Friday, May 14, 2010

Citizen Involvement: The Letter With No Answer

To place this posting in an understandable context, please consider a few facts. To begin, the new Republican mayor of Albuquerque has appointed Mr. Darren White to the position of Chief Public Safety Officer for the City of Albuquerque as a member of his new administration.  To "flesh out" exactly who Darren White is and a little about his reputation here in the host city of MeanMesa's Galactic Headquarters, please review the following Wiki file for a little background.

Darren White (politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Darren White is a former Sheriff of Bernalillo County, New Mexico, having been elected that post in 2002, and re-elected in 2006. Prior to his election as Sheriff, he served as Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety in the Cabinet of Governor Gary E. Johnson[1]. White resigned his Cabinet position after Governor Johnson began advocating the legalization of drugs. White was appointed to the position of Chief Public Safety Officer for the City of Albuquerque on December 1, 2009 [2] by the newly-elected Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry.

To continue, MeanMesa emerged from a couple of weeks of jury duty in the Albuquerque Metropolitan Court a short time ago.  Now, all of this would hardly be an exceptional example of public service had the outcomes of this jury duty been a little more satisfying.  However, that was not to be case.

Instead of the "warm, participating citizenship feeling," MeanMesa was discouragingly impressed with the ineffectiveness of the entire undertaking.  It seemed that just about every feature of the trials which could have possibly been neglected or mishandled had, in fact, been neglected or mishandled.

However, as the new Albuquerque Chief Public Safety Officer began to advance himself into the media spot light (Albuquerque has three local news television news channels -- two of which are from the Fox News network...), the contradictions between what MeanMesa encountered in these court cases and what Mr. White was busy publicising from his new position of authority became more and more glaring.

Perhaps Mr. White's public comments had more to do with local politics than with any particular interest in the effectiveness of his Public Safety operations

Naturally, civic minded MeanMesa felt it necessary to write the new Chief Public Safety Officer a letter describing the actual situation in these actual court cases, including a suggestion for some slight changes which might make all of this work a little better.  That letter is posted directly below.

It was mailed on the 19th of April, 2010 -- almost a month ago.

MeanMesa's letter to Darren White

Mr. Darren White
Chief Public Safety Officer
Office of the Mayor
PO Box 1293
Albuquerque, NM 87103

Subject:  More Effective Criminal Trials in Metropolitan Court Cases

Mr. White:

I have been listening to your interviews on the local news, and I see the level of your frustration with criminal defendants being prematurely released from the judicial system and then continuing with still more crimes before the court system can finally "catch up."  I should also note here that, while I was a little skeptical of public safety claims made during the Mayor's campaign, I am becoming more impressed with the good results I see now.

This approach to your job seems to be producing some tangible improvements -- especially with respect to repeat property crime cases.

I am writing to give you an account of my recent jury duty in the Metropolitan Court.  What I experienced there as a juror seems to be relevant to at least one part of what may be the basis of the complaints you express in the interviews.  I will also include a suggestion based on those experiences.

One of the juries I served on as foreman dealt with the case of a young defendant charged with a variety of crimes.  The criminal acts were fairly serious, but we unanimously acquitted the defendant because of the way the case was handled in court.

"Someone" had driven a car into the side of a local residence.  The police investigation found half a bottle of Southern Comfort and quite a bit of beer in the car.  They also found a pistol.  There was testimony from an uninvolved witness who arrived just after the collision.  Several of the police officers who investigated also testified at length.

Once in the deliberation phase of this trial, every member of the jury -- within one half hour of beginning our deliberation -- agreed that we could not convict this defendant based on the facts of the case presented at trial.  Every juror also agreed that none of us would want this defendant running around in our own neighborhood in similar criminal circumstances.

Based on the police testimony and the prosecution's presentation of the charges, we all agreed that we felt as if we were expected to be a "lynch mob" and deliver a guilty verdict -- even if that outcome was not consistent with the evidence.

Yet, the jury's vote for acquittal on all charges was unanimous.

What happened?

Two important aspects of the trial left it with these results.  First, the police reports were confusing and often contradictory -- even in the cases where both reporting officers at been at the scene together at the same time.  Additionally, if the police had actually investigated important questions arising from the incident, those results were not part of their reports or their testimony.

For example, the ownership of the car was never presented.  Likewise, the ownership of the gun was also not part of any testimony.  Questions such as "Was the car stolen?" "Did the car belong to the defendant?" "Had this pistol been used in any recent crimes?" or even "Had the pistol been fired recently?" were left unanswered.  The relations connecting -- or not connecting -- the defendant, the pistol, the whiskey and the car were not part of the evidence.

As jurors, we were, frankly, confounded by the "weirdness" and discontinuity of everything the prosecution presented at trial.

Second, along those lines, the prosecutors of the case were either woefully incompetent or disturbingly uninterested.  All the jurors agreed.  The Defense Attorney was pretty good, and the prosecutors were pretty bad.

I served on several juries during my duty term.  The trial conditions mentioned above were about the same in all cases.  This is a serious part of the obstacle you are trying to solve.  I also suspect that my experiences were the norm rather than the exception.

The police officers involved were quite proficient at "on the ground" matters, but they seemed to be seriously handicapped when it came time to support a criminal charge with their reports.  If someone in your department had spent ten minutes, sitting down with all the reporting officers involved, the problems which "slapped us jurors in the face" could very possibly have been resolved.

There were no great mysteries, just an appalling lack of coordination and cooperation.  The recurring atmosphere was that no one had bothered to either organize the case or explore any of the obvious questions we would have.

My suggestion may or may not have merit.
The reporting officers should be using tape recorders to prepare their police reports.  The taped contents of the reports should be forwarded to someone similar to a secretary so they can be typed into a preliminary form, which could then be returned to the officers so they could verify that it was correct.  I think it might be good if there were enough such clerical assistants to make sure that every report was processed the same day it was received.  The long delay between the incident I described and the trial was clearly also a problem for the officers who testified.

A clerical assistant could be assigned to a specific group of officers -- writing out only their recorded reports.  Familiarity and the "team idea" might reduce any initial mistrust about the policy.  Only when the officer signed off would it become the official police report for an incident.  Until then, it would be considered strictly "internal."

Once all those reports had been documented, someone needs to look over all of them and compile what might be considered an overall Police Department Report which could be provided to the prosecutors.  This would be the time to resolve all the contradictions between individual officers' reports and fill in missing information.

I realize that police reports containing contradictions are available to a defendant's attorney, but somewhere, somehow what is presented in court at trial has to be more coherent than what we were getting.  If the defense wishes to exploit the contradictions, that would probably be an acceptable cost.  However, the defense does not need to be freely furnished with a series of self-destructive, contradictory police reports when the department could clearly do better.

I apologize for such a long letter, but the topic didn't seem to lend itself well to a shorter one.

I would be happy to sit down with you to continue this conversation if you feel that would help.  We need to get "all the parts" working together to get this done.



It turns out that MeanMesa might be more interested in citizen participation in the affairs of the City of Albuquerque than Mr. White is.  Of course, any return correspondence would have been completely sufficient.  Mr. White might have responded to say that he was too busy to initiate any new policies, that the City was too broke to undertake such an effort or that he simply thought MeanMesa's comments and suggestion were too ridiculous to take seriously.

Instead, nothing.

Is this yet another case where Republicans "win" an election with a minority of the votes then fail to govern effectively?  We've seen this before.

To MeanMesa visitors here in Albuquerque --  "Don't just bitch, get busy!"

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