how they will be viewed by prospective or returning students and their parents. Especially if those students aren't white.

Nothing to see here!

As Professor Ore faces sentencing, with a shakeup going on at ASU PD, and with residents in the surrounding neighborhoods increasingly fed up with both the actions of local cops and the complete failure of the politicians to do anything about it, the university and the city would each be well-advised to consider taking immediate public steps to address these concerns with concrete actions.

Locals have put forward several options, from repealing the loud party ordinances that so quickly can escalate under heavy handed policing, to canceling the upcoming "safe & sober" campaign (in which cops invade the neighborhoods and detain residents at rates higher than NYC's "stop & frisk" program), or selling off controversial spy equipment like the Stingray mass cell phone monitoring device.

How about a program of de-militarizing TPD in general? In an era of mass corporate tax giveaways downtown, why not raise some cash by selling off that useless cop clutter? On a related note, does the Tempe Citizens’ Panel for Review of Police Complaints and Use of Force even meet? Down and Drought has been following the public page for this supposed oversight board for a year now and have yet to see a single posting for a public meeting nor any updates on what they're up to.

Meanwhile candidates for city council have to be forced by angry crowds to discuss the police, and the only solutions they seem to have is lavishing them with even more expensive toys which residents can be assured they will abuse. Increasingly, Tempe government looks completely out of step with a public that is asking themselves just what the hell is going on with the cops that patrol their neighborhoods. Does the city have any answers for them? It appears that answer is, no.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Interstate 11: Privatized Roads, Privatized Water

Last year Down & Drought published three articles from the excellent Stop CANAMEX blog, perhaps the only local resource for researched and detailed information on proposed infrastructure projects in Arizona.  In post after post, the blog produces the names of the projects and the players behind the push for massive new highway projects, international trade deals, and how they relate to economic zones like the proposed "Sun Corridor" megaregion.  As bloggers, academics, and journalists debate and opine over the future supplies of the region's water and the potential for shortages in the very near future, this latest piece from the Stop CANAMEX project names the names of the developers and how they plan to profit, while the potential for drought and water scarcity looms.

You might not think Interstate 11 has anything to do with water privatization, but it does, and considering our water shortages, we should be worried.

Pushes for water privatization cannot be separated from the increased move towards public-private partnerships (P3 or PPP) for infrastructure projects--especially when both consultants for the I-11 study are steeped in P3s in transportation and water.

This is not to imply that these consultants, CH2MHILL and AECOM, are involved with Interstate 11 because they also want to privatize our water (although it's possible). But the depth of their involvement in water privatization and P3s in general shows a likelihood that I-11, or parts of it, is intended to be a P3. The more experience Arizona has with P3s, the easier it will be to implement various projects including water. Water is privatized in many other countries, often due to conditions for loans by the World Bank, a tendency seen with structural adjustment programs. P3 arrangements make it more likely that the private side will call the shots. We might get a road we don't even want, just because some companies can make some money. And we may end up with a bigger water problem.

Obama made water privatization in the US easier, when on June 13 of this year, he signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) into law. This included the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA) which is a 5-year pilot program providing financing for P3s for water projects.

2014 618 priv st
Image: Denis Bocquet / Flickr
WIFIA, mirroring the "Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act" (TIFIA), was a concept developed and promoted by the American Water Works Association (AWWA). What does this have to do with the I-11 Study consultants? AWWA, a non-profit, is supported by CH2MHILL and closely affiliated with AECOM. AECOM Senior Consultant Jim Chaffee was president of the AWWA until very recently.

There is no doubt that both consultants are immersed in the world of infrastructure P3 promotion. CH2MHILL supports The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships and has a couple members on the steering committee of the NCPPP's Water Institute. The Senior Vice President of the investment arm of AECOM, Samara Barend's testimony to congress back in May was meant to encourage federal facilitation of P3s on a larger scale. 

AECOM put out the white paper, Fostering a Larger Private-Sector Role in United States Infrastructure in which their number one recommendation in the executive summary reads, "Expand the use of PPPs for surface transportation projects. This can be achieved by extend [sic] the successful TIFIA and [Private Activity Bond (PAB)] programs before they expire in 2015." Number 2 includes, "Pass the proposed 'WIFIA' pilot program to provide long-term, flexible low-interest subordinated debt financing terms to water utilities...Enable the WIFIA program funds to be partnered with PABs, as has proven successful with TIFIA."

TIFIA loans and availability payments, and possibly tax-exempt PABs, are being considered for I-11, especially since collection of tolls on the future Interstate 11 would be controversial, even while concessions are still an option. You can listen to AECOM's Samara Barend, brimming with enthusiasm, break down different types of P3s and the financing options in the video Public-Private Partnerships: Lipinski Symposium On Transportation Policy & Strategy.

A previous post on this blog, Companies seek partnership with ADOT to profit on freeway, Part 2: The Methods, explains the draw these options have for companies seeking to make money off of infrastructure projects. These and more are listed as options in the I-11 Study draft Implementation Report.

As Ellin Dannin of Truthout pointed out, with programs like TIFIA and WIFIA, "rather than the private partner coming to the rescue of cash-strapped governments, it is the public that must subsidize private contractors."

ADOT just released a Request for Information regarding its Statewide Assets, on July 2 as part of their Public Private Partnership Initiative. Since ADOT has several projects on the table, this step allows them to feel out the industry's interest before putting out a Request for Proposals, either for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, the Interstate 11, a North-South corridor, SR 189, or other projects listed on their website.

