Saturday, December 28, 2013


The future of the proposed $2 billion South Mountain extension of the Loop 202 freeway is not looking so bright, and with good reason. In August the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a statement which found the Arizona Department of Transportation's $22 million Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to be "inadequate", and unbalanced by overstating the risk of greater traffic congestion and air pollution if the freeway was not built.

In addition, two school districts have passed separate resolutions against the extension of the Loop 202 freeway citing environmental impact and health concerns for students and residents. The Tempe Union High School District Governing Board passed a resolution in November opposing the new construction, while the Kyrene School District Governing Board passed a resolution in October that opposed the extension and in support of the "No Build" alternative to the Pecos Rd alignment. 

The anti-freeway resolutions supported by two school districts, and the EPA's statement are validations of the concerns of Akimel O'odham residents of the Gila River Indian Community and their grassroots campaigns to halt the project.  Despite the opposition from community members and the negative report from the EPA, a coalition of construction groups continue to lobby for the South Mountain extension, along with the Arizona Republic's editorial board, and a handful of Phoenix politicians (including two who admit they have taken donations from the construction groups, and another who has land investments tied to the freeway). While the freeway project appears to be in limbo, state transportation officials insist that construction will begin soon, even if the funding sources could face more criticism than the politics behind the freeway.

The article below is the second part to the series of article from the Stop CANAMEX blog and details more of the complex relationships between the business interests lobbying for the construction of the freeway, and the larger economic vision for central and southern Arizona.

Down and Drought have reprinted the article with the author's permission.Please also see, "Companies seek partnership with AZDOT to profit on freeway, Part1: The Networks" at

Disclosure: The author of this piece was unfamiliar with the financial concepts discussed below, prior to researching this specific public-private partnership for the Loop 202 extension.  This is meant to provide a starting place for further examination of these issues.

You're likely wondering, "No tolls?  How are private companies going to make profits fronting the money for a freeway?"  Well, here's what you need to know.  These companies' vast public-private partnership (P3) promoting networks have come up with a number of ways to make profits from joining with the public sector to work on projects that would normally be funded by tax dollars.  But wait- these projects would be funded by our tax dollars anyway, and on top of that, these companies can avoid paying some of their own taxes.  Some recent transportation P3 arrangements include something called "availability payments" which come from our local sales taxes several years down the road, TIFIA funds which are federal loans with lower interest rates than private entities can usually get, and other options such as private activity bonds which the companies don't have to pay taxes on.  This P3 arrangement is actually preferred by companies because they take on less risk than with a toll road since they're not relying on the traffic to pay the tolls; they get paid no matter what, as long as they finish it.

It appears likely that one or more of these "innovative financing solutions" may be part of the proposal put forth by the South Mountain Development Group (SMDG) to build the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway.  This unsolicited proposal is being sold to us as a way to get the road built more quickly, even though the companies would make a profit from our tax dollars.  Not only are many opposed to the freeway whether or not it would involve a P3, it also may not even qualify for federal funds if it violates federal environmental and civil rights laws.

The South Mountain Development Group (SMDG) is made up of Kiewit Development Co., Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., Sundt Construction Inc. and Parsons Corp.  The way availability payments work is that essentially the companies and the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) would come into an agreement in which SMDG fronts the money and after completing the project, they receive payments from the state years down the road, as they become available (hence the name).  When they say that SMDG would front the money, this means they are likely to put up some of their own money, but most of the funds will come from loans from banks and/or financing such as loans with lower interest rates through federal programs.  In fact the timing of this P3 proposal may have to do with a temporary increase in funding through a federal program called Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), to be discussed below.

The lack of state funds is the primary barrier to completing projects, which is a good thing for the many people who do not want damage done to South Mountain, the surrounding environment, and the community resulting from the proposed Loop 202 extension, aka the South Mountain Freeway.  With private interests putting up the funding, the construction could start that much sooner.  The companies' interests in profit may also impact our ability to oppose it.

Availability Payments

The limited information about the arrangement for this P3 can be found in various news articles. According to an Arizona Republic editorial, SMDG, "offered to front the money and design and build the freeway, with the state paying them back later."1  Another AZ Central article provided a bit more information on this sales tax. "Because much of the project is funded by Maricopa County’s voter-backed, half-cent-per-dollar sales tax, the South Mountain Freeway has a dedicated stream of revenue that takes uncertainty away from would-be private financiers."2

The availability payments, it appears, would likely come from the Maricopa County Regional Area Road Fund into which the Arizona Transportation Excise Tax is deposited.  The sales tax extends through the end of 2025.3 

This would not be Kiewit's first transportation project that involves availability payments on a non-toll road, and as the nation's third largest contractor, this definitely wouldn't be their first P3.  Kiewit is part of the construction of San Francisco's new Presidio Parkway P3 project. "No tolls will be collected. Instead, the legislature has agreed to annually appropriate the availability‐based payments promised to the P3 developer for the 30‐year term of the concession. That money will be used to secure about $300 million in loans to build the project, cover the developer’s profit and pay all operating expenses."4  Other projects in North America with Kiewit as part of the P3 have involved availability payments, often in combination with toll concessions.5  

Another reason to assume that availability payments are part of the SMDG plan is that Kiewit is also directly involved in promoting the availability payments arrangement and P3s as part of the Association for the Improvement of American Infrastructure (AIAI).  "The growing acceptance of the availability-pay model for delivering transportation megaprojects has drawn an alliance of major U.S. and Spanish contractors into the P3 advocacy business. Five builders and investor Star America launched the [AIAI] at a conference in New York this June. Their aim, among other things, is to put a lobbyist in key states to promote all types of P3 models—availability, revenue risk and 63-20 nonprofits."6  Arizona already has what is termed "broad-enabling" P3 legislation which allows for availability payments and unsolicited proposals, which means this is one of a minority of states that are the most lax about P3s.7

Why are these companies increasingly pushing for P3 with availability payments?  In "Highway Robbery: How 'public-private partnerships' extract private profit from public infrastructure projects," Darwin Bondgraham explains further, 

Availability payments are akin to lease payments, whereby the state pays the private developer of a highway to maintain the road for public use. Rather than collecting tolls from drivers who use the route, the state pays the private developer directly from general state revenues collected through a gasoline tax or other taxes...
P3 companies, in short, are now virtually guaranteed returns on their investments. The shift away from tolls and the growing use of availability payments means P3 investors no longer need worry about traffic flows. Guaranteed lease payments, together with the low interest rates of federally subsidized loans and tax-exempt bonds they use to pay for construction, mean sure profits.8
It is the combination of the availability payments and federally subsidized loans that makes these deals work so well for private companies.

