Thursday, April 23, 2015

Valley Law Enforcement's Internet "Red Squad" Takes Center Stage at International Social Media and Surveillance Conference

A group of law enforcement officers who coordinated the crackdown on Occupy Phoenix, and regularly monitor the pages of activists through internet surveillance, are scheduled speakers at next week's "Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement" (SMILE) three day conference.  The Phoenix Police Department are the host agency for this year's conference,  Detective CJ Wren and  Terrorism Liaison Officer (TLO) All Hazards Analyst Brenda Dowhan will be representing Phoenix,  Detective Chris Adamczyk, a TLO from Mesa Police Department will also be presenting.

What they will be presenting on, should be of interest to anyone concerned with the powers given to police agencies to spy and collect information on individuals and groups engaged in political activity.  While the justification has been provided that these departments are concerned with anarchists and "criminal activists," much of the documentation surrounding Occupy Phoenix revealed that these individuals and their respective police organizations (Phoenix PD and Mesa PD coordinating with other departments through the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC)) were using secretive technologies to identify individuals who merely criticized department policy.

Phoenix police prepare to make arrests during Occupy Phoenix (Downtown Devil)

Journalist Beau Hodai obtained thousands of pages of documents from various law enforcement agencies on the varied multi-agency responses to  Occupy Phoenix, and related events.  What Hodai learned was that the counter-terrorism infrastructure established in Arizona, through the ACTIC fusion center, worked closely with corporate partners to pass information along information on protests being organized against them. 

We made good use of the Hodai's source materials, which were generously posted online, to write a series of stories that Hodai had not covered, including the revelations that a co-owner of Changing Hands Books was passing information about Occupy Phoenix along to the Phoenix PD.  Another unsettling story we covered was on the Facial Recognition Unit within ACTIC that was using a facial recognition software to scan the state's drivers license database to identify participants in protests, using photos found on social media.  Given that most of the information regarding the activities of ACTIC, and the TLOs involved in targeting Occupy Phoenix, is approaching four years old, the upcoming SMILE conference affords us the opportunity to shine a light on these digital spies.  Here are some highlights from the conference agenda:

TLO All Hazards Analyst Brenda Dowhan is giving a presentation on Using Social Media for Event Planning and Real-time Monitoring, in her event description Dowhan advocates for "pro-active policing," citing an anti-police protest as an event which "could impact public safety and the community."  Given what we know from Dowhan's history with the Occupy protests, anarchist events, and marches affiliated with indigenous causes, her objective is not to merely pass along information to other regional TLOs about a possible protest or activist gathering, but to coordinate disruption.  Hodai noted in his "Dissent or Terror" article that after Tempe Homeland Defense Unit Detective Derek Pittam wrote of a guerrilla gardening event successfully disrupted by Tempe police, Dowhan responded with "Good to hear. Every site I've been on, they know that we are watching them."

Dowhan was often aided by Mesa Detective Chris Adamczyk, a TLO and self-described expert in "subversive organizations."  Adamczyk will also be presenting to other officers on the topic of  Unmask the Movement: Using social media to assess the risks of subversive organizations.  In his description, Adamczyk laughably describes the "dark side of social media," the world of street gangs, syndicates, criminal activists, and terror organizations. In addition to his obsessing over the Facebook page of Food Not Bombs, Adamczyk has launched a private enterprise to share his unique skill set.  His website and smartphone app, called the Protestus Project, claims to be"making sense of the world of activism," but for who?  The site is updated infrequently, and appears to rely of the same open source information that Adamczyk receives on the daily from his position as a TLO at the Mesa Police Department.  The website and app are uneven in what information is shared, for example the website documents an activist group involved in recent anti-police protests and provides analysis of the local Black Lives Matter/Rumain Brisbon protests, while the app appears to be an alphabetized threat assessment of local activist groups.  It's unclear if Detective Adamczyk writes all content for the website or app.