While P3s are often framed as a better option for the public sector to accomplish their goals with their limited resources, in that they can leverage their assets, P3s are widely promoted by large companies who seek to make money. Construction companies, engineering firms, consultants, and banks all see dollar signs in these projects, and they host conferences and make other efforts to reach out to local officials to steer them in that direction. For example, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs are involved with P3 conferences like the National P3 Symposium. Both AECOM and CH2MHill are sponsors and attendees of the ARTBA P3s in Transportation Conference and the 2015 Global Water Summit who uses the phrase "the water value revolution" and whose website is

Many such companies worry about their fate if the economy doesn't allow for governments to implement as many infrastructure projects. For example, Goldman Sachs listed AECOM as one of the companies that would go under if government spending was severely limited, considering that AECOM has 62% sales exposure to government. Their survival largely hinges on access to P3 deals. No wonder they're pushing the idea.

They have already made some money from the the I-11 Study which cost approximately 2.5 million dollars. While it would likely be a conflict of interest for either consultant to get a Design-Build, etc. deal on I-11, their interest in P3s remain. Corporate Accountability International warns that private water companies often get a foot hold on further water privatization deals by entering into consultation partnerships first.

An interesting fact is that Mike Kies, the ADOT project director for the I-11 Study has worked for AECOM. He worked for AECOM on the Arizona Rail Framework Study and the State Rail Plan. He was an AECOM project consultant on an ADOT project to make I-10 5 lanes each way from Tangerine Road to I-8. The article on this project stated, "An improved I-10 can 'support the objectives of the CANAMEX trade corridor, which includes this important segment of I-10,' literature indicates. The CANAMEX corridor presumes greater traffic between Mexico and Canada through the U.S. I-10 is 'not only an important east-west freight route,' but decision-makers 'expect freight movements to increase north and south.'"

Also interesting is that John McNamara of AECOM, then of BRW, Inc., was involved back in 1993 on an Arizona Trade Corridor Study, which is one of the earliest references to CANAMEX.

The Arizona Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA), which "encompasses the former CANAMEX Task Force" just released their Strategic Roadmap, which primarily promotes trade corridors through Arizona, and P3s, with an emphasis on encouraging an effort to get local policy makers and others to understand the "benefits" of trade infrastructure and private involvement in financing. The TTCA was started in 2012, bringing together the public and private sector, including Jim Kolbe, CANAMEX expert of the Arizona Mexico Commission (AMC). This sort of public-private partnership unit allows private interests to influence policy behind closed doors.

From "Scientists on where to be in the 21st century based on sustainability"
Trade and transportation infrastructure of the scale intended by organizations like the AMC/TTCA would require massive amounts of natural resources including water. In addition, the more roads, the more traffic, the more sprawl, the more pollution and use of resources. It's an endless cycle. At the June 25 I-11 in the Phoenix area, Franco Habre asked, "With the current and looming water shortages shouldn't we be applying a moratorium on proposed infrastructure projects?" to which ADOT's Mike Kies responded that it's not his job to be concerned about water. Those whose job it is to be concerned about water, such as the Arizona Department of Water Resources, toured Arizona stating that water desalination is a likely necessity a few years from now. The desalination would likely occur in Mexico or California and be transported to Arizona.

AMC is already moving forward on this, and just announced that,
"This year’s plenary included the signing of an Agreement of Cooperation between the states of Arizona and Sonora through the Arizona Department of Water Resources and Sonora’s State Commission on Water.  This agreement allows both states to jointly evaluate the feasibility of Sea of Cortez desalination to augment and increase water supply resiliency in Arizona and Sonora.  This agreement is signed at a time where the Arizona-Sonora region is facing critical water supply challenges and experiencing extended droughts."
It is highly unlikely that water desalinated and transported from the ocean will not be privatized, especially if the pro-P3 Arizona-Mexico Commission gets in the middle. Desalination plants are increasingly being built in the US for use with brackish water, including one in California which is a public-private partnership, and incidentally, Poseidon Resources Corp, the company behind this plant, held a presentation about this facility for the AMC 2014 Plenary Environment and Water Committee (titled 2-IDE Powerpoint Arizona.pdf within the zip file). Is a water pipeline a possibility for AMC's god-child CANAMEX/I-11?

AMC's interest in water may also have something to do with their relationship with Freeport McMoran, one of their biggest sponsors who's also had someone on their board for several years. Freeport is responsible for massive pollution and human rights violations, particularly in West Papua. In January, Freeport hired the previous director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources as their director of water strategy. And while Freeport has been key in changing Arizona water legislation to be in their favor, they might be worrying that Arizona will mandate that mines use desalinated water as Chile, another location of Freeport's mines, has recently done. Even if Freeport is not worried about being required to use desalinated water, they may be looking ahead to when they've used all other options, having bought up farm land for their water rights and swindling native water rights from various tribes. It may also be significant that Michael J. Lacey, Director of Arizona Department of Water Resources is co-chair of AMC's Environment and Water committee.

The AMC and the World Bank, are interested in opening up public services to market forces, and businesses want to make money off of these deals. Private water companies across the world have experienced resistance to their plans. They therefore know they have to frame their project in a way that is more acceptable to people, such as a public-private partnership leveraging the assets of the municipal government, despite many of the pro-P3 arguments being false. And what is a worse to privatize than a basic need which is a finite resource? Privatizing water means poor people go without it, and conservation is counter to the profit-interest of companies.

