Tag Archives: Columbia Tribune

Is Tony St. Romaine Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

smarter_desktop_1600x1200[1] copyAssistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine might be smarter than a 5th grader, but when he talks about red light camera statistics, he’s definitely not smarter than a 12th grader.

I asked my 12th grade son the following:

The City of Columbia installed red light cameras at four intersections two years ago. The number of citations issued by the camera machinery dropped 28 percent in 2012 when compared with 2011. The City says that this indicates that the cameras are working. Is that a reasonable claim?

Without hesitation, my 12th grader reasoned that this claim could not be reasonable without knowing the traffic rates for the time periods in question and the number of citations at non-camera intersections during the same time periods (provided that enforcement patrol patterns had not changed at the non-camera intersections).

So why does Tony St. Romaine continue to claim that the red light cameras are a stunning success based on phony, partial statistics and tortured logic? Is he really a simpleton?

In a recent issue of the Columbia Daily Tribune, Tony said:

“Our motive in installing the cameras was not profit-driven. The numbers support that,” St. Romaine said. “At first, we witnessed large numbers of red-light violations. We now see it dropping off on an annual basis because it’s working.”

And let’s not forget that the timing of the yellow lights at these intersections was changed after the 2011 reporting period and before the 2012 reporting period. Could this timing change be a factor? Ummm… yes…

Ol’ “Red Light” Tony has made similar claims in the past. You can read about them at the following links.

Tony and Toni Twist the Truth

Red Light Rip-Off

Red Light Cameras: The Documents

This type of behavior would not be tolerated in the private sector unless there was money to be made. Of course, no one should be surprised to see stupidity among government bureaucrats, but it does leave one wondering, is Tony really a dumbfounding dolt or is he being paid to make these outlandish claims. Either way, he should be fired. My son needs a job and is at least more qualified than Ol’ “Red Light” Tony.

 

 

 

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When Bureaucrats Attack

If you follow Columbia politics you’ll know that, at the behest of REDI, the Columbia City Council recently passed a resolution declaring 60% of Columbia as “blighted” according to state statute. Being passed by resolution instead of ordinance effectively removed all public input from the process. A large, loud opposition quickly arose in opposition to this nefarious blight decree, the criminal process by which it came to fruition, and the tax abatement scheme it precedes which smacks of crony-capitalism. There has been much written here on this Keep Columbia Free blog and on Mike Martin’s Columbia Heartbeat blog.

While it is painfully difficult to discern whether the discussion is driven by simple, immoderate ignorance or planned, overt obfuscation on the part of REDI’s Mike Brooks, Mayor McDavid, City manager Mike Mathes, and City Attorney Fred Boeckmann, there seems to be a problem differentiating between the state statute governing the creation of an EEZ and the state statute defining the blight designation which is a legal prerequisite for forming an EEZ.

City staff, REDI, and members of the EEZ Board continually point out that the EEZ statute does not grant the city extra eminent domain powers and that the size of the original EEZ proposal has been winnowed down to a much smaller area. What they fail to realize is that the original map declaring 60% of Columbia blighted is still in place and is separate from the EEZ map. It is blight and not EEZ that opens the door for the abuse of eminent domain that has plagued many Missouri cities in recent years.  This is important because when the DED or REDI says that the EEZ does not use eminent domain, they are telling the truth. Most voters then look the other way and go back to watching American Idol without exploring the secondary dangers posed by a blight designation.

It is also true that the city can use its eminent domain powers without having declared a property blighted. What City Manager Mike Mathes is referring to when he says that the city can use its eminent domain powers without a blight designation or EEZ is the legitimate use of eminent domain for needed public projects. In these cases, the city must show a legitimate need for the taking of private property. When blight is thrown in the mix, removal of blight becomes a blanket justification for taking property and handing it over to private developers to expand the tax base. That is what we call eminent domain abuse and it stems from blight. It has happened time and time again in MO over the last few decades and is happening today.