TIFIA funds

The primary reason for the timing of this large-scale P3 project is likely the increased access to TIFIA funding.  Last year, Obama signed into law Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) which provides more funding for transportation projects for a limited time. In a section titled "Public-Private Partnerships," a MAP-21 Analysis report summarized, "MAP-21 makes strategic investments to attract private sector resources to transportation improvements. Specifically, it increases funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program from $122 million per year to $750 million in FY 2013 and $1 billion in FY 2014. The measure also increases the maximum potential TIFIA share of total project cost from 33 percent to 49 percent."9   This report was published by American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), whose conference sponsors include HDR (contracted to do the Environmental Impact Statement for Loop 202) and speakers include Gail Lewis of ADOT.

The Loop 202 extension may have caught the eye of SMDG members because USDOT Federal Highway Administration website lists "South Mountain Toll Road" among other examples of illustrative U.S. projects that could be funded with TIFIA.10

Keiwit's construction of the Presidio Parkway in San Francisco was also partly financed by TIFIA loans, but it likely won't be the last.11  The Federal Highway Administration's website explains the appeal, "The new FHWA policy will allow those considering the availability payment public-private partnership (P3) delivery method to count on a level of Federal assistance comparable with that of a traditional public works project. Although San Francisco's Presidio Parkway was the first project in the country to use Federal-aid for availability payments, these new and expanded policy flexibilities will make it easier for other States to follow suit and take advantage of this form of innovative financing."12   

In "Highway Robbery," Bondgraham cautions,
Although P3s are advertised as tapping the power of private capital markets to invest in public infrastructure, the reality is that P3 investors enjoy large public subsidies. For example, private companies building P3 highway projects now routinely expect states to grant them authority to issue qualified private activity bonds (PABs). Unlike most lending in private capital markets, interest payments on PABs are exempt from federal taxes (because the cash proceeds are expected to be put to use building goods with broad public utility, rather than projects that solely benefit private parties). Since the bonds are not taxed, they allow the borrower to obtain cash at less cost. This form of financing, then, is essentially a tax cut for the investment banks and corporations with the P3 contract. The U.S. Department of Transportation also routinely grants Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans to P3 developers. TIFIA loans provide companies with much cheaper interest rates and more flexible terms than anything available in the private capital markets—again because the public subsidizes them.13  
It will be interesting if HDR comes out with a competing bid on the Loop 202 extension P3 since they have directly "consulted frequently to the Federal Highway Administration's Program Office of Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) on risk-based revenue and credit forecasts."14  They have also be involved in projects that have received TIFIA funding.

The Arizona Republic reports that Rick Norment, executive director of the National Council for Public Private Partnerships stated that they, "advise folks to take the low-hanging fruit first." He sees the Loop 202 extension as too risky for ADOT because it is a more difficult project.  However, Gail Lewis, Director of ADOT Office of P3 Initiatives and International Affairs, and Eric Anderson, MAG’s transportation director see it differently because of the new availability payments option. The companies, "know they’ll get paid back, making Loop 202 'low-hanging fruit' in Lewis’ and Anderson’s minds."15

Limitations to their funding strategy

Now, the good news is that if SMDG is counting on access to these TIFIA funds, they are in for an uphill battle to get approved.  As of right now, the EPA does not accept the current DEIS for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway extension.16   The proposed freeway may also not meet National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) standards, and may violate civil rights as well.  The TIFIA statute requires that "...all projects receiving TIFIA credit assistance must comply with generally applicable Federal laws and regulations, including title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969..."17 

Attorney Howard Shanker outlined the problem in a cover letter regarding comments on the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway DEIS. "NEPA requires a fully informed decisional process through, in part, the preparation of a DEIS.  The DEIS, however, treats the crucial decision to proceed with a $3 billion tax payers' funded project not as an impending choice to be pondered, but as a foregone conclusion to be rationalized.  The DEIS provides flawed analyses, generalities, heavy-handed self-justifications.  This is a direct violation of applicable law and a gross abuse of the public trust.  No reasoned decision could be made on the basis the DEIS that, for example, improvements to existing highways or arterials would not better serve regional transportation needs; that public transportation alternatives are not viable; or that abandonment of the project is impractical."18 The organization Protecting Arizona's Resources and Children intends to fight for No Build in court if need be.19

Additionally, a Federal Title VI Civil Rights complaint was submitted to ADOT on July 30.  "The civil rights complaint alleges that ADOT violated the civil rights of Native peoples of the Gila River Indian Community by proposing and promoting the South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway that would negatively and disparately impact Gila River Indian Community tribal members by desecrating their sacred South Mountain and causing disparate health impacts."20

At this point it seems that ADOT may issue a call for competing proposals, and we wait to see what happens with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  There are various reasons to oppose the project even if it is not a P3, although P3s pose new problems.  We are likely to see more P3 proposals, such as for the Interstate 11 connecting Phoenix with Las Vegas,21 and/or the North/South Corridor22 to facilitate CANAMEX freight traffic.

Thanks to Gila River Against Loop 202 and Darwin Bondgraham for assistance and insight for this series.

For more information: 


Saturday, November 9, 2013


Apparently Veterans Day is when the fascist, flag-waving crazy comes out in the Valley of the Sun.  Maybe this shouldn't be surprising.  After all, we're talking about the same sprawling megalopolis that includes Mesa, a city that almost had notorious National Socialist and white master race proponent JT Ready as the master of ceremonies for its soldier celebration in 2006, only booting him when it came to light that he had been kicked out of the Marines with a dishonorable discharge.