With all these plans for transportation infrastructure, water is an issue even if it's not privatized. The more development, the more pollution and wasting of water. They may try to sell their projects as "green" or "sustainable" but increased growth in this region is not sustainable. Additionally, private or not, desalinated water will cost more. We need to halt development and many of the wasteful industrial projects such as the Freeport McMoran mines.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If ASU can't protect faculty from its violent police, what does it mean for the rest of us?

If you read the outline "ASU Vision and Goals: 2013 and Beyond" hosted on the page of the Office of the President, the first two objectives are as follows:
Maintain the fundamental principle of accessibility to all students qualified to study at a research university

Maintain university accessibility to match Arizona’s socioeconomic diversity
Which may seem more than a bit ironic in light of the recent ASU PD beat down of a black professor who refused to passively submit to a college cop's street harassment. As anyone knows who lives in the area, this particular street is blocked off to traffic for the construction of a pedestrian mall (this is ASU's vision for the future boiled down to its essence, by the way). People routinely cross at this location in other than legal ways as a result of debris, construction materials or because they feel unsafe walking at night.

Photo via AzFamily
While some dispute the assertions of profiling and racism being made about this particular interaction, the fact that this is a white cop stopping a black woman can't be ignored, not least of all given the stark and long history of police racism in both Arizona and the US. The stop has all the hallmarks of "walking while black," the selective harassment and enforcement of often petty laws by law enforcement against blacks. But regardless, the image speaks for itself, and countless people, including potential students and their parents, will now associate ASU with what looks on the face of it to be a racialized and violent police over-reaction and power trip.


On video Dr. Ore is heard asserting over and over that she is a professor at the school, to no avail. The cop, like police in general, isn't about to back down just because there's a more reasonable alternative available (a warning, for instance). And Ore's appeal to her status fell on deaf ears.

Indeed, Dr. Ore's lawyer, Alane M. Roby, is quick to reiterate this status in his public appeals. In a statement to CNN, he said,  "Professor Ore's one crime that evening was to demand respect that she deserves as a productive, educated and tax paying member of society." 

But, of course, it isn't just the "productive, educated and tax-paying" members of society who deserve not to fear getting interrogated and beaten by cops on Tempe streets, it's everyone. So what does this mean for residents and students of lesser stature?

A memorial to Austin Del Castillo (photo via New Times)

Last year, during the height of its ASU-supported "Safe & Sober" invasion of the neighborhoods surrounding the Tempe campus, Tempe police shot and killed Austin Del Castillo in plain daylight at one of the busiest intersections in the city. At least one bullet reportedly missed and hit the now closed but then operational Chili's restaurant. Del Castillo was shot, in part, because he was not acting like a "productive, educated and tax paying member of society." Witnesses disputed police claims that Del Castillo was lunging at officers when they opened fire on him.

Likewise when police let loose on William Barret, who had broken into House of Tricks' renowned wine cache for a taste of the good stuff.  Police blasted on him when he supposedly lobbed an empty bottle at an officer.  The officer was uninjured, but from jail Barret said, “They shot me in the hand. If I stuck my head out they could have shot my head off.” When in doubt, escalate seems to be the ethic of the cops patrolling ASU and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Purchase order for spy camera (Image via The Integrity Report)

Or, when escalation isn't the go-to option, Tempe cops go for humiliation, as in the now infamous case of Sgt. Chuck Schoville. Here at Down and Drought, we've cataloged TPD's many gaffes and abuses, including their really awful sense of humor, their expansion of their secret surveillance powers, their crackdowns on Tempe's traditional party culture, their protection of racist frats, their surveillance of tailgaters at football games, and much more.

Not covered by us, but equally troubling is the post-retirement career of former ASU top cop John Pickens, who will continue to head up University Security Initiatives, ASU's surveillance apparatus (why do they need one?). Note ASU PD's recent purchase of a KJB Security Wall Outlet Hidden Spy Camera. What's that for? Who's getting spied on? Is ASU a university or an intelligence agency (a tip of the hat to Michael Crow and his time working with CIA tech fund In-Q-Tel)?

Meanwhile TPD continues to spend $5 million a year on its own SPARC surveillance center, recently taken to task by former Mesa cop Bill Richardson in the pages of the State Press. In other troubling news, dissident cop blog "The Integrity Report" cites an ongoing history of questionable use of force and lack of accountability at the ASU cop shop. Bloggers there report several uses of force that received no review at all from department bosses. Is anyone in charge over there? Less CIA and more Keystone Kops, it seems.

All together, what we're seeing is the emergence of a local police state in Tempe operating like an army of occupation, not answerable to anyone -- regardless of social status, and apparently not accountable to anyone. In this situation, everyone has reason to be concerned about whether they will land in its cross-hairs, not just professors.

KJB Security Wall Outlet Hidden Spy Camera


Indeed, students and parents of prospective students have good reason to be concerned. If ASU can't protect a black professor from the cops, what chance do those of lesser status have? Can ASU live up to its self-appointed diversity goals if it doesn't reign in its police force?

