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?