Last year some neo-Confederates used the holiday to honor a defender of the southern slavocracy in Arizona.  Said they to the old-timey East Valley Tribune in 2012: "We seek to restore the honor for the soldiers who fought in this army. They put everything on the line for a cause they believed in and they died for it..."  So controversy abounds, naturally.

Meanwhile, in the county jail, Arpaio has plastered American flag stickers on the cells, leading some inmates to deface them, resulting in bread and water diets as punishment.  He's also reminding prisoners that they're in the greatest and most-incarcerating nation on Earth by playing the national anthem and "God Bless America" every day.  Apparently Arpaio's jail can test the patriotism of even the proudest flag fanatic.  And, in what must rank as the most bizarre tribute to the troops, Channel 10 reports on plans to recognize the troops by housing "all inmate-veterans together, in honor of their service."  Cue the F-16 fly-by.  Brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it?

And that segues nicely into the recent controversy in Phoenix.  The city outsourced control and planning of their yearly parade to a private nonprofit called Honoring Arizona’s Veterans -- which promptly banned the anti-war group, Veterans for Peace from participating.  Apparently HAV disapproved of V4P's message.  As well they should.  After all, everyone knows these veterans parades are really about the national religion of war, the deifying the armed services and the glorification of militarism and patriotic masculinity.  And Veterans for Peace are for, well, peace.

Hence whatever parade you watch you can be certain to see the American Legion among their numbers.  The Legion was founded in 1919 during the height of the Red Scare, aiming to "uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America; to maintain law and order; to foster and perpetuate a one hundred per cent Americanism."

Thus they naturally went right to work breaking up radical meetings and labor gathering, attacking immigrants, and basically violating the constitutional rights of anyone suspected of having anti-war or "anti-American" (read: leftist or labor union) sympathies.  Indeed, in 1919 Arizona Governor Campbell urged the Legion to rid the state of the troublesome radical unionists of the IWW, who he deemed "human vermin."  In 1948, the Arizona branch of the Legion sent representatives to a Los Angeles conference aimed at forming "inter-state un-American activities committees."

But I seem to remember that each soldier swears an oath to uphold the constitution.  And yet somehow the serial-violators of the American Legion get the green light to join the parade despite its vile history.  So considering all that, it seems to me that Veterans for Peace would do far better protesting the parade than participating in it.  Do they really want to put their stamp of approval on this jingoistic spectacle?  After all, in being excluded they are in good company.

Consider this simple thought experiment.  Private Chelsea Manning sits in jail today for revealing to the world the nightmare of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including its high civilian toll.  Among the revelations in the files she delivered to Wikileaks was the shocking video of Apache helicopter pilots gunning down journalists and civilians.  Without a doubt, those Apache pilots would be welcomed to participate in HAV's exclusive parade, while Manning and Vets for Peace are denied.  Revealing war crimes gets you banned, but participating in them?  Feel free to join right in!

Because 9/11 happened in Tempe?

So I have a suggestion for Veterans for Peace.  Since you're not welcome in the parade in Phoenix, you may consider coming down to Tempe.  Why?  Well check this out.

Tempe is going insane for veterans on Monday.  Not only are they having their own pointless parade down Mill Avenue, but they're sending their local aspiring brownshirts, the Tempe Police Explorers, door to door to place lawn flags in everyone's yards.  Check out the flyer below that appeared last Thursday on doors throughout the neighborhoods surrounding downtown Tempe.

Additionally, there's no word on whether these are recycled flags from Tempe's yearly 9/11 tribute at Tempe Beach Park (cuz, ya know, nothing says "support the troops" like a bunch of flags hemmed in between an artificial lake and public bathrooms) or if the city went ahead and purchased a thousand new flags.

What exactly being a police explorer has to do with spreading "some pride and patriotism" is left to our imaginations, but it does beg the question as to why exactly all this fuss is necessary.  Maybe it has something to do with Tempe's expanding counter-insurgency strategy against residents and students.  But, if Tempe residents were to support the young fascists' dream of covering the neighborhood with "red, white and blue to show support and appreciation for our veterans," are we to believe that, unlike in the case of Phoenix, this support extends to Veterans for Peace and Pvt. Manning, as well?  Highly unlikely.  And nor should they.

In 1954, Veterans Day usurped Armistice Day, the now ancient -- almost old-timey feeling -- holiday invoking the memory of the so-called "war to end all wars," and our alleged determination to learn the lessons of the past.  After the sometimes hot/sometimes not Cold War and more than ten years of the War of Terror, Armistice Day almost seems like it's a quaint relic from another world.  Not fit for our modern times.  So it should be no surprise then that those who oppose militarism, war, jingoism, mass murder and imperialism would find themselves excluded from Veterans Day parades and celebrations.

So, Veterans for Peace, quit trying to join that celebration of death and warfare in Phoenix.  Pack your signs into the spacious trunks of your bumper-stickered Priuses and drive over to Tempe.  Stand on the corner of Mill and University on Monday morning and declare your opposition.  Accept your well-earned place, along with Chelsea Manning, outside the parade.  Then maybe help the neighbors take care of all those flags.  And maybe bring a lighter.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Did former Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Mark Spencer just call the Phoenix Police Department racist?  It sounds like he did.

In an interview with Channel 12 on Friday, Spencer offered his comments on what might be described as a quota-system-in-everything-but-name being developed by Chief Garcia.  In the same report, Garcia described his new system, a disturbing cross between pre-crime and the NYPD's famously racist (and recently struck down as such) "Stop and Frisk" policies, this way:
“When [officers are] not responding to calls, when they're not actually in the process of writing a report, what are they doing? Are they in those areas that are areas that are going to be – that have a history, or that we think are areas that we want to go into to stop burglaries, auto thefts, aggravated assaults. We want to be productive. We want to stop crime before it happens. Before your home gets burglarized we want to catch the burglars. Before the aggravated assaults occur, how can we stop those?”
Chief Garcia swears this is not a quota system -- merely a vision for a more "pro-active" and more productive PPD -- and that despite asking for more civilian contacts from his officers there are no hard and fast numbers that he is requiring.  Just more.