Round two of "safe & sober" is likely going to commence with the return of students in the Fall. During the last iteration (canceled abruptly after the shooting of Del Castillo), TPD, ASU PD and MCSO (the infamously racist department run by Sheriff Joe) blanketed the streets around the university with cops, making thousands of stops. In fact, as a proportion of the population, "safe & sober" rivaled NYPD's infamous "stop and frisk" campaign. Funded by the Feds, it was likely a real windfall for the city once all the fines were added up. Almost a year later, police have yet to release any details on the racial breakdown of those stops, but if history is any guide, it likely skews heavily towards people of color and other marginalized groups.


ASU has an easy choice here, but that doesn't mean they'll make it. First of all, they should drop the charges against Dr. Ore. Then they need to fire Officer Ferrin. ASU needs to send a message that they honor their commitment to diversity and equal access to ASU and its many scattered off campus facilities. Students and residents need to know they are not going to suffer the same fate -- or worse -- as Dr. Ore.  Finally, they should withdraw from future "safe & sober" campaigns and demand the release of data on the race of those people stopped by all police forces involved, including MCSO. ASU likes to talk big about its commitments to the community. It's time to step up and make good on them.

Arizona doubles down on school to prison pipeline, expands cops in schools

A big story broke for Arizona students the other day and it wasn't the tear-jerker faux apology of state school Superintendent and compulsive racist internet troll John Huppenthal.

While the media has been safely distracted with the important questions raised by the Huppenthal mess, such as just what would a menu at a Mexican restaurant look like if it couldn't use Spanish (i.e., "Can I interest anyone in a corn flour flatbread wrap stuffed with mashed pinto beans and cheese?"), meanwhile the legislature passed a massive expansion of Arizona's school resource officer program.

This program, partially funded by Proposition 301 which passed in 2000, was expanded last week, growing it to include 137 schools and 118 officers with an added price tag of $12 million. Aside from more officers, the deal also includes the addition of three juvenile probation officers. And here's where we get to the crux of the issue.

Source: Arizona Daily Star

Over the last several years, students, activists and parents have expressed increasing concern about what's called the "school to prison pipeline."  As the adult prison population has expanded in this country, so has the number of children behind bars. And even with a relatively recent rise in the use of diversion programs in Arizona, the consequences for students can be severe, as the presence of SROs in schools leads to the increasing criminalization of student behavior, particularly students of color. Police become involved in behavior problems that previously had been treated as administrative discipline issues.

According to a Justice Policy Institute report on SROs in schools:
"In 2001, the Pinellas County (Florida) School District Police made 146 arrests, of which 54 percent were of black students. Comparatively, 19 percent of the District’s enrollment is black.

In South Carolina, black students are more likely to be referred to law enforcement than their white peers. Black students make up 42 percent of student enrollment, but 75 percent of disorderly conduct charges, of which 90 percent are referred to law enforcement.

In the 2001–2002 school year, Latino students were 22 percent of student enrollment, but 34 percent of referrals to law enforcement agencies in Colorado."
Disparities of this order ought to concern anyone and should be part of the discussion around further expanding the role for police in schools.

Source: Justice Policy Institute (.pdf)

Further, racial disparities plainly evident in policing outside school also prevail behind school walls. The ACLU Arizona has also documented the disproportionate criminalization of students of color, noting that both Latino and black youth are over-represented throughout the process, from referral and arrest to incarceration. These disparities result, in no small part, from the proliferation of "zero tolerance policies" in schools, which combine with the presence of SROs to funnel students into the criminal justice system.

These policies, which emerged from the white suburban paranoia in the 80's and 90's over drugs and violence in inner city schools, and solidified as national policy with the passing of the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 (perhaps offering a lesson in the unintended consequences of gun control legislation), have had greater effect in schools attended by nonwhite students.

The Justice Policy Institute has shown a direct correlation between zero tolerance policies and the proportion of students of color in a school, as well as the way that youth of color are targeted at far greater rates than white kids for all manner of disciplinary processes. In Arizona, for instance, suspensions for Native American youth ranks second in the nation and well above the national average. Likewise, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, Indigenous Peoples number 5% of the Arizona population and yet total 10% of its prison population. More SROs will only further exacerbate that disturbing trend.

Source: New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (.pdf)

And SROs in schools pose a particular threat to immigrant youth in the land of SB1070. In 2013, the ACLU Arizona filed a complaint (.pdf) with the then Superintendent of Sunnyside Unified School District, Dr. Manuel L. Isquierdo over an incident in which a student was turned over by a school resource officer to Border Patrol over his immigration status.  Again, data from the Justice Policy Center shows that, "Even when controlling for school poverty, schools with an SRO had nearly five times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct as schools without an SRO." SROs also pose a safety risk to students. In Tempe in February, a SRO accidentally tased a eight grader when teaching a class on bullying.

Flooding Arizona schools with cops is obviously seen as uncontroversial among media types, as not one single article I could find had even a solitary voice of dissent on the matter. More cops in schools, in the age of school shooting paranoia, is viewed as a universal good, just like zero tolerance policies were during a previous wave of school violence fears. Meanwhile, the admittedly offensive and reactionary internet comments by Superintendent Huppenthal have created a national media firestorm.