Attorney and eminent domain abuse expert Dave Roland,  Director of  The Freedom Center of Missouri, explains how Columbia’s EEZ blight designation can lead to eminent domain abuse in this video.

When you hear… “EEZ’s don’t require eminent domain” or “The City has the power to use eminent domain,” I believe you are hearing open obfuscation. It’s like we are not even having the same conversation yet the media keeps printing and airing these verbal head fakes.

These are important distinctions to understand and share.

This video from a recent City Council meeting demonstrates either the City’s deep misunderstanding of the subject or the City’s desire to openly misinform the public.

 

 

This video brings to light another terribly troubling aspect of our city government. Notice how a paid, un-elected, city bureaucrat, City Manager Mike Mathes, effectively squashes a motion made by Helen Anthony, an elected City Councilperson and representative of we the people, while the Mayor, the rest of the council, and City Attorney Fred Boeckmann (another paid, un-elected city bureaucrat on whom we rely for legal advice) set idly by. 

Are we living under a Mathes Monarchy?

Why are these city staffers given veto power over our elected officials?

Why are bureaucrats, with lucrative salaries funded by our tax dollars, allowed a bully pulpit from which they circumnavigate the sacred democratic process that lies at the heart of our once free society?

When will the citizens of Columbia rise up and take back the reins of government from the corporatist rapscallions who grant themselves personal largess from public funds belonging to the hardworking taxpayers of Columbia?

The time is NOW!

Get involved with CiViC, Citizens InVolved and InVested in Columbia.

Call and email the City Council representatives who can influence this process.

Write letters to the editors of our local newspapers.

Call all media outlets and demand fair coverage of the issues.

Come to tomorrow’s City Council meeting, 4.16.2012 at 7pm, to stand and be counted! 

Speak up and speak out  or enjoy servitude.

 

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Cannabis v. Child Molestation: Which is Worse?

If you ask America’s perverted criminal justice system you’ll find that selling cannabis is more than twice as bad as molesting children (and stealing). In the past week, two stories demonstrating this fact appeared in the the Columbia Daily Tribune.

The first story reported that Eric McCauley of Columbia was sentenced to 23 years in prison for conspiracy to sell marijuana, the same plant smoked by both Barack Obama and Newt Gingrich. According to the Tribune…

          A 30-year-old Columbia man was sentenced yesterday in federal court to 23 years in prison without parole for his role in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana in Boone County.

          Convicted of 29 charges by a jury in March in Missouri’s Western District U.S. Court, Eric S. McCauley’s sentence is the result of his role in one of the Columbia Police Department’s largest-ever seizures of marijuana, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips. Law enforcement seized $224,663 in cash during the investigation, and in a 2007 search at a Columbia residence, 240 pounds of marijuana was found.

          McCauley was found guilty of drug trafficking, distribution, possession with the intent to distribute and money-laundering. Evidence indicated McCauley led a conspiracy responsible for distributing marijuana from 2005 to 2008, the news release said.

The local cops swiped 1/4 million dollars from this man and now the courts are sending him to prison on a 23-year sentence for crimes that involved no violence.

Compare McCauley’s story with this story which ran in the Tribune just four days later.

          A Columbia man who in separate cases pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $9,000 from a Burger King restaurant and photographing a 13-year-old boy’s genitals will serve 10 years in prison…

          Three photos of the victim’s genitals and buttocks were taken in September by McCollum, who told the court yesterday of his remorse and newfound motivation to overcome his past. He and his attorney argued for a suspended execution of his sentence, which would have placed him on probation.

          McCollum also is under investigation in Wyoming for the sexual assault of children, but charges have not yet been filed…

          Between March 5, 2010, and June 10, 2010, McCollum stole $8,909 from the Burger King at 3700 Hyde Park Ave. while working as an assistant manager, police said. McCollum was entering fake credit card totals to take money from cash sales.