In an statement released Friday night and tagged on verbatim to the end of a story posted at Channel 5's website (like good stenographers), Garcia tried to clarify his philosophy, saying "We will continue to proactively direct our efforts towards persons committing crimes, places where crimes are committed and behaviors that lead to crime."
The chief gives us no indication how he expects officers to know which neighborhoods are the right ones to target for increased harassment, or which people are the right ones to stop arbitrarily.  Nor does he explain how officers are supposed to stop crime before it happens.  After all, our criminal system, at least on paper, is based on people being accused of committing crimes and then having evidence brought against them, not precognition. 

So there's good reason for skepticism.  Valley residents should consider the experience of NY City with Stop and Frisk when they hear this kind of talk.  For over a year New York police officer Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded his bosses as they twisted themselves into contortions to say without explicitly stating that NYPD expected officers to create contacts, stops and arrests in order to meet productivity expectations under Stop and Frisk.  Quotas, essentially, though no one would speak the offending word.  This led to the obvious: manipulated stops, searches and arrests that naturally fell disproportionately on young people of color.  Because it turns out that cops are racist.  I know this news will shock some of you.
In fact, Tempe got a preview of what these kinds of policies might look like in the Valley during the city's short-lived and ill-fated "Safe & Sober" campaign.  Thousands of police flooded neighborhoods surrounding the university and made thousands of contacts over several weekends.  Per capita those stops rivaled those of Stop and Frisk.  After four weekends the city abruptly cancelled the effort after facing student and neighborhood resistance, and the "zero tolerance" shooting of Austin Del Castillo in broad daylight on Mill Avenue on the first morning of phase two of the operation.  Tempe hasn't released the racial breakdown of their stops, but it wouldn't be surprising at all if these numbers also skewed, just like Stop and Frisk, disproportionately against youth of color.

It wouldn't be a surprise, namely, because of the history of local police forces.  People may remember the infamous "no n***er zone" that Scottsdale cops enforced up by McCormick Ranch.  Or the racial profiling by DPS as documented by the ACLU, in which the state cops stopped and searched people of color more frequently than whites -- even though whites were more likely to have contraband on them!  Or the more recent ruling against Sheriff Joe for racial profiling.  

Indeed, here at Down and Drought we ourselves have recently documented racist behavior by Phoenix policeAnd, of course, there's the entire history of policing to go by.  So it wouldn't be outlandish at all to suspect that a rise in quotas à la Stop and Frisk, such as Chief Garcia seems to be proposing with his increase in officer productivity, would disproportionately target blacks, Latinos and indigenous people, especially youth.

Which brings us back to Mark Spencer.  Make no mistake, Spencer is a former union boss for the cops, so his main concern is the speed-up that Chief Garcia is trying to impose on officers, not the defense of civil rights.  Forcing cops to do more stops and document their activity in terms of productivity means more work for them, and it's the union's job to push back on that.  He'll use whatever excuses he has available towards that end.

But Spencer did say something very important that should be remembered.  He called the Phoenix Police Department and its officers racist.
“When you remove discretion from an officer and you mandate enforcement action our minority community partners seem to pay a higher price for that."
Spencer seems to be saying that if his former buddies are bored and forced to make busy work, that they're going to go pick on minorities to make their numbers.  As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Phoenix police officer Albert Smith's mugshot

A Phoenix police officer arrested for domestic violence last week was suspended in 2007 for his use of illegal steroids during a department crackdown on the artificial male hormone.  In an interview with KTAR at the time, Officer Albert Smith defended the use of the drug by police officers and fire fighters, and suggested that steroids were widely accepted amongst officers.

Speaking to KTAR, Smith said "There's tons of guys out there, tons of guys, on the fire department, on the police department, that are using. My honest opinion? I don't believe they should be illegal, I think it's a personal decision. I'm not hurting anybody." A 2007 investigation by CBS 5 found that, despite Smith's claims that steroid use is harmless, the drug was linked to allegations against more than a dozen Phoenix police officers and firefighters involving suicidal threats, rage, restraining orders, and domestic abuse.

Smith may not have been honest about his own behavior prior to the interview with KTAR. Court documents from a lawsuit filed against Smith and the City of Phoenix in 2005 reveal that the officer was accused of extreme brutality during an arrest. The suit alleged that Smith had "punched Plaintiff behind his head with a gun, slammed Plaintiff's face on the sidewalk, put his knee in Plaintiff's head, and then kicked Plaintiff. Other unidentified officers arrived and joined Smith in kicking Plaintiff. They did not stop until they heard over their radios that civilians were watching. Plaintiff also alleges that the officers were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. He suffered various physical injuries, including fractured ribs and a bump on his head."
 Considering the violent outburst which led to Smith assaulting his wife, his past statements in defense of officers using strength enhancing steroids, and the past accusations of brutality would seem to qualify Smith for a full substance abuse testing by investigators of this case to determine if the officer is still using steroids.  

While the outcome of the lawsuit is not found in court documents available online, it is probable that the suit did not go forward once the plaintiff was found guilty in his criminal trial. However, the behavior described in the lawsuit would not be considered irregular for an individual who has used an anabolic steroid drug. The widespread abuse of steroid by police officers, and the potential for an increase in on the job violence, was noted in an article published in Police Chief, the magazine of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and authored by law enforcement officers and medical professionals in law enforcement.

Among the list of symptoms to watch for in cases of anabolic steroids use are "Mood swings, particularly if aggressive", "Unreasonable emotional responses to situations", and "Multiple incidents of 'use of force' or complaints of improper outbursts and attitude." Considering the violent outburst which led to Smith assaulting his wife, his past statements in defense of officers using strength enhancing steroids, and the past accusations of brutality would seem to qualify Smith for a full substance abuse testing by investigators of this case to determine if the officer is still using steroids. 