While Huppenthal's racism is a serious issue, and certainly his attacks on ethnic studies were clearly racist, banning books in school doesn't prevent students from reading them. Ideally, students do most of their reading outside of class. Libraries exist, the internet exists. Huppenthal running the schools is certainly a problem, but the presence of police in those schools is a direct every day force for institutionalized racism with real, lifelong consequences for students. The silence that has greeted this expansion of the police state is telling.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Scottsdale Police join ranks of Valley cops using "Stingray: device to spy on cell phones

As we revealed in a recent post, the Tempe Police Department has made at least two purchases of the Stingray device from the Harris Corporation, both shrouded in secrecy due to a non-disclosure agreement.  We can now reveal that another valley police department is in possession of a Stingray device. Down & Drought has learned that the Scottsdale Police Department used the controversial Stingray surveillance device on 29 "missions" in 2010, citing a Scottsdale police report which identifies the device by name in a section on the department's Technical Operations Unit.

The 2010 annual report appears to be the only public admission of Scottsdale's use of a Stingray, no other web searches by Down & Drought could find any other reference of the device by the City of Scottsdale or Scottsdale Police Department.  In the 2010 City of Scottsdale Annual Report, the Stingray is mentioned briefly in the section on the Scottsdale Police Department's Special Investigations Section Technical Operations.  According to the report, the Technical Operations Unit is "responsible for the installation and maintenance of technical surveillance equipment and systems. The Tech Ops Unit assists other work groups within the police department, including Patrol, with special technical investigative assistance." 

Police departments across the valley, and through out Arizona, are increasingly utilizing electronic surveillance devices to eavesdrop and record information with very little public knowledge about the techniques being used in the mass gathering of private and confidential information of individuals.  In an article published in March on Down & Drought, we raised concerns over the civil rights implications of the Tempe Police Department's use of an electronic surveillance device called the Stingray by citing the secrecy surrounding the devices as a result of a contractual confidentiality agreement between the City of Tempe and the manufacturer of the Stingray, the Harris Corporation.

It has been confirmed, through articles from the Arizona Republic and statements from the Arizona branch of the ACLU, that police departments in the valley, and across Arizona have purchased Stingray technology.  The AZCLU's Alessandra Meetze identified the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, the Gilbert PD, and Glendale PD as valley departments in use of the Stingray device, and the Pinal County Sheriff's Department and Flagstaff PD as agencies outside the valley with Stingrays. A subsequent Arizona Republic article from December 2013 identified the Mesa PD and Phoenix PD as departments using the Stingray, with Phoenix having one in use since 2001.

The Stingray is a surveillance technology used by police to imitate a cell phone tower causing every cell phone and wireless device within range to connect with the police tower and unwittingly sharing data.  As of now, there is no way for an individual to know if their cell phone or wireless device is currently having its communications and data intercepted by police.

Scrutiny from media outlets over the Stingray technology has intensified in recent weeks after US Marshals intervened in a public records request regarding a Florida police department's use of the device.  Wired writer Kim Zetter has followed the legal battles over the non-disclosure agreements which protect police departments from releasing any information on their purchases from the Harris Corporation.  In her most recent piece on the Stingray, she covered the eyebrow raising actions of the  US Marshals seizing records requested by the ACLU regarding the Stingray's use by detectives from the Sarasota Police Department. While this brazen intervention by federal authorities has shocked civil libertarians, such efforts to thwart a public records request are common. The FBI routinely has its agents working to obscure the price, function, and uses of the Stingray device by testifying in courtroom hearings that the secrecy is necessary to stop criminal targets from learning how police may be monitoring their activities.

Most troubling is the revelation, which came from the Associated Press, that the Obama administration is actively advising local law enforcement agencies to not disclose the details of their agreements with the Harris Corporation, or the applications of the secret surveillance technology used for the Stingray device.  Whereas the FBI's public defense of the non-disclosure agreements concerned "criminals" evading the device's detection, the Obama administration is defending the secrecy surrounding the device on the grounds that to reveal any information could constitute a threat to national security. As Washington Post columnist Radley Balko remarked this week, if revealing the particulars of this device is such a threat to national security, then why is it being widely used by local police departments across the country?

Since it seems likely that these devices will continue to be used in greater number across the country, and not seized as Balko jests, then it is imperative that the core questions regarding these devices be answered.  How do they work, how many are they, how many people are going to prison due to their use, and how can an individual prevent such a device from accessing their personal information on a wireless device.  Until that occurs, it's safe to presume that the Stingray, and similar devices, can do a lot more than log call information and triangulate an individuals location, and the public deserves to know how they're being spied on this time

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Phoenix Police threaten wave of terror, plan to murder their way towards pay raises

Are Valley police threatening to murder their way to a pay raise? Are they gunning to take food off the plates of poor children? All indications point to "affirmative."

With Phoenix cops threatening to go to the ballot to protect their bloated pay packages and fast lane pay increases -- raises that have gone far beyond that of other city workers -- the fight over police pay may not be over just because the City of Phoenix passed a budget.


The surprise moment of political clarity that threatens to finally cut back on the bloated pay of Phoenix Police officers has led to some odd political moments already, such as local civil rights advocate Jarett Maupin rushing to the defense of the boys in blue, who so often dish out the black and blue -- and worse -- in Valley neighborhoods, especially poor neighborhoods of color.

Sal Diccicio, generally a right wing opponent of unions, voted with the union thugs this time. Will Buividas, the cops' bargainer-in-chief on this one, had this to say:  "It's weird, of course. And politics makes these strange bedfellows. The people supporting us last night were some of the same people who support The Goldwater Institute and got Goldwater to sue us on release time. It's a very interesting blender we find ourselves in."


