Monday, February 24, 2014

Why does a Phoenix Cop want to see West Phoenix Girl Scouts profiled by police?

Eight year old Girl Scout Lexi Carney made national news this week after she and her family set up a table selling Girl Scout cookies outside of the TruMed medical marijuana dispensary in East Phoenix. Her mother Heidi had been inspired after hearing the news that a Girl Scout in San Francisco had sold out of her entire stock of cookies in a single day after setting up her table outside a pot shop. 

For its part, the local Girl Scouts chapter said that the medical marijuana dispensary would not have been approved because it would not be considered a "kid friendly" location. But the reality is that, in 2014, a family can set up a table at an East Valley medical marijuana dispensary and face no threat from law enforcement, even if Girl Scout leaders frown on the practice.  However, it's a different story in the Southwest Valley, if the Facebook post of a Phoenix Police lieutenant is to be believed.

In a February 6th posting on the public wall of his face book page, Lt. Tom Van Dorn posted a status update describing how he is a "cynical cop" because of his reaction when he saw a black Chevy Tahoe advertising the sale of Girl Scout cookies.  Below is a screen shot of Van Dorn's original post:

In other words, Lt. Van Dorn has a message for anyone driving a black Chevy Tahoe in the southwest valley: he is profiling your vehicle and is especially suspicious of anyone advertising their kid's Girl Scouts cookies from their vehicle in that part of town. When he sees your truck his first thought is, "WHO DID YOU ROB FOR THOSE COOKIES? [sic]" And, "I should pull you over."

According to the Girl Scouts of America's Girl Scout cookies FAQ, "parents and Girl Scout adults may assist, [but] it is the girl who makes the sale, sets learning and sales goals, and learns the entrepreneurial skills that are part of the program."  By these definitions the driver of the Tahoe is most likely following the rules, not that the police are empowered to enforce the Girl Scout handbook. 

Furthermore there's any number of scenarios which could explain why a parent would advertise that they have Girl Scout cookies for sale, for the suggested retail price of four dollars, as stated on the Arizona Cactus-Pine Council's FAQ. And the driver in the West Valley who advertises they have Girl Scout cookies for sale is not alone in this tactic, as the Duncan Banner reported over the weekend. 

 Tyler Boydson/Duncan Banner

The Watson family of Duncan, Oklahoma said that the painted message on their vehicle has helped them sell more cookies than they expected.  Luckily for the Watsons, they don't live in Southwest Phoenix where their support for their daughter's Girl Scout group would be interpreted by a Valley police officer as suspicious, and the cookies as likely stolen goods.

What's interesting is that you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more wholesome, American middle class activity than selling Girl Scout cookies. In other parts of town, parents who participate in such activities are viewed as engaged and responsible parents. But not if you live in Lt. Van Dorn's beat. To him, you're just a thief.

This sets up a lose-lose situation in which parents are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Violating traditional middle class parenting values invites police intervention, but emulating them draws police suspicion. 

According to his public Facebook wall, Lt. Van Dorn was transferred to the Estrella Mountain Precinct in early January, working the 33 Area which encompasses Estrella and Laveen in Southwest Phoenix, both heavily minority parts of the city.

Before his transfer to the Estrella Mountain Precinct, Tom Van Dorn worked in the Career Criminal Squad, a division of the Phoenix Police Department's Major Offenders Bureau.  Van Dorn was referenced in journalist Beau Hodai's "Dissent or Terror" investigation into various local law enforcement agencies' surveillance of Occupy Phoenix participants, as well as individuals associated with anarchist protests and events.

According to emails released in that investigation, it was Lt. Van Dorn, then a sergeant, who was responsible for sending undercover officer "Saul DeLara" to spy on protesters, and he encouraged his colleagues at the Arizona Counter Terror Information Center (ACTIC) to broaden the scope of their internet spying on protest groups. Several people who interacted with officer "DeLara" reported that he advocated violence and claimed to have connections to Mexican anarchists. He was quickly outed by Occupiers and was further revealed in the "Dissent or Terror" investigation to be Detective Saul Ayala.

Interestingly, a search of the the Global Intelligence Files, five million emails from global intelligence firm Stratfor and leaked thanks to the work of Jeremy Hammond (who also hacked Arizona law enforcement as a part of the Antisec group), reveals that Saul Ayala contacted Stratfor at least twice offering advice on alleged radical jihadists in Mexico, a common far right wing talking point, but something that seems a bit out of the jurisdiction of your average undercover cop. There's quite a bit in these files about local police and unfortunately the media has largely ignored it.

Nevertheless, the connections between local police and private national security firms like Stratfor (and Infragard, as we have previously reported) raise serious questions, just like Van Dorn's thinly-veiled profiling operating under the guise of cynicism. Last year Down and Drought revealed a racist tweet from Phoenix officer Yuliana Sobarzo, out of the South Mountain Precinct mocking the mentally ill.  Social media posts, like those from Sobarzo and Van Dorn, reveal the casualness with which officers feel they can display their racism and bias on social media and raise questions about general attitudes among the force.

As we covered in a previous piece, the Phoenix police department has had ongoing problems with racism and their heavy handed approach to policing, so it is no surprise that the police consider the residents of Southwest Phoenix to be always under suspicion, just like how anyone outraged enough by the looting of the economy to join popular protests was a potential target of police surveillance and infiltration. And, of course, when a police officer like Van Dorn, who ordered the infiltration of a popular protest movement, jokes about profiling, it's not a far leap to believing he may in fact do it.

Further reading: Phoenix cop mocks Olympic athlete, the mentally ill, and wins gold medal in anti-black racism

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