Smith is not the only Phoenix officer who has made the news in recent months after an arrest for domestic violence. In late August Phoenix police lieutenant Dalin Webb was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct after he allegedly shoved his wife and choked his son. As reported in Down and Drought at the time, Lt. Webb was a school resource officer and served as an adviser to the anti-bullying group Not My Kid. It appears that Webb is still employed by the department and on duty, a check of the Phoenix police department's website lists him as an area lieutenant at the Mountain View precinct. Webb had plead not guilty to the two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and one felony count of aggravated assault, his charges have been dismissed while a grand jury decides whether he should face new charges and move to trial. 

Smith and Webb's arrests illustrate that the culture of police violence extends from the city streets to the homes of the officers.  The Center for Women and Policing's research found that as many as 40 percent of law enforcement families experience domestic violence, while the number stands at 10 percent for the rest of the population.  In addition to these startling numbers, the victims of abuse from police are especially vulnerable because their abuser is armed, knows the locations of women's shelters, and has knowledge of how to use the system escape the consequences and shift blame to their victims.

As October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Phoenix police department have made a video, patrol cars have purple awareness month ribbon magnets placed on them as well. It is doubtful they will use their own officers' arrests to illustrate why domestic violence is never acceptable.

Thursday, October 3, 2013



Is this a photo of the "War of the Worlds" spy camera that provoked Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio into action against the encroaching Big Brother state this week?

In various Facebook posts and media interviews, the councilman for the upscale Phoenix neighborhoods Ahwatukee and Arcadia says he was just enjoying a good time tailgating at the ASU-USC game at Sun Devil Stadium when he and his friends noticed a curious white truck from the Phoenix Police Department patrolling the parking lot.   Protruding out of the bed of the truck was "a tall adjustable spire" with a sci-fi look to it and a camera, scanning the assembled fans and their hot dogs.

“I was just frustrated, and I wasn’t happy about it,” the councilman told the Arizona Republic  “Why does Phoenix police send out a truck with a camera videotaping tailgaters? ... It’s just one more level of intrusion by the government looking into our personal lives.”

DiCiccio made several inquiries and after ASU and Tempe initially denied involvement Phoenix stepped forward to claim credit, in a way, and to tell us all to relax: the spying was for our own good and they didn't really feel like explaining much more about it.  So there.  If you're not satisfied with that then you're supporting the terrorists.

Mayor Stanton put it this way:
“The suggestion is that we shouldn’t provide homeland security support to another jurisdiction unless it rises to the level where we’re ready to arrest somebody,” Stanton said as he stood in front of Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.

“I think most people, both in the law enforcement world and then families who are attending this game, would probably disagree. ... Rather, what is in the best interest of keeping tens of thousands of people attending a game safe.”
What size hot dog is that in your hand, citizen?  The state needs to know to keep you safe.  From terrorists.  Or maybe just protesters.

Because, dear reader, you may find it interesting to know that the photo above of the PPD's spy cam didn't come from the ASU-USC game.   That photo was taken at a protest in 2012, when thousands of Unitarian Universalists bused themselves into town from around the country for their national conference and held a highly regulated and peaceful protest against SB1070 in front of Arpaio's tent city gulag.

Unitarians protest fucked up shit, get played by Big Brother -- via State Press

The PPD positioned the surveillance device by the entrance to the rally, presumably recording everyone coming in and out of the protest zone.  Indeed, this caused quite a bit of controversy because police, perhaps tipped off by the towering eye in the sky, singled out several local protesters, anarchists mostly, and then proceeded to exclude them from the protest with the cooperation of out of state UU organizers (who may not have understood that they were being manipulated by PPD's red squad).

Cops wait for anarcho-Qaeda among the Unitarians -- via AzCentral

In the emails below, PPD terror cop Brenda Dowhan (who was PPD's main internet spy during Occupy Phoenix) is discussing putting together a "face sheet" so that cops can identify specific activists at the Unitarian protest, and expressing her concerns about anarchists and which of them ought to go on the sheet.

In one case she's reaching out to Tempe terror cop Derek Pittam for his input. Pittam himself is famous recently for having massively over-reacted to community gardeners, deploying undercovers and riot cops to stop the planting of of veggies in an empty lot in downtown Tempe.

This face sheet is to be used to pick out undesirables, despite no criminal allegations against them, and eliminate them from the protest.  She also references a previous face sheet that was created in collaboration with various private and federal intelligence agencies for the anti-ALEC protests that took place the previous April.  Of course, this raises the question of whether the Phoenix cops' spy toy has facial recognition technology.

Again, no one made any allegation that these protesters had committed any crime.  The basis for the special attention seems to have been their participation in Occupy Phoenix, according to emails released by the PPD to investigator Beau Hodai.  And, as we've cataloged here at Down and Drought, the PPD was involved in a long and detailed surveillance operation against local anarchists and Occupy Phoenix activists, which included information sharing with private and corporate security companies, as well as the Feds via the local fusion center.

One indication, that we're looking at the same spy device, aside from the striking similarity to DiCiccio's description, is the fact that the PPD's own explanation of their ASU operation matches up with the way it was used in 2012.  Responding to the Republic, the PPD reported the device was "part of a multi-jurisdictional operation to monitor entry and exit points from the stadium area from a homeland security perspective.”

The cops describe their ASU surveillance operation as part of Urban Areas Security Initiative, a federal grant that funds the equipment.  And of course homeland security is big business.  The chart above, taken from DHS's report "The State of Arizona’s Management of Urban Areas Security Initiative Grants Awarded During Fiscal Years 2007 through 2009," shows the many millions of dollars that flowed into Arizona via homeland security grants in just a few years -- millions that bought equipment just like that spying on local activists and football fans.