Local libertarian activist Jason Shelton, however, showed up to the city council debate as a lone dissenter, speaking after a long line of cops and police-advocates had their chance. Known for his past organizing against the hated freeway cameras and border checkpoints, Shelton denounced the police union and Phoenix officers as "socialists" and "pirates." It's nice to see the libertarian hatred of government and unions aimed in a direction that doesn't first and foremost screw over the poor for once.

Watch Shelton's comments in the the video below. Start it at 4:55 if it doesn't queue up automatically.

Shelton rightfully goes after several police myths, including the alleged dangerousness of the job and the nature of most police deaths on the job. In his remarks, Shelton mentions the leading cause of death for police: being hit by oncoming traffic.

Nevertheless, policing is universally revered in media and government. The death of any officer, for any reason, gets treated as a tragedy for the whole community, leading to civic responses quite out of proportion not only to the cause of death, but also the notice given to any other worker.

This city would be nothing without air conditioning repair technicians, for instance, and yet when is the last time we witnessed a public funeral for one of them? And yet on May 20th, the City of Phoenix placed a historical marker to commemorate the death of Officer Daryl Raetz, who was hit and killed by a vehicle while heroically making a DUI stop.


Shelton also raises the issue of the regressive food tax, putting his finger on a crucial element of this debate that isn't getting much play: the salaries of Phoenix cops have depended in no small measure on a direct tax on the city's poorest residents.

Indeed, the Phoenix food tax was passed in 2010 specifically to preserve police jobs, among others. It's a real case of the poor paying not just more -- but twice! -- because, as a recent NPR study showed, it's the poor who are the overwhelming targets of police harassment and violence, including the fees and fines that keep the police in business.

In an April 30th position paper filed with Phoenix City Council (.pdf), PLEA (Phoenix Law Enforcement Association), one of the unions that represents Phoenix cops in the pay dispute, specifically blamed the repeal of the food tax as the cause of the pay cuts.

Police unions, used to the never-ending gravy train of raises, high tech toys, tax transfers, and Homeland Security grants, reacted with shock at the sudden reversal. Advocating for denying food to the poor is disturbing indeed. Taking it and putting it on your own plate even more so, which is essentially what the cops are advocating.


The debate over the pay cuts come at a time of great concern over real and perceived increases in the use of lethal force by local cops (euphemistically referred to in the media with the passive voice term "officer-involved shootings"). Thus it was only natural that the two issues would become entwined in the debate over pay.

Returning to PLEA's position paper, the union itself draws the connection between increasing violence and cuts. While championing the reduction in crime by 40%, the union laments that the same hasn't been true for cop violence (.pdf) "Unfortunately, the same trend cannot be said for violence involving Phoenix police officers. In 2013 Phoenix police officers were involved in 31 officer involved shootings. Already in 2014, Phoenix police officers have been involved in 15 officer involved shootings, on pace for 60 officer involved shootings this year, almost double the amount from 2013."

As a side note, consider that both the cops and the media are happy with that tidy little bit of obfuscatory grandiloquence, the "officer-involved shooting," a politically useful bit of Newspeak that removes all blame, situating the violence in a space detached from time, space and, importantly, causality. As if the armed officer's presence were mere unfortunate happenstance.

Police bosses had already been on the defensive about shootings by cops thanks to some local coverage in the media, although local news hasn't exactly done a stellar job in covering it, as we have highlighted here at Down and Drought.

Beyond PLEA, prominent cops have linked cuts to staff and budgets to a rise in shootings, too. Jeff Hynes, a former Phoenix cop and current professor at ASU in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said in a March interview with Channel 5 that rising police violence ought to be blamed on "the reduction of police forces" and cut budgets.

Speaking to Channel 5, Hynes made the connection between current and future police violence and budget cuts clear: "You're going to see more assaults, more shootings. You're going to see more violence." He continued, "I truly believe it's a connection with the reduction of police forces around the country and taking your officers out of the community interaction area and putting them back into a patrol function."

Channel 5 neglected to tell its readers, however, that Hynes, a former member of the PPD's Professional Standards Bureau, which is responsible for internal investigations of use of force, was himself placed on the infamous Brady List, a federally-required database of officers identified, as the New Times reports, as having done something that "calls into question their honesty." Many of these officers are on the list for use of force complaints and violations.

PLEA has made officers available for media interviews, in which they plead their case. One of them, Officer Mike "Britt" London, spoke to ABC15, complaining (with a very spacious and modern kitchen in the background) about tight budgets at home as a result of tight budgets at City Hall. ABC15's interview ended with an ominous comment from London: "I would like to know why it came to this, why they have to take from those of us who protect them."

London ran successfully for a position of trustee in the union in 2011. While campaigning for that position, London opened his candidate statement in the association's newsletter with a quote: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”. He declared, "I have always liked this expression and I think it can be applied to many areas of life." London prides himself on his status as a "street cop" where, presumably, he puts his philosophy into practice. Later, London described policing (he is based out of the perpetually scandal-plagued Maryvale Precinct) as "a job that sometimes feels isolating and thankless."

Meanwhile, Mesa PD Chief Frank Milstead claimed in a May 2 interview with Channel 3 that he didn't really believe that shootings by officers were on the rise. "I don't know that there's a real spike in violence as some of these pieces of violence as these events have been close in proximity timewise, which makes it very apparent to us that it happens," Mistead said.