Perhaps nothing is more humorous than the presentation given by Detective CJ Wren on Stalking 2.0 ~ Stalking in the Social Media Era, which is apparently about a man who found 30 social media pages belonging to the police and saved the info to disk, and why police officers should lock down their social media profiles.  Detective Wren is the Arizona Chapter President at Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, and Law Enforcement President of the Arizona Terrorism Liaison Association.  Despite Detective Wren's counter-terrorism expertise and his online privacy tips for law enforcement, a simple Google search reveals that Wren himself has a revealing social media footprint.  Perhaps he should consider using his own online activities as a case study!  This is all the more laughable considering his employment (along with Dowhan and Adamczyk) relies on him stalking radicals, anarchists, indigenous activists, and immigrant rights groups on their respective social media pages and storing the information forever through a joint partnership with the Federal government.

Detective Wren would like to have it both ways; an open internet for for Wren, Dowhan, and Adamczyk to prowl, collecting "open source intelligence" to share with their TLO partners and the FBI through ACTIC; and, under the justification of officer safety,  a closed internet to protect the identities, actions, and opinions of police officers, shielding them from criticism. These agents of the law are speaking at SMILE because they are skilled in the use of surveillance, disruption, and repression to halt protests and groups opposed to the actions of government and business.

Creepy name aside, networking hubs such as SMILE, the ACTIC fusion center, and the activities of the anti-protest "Red Squad" counter-terrorism departments must be dragged out into the light.  The increasing efforts of local police departments to spy on and disrupt the efforts of activist groups and political protest goes hand in hand with the riot police using military equipment to intimidate and control people when they sign off from the internet and take to the streets.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Do white supremacists call the shots at ASU these days? The Neo-Nazi National Youth Front (NYF) showed up at ASU on Tuesday (along with National Socialist Movement member Harry Hughes, the former comrade of JT Ready) to thank the university for silencing professors associated with the "The Problem of Whiteness" class and demanding their termination. And according to information provided to us, it looks like ASU is giving them exactly what they want.

Although they were straining the definition of "youth" to the point of pure absurdity, the NYF's small cadre of mostly middle-aged worn out white nationalist protesters held signs with one saying "Thank you ASU", while a crowd of about fifty surrounded them, mocked them and challenged them. They invoked "free speech" in their own defense while advocating censorship of classes they didn't like.

And they shouted their support for former ASU police officer Stewart Ferrin. Ferrin, you will recall, is the white officer who resigned last month after much hemming and hawing from the university, in the fallout from the violent arrest of a black ASU professor, Dr. Ersula Ore, for jaywalking on a blocked off street at night. Things got heated at one point during the demonstration as protesters and counter-protesters faced off, but the NYF, surrounded and outnumbered, didn't seem interested in following through with their threats against "the militant Left" which appeared online.

NYF and NSM at ASU. That's Harry Hughes with the camera.

Yup, that Harry Hughes.

A little background. The "outrage" of Professor Lee Bebout's The Problem of Whiteness course was originally instigated by a right wing ASU student correspondent to a Fox News show.  The controversy over "The Problems of Whiteness" class took an even harder right turn when the NYF posted anti-Muslim posters on campus and handed out fliers on campus specifically targeting Bebout denouncing him as "anti-white."

The NYF won't claim credit for it, but someone distributed the fliers targeting Bebout in his neighborhood, an action clearly meant to intimidate him. Because "free speech", right? Posts about the class on Stormfront, the infamous white supremacist website tied to scores of murders, encouraged racist militants to email the university, and naturally threats of violence came with it.

Emboldened by ASU's silence on the issue, the boneheads today also demanded the termination of ASU grad student Robert Poe, who teaches at the Tempe campus, and who two weeks ago led a workshop on the same topic.

Poe's flyer clearly says "informal and unsanctioned"

Poe's teach-in was specifically labeled "informal and unsanctioned." NYF member "John Hess" attended the teach-in with a video camera and recorded it. Hess then cherry picked a moment where Poe, responding to a question from Hess, said that he supported violence "against racists who choose to politically mobilize" and posted it online in the hopes that ASU would take the bait. A moral trip about violence from a Neo-Nazi, now that's rich. And ASU apparently fell for it.

It isn't hard to find examples of the use of political violence against racists in history, or even locally. Why Poe's statement would be controversial on a campus that has poli-sci departments overflowing with advocates for war, history departments that debate the use of violence, and that maintains such a cozy relationship with the most violent organization on Earth, the US Military, is a little baffling. If advocating violence against politically active racists is forbidden at ASU, then a whole generation of WWII vets should probably stay off campus -- and maybe stop sending their grandchildren and their money there, since it's obviously not welcome.