And, of course, it's not just a bounty for local law enforcement agencies.  As an upcoming Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce event indicates, local companies are keen to strap on the federal feedbag as well.  Innocuously entitled "Doing Business with the Federal Government," check out the teaser:
The federal budget is more than $1 trillion, with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security spending a combined $20 billion in Arizona alone in 2012. Through this highly-interactive presentation, you will learn how to get started on earning some of that business for your company, find out about available assistance, gain insight into future trends and share your successes and challenges of doing business with the federal government.
Twenty billion dollars is a lot of dough.  And it buys a lot of equipment.  Although their website claims the GPCC "pursues and promotes a free market," they don't hesitate to line up for the government slop when its feeding time.  Even when it comes at the expense of our freedom.  Isn't that interesting?

And, of course, the other part of the equation in Tempe is the city's recent crackdown on what they call "rowdyism."  Essentially a counter-insurgency crackdown on fun with the aim of pacifying the area around ASU for developers, the city flooded the downtown neighborhoods with overwhelming police force for three weekends in a row, including enlisting the help of the notoriously racist MCSO, making thousands of arrests with contact rates rivaling NYPD's racist "stop and frisk."  All in an alleged effort to stop college drinking.  Sound familiar?  In his response to DiCiccio, Mayor Stanton claimed that ASU requested the surveillance, which was confirmed by the ASU PD.

Clearly this has to viewed in the larger context of the crackdown in Tempe.  Perhaps, surprised at the level of resistance their "Safe and Sober" campaign received, ASU and the city have turned to other means.  Or maybe this is just a case of mission creep.  After all, despite local terror cops assertions, not much in the way of terrorism is happening in the Valley.  But once you got the tools, you gotta use them for something.

It's worth pointing out that these police activities aren't just problems of Big Brother, personal data and privacy.  They can be about life and death.  The militarization of the police has consequences, sometimes deadly. They certainly were on the first day of phase two of Tempe's "zero tolerance" crackdown on "rowdyism", when Tempe police responding to a call about a man with a box cutter gunned down Austin Del Castillo in plain daylight at the intersection of Mill and University.

In that case police claimed they "feared for their lives".  But doesn't the deployment of spy cameras against activists and football fans indicate the same level of fear, this time of the population at large -- a general criminalization of society in which we are all assumed to be guilty rather than innocent, each of us a potential threat.  And, as we see, when we accept this augment for increased police power in one case, it quickly gets turned to broader use.  What was bought under the excuse of fighting terrorism first becomes a tool for tracking activists and disrupting their activism, and then the next thing you know there's an embarrassing photo of your drunk-ass puking your brains out in a DHS database.

With cities facing an alleged budget crunch, and politicians like DiCiccio calling for union busting under the argument that we can't afford them, maybe it's time to look to a fire sale of police hardware to get us out of the red.  How about we de-certify the police union as punishment for their over-reaching.  The cops clearly can't use either their power or their toys responsibly.  Plus, it could do far more than save other innocent public workers from needless cuts to pensions and salaries.  Think of the payoff in terms of freedom!  Can you put a price tag on that?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Guest contributor M.Arginal analyzes the ongoing and intensifying crackdown on downtown Tempe and how it fits into Tempe's overall development objectives.

File under: things that only happen in a room full of scared middle class white people.  Local cops struck their best gang member/rapper poses Monday night, complete with crossed arms and fake gang signs, at a "community" meeting boosting the city's G.A.I.N. block parties.  Meanwhile, about a hundred Tempe residents, members of local crime watches and various neighborhood groups hooted, hollered and foamed at the mouth hoping to win high profile visits to their hyper-local hootenannies by heavily-militarized local gang units and SWAT teams.  You know, fun for the whole family?

The Tempe PD raffled them off to lucky winners -- locals who have announced their plans to host local police-worshiping "get to know your neighbors" parties on October 26th.  This is the essence of the G.A.I.N. initiative, one prong of the city's counter-insurgency attack on the neighborhoods surrounding Tempe.  Masquerading as a "get to know your neighbor" block party, these function instead as propaganda ops for the cops and snitch farms to build support for the rapidly increasing development transforming Tempe.

This happens at the same time that the TPD Chief Ryff and notorious racial profiler Joe Arpaio announced MCSO participation in the fourth week of the other prong of the counter-insurgency strategy -- the boots on the ground swarming of the downtown Tempe with hundreds of cops enforcing petty alcohol crimes and setting up DUI sweeps.  Dubbed "Operation Safe and Sober", residents reported intersections blocked off by patrol cars and officers toting AR15s down neighborhood streets

The record-setting invasion, which Tempe officials claim is a response to "rowdyism", resulted over the last three weeks in almost 6000 police contacts and nearly 1400 arrests.  Police also broke up 129 parties, which they describe as "loud", although from what we're hearing from locals, the definition of "loud" and "party" has been stretched almost to the breaking point.  On a local neighborhood forum, one resident reported being raided by police exercising their new anti-party powers, although she asserted that her "party" consisted of only half a dozen people listening to music.  Other residents reported being hassled walking to the convenience store and home from the bar.

Tempe over the last year has been dealing with some high profile frat violence and fraternity-related partying.  In what some residents are now calling the "frat wars," frats and frat members have engaged in a series of assaults, general intimidation and reckless behavior in the neighborhood.  On April 28, a frat party descended into violence as shots were fired by an armed crew trying to settle a score following a fight earlier in the night.  In March two women were seriously burned at a frat party after a frat member threw alcohol in a fire pit.  Just two weekends ago, despite the Tempe police crackdown, two rival frats battled it out at the new District Apartment complex, leaving one fratboy beaten severely in a elevator.  This comes on the heels of a variety of other frat insanity, including alcohol related incidents that left one person dead and another nearly so.

ASU kicked the frats off campus last year, forcing them out into the neighborhoods, where they now rent homes and take over entire apartment complexes.  And this, in fact is the source of the problem.  A bunch of spoiled brat white kids, with powerful alumni parents, have colonized the neighborhoods surrounding the university, sowing entitled chaos wherever they go.  Interestingly, the frats meet every criteria for being a gang, and yet Tempe has not labeled them such, preferring instead to heap repression on the broader community, sending an invading force into neighborhoods long known for hosting non-frat house parties and dissident culture.  Are they too white and middle class to be considered a gang?