Interestingly, Milstead, who started the controversial and scandal-plagued Major Offenders Bureau, was speaking to the news in order to mark the addition of the name of Detective Hobbs (also from MOB), recently killed in a gun fight on duty, to the Phoenix Police Museum's fallen officer display.

We've written about the Hobbs case already, but since that article ran, we have come into possession of a new document regarding Hobbs' past history with use of force. As we disclosed last time, previous public records searches had raised some questions about Hobbs' career.

From our previous article:
Further research revealed a court document detailing an encounter that resulted in the imprisonment of a man who confronted Hobbs on a stakeout. Hobbs was in plain clothes in an unmarked car. Haidar Muhsin al Bazony, eventually convicted of aggravated assault in the incident, was responding to a call from his wife who was concerned about men lingering outside her townhouse.

Bazony, armed with a handgun and backed up by a friend he recruited to aid him, approached the car, peering inside. The document in question, an appeal, disputes the timing of the encounter as described by the state. The appeal claims that Hobbs pointed his gun at Bazony first not the other way around. Each testified in court that the other had aimed their weapons first. According to the appeal, the timing was critical to the conviction. Keep in mind that Hobbs wasn't dressed in a uniform and wasn't in a marked vehicle. The request was denied and Bazony was sentenced to the absolute minimum by the court.

This new document is a version of the previously-cited court filing, but this one includes the court's footnotes. These notes include one very important fact which was not included in the previous version that we had. The case rested on a very simple but hard to determine fact: which of the two men, Hobbs or Bazony, had drawn their weapon first.

As noted above, the previous version of this document, lacking the court's comments, had indicated a "he said, she said" kind of situation, as both men testified that the other had pulled his weapon first. However, the court notes reveal something else. Footnote number 5 states, "Hobbs denied taking out his sidearm at this time. Another member of the surveillance team reported that Hobbs admitted to taking his sidearm out when he lay down, but this statement was not introduced as evidence."

This is important because, according to the document, while Hobbs was warned of Bazony's approach, the surveillance team had not seen the weapon. Hobbs himself, again, according to the court record, claims he did not draw his weapon until he saw Bazony's weapon. This excluded testimony changes the nature of this case substantially, especially given that Bazony went to prison as a result. It also casts further doubt on Hobbs in general, beyond that which we already managed to discover through cursory Google searches (a technique apparently unknown to local reporters, or at least conveniently forgotten when police shootings occur).

These questionable incidents included a case where Hobbs ran over and killed a pedestrian at night and yet was not administered a DUI test. Court record searches revealed at least one lawsuit that led to a payout by Hobbs to the plaintiff in the amount of $6328.10. Hobbs was defended by the city in that case, leaving the impression that this was work-related.

But since the media has found itself incapable of challenging the myth of policing, or the powerful police unions that perpetuate it, it frees the cops up to trot out their fallen comrades when politically expedient to do so. Long time regular columnist for the Republic, EJ Montini ran an anonymous letter from a cop in his March 27th column. The officer denounced city officials playing politics with officers' lives.
When an officer is killed in the line of duty you have a congregation of politicians lined up saying how sad they are. A week later it is business as usual -- attacking public safety. What a bunch of hypocrites. I would rather them stay away. Every cop knows they don't mean it.
Nevertheless, PLEA itself is quick to drag out the corpses of cops like Hobbs when they think it will score them points.  In an editorial on its own website entitled, "City wants Cuts While Violence Increases" (sic), the union invokes his name while warning of the consequences of a "dangerously understaffed and demoralized police force."  PLEA's position paper itself trots out Hobbs' corpse in its conclusion, a paragraph that uses the word "sacrifice" three times in the last two sentences.

While Valley cops may be confused about when it's appropriate to use a dead cop for political purposes, one thing they're sure of is that the residents of Greater Phoenix had better watch out. Take warning. The cops are looking out for number one this time around. Even your dinner isn't safe, and if they have to kill you in order to prove their point -- that they deserve a raise despite the fact that wages over all in Arizona for workers are still down since the recession -- then they will.

Maybe now's a good time to listen to Mesa Chief Milstead. Continuing his comments about policing, violence and risk in another interview, he put it this way: "We worry about putting people in the line of fire and in danger, but it is what we signed up for." Enough with the pity party, PPD. Stop complaining and take your hits like the tough, duty-bound toughies you claim to be. And most of all, stop killing us.

Read more Down and Drought coverage of Phoenix Police and the Major Offenders Bureau.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Is Tempe PD planning to use cell phone data to identify participants at an anti-racist rally?

According to local media, the Tempe Police Department are preparing for a potential clash between a group of white supremacists who have announced a "White Man March" on Mill Avenue on Saturday, and a counter-demonstration organized by local anarchists and anti-racists, including residents of the surrounding neighborhood.

The TPD has a less than stellar history when it comes to dealing with protests. With that in mind, we want to put a spotlight on a secretive tool in the arsenal of the Tempe cops, one that can easily be used for spying on demonstrators in real time by using something almost everyone carries with them these days: a cell phone. The question is, will the TPD use it -- and what will be the implications for civil liberties if they do?

The Tempe Police Department's history of political repression through intimidation, electronic tracking, and surveilling of activists, radicals, anarchists, and participants in Occupy Phoenix, has been documented here at Down & Drought (and also quite extensively by journalist Beau Hodai, and by the anarchists themselves (1,2)), and includes using anti-terror cops to spy on gardeners and deploying mobile surveillance to gawk at tailgaters.