A 2009 anti-Nazi riot in Phoenix that you're not allowed to talk about at ASU

Of course, the university regularly grants free speech rights to all manner of right wing nuts who advocate violence. On the day before Poe's teach-in, for example, there was an anti-gay protester who called publicly for the government to kill homosexuals. And of course there's the "you deserve rape" guy (watch a video where he advocates death for "whores" below). And anti-abortion protesters, who belong to a movement that has been killing doctors for decades, regularly set up shop in front of the Memorial Union. Apparently this is protected speech at ASU, but referencing historical violent resistance to Nazis and the Klan is not.

According to information provided to Down and Drought, as threats poured in, the university told both professors to be quiet, likely hoping to hunker down and avoid controversy at a time when they were negotiating looming budget cuts with a Fox News adoring far right governor and legislature who might be agitated by the idea that such ideas are being taught on campus.

Our sources tell us that the university administration told both Poe and Bebout to stay quiet. Bebout was reminded that he is up for tenure and Poe was essentially issued a delayed termination, with the university removing his name from the class, forcing him to get class materials approved weekly, and forbidding him from teaching next semester. This looks a lot like ASU hoped to shift his official firing into the future, when there would be less eyes on it.

Where's Rob Poe's name?

We received a screen shot of the class that Poe is teaching this semester and his name has been removed from it. In his place is the name of the head of his department school, the School of Social Transformation (SST).  Is the head of department  SST now teaching Poe's class? Meanwhile, a search for Poe's name on the faculty website turns up no results. Where did he go? What happened to him? Did ASU throw him under the bus?

It appears that ASU has caved in to Neo-Nazi demands. Which, in essence, means that Neo-Nazis basically are making hiring and firing decisions at ASU, and have imposed some measure of veto power over curriculum. At today's protest, various members of the NYF ranted about eugenics, about biological differences between races and about their deep hatred for Jews. Will the biology department be the next target? You have to wonder where it will stop now.

According to the website "Problem of Whiteness 101", which catalogs the various racist posts, comments and Facebook "likes" of members of the NYF, local leader John Hess is interested in a lot of things that ought to really disturb the university, if they are indeed planning on continuing to cede curricular and staffing decisions to them. These things include the books Mein Kampf and the Bell Curve, and racist bands like Skrewdriver. The NYF likes to pretend that they are just "white activists," whatever that means, but their associations with Hughes and Hess's affinity for Nazi literature and white supremacist music tell a different story.

A recent State Press article detailed concerns among the ASU and Tempe Muslim community about a rise in anti-Islamic sentiment and vandalism following the Chapel Hill shootings. ASU giving in to Neo-Nazis certainly won't help on that front. At the protest today, one prospective student waiting for his tour of campus was overheard describing second thoughts about attending after seeing the NYF protest.

Previously the NYF has organized anonymously and avoided appearing in public. But now, thanks to ASU's surrender, they have taken their first step into the open. Just as they were encouraged by ASU's cowardice in the case of Dr. Ore, they are likewise now bolstered by the university's handling of the "Whiteness" class and subsequent fallout.

We reached out to ASU repeatedly via twitter and got no response, which is not surprising since silence seems to be their strategy. You have to wonder, though, where silence and capitulation to Neo-Nazis will get us in the long run.

The article incorrectly identified the person listed as teaching Poe's class (Dr. Brayboy) as the head of his department. Brayboy is the head of Poe's school, the School of Social Transformation.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Arizona Army National Guard Sergeant posted link to white supremacist site, "likes" burning mosques

 Sgt. Berry, on the right, uses a poster to harass a videographer (Ray Stern/Phoenix New Times)

Arizona Army National Guard Sgt. Van Berry, of the 856th Military Police Company, found himself in some hot water last month after he was captured on video menacing and assaulting a videographer at a pro-police rally in Scottsdale.  Berry, along with Ken Harris, a former cop and  member of the Blue Knights MC, harassed videographer Dennis Gilman in an incident captured by Phoenix New Times reporter Ray Stern.