The scope of the Tempe's police response really comes into focus when taken in the context of Tempe's population of 160,000 people.  Six thousand contacts -- which could each involve more than one person --  means a significant portion of the population came into contact with the police, with 25% of them getting arrested as a result.  The sheer scale of the operation, and it's reliance on police contact, evokes comparisons to New York City's notoriously racist Stop & Frisk policy.  Although no numbers have been released detailing the racial breakdown of these stops, the TPD's uneven history in this regard and the newly announced participation of Joe's posse set off alarm bells.

It's worth remembering that in 2005 the Tempe Police were singled out by the city itself after years of criticism for its lack of diversity and for reflecting a culture of the "good ol' boy network."  Now throw on top of that the ongoing activities of the MCSO, recently found guilty by the Feds of racial profiling Latinos and you get the distinct feeling that walking down the street next weekend in Tempe is going to be a potentially dangerous experience if you happen to be a youth of color.

Indeed, things took a surreal "back to the future" turn Monday night when Tempe officers at the front of the room began mimicking rappers and gang members, tossing up mock gang signs, gesticulating wildly and striking exaggerated poses -- to the wild applause of the overwhelmingly white audience -- while announcing the winners of the G.A.I.N. gang unit raffle. It seemed buried in the ancient past as far as the G.A.I.N.-wannabes are concerned, but readers may remember the infamous "rap ticket" scandal, in which Chief Ryff was forced to apologize after Tempe Sgt. Chuck Schoville made two black men rap about littering on camera in order to get out of a ticket. 

Monday's meeting featured three main parts.  A couple "crime prevention" officers (begging the question of what the rest of TPD does) did an awkward presentation on how to keep from getting robbed.  Locking your doors and having small dogs featured prominently, but aside from the bizarre raffle, the meat and potatoes was a presentation about Tempe's new 311 snitch app.  Like Mesa's recently-debuted app, this downloadable program allows residents to anonymously (make sure to turn on the GPS location feature, though!) rat on neighbors and other anti-social elements.  Upload pictures of offenders and unsightly street art straight from your phone.  You, too can become part of the corporatization and blandification process in Tempe!  Every resident a gentrifying and a cop!

Which gets us to the heart of what is happening in Tempe: counter-insurgency.  As an American strategy, counter-insurgency has its roots in Vietnam and the period following the social upheavals of the 60's and 70's.  It returned in the 80's with the drug war as the police response to the crack epidemic and most recently, the US military's experience trying to dominate and pacify Iraq and Afghanistan.  The cross-pollination of US police forces with the military during the war of terror is well-documented, not just in terms of cross-training but also as a result of recruitment and the fact that many officers serve in reserve and national guard units.

Counter-insurgency relies on two main strategies.  First, disobedients must be isolated and attacked with state violence and coercion.  Secondly, bases of support for police need to be set up in the community.  With the ongoing police invasion of Tempe, ostensibly to crack down on partying, we have the first element.  With the G.A.I.N. parties, we have the second.

Over the last couple of years Tempe has seen a rebirth of its downtown development dreams.  Fueled by major tax-breaks (see also this) and a return (for now) of the housing boom, one large project after another has been announced downtown, from the 600 million dollar State Farm Insurance complex by the lake to the large corporate complex planned for Mill and University to the expanded and privatized high-end student housing (complete with lazy river -- only for sober use, naturally!), ASU and large development corporations have rediscovered their appetite for eating up the neighborhoods surrounding the university.  And, as we know from Iraq, for business to thrive, the population must be pacified.

Here's how the G.A.I.N. parties serve as the second prong of Tempe's counter-insurgency project.  First of all, the city needs to build a base of support within the community.  That means it needs to build direct support for the police and it has to get people together who are willing to work with them, and to then get those people talking to each other.  Remember the raffle?  Win a SWAT team appearance at your party!  Win a gang task force unit for your party!  Win a K9 unit for your party!  Indeed, personal appearances of various top cops were also promised.  The chief himself might come to your party, along with various commanders.

Trust me, nothing highlights the unique experience middle class whites have with police -- and their complete ignorance of that uniqueness -- than a room full of a hundred frothing white people cheering for a SWAT team to come to their bloc party.  The competition was fierce and palpable.  And the irony that the appearance of the cops at their city-sanctioned parties would look nothing like their appearance later in the night at non-official parties was completely lost on them.  And here's another interesting thing.  Watch Tempe's own promotional video for G.A.I.N.  Notice any cops?  It's presented as an entirely feel-good, neighborhood-oriented family affair, not a ravenous, authoritarian quasi-fascist open-air recruitment office.

Note in particular the appearance of Councilman Corey Woods.  Woods is happy to put himself out there as an enthusiastic advocate for G.A.I.N.  Indeed, Woods, Tempe's first black councilman, recently hosted a discussion at the Tempe Historical Museum on the African-American experience in Tempe, which focused in no small part on discrimination and life in segregated Arizona.  And as a candidate, Woods denounced previous threats from Arpaio to do patrols in Tempe, calling them "an exercise in chest-thumping and not an appropriate use of power."  Now, however, Woods has changed his tune, telling Channel 3 News that he now supports Arpaio's participation in the crackdown in Tempe saying, "The managing of the problem cannot fall solely on Tempe."

While these block parties pretend to be about getting neighbors out to meet each other as a form of crime prevention, they are very much about integrating that into the police structure.  So on one hand these police are engaging in a PR operation for themselves, but they are also actively recruiting snitches in the neighborhoods and gathering like-minded people (and dupes) together.  Many of these people think of themselves as community leaders (indeed, the cops referred to them as such at Monday's meeting), and serve on various neighborhood boards and governing bodies.