Knowing this historical context, and considering statements from TPD about their preparation for Saturday's protests,  we decided to do a little to research on the use of technology for the purpose of remote electronic surveillance. This led us to the Stingray, a device being discreetly used by law enforcement agencies across the United States to covertly collect data.

The Stingray is known as an “IMSI catcher”, meaning that the device records the International Mobile Subscriber Identity of a particular wireless device, such as a cell phone.  According to documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal,  the "Stingray works by mimicking a cellphone tower, getting a phone to connect to it and measuring signals from the phone. It lets the stingray operator 'ping,' or send a signal to, a phone and locate it as long as it is powered on."

The Stingray has the ability to connect to all cell phones within a mile of the device, without police having to contact a wireless service provider, by collecting data on the identification and location of all phone communications within range, and then forwarding the signal on to the nearest cell phone tower.  Among the data collected by the Stingray include all outgoing numbers dialed for phone calls and text messages, and the identification for a phone which can be used to obtain call and text history.  As the Stingray is usually mounted in a police vehicle, it can stay mobile and, due to the lack of familiarity the public has with the device, would be difficult to identify.

A handful of valley police departments admitted that they use the device in an Arizona Republic article, among them Phoenix, Mesa, and Gilbert departments. These devices are generally purchased with grant funds made available by the Department of Homeland Security.  According to the Republic, a number of valley police departments refused to acknowledge the use of the Stingray device, including the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which denied any knowledge of the Stingray device. 

In a similar instance, journalists in Sacramento researching the use of the Stingray in the region were told by the the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office that the department had no knowledge of owning or using the Stingray.  When confronted with documents from other departments, including a purchase order from Sacramento County, which confirmed that the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office did own a Stingray and related technology, the department never fessed up to owning a Stingray, instead telling the journalists that their "legal counsel is coordinating a response" to the inquiry.

The Stingray is a product of the Harris Corporation, a company which specializes in high tech surveillance technology, and made the Stingray a sought after device for law enforcement after years of developing the technology for the US military. Harris Corporation refuses to answer reporters' questions about the Stingray and related products, telling them to ask the police agencies about the device, which would be great if Harris Corporation wasn't also requiring departments to sign non-disclosure agreements upon purchase. This is the case with one of the notable local departments absent from the Republic's article, the Tempe Police Department, who paid Harris Corporation $60,321.75 for a Stingray package in October 2012.

The contract, which the Public Intelligence project downloaded and hosts on their site, was removed from the City of Tempe's website in the weeks after the purchase.  The removal of the contract, between the Harris Corporation and the City of Tempe, was likely due to the non-disclosure agreement that Tempe probably violated by posting the document to the city's website. A subsequent request for an additional purchase from Harris Corporation to not exceed $123,497.50 was approved by the Tempe City Council at their August 22, 2013 meeting.  Naturally, the details of the recent purchase by the Tempe Police Department from Harris Corporation are not available to the public.

The use of nondisclosure agreements between the government and private industry to hide the acquisition of spy equipment with very serious civil liberties implications is troubling, to say the least! Why doesn't the city want its residents to know about this technology?  As noted in the USA Today expose on the Stingray, there is a concern that the device could be used to identify the participants of a rally or protest for a political cause.  

As we have previously noted in our article on the Facial Recognition Unit of the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC), local law enforcement have repeatedly used tools that were purchased under the pretext of "fighting crime", but were actually used to spy on the participants in protests and activist events, many of whom had never been accused or convicted of a crime.

So what does this mean for the future of protest in Tempe, or any town where the cops have a Stingray?  It likely means that anyone carrying a cell phone could have their identity placed at the scene by police, despite any other precautions (such as wearing a mask to conceal the face).  With the lengthy history of the Tempe PD's Homeland Defense Unit's efforts to stifle free speech and assembly, and the coordination between valley Terrorism Liason Officers (TLO) to identify radicals and anarchists in the valley, it seems quite likely that the Stingray could be discreetly deployed at this weekend's anti-fascist counter-protest to the "White Man March."

And if you think the Tempe Police Department using the Stingray on Saturday to collect the identities of people protesting a white supremacist march (or just anyone on Mill Ave who may get lumped in) is without precedent, think again.  In 2003, the Miami-Dade Police Department purchased a Stingray in anticipation of protests aimed at the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) conference.  The department claimed the device was needed to monitor protests, and the "anticipated criminal activities" which they claimed would be organized by cell phone. Following the FTAA protests, the City of Miami, the Miami Police Department, and its officers, faced a number of lawsuits concerning the level of violence and brutality used by police against demonstrators, as well as complaints over the use of surveillance to target journalists for arrest.

With concerns over the use of the Stingray, and the Tempe PD's history of repression towards protest groups, we reached out to Sgt Michael Pooley, the Press Information Officer at Tempe.  We asked Sgt Pooley for comment on the use of the Stringray by the Tempe Police in regards to the possible "White Man March" and counter-demonstration this weekend. We also asked about any past use of the Stingray by police at protests, and if the department has any concerns over the privacy concerns of anyone ensnared in the department's data collection.  As of the time this article was published, there has been no response from Sgt Pooley, continuing the silence from Tempe on what appears to be a serious attack on civil liberty.