The thuggish behavior of Van Berry, Ken Harris, and others occurred under the watch of the Scottsdale police chief, the mayor of Scottsdale, a Scottsdale city council member, and dozens of current and former police officers who were present.  This pro-cop rally, far from being an organic display of appreciation for the institution of policing, was instead a gathering of those on the extreme right. Anti-immigrant organizer Barb Heller was present, and organizer Nohl Rosen has counter-demonstrated against a May Day rally and considers himself a "second amendment advocate."


Felipe Hemming, a writer at Photography Is Not A Crime, followed up on the New Times story with an article that identified Van Berry as a sergeant in the Arizona Army National Guard's military police unit.  Hemming was able to identify Sgt. Berry through Facebook after noticing that he was wearing his Arizona Air National Guard sweater which had his first initial and last name printed on the front.  Hemming was able to confirm with the Arizona Army National Guard that Sgt. Berry remains active in the 856th Military Police Company, he also reported that Berry's chain of command was aware of his actions at the protest and that Berry would be disciplined.

Berry had posted photos from the pro-cop rally on the event's Facebook page, in which he bragged that the counter protesters were "unarmed and very undangerous [sic]," he also took a shot at the Phoenix New Times, calling it the "Pravda Phoenix Times," Pravda being the news organ of the Russian Communist Party. Despite his position as a sergeant in a military policing unit, Berry was comfortable posting his extremist opinions for public view on his personal Facebook page. Browsing through his timeline there are frequent posts about the perceived threat from radical Islamists, undocumented immigrants, the "communist" Obama administration, and the "anti-white and anti-police thuggery" of the Ferguson demonstrators.

While Sgt. Berry is entitled to his opinions, there was one post on the page which stood out from the others. It was a link to, a white supremacist website that claims to fight against the "large anti-White agenda going on in the United States and globally." The article Berry posted celebrates the burning of a mosque in Sweden, which the author describes as a "rape chamber," and declares that mosques have no place in "Western European Society."

We have posted a screen shot from Berry's page of the article, notable is the comment from Charlene Fossett, who commented "Burn them all!" The comment received one "like," it came from Sgt. Berry.

Berry also posted photos from Nevada, and claimed that he "couldn't find the Bundy Ranch."  These photos were posted in late April of last year, during the armed standoff between rancher Cliven Bundy and the small army of armed militiamen who came to challenge the federal government.  Sgt. Berry seems unconcerned with publicly endorsing acts of terrorism against Muslims and supporting armed confrontations with federal agencies.

In an article by David Sterman published in The Atlantic last year on the danger of right-wing extremists with military training, former Department of Homeland Security domestic terror analyst Daryl Johnson cited a "government survey of 17,080 soldiers found that 3.5 percent of them had been contacted in order to recruit them into an extremist organization and that 7.1 percent said they knew another soldier who they believed to be part of an extremist organization."  While there is no public knowledge of Berry's involvement in any far right-wing extremist organization, he is an active member of the US military with no qualms about posting content from far right-wing outlets on his public Facebook profile or participating in aggressive protest activity.

The only terrorism being discussed in relation to the rally in Scottsdale had to do with some anti-police graffiti reading "Cops Kill so Kill Cops" that was found in a park the week before. Scottsdale mayor Jim Lane described the graffiti as a "terrorist act" in an interview with KTAR. Lane continued: "It was done in order to intimidate or bully the police department from doing their job. Somebody who makes those kinds of threats is completely outside the realm of the law."  Yet, Lane was comfortable standing alongside anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim extremists like Berry who shared a white supremacist article, or Barb Heller who would wear surgical masks at anti-immigrant protests mocking immigrant demonstrators with "No TB please" written across the front.

Heller has her anti-Muslim credentials as well, in a public post to her Facebook wall in 2013 she wrote "WE WILL DIP OUR BULLETS IN PIGS BLOOD & URINE!!" in response to a news article about a wall with "jihad" written across it in Florida. And Heller wasn't the only one on the far right with such anti-Muslim sentiment.  A group of "patriots" from Idaho were selling boxes of "Jihawg Ammo," with individual bullets dipped in pig blood in an effort to force Muslims shot with that ammunition to be Haraam, or unclean, upon entering the afterlife. 

And it was Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell, and his officers, who shook hands and thanked these supporters of the police. The pro-cop demonstrators who had intimidated, threatened, or assaulted anti-cop counter-protesters had the support of the establishment.  This overlap between police, military, and far right extremists must be of concern to anyone who believes that people should be able to freely organize and assemble to challenge the actions of the government without coercion from state sanctioned vigilantes.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Phoenix cops chase down fleeing white guy with weapon and drugs, don't kill him

Did you notice? Maybe not because only one news outlet covered this seemingly unremarkable story. Yesterday the Phoenix police apprehended a man they accused of a set of crimes that ought to sound very familiar to you if you've been following the local case of Rumain Brisbon, an unarmed black man shot dead by Phoenix Police last week.

Jarrod Nixon
Jarrod Nixon was taken into custody by Phoenix cops after residents reported a man acting suspicious, trying to open doors and asking for people who didn't live there. Nixon is alleged to have fled from police and, when apprehended, according to AZ Central, the only news outlet that reported it, they charged him with "burglary, possession of a weapon by a prohibited person and drug-related offenses."

And, notably, they did not kill him in the process. They spared him. Amazing, right? After all, that list of charges and allegations sounds exactly like what Phoenix cops have said about Rumain Brisbon! Except the officer who responded to a dubious tip about Brisbon gunned him down in the process. Now, far be it from me to allege that Phoenix PD or its officers are racist, but there's one key difference between these cases that might be obvious to the attentive observer. Unlike Rumain Brisbon, Jarrod Nixon was white.

To put some context on this, it's worth turning to a recent USA Today report on the disproportionate rate at which blacks and everyone else gets arrested in America's cities. We reported recently that Tempe and Scottsdale rank at the top of the list for Valley cities whose police agencies target blacks for arrest at starkly different rates than they do whites.

Phoenix, while not scoring as ridiculously high as either of those two cities, still ranked way up there. If you're black in Phoenix, your rate of arrest is 220.5 out of 1000. But if you're not black, your chance is only 77.6. That's almost three times more likely if you're black and, incidentally, it's also a higher rate than that at which the Ferguson PD arrests blacks. Yeah, that's right. Phoenix is worse than Ferguson.


These figures jibe with the experience that is driving the outrage pouring out into Valley streets night after night. Speaking to the media a few days ago, Jarett Maupin, one of many organizers taking protests to the streets, said, "The Phoenix Police Department does not treat white people this way. What that officer did was harass and accost them." These comments could very easily sum up the discrepancy in the treatment that Brisbon and Nixon received. Just in the last couple months, the names of black men and women killed at the hands of Phoenix police have become all too familiar. Not just Rumain Brisbon, but also Michelle Cusseaux and Ngozi Mbegbu.

Meanwhile, in the four years since Bill Montgomery took over as Maricopa County Attorney, there have been 145 shootings by Valley police, including 14 where the person shot was unarmed. And yet Montgomery hasn't seen fit to bring an indictment in a single case against an officer. Zero. Zippo.

The idea that policing is racist and that blacks and other minorities are disproportionately targets of police attention and violence is only controversial among whites, who generally experience policing in its most benevolent form, such as directing traffic or responding to property crime. Whites, without knowing it, are in a real sense the constituency of police, which becomes obvious the minute you look at the way statistics documenting support for the police break down by race, especially in times like this.

If you take the police at their word, the cases of Brisbon and Nixon compare very similarly and go towards exactly the point that angry protesters are making. And yet here we have starkly different outcomes. Brisbon, black, was killed when Officer Rine claimed he feared for his life, mistaking a bottle of pills for a gun. Meanwhile, Nixon, white and apparently armed in some fashion, was taken into custody without lethal force.

Cops were quick to say that Brisbon had a weapon and pot in his vehicle, and to suggest that this amounted to something of a retroactive justification for his killing. A black man with a gun and drugs -- that's meant to evoke the now common racist code word "thug." Meanwhile, according to the one news agency that bothered to cover Nixon's arrest, he was actually in physical possession of both drugs of some kind and a weapon when apprehended. Again, there is no hint from cops that this would have been a justification for shooting him.

Rumain Brisbon
Nixon is also reported to have run from officers, charging into an occupied home and causing a resident to flee out a window. And yet still there is no claim that any officer feared for his or her life, and no officer shot at him. Although witness accounts dispute that Brisbon fled from Officer Rine, the department's public reasoning for his shooting hinges in no small part on their allegation that he did so.

Going by what the police have said, here we have two very similar cases. Indeed, where they differ slightly, the case reported against Nixon is worse. After all, the worst that is alleged about Brisbon is that he may have been selling drugs. The police say Nixon was breaking into occupied homes. And yet only one of these two men is now dead, killed by Phoenix police. The other will get at least a chance at a day in court. The only remaining chance for justice for Brisbon now lies in the streets.


Monday, December 1, 2014

CBS 5 trashes local protester, gives pass to former Steubenville coach who started fight with protesters

Belardine (in black) attacks demonstrators in Scottsdale on Saturday (Dennis Gilman/Phoenix New Times)

CBS 5's Karla Navarrete's story on a protester, arrested at an anti-police protest, featured details on the man's family background, including naming his father and occupation. When it came to the other two men arrested that night, who were accused of attacking protesters, there was no such effort, despite one of the men's involvement in a crime which prompted international outrage.  Had Navarrete googled either of the other men who were arrested after instigating a fight with demonstrators, she might have learned that one of the two men arrested, Matthew Michael Belardine, was involved in the Steubenville rape case.

Belardine in court in Steubenville last April (AP Photo)

Matthew Belardine, while never a suspect in the rape, was at one time the volunteer coach for the Steubenville High School football team and hosted the party that the Steubenville students attended the night that the sexual assault occurred.  In April he was sentenced to 10 days in jail after he plead no contest to serving alcohol to a minor and making false statements to investigators. Belardine could have faced up to six months in jail for each of those charges, in addition he was sentenced to one year of probation, due to expire in April of 2015. Belardine was arrested after an investigation into other crimes tied to the rape of a student by Steubenville football players in 2012.  The volunteer coach was charged along with a district principal and the Steubenville superintendent for their roles in knowing or covering up the assault of the student.


Matthew Belardine's arrest for assault and disorderly conduct on Saturday night occurred after he and a friend attacked participants in the anti-police demonstration on Saturday night, some of whom were wearing the notorious Guy Fawkes mask. His companion Samuel Lee Busic was charged with assault.  Videographer Dennis Gilman captured Belardine's pal Samuel Busic charging through the crowd screaming "Fuck Anonymous!"

Why was Busic so angry with Anonymous? Well maybe because Anonymous played a central role in driving the Steubenville story into the national media and ensuring that charges were brought by officials, who up to that point seemed more inclined to ignore the whole thing, covering up for a popular sports team and players. Specifically, Anonymous doxxed Belardine. Anonymous has also been active in the protests in Ferguson, in particular outing Klan members publicly, including dumping the data of a local KKK leader.

Why was Channel 5, which was so vigorous in digging into the life of a protester accused of a property crime, so curiously negligent when it came to a man now charged with assaulting people at that same protest? The protest on Saturday night was in opposition to police brutality, specifically in Ferguson but also in general. KPHO has been accused over the years of being too cozy with police and specifically the local police union PLEA. And apparently the tool kit of the modern KPHO reporter doesn't include the modern classic, the Google search. And do we need to mention the obvious racial difference between those arrested and the treatment they got? This latest story is another stain on their credibility.

More local media follies:

Emails reveal: New Times Reporter Took a Mulligan on Occupy Phoenix

Fox 10 Producer "Thankful" for drunk driver crashing into Phoenix home

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tempe, Scottsdale arrest blacks at a higher rate than the Ferguson PD

Truly shocking numbers were released today in a USA Today report detailing the massive disparities in arrest rates for blacks compared to, well, everyone else. In the Valley, Tempe and Scottsdale police stood out for particular distinction, with starkly high figures per capita.

The USA Today analysis of arrest records for police departments across the country found that almost 1600 police agencies nationwide took blacks into custody at rates above those in Ferguson, Missouri, the city well-known now for aggressive and racist policing following the shooting of Michael Brown and the turmoil that resulted.

According the the article, blacks were "more likely than others to be arrested in almost every city for almost every type of crime. Nationwide, black people are arrested at higher rates for crimes as serious as murder and assault, and as minor as loitering and marijuana possession." If you're not black, you're more likely to escape arrest for comparable crimes. Notably, the data, which came from the FBI, does not track arrests of Latinos, which in the Southwest is a major shortcoming. That number would be very good to have.

Of particular note, two Valley police agencies, Tempe and Scottsdale, not only have arrest rates for blacks higher than Ferguson, but take blacks into custody at more than double (triple in the case of Scottsdale) that which has set the Missouri city on fire with accusations of police harassment of a black population by white police agency.


Tempe, this year found itself embroiled in controversy when ASU professor Dr. Ore, who is black, was stopped off campus by a white university cop. The stop, which many viewed as unnecessary, aggressive and racially-motivated, set off a media firestorm and enraged many residents of the college town, some of whom took their anger to a Tempe city council candidates forum, disrupting the event.

Tempe, which likes to brand itself as a progressive city despite its history as a Klan bastion, will have a hard time making the case that these numbers don't indicate a serious problem for a police force that many see as out of control. While Ferguson's arrest rate for blacks was 186.1 (versus 66 for whites) out of a thousand, Tempe's came in at a staggering 405.5! Anglos, on the other hand, got arrested at a rate of 120 per 1000 in Tempe, still almost twice that of Ferguson but over a third less frequently than blacks. If you're black, Tempe PD has its eyes on you.

Tempe police have come under scrutiny lately as a result of a program called "Safe and Sober", which involves upwards of 20 police agencies flooding downtown with officers, making thousands of stops of all kinds, ostensibly to battle alcohol consumption. Locals report harassment and profiling.

The city hasn't released final numbers on this years' program (which has run for two years now) -- including data on the race of those people that were stopped -- but numbers like those compiled by USA Today lend support to suspicions that racial bias is very likely at work. Back of the envelop calculations by local activists put the rate of stops during the three weeks that "Safe and Sober" runs in Tempe at per capita levels comparable to NYC's highly controversial "Stop and Frisk" program, which was ruled racially biased this year.


The City of Tempe has suffered a series of public black eyes around the issue of policing in the last couple years. In 2013, during the first year of "Safe and Sober," local cops gunned down Austin Del Castillo in broad daylight in downtown Tempe, sending bullets into a nearby restaurant.  Before that, in May of the same year, Tempe police opened fire on a man who had broken into the wine cellar of a local restaurant downtown. Then there was the Dr. Ore incident. In July, Tempe police were caught on video beating a homeless man, again on Mill Avenue downtown. An internal review by the police of the police ruled the violence justified, although they admitted that proper procedure wasn't followed when officers failed to file the use of force paperwork that should accompany such incidents. Tempe has also raised concerns by failure to come clean on their possession and use of a StingRay cell phone spy device and whether and how that is being used to snoop on residents.

Critics of the Ferguson PD point to giant disparities between the percentage of cops who are white on the force compared to the general population. A recent NY Times article. "The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments", highlighted these discrepancies in several departments nationwide, including half a dozen in Arizona. The study didn't give stats for Tempe, but it did show clearly that whites were over-represented in all the Valley departments surveyed, sometimes skewing (in the case of the Phoenix Police Department) as much as 35% more white than the local population they police. The Phoenix PD, by the way, ranked in the USA TODAY study at 220.5 for blacks, and 77.6 for everyone else. Incidentally, the city with the smallest gap between population and police, demographically, was Scottsdale. But that was only because Scottsdale is 84% white. There isn't much room to go higher than that, although SPD does manage to still put 6% more whites on their force than the general population.

Changing the racial makeup of the police force won't solve the problem of police brutality and profiling, but the fact that they are so out of whack with the general population again gives cause to believe, combined with those radically skewed arrest stats, that profiling is probably going on. And a lot of it.

We asked TPD if use of force paperwork was 
filed in the above case and they never replied

This data also shows how little things have changed in the Valley. Tempe and Scottsdale, both historically "sundown towns" where nonwhites were strongly encouraged, to put it mildly, to make themselves scarce when nightfall came, obviously still put a heavy emphasis on the policing of blacks within city limits. As troubling as Tempe's outrageous data is, Scottsdale's is even more disturbing. It wasn't that long ago that scandal wracked the SPD when it came out that some officers were enforcing what they called a "no n*gger zone" in the wealthier parts of a generally very well-off city. These stats show an inexcusable gulf between the policing that blacks and everybody else gets in Scottsdale.

Either way, if you're black in Scottsdale and Tempe you have good reason to worry about the police. Just like Dr. Ore, you may very well find yourself attracting the special attention of local law enforcement, for no other reason than your skin color. Perhaps data like this is the reason why Tempe has been so reluctant to release the racial breakdown of the "Safe and Sober" stops. But that's all the more reason why they should.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

National League of Cities Prepares to Pressure Congress for More Military Equipment

As an expected grand jury decision could arrive this week in the case of the white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shooting and killing black Ferguson resident Michael Brown.  Brown, who was  unarmed when confronted by officer Wilson, died after being shot six times.  Brown's killing triggered long existing tensions between police and the residents, resulting in riots, and then protests in Ferguson. The rebellion in Ferguson also sparked a national debate in response to the images of the police and how the military grade weapons and equipment used to quash the protests got into the hands of the police.

The militarized show of force in the small community of Ferguson shattered any illusions that it was only the major cities that relied on such equipment. The proliferation of military equipment and weapons into small town police departments could be traced to America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and had its origins in the drug war hysteria of the late 1980s.  This movement of surplus military goods from the US military to police departments, both big and small, is run out of the Defense Logistics Agency's the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, or more commonly known as the 1033 program.

This program faced a critical review from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the wake of the Ferguson rebellion, with senators questioning why the Department of Defense continues to provide used, and often new weapons to local police departments.  Despite the increased coverage from journalists, outrage from protesters, and scrutiny from senators, the program is not without its supporters (principally law enforcement) and the advocacy group the National League of Cities may be joining them.

The National League of Cities (NLC) is an advocacy group for more than "19,000 cities, villages and towns it represents," and one of the key tasks of the NLC is to influence federal policy by lobbying Congress.  The NLC will be holding the Congress of Cities, their annual conference, later this month in Austin, Texas.  Among the resolutions up for a vote during the meeting is a pro-1033 program resolution passed by the Public Safety and Crime Prevention (PSCP) Steering Committee during their annual meeting held in Tempe this past September.

The resolution supporting the 1033 program takes into account that the majority of the equipment received from the Department of Defense are "non-military" items, such as office equipment, computers and recording gear, and other supplies for disaster response.  However, the resolution makes note of the criticisms raised over the transfer of specifically military hardware, such as "Humvees, mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, aircraft (rotary and fixed wing), boats, sniper scopes and M-16s."

While these concerns are noted, the resolution highlights the use of military equipment in the response to the Boston Marathon bombing, and "other incidents where police officers have been under attack by heavily armed criminals." The resolution concludes by supporting increased pressure on the Presidential administration and Congress to "ensure local law enforcement agencies continue to have access to the 1033 program." The PSCP Steering Committee approved the resolution, as confirmed in an email response from Yucel Ors, the NLC's Program Director of Public Safety & Crime Prevention. Ors explained that the next step is for the resolution to be voted on by the full membership of the PSCP committee, then, if passed, it will face a final vote by the NLC's membership during the annual meeting.

There is much to worry about for the residents of Ferguson in the coming days.  Amnesty International denounced the human rights abuses committed by the assembled law enforcement agencies against those protesting the police.  Ferguson residents ready for the repressive police presence, comparing the possible upheaval from the grand jury decision as akin to "getting prepared for war."  Ferguson police are indeed also gearing up for war, preparing to turn the city streets of Ferguson into a war zone once again, having spent $100,000 on new helmets, shields and batons, in addition to restocking their supplies of pepper spray, smoke canisters and rubber bullets.  If the NLC's membership approves the 1033 resolution this month, then they will have joined the side of the domestic militarists in working to persuade Congress to keep the flow of military weapons and gear into police agencies for the foreseeable future.