These willing and/or unknowing recruits will serve as the eyes and ears of the police on the ground, directing them towards people deemed disobedient or anti-social (not white, poor, counter-cultural, etc).  Loud music, unkempt front lawns, a rebellious attitude or a general nonconformism with the revitalized corporate face of downtown will get you singled out and squashed.  The G.A.I.N.ers will act like a collective all-seeing Eye of Sauron, staring down on the community from the Tempe Municipal Jumbotron between the two towers at W6, once dead but now reborn as the guardian of Tempe's new five year plan.

We've already reported on Tempe's plan for increased enforcement of code violations.  These attacks need to be seen together for what they are, an attempt to corporatize, domesticate and lame-ify downtown in the service of developers and the corporate university.  If they had their way, the city would bulldoze these neighborhoods tomorrow (and in a real sense they already are!) and replace them with high rises full of insurance agents, South Tempe style homes populated by the zoned out middle class, bars full of college well-discplined, high-spending sports fans, and white bread university students safely contained in their luxury condos and responsibly floating down the lazy river of life towards their bachelors degrees and mommy and daddy's approval.

If this isn't the fate that residents have in mind, time to act is running out, but it must involve a rejection of the faux community of the Tempe police and the construction of a real one in its place.  One with a tolerance for the kind of disobedience and raucousness that comes with life in a college town, or just life in general.  Lately some residents have been overheard, maybe only half-jokingly, fantasizing about the secession of South Tempe from downtown.  The sense is that people moved into these neighborhoods many years ago for a reason, and that if South Tempe is the future of downtown, then they want no part of it.

The recession gave everyone a brief reprieve, when the dead towers where W6 now stands stood like a skeletal reminder, a warning of just how close the neighborhoods came to obliteration.  The towers marked the spot where the beast was slain, or so many people thought. Judging by the way those South Tempe residents behaved in the G.A.I.N. meeting, not only do they have no idea what is happening up north, but they are too distracted getting pats on the head from the TPD to care.  The Tempe residents of Police Zone One may have only themselves to rely on if they want to beat back this most recent attack.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


It's difficult to watch the video of the Phoenix police assaulting -- killing -- Michael Angel Ruiz.  It's also hard to tell what exactly killed him.  Was it the chokehold that was applied for no apparent reason?  Was it the tasering?  Or was it the multiple blows to the head that he received as his head repeatedly struck one concrete stair after another as the police half-dragged, half-carried his limp body from the second floor.

In what is an all too common occurrence, the cops dog-piled someone who didn't appear to be resisting, accused him of resisting and then went hog-wild on him.  Following the assault, Ruiz lost consciousness, had to be resuscitated at the scene, transported to the hospital and was eventually taken off life support on August 2nd.  Doctors had declared him brain dead.

Channel 15 covered the story:
Many of Michael's neighbors witnessed everything and recorded it all on their phones.

Gary Carthen was good friends with Michael, and witnessed it all.
"This was bad, very bad. Because he didn't deserve that to happen, not like that," he said.

Carthen and his neighbors want answers. Verna Young says you could hear his head banging on the stairs as police dragged him down.

"I started crying 'cause that's not right, to hurt nobody like that," she said. "He didn't deserve that. He was a nice person, very nice."
Ruiz's father, a former LAPD detective was shocked by what he saw.  And if an LAPD cop is shocked by police behavior, then you know it's beyond the pale.  It's hard to imagine any thing that could explain what is clear to see on the video other than violent cops out of control.  Again.

It's perhaps ironic, given how the police treated him, that Ruiz's Facebook page, now gathering some condolence messages from friends, also features prominent posts from him supporting the LAPD in their hunt for once-rampaging cop killer Christopher Dorner, including one in which he poses in front of a Confederate flag.  The degree to which Phoenix police may have perceived Ruiz, a self-confessed Republican, as not white when they encountered him isn't clear, but one thing's for sure, that gang of cops aggressively piling on him was very white.

But let's take a step back for a minute and see if we can draw any lessons by comparison.  To do that, let's check out some coverage of a different encounter with the police that happened this week, this time over at Az Central.

Notice anything?  Well, first off there's the glaringly obvious: one got killed by the cops and the other got escorted off the property instead of arrested.  There's no indication that the cops threatened John Coulter with violence, at least beyond that which underlies all interactions with the police.  In fact, if the cops' stats can be believed, in every other incident such as this, arrest was the result.  Coulter may have gotten off pretty well, considering, receiving a only a citation.

And, at first glance, it seems like that there is probably a class difference as well, at least in the eyes of the police.   Season tickets aren't cheap, and even though many people share season tickets, I think we can conclude pretty safely that the target of the beer cops' ire was seen by them as respectable and reasonably well off.  Meanwhile, the shirtless Ruiz standing on his roof was almost certainly not viewed in the same way, or given the same benefit of the doubt.  And, of course, Coulter is clearly white.  And Coulter is alive.

In many significant ways, these two incidents are like night and day.  But what's really interesting is what Coulter says about what an epiphany it was for him to be treated in what he felt was a disrespectful way by the police.  He says, "I would normally support the police if I heard a story like this, however, in this case I was standing right there and I witnessed abuse and over-zealous pursuing of the situation... it was totally uncalled for."

No doubt, it is rare for white people -- especially white middle class people -- to encounter the police in any situation even remotely threatening to them.  Police, as far as white middle class people are concerned are helpful and kind; they direct traffic, come to take your report after an accident for insurance purposes, and keep crowds flowing at sports games.  They make you feel safe.  You generally like having them around.  This is the experience of most white middle class people.  And they generalize from this that this must also therefore be the experience of other people, people unlike them.  People that the police in fact treat quite different far away from white middle class suburban sensibilities.  And that therefore, when bad things are done to these other people by the police, it's probably because they deserve it.

So, the question is, can Coulter take the eye-opening, if relatively mild by comparison, run in that he had with the cops and use that to help him understand what other people experience.  Certainly the cops had no inkling that Ruiz's father was a former cop.  When they saw him, they saw something quite different than what they saw when they looked at Coulter.  And they acted accordingly.