 

Wow! A weed dealer, charged with no gun crimes, gets 23 years while a serial child-molester and thief gets only 10 years. Are our prisons so jammed with non-violent drug offenders that there is no room left for thieves and child-molesters? America’s criminal justice system is broken and the drug war is to blame.

 

 

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Big Brother Can Zoom

The Columbia Daily Tribune recently reported that Karen Taylor’s Keep Columbia Safe PAC has offered to donate nearly $3000 to the City of Columbia for the purchase of a more technologically advanced surveillance camera for use at the intersection of Tenth and Cherry. The camera would upgrade the existing stationary camera with a unit capable of panning, tilting and zooming.

This new camera would allow Columbia police officers to sit in front of a computer screen, joystick in hand, and zoom in on the peaceful day-to-day activities of law abiding citizens in real time.

During Karen Taylor’s campaign to have the cameras installed she and her comrades repeatedly stated that the cameras would only be used to record video and the recordings would only be accessed if needed to solve a crime. Of course, once the ballot initiative passed, the police violated the sanctity of the voting booth and changed the plan as they began the live monitoring of Downtown Columbia. Now Keep Columbia Safe is jumping on the bandwagon of live video by offering to buy a camera capable of zooming on the plunging necklines of young college coeds and perhaps detecting a few facecrimes.

The following video captures one of the countless times Karen Taylor promised the voters of Columbia that her beloved cameras would not be used for live surveillance.

Campaign promises are sacred! Taylor and her cohorts have violated the trust of the voters by outwardly promoting live surveillance after promising the opposite. By accepting these funds and using them to promote further live monitoring of law-abiding citizens, the Columbia City Council has betrayed the citizenry whom they serve.   If we, the citizens of Columbia, cannot believe the Council about this issue, why should we beleive them about anything else? Their credibility with voters is at stake. 

More generally business owners should realize that this tool allows for the existence of a more onerous regulatory and enforcement environment that is more likely to victimize business owners by dragging them through the process than protect public safety. After all, the City Council has official dubbed the surveillance cameras as Safety Cameras, not Regulatory Cameras.

Of course, this $3000 Keep Columbia Safe donation is funded by private dollars which can be spent however the private organization wishes. Yet, it is incumbent on us not to sit silent when these private funds are going toward furthering the police-industrial complex that is beleaguering us so with its liberty-crushing weight.

And the fact remains that cameras on public streets and sidewalks have been proven ineffective, time and time again. In these sparse budgetary times, our city cannot afford to waste any sum of money on technology that has been proven fruitless. The only studies that claim public cameras on public streets deter or solve violent crimes are studies funded by camera companies and the like. It is, however, important to note that our Safety Cameras have reportedly been used to keep the public safe from a dangerous litterbug.

There is simply no replacing the traditional methods of policing when it comes to keeping us safe. Columbia’s so-called “Safety Cameras” are a waste of money. 

 

 

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AFR Guest Blog: Jonathan Whitworth’s Dismissed Civil Suit

Keep Columbia Free is happy to have a guest blogger in the house. Scott Alexander Meiner, a policy analyst at Americans For Forfeiture Reform, has penned a blog breaking down U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey’s recent ruling in the case stemming from Columbia’s infamous SWAT raid at the home of Jonathan and Brittany Whitworth. In his blog, Scott breaks down the problems with the ruling and the scourge that is “qualified immunity.” Enjoy…

BY SCOTT ALEXANDER MEINER, ON NOVEMBER 29TH, 2011

Last week, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey granted summary judgement to dismiss the civil rights suit (raised under 42 U.S.C. § 1983of Jonathan Whitworth, Brittany Whitworth, and their son. The civil rights claim stems from a February 2010 Columbia, Missouri SWAT raid that went viral when police footage was obtained by the Columbia Tribune.

At issue in the motion for summary judgement was whether the police officers’ discretionary behavior was reasonable, in the context of the situation, and whether it violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would be aware (Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982)Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)).

Such motions, under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, are to be looked at in the most favorable light to the non-movant (CPD).

In reality, law enforcement is afforded such favorable light, via judicial imaginings of what might have been reasonable, that “qualified immunity provides ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”  Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335 (1986)

It is no surprise that Judge Laughrey was able to rationalize a context in which it might have been reasonable for an officer to kick Jonathan Whitworth in the head while he lay face down, unarmed, before a fully armed SWAT tactical unit.

“Thus, even if Hendrick indeed kicked Whitworth, a single kick to force swift compliance with an order, and to deter hesitation incompliance with future orders from a dangerous suspect, would be objectively reasonable in this context. It is also uncontested that Whitworth suffered no injury from this contact except pain.”  Whitworth v.  Bolinger

In the execution of the warrant, a paramilitary SWAT team entered the Whitworth’s family home. Police fired seven shots while in the Whitworth home. Both of the Whitworth family dogs were shot. One of the dogs was killed. The couple’s seven year old child was witness to the raid. Jonathan Whitworth was kicked in the head. Brittany Whitworth and her child were directed at gun point.  As a result of the the raid, the police were able to find some drug paraphernalia and a small amount of cannabis. The police, initially, charged the Whitworths with child endangerment.

“The Court agrees that ideally officers would execute search warrants without pointing a gun at women and children not suspected of committing a crime. On the other hand, where officers are aware that a dangerous suspect and two large dogs are on the property, a reasonable officer could, in the heat of the moment, rely on such tactics to prod individuals to move swiftly through a potentially dangerous situation. This is especially true, where shouting and gun-pointing occurred as Mrs. Whitworth and P.M. stepped over Mr.Whitworth–who was lying on the floor–and the danger of resistance by any of the Whitworths was arguably at its highest. In this context, the behavior alleged by the Whitworths did not violate a clearly established constitutional right. The SWAT officers are thus entitled to qualified immunity on this claim.” Whitworth v.  Bolinger

This is entirely consistent with scores of cases wherein citizens were plainly wronged and yet can find no corrective, civil recourse.

In 2010, Radley Balko described the false arrest and failed civil suit of Brian Kelly. The ordeal is as instructive as it is scary.

“When Rogers returned from writing a ticket, he noticed Kelly’s camera. Rogers demanded Kelly turn the camera off and hand it over to him. Kelly complied.

Rogers then returned to his car and called John Birbeck, an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County. Rogers asked Birbeck if Kelly’s recording violated Pennsylvania’s wiretapping law. Birbeck incorrectly told him it did. Rogers then called in back-up officers and placed Kelly under arrest. During the arrest, Rogers “bumped” (the term Kelly used in his lawsuit) Kelly, causing a staple from a rugby injury to rupture, causing Kelly’s leg to bleed. Kelly spent the night (27 hours) in jail. He was eventually charged with a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed would later tell the Patriot-News that while he sympathized with Kelly not being aware that what he did was illegal, and that he might (graciously!) allow Kelly to plead to a misdemeanor, “Obviously, ignorance of the law is no defense.”

Here’s the problem: Freed was the one who was ignorant of the law. So was Birbeck. And so was Rogers. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that recording on-duty public officials is not a violation of the state’s wiretapping law because public officials have no legitimate expectation of privacy while they’re on the job. The order for Kelly to stop videotaping was illegal. So was Kelly’s arrest and his incarceration. Freed eventually dropped all charges.

Kelly filed a civil rights lawsuit against Rogers and the town of Carlisle. In May of last year, Federal District Court Judge Yvette Kane dismissed Kelly’s suit. The reason? As a police officer, Rogers is protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity. In order to even get his case in front of a jury, Kelly has to show that Rogers (a) violated Kelly’s civil rights, and (b) the rights Rogers violated have been clearly established. Even if Kelly can meet those two burdens, he must also show that Roger’s actions in violating Kelly’s rights were unreasonable.

So it isn’t enough that the police are wrong about the law. They have to be very obviously wrong for you to collect any damages from a wrongful arrest.”

Kelly’s civil suit (Kelly v. Borough Of Carlisleclaimed that the arrest had violated his rights guaranteed by the First and Fourth Amendments. Upon dismissal by summary judgement, Kelly appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Kelly’s First Amendment claim was rejected. All claims against the Borough of Carlisle were rejected. The summary judgement on Kelly’s Fourth Amendment claim was vacated and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Third Circuit’s analysis. The remand instructed,

“that police officer who relies in good faith on a prosecutor’s legal opinion that the arrest is warranted under the law is presumptively entitled to qualified immunity from Fourth Amendment claims premised on a lack of probable cause. That reliance must itself be objectively reasonable, however, because “a wave of the prosecutor’s wand cannot magically transform an unreasonable probable cause determination into a reasonable one.”  Accordingly, a plaintiff may rebut this presumption by showing that, under all the factual and legal circumstances surrounding the arrest, a reasonable officer would not have relied on the prosecutor’s advice.”

In analyzing the holding, Harvard Law Review noted,

“The Third Circuit had previously allocated the burdens of production reasonably: once the plaintiff established a prima facie case of wrongful arrest, the court required the police officer defendant to show probable cause, and it required the defendant to prove his or her qualified immunity defense. This arrangement accommodated the plaintiff’s limited right to pretrial discovery and the officer’s information advantage regarding the plaintiff’s arrest. The court’s opinion in Kelly will upset this sensible allocation in cases in which the police officer has consulted with a prosecutor: the plaintiff will now have the burden of showing that the officer was objectively unreasonable in following the advice. Kelly is representative of the plaintiffs on whom this burden will fall. He was neither committing nor about to commit a crime. A police officer nonetheless arrested him, and he went to jail. Because the arrest was made without probable cause, it violated Kelly’s Fourth Amendment right. Moreover, the law was clearly established in the relevant jurisdiction that the officer’s basis for arresting Kelly did not constitute probable cause. Thus, a reasonable officer would have known that he was violating Kelly’s rights. Yet, solely because a prosecutor confirmed the police officer’s inaccurate interpretation of the law, Kelly (and similarly situated civil rights plaintiffs) will now be required to produce evidence to rebut the judicially mandated inference that the police officer’s violation of his clearly established constitutional right was objectively reasonable. This presumption is unlikely to increase legal consultation; instead, it will allow courts to relieve law enforcement officers of their responsibility to exercise independent professional judgment and will decrease the likelihood that constitutional violations will be redressed.”

Qualified immunity has become so expansive that it frequently fails to correct these constitutional violations.

Simultaneously, law enforcement is increasingly funded by separate revenue streams that are not directly answerable to local voter intent.  Big money is coming in from asset forfeitures and federal law enforcement grants. Each dollar acquired outside of the legislative appropriation model is one less piece of control that the citizenry wield. The funds are not enough to ignore the citizenry, but we do see prioritization that is substantially at odds with voter intent.

The Whitworth warrant was predicated on unnamed sources that claimed Jonathan Whitworth was a major cannabis dealer. That was more than five years after Columbia, Missouri passed a proposition to make the enforcement of cannabis the lowest priority by law enforcement. The measure passed by a 61% to 39% vote.

An estimated 130-150 SWAT raids occur everyday in the United States. That is some 40,000-50,000 paramilitary operations every year.

We are simultaneously escalating domestic paramilitary activity, increasing immunity from prosecution, and ceding budgetary control.

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Toni and Tony Twist the Truth

Once again, City of Columbia bureaucratic functionaries are playing fast and loose with the truth about Columbia’s red light camera program. The last time Tony St. Romaine was caught spinning statistics in the city’s favor he was merely an Assistant City Manager, but his spin skills have since earned him a promotion to the position of Deputy City Manager. 

Interested readers can read all about the previous false claims HERE  and HERE

In a recently published article in the Columbia Missourian, a new Toni joined the mix — Columbia Public Communications Director Toni Messina. As if fulfilling some sort of homophonic destiny, this bureaucratic Tony/Toni duo teamed up for some dizzying spin in an attempt to explain why the City has opted not to install the previously planned, additional red light cameras.

In the story, Messina and St. Romaine make the argument that the plan for additional cameras was scrapped due to a marked decrease in the number of red light violations and that the the four existing cameras could be credited for the drop due to some sort of magical “spill-over effect.”

That might indicate that the red-light cameras already installed have caused drivers to be cautious throughout the city, St. Romaine said. “I think it’s had a spill-over effect into the rest of Columbia.”

Messina made a similar claim:

“They’re not seeing the type of violations that they had seen earlier. The number of red-light violations has leveled off to a point where it’s looking like they [red light cameras] had the desired effect,” she said

So according to these two, the four red light cameras have worked their Gatso magic and cured Columbians of their dangerous red light running addiction.

But the two disagreed slightly on the influence money made on the decision to abandon the camera expansion plan. Of course, St. Romaine has always claimed that the increased revenue was not important and he stuck to his story.

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said that revenue had no bearing on the decision not to install more cameras.

“The reason red-light cameras were put in was to make the public more aware of the potential consequences of running red lights,” he said.

Messina was singing a slightly different tune and admitted that money was a factor. Perhaps she is just a more effective spin doctor. After all, the best lies always contain a little truth.

Messina went on…

“…they had the desired effect,” she said. “When that happens, it generates less revenue and the vendor is affected by that as well.”

I think we all know that the system is all about the money. A silver-tounged salesman comes in from out of town and with a little Harold Hill song and dance, convinces Mayor Shinn — er– Hindman that there’s trouble in River City that only Gatso cameras can fix. Of course, the city loves the plan — they get to add money to the general fund. The City Manager’s office loves the idea because their respective résumés appear more robust as most of the funds are used to add to our already bloated city bureaucracy. And who can argue with the plan? Heck, it has to make us safer. It’s for the children, right?

What these government agents… I mean… city officials have failed to tell us is the real reason red light violations are down in Columbia. It has nothing to do with these silly cameras.

You see, earlier this year MODOT, in an attempt to reduce accidents at intersections governed by stoplights, changed the timing of the lights by adding more time to the yellow portion of the light timing.  And, wouldn’t ya know it, all of Columbia traffic cameras are at intersections governed by MODOT.

We at Keep Columbia Free have always argued that a longer yellow and an all-red pause would do far more to make intersections safer than any camera system could hope to. The problem with simply adjusting the lights instead of installing cameras is that nobody gets rich by merely adjusting the lights.

Now it’s time to get rid of the four remaining red light cameras in this city. Let’s run these Gatso rats out of town once and for all. The cameras were installed with little to no public input and have done nothing but fill the coffers of the corporate giant Gatso and increase our city bureaucracy. We encourage you to write to the city council and demand that these terrible Orwellian red light cameras be removed immediately.

Here are the email addresses for the Mayor, City Council and City Manager.

mayor@gocolumbiamo.com; ward6@gocolumbiamo.com; ward5@gocolumbiamo.com; ward4@gocolumbiamo.com; ward3@gocolumbiamo.com; ward2@gocolumbiamo.com; ward1@gocolumbiamo.com;  CityMan@gocolumbiamo.com

We also encourage you to get behind our efforts to have these cameras banned once and for all. A rough draft of our ballot language can be found HERE. Look for finalized language and a petition soon.

Special thanks to Matt Hay of Wrong On Red for his help with and hard work on this issue!

Mark Flakne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Campaign Promises are Sacred

During the campaign to authorize the use of government surveillance cameras in Downtown Columbia, the voters were sold a bill of goods by Keep Columbia Safe and the camera proponents within the city bureaucracy. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, now that the cameras are in place, the final product looks quite different than what was proposed. 

It is important to note that while the Prop 1 initiative and the ordinance it produced merely authorized the installation and use of cameras, it has been interpreted as a mandate for action. If we are to accept the ordinance as a command to action, it is important that the camera parameters that were spelled out during the campaign and in the ordinance be strictly adhered to.

Unfortunately, the city has ignored the will of the voters and, in a series of bureaucratic head-fakes reminiscent of the events surrounding the building of our behemoth, eyesore parking garage, the will of the voters and the ordinance itself have been repeatedly and summarily ignored. 

Cost:

During the campaign, the proposed camera system was repeatedly estimated at a cost around $50,000 for the first year. Based on that number, The District offered to fit half of the bill for the first year and so budgeted $25,000 of their special tax funds for the project. When it was all said and done and the council voted to install the cameras, the price tag was actually $75,000 per year, a 50% increase.

This may seem trivial when considering a tax funded, government program. After all, it’s rare for a government program to come in at or under budget, but this budget was important to the debate that formed voter opinion. When camera opponents argued that an additional officer would be a better use of public funds, camera proponents made the claim that the salary and training costs, estimated at $125,000, involved in hiring an officer were far more than the relatively inexpensive, estimated $50,000 price tag for the cameras. Had the proponents been honest with the cost and the gap between camera cost and officer cost been narrowed, many fiscally concerned voters may have voted against the cameras. 

Conspicuous?

The camera ordinance states that, “Downtown safety cameras may only be deployed so as to be conspicuous…” 

This has been a point of contention since the moment of installation. Before they were installed, Lt. Chris Kelly of the Downtown Unit told the Tribune that the plan was “to keep them unmarked, or ‘plain Jane,’ so the cameras blend in with the environment.” 

Lt. Kelly later claimed that he was quoted out of context, but I can’t imagine a context that would change the meaning of those words. In reaction to his foot-in-mouth moment, Lt. Kelly announced that his camouflaged cameras would be adorned with a CPD logo to make them “conspicuous.” 

Even with the 5 inch CPD stickers, the cameras are still not easy to spot if one is not consciously looking for them. During a visit to Tom Bradley‘s morning radio show on September 21st, 2011, CPD Public Information Officer Jill Weineke stated that the cameras are small and that she often has to point them out to people. I guess Jill hasn’t read the ordinance. 

The Live Feed:

Again, during the campaign, camera proponents promised one thing but the city did another. The folks at Keep Columbia Safe repeatedly poopooed fears articulated by civil libertarians, myself included, that the cameras would be used for live, Orwellian surveillance. Proponents claimed that the police did not have the time or resources to play Big Brother and monitor law abiding citizens on the city streets. They claimed plainly that the cameras would only be used as recording devices and that those recordings would only be accessed in search of evidence if a crime was committed and voters made up their minds based on these claims. Only a few short months after installation, it came to light that the live feed from the cameras was being monitored by the CPD. 

 

It all boils down to the fact that camera proponents lied to the voters. As Dan Viets so eloquently pointed out, “A campaign promise is sacred.” 

Thanks to Citizens For Justice for this footage.

Intimidation:

As Mitch Richards pointed out in his address to the Columbia City Council, there is a stationary camera pointed Directly at The Blue Fugue, a bar that is a popular meeting place for liberty advocates. The Blue Fugue is among the safest establishments in town, and sees none of the violent crime that might merit government surveillance, especially when compared with other bars in the area.

So why point a camera directly at The Blue Fugue? I won’t venture a guess at the official explanation, but it is important to note that the CPD has a history of intimidating those who dare to criticize the department. For proof, one need look no further than the case of Greg Williams and Officer Robert Fox. Mr. Williams participated in a protest against the use of SWAT dynamic entries for the service of search warrants for non-violent crimes like Columbia’s infamous Kinloch Ct. SWAT raid. Officer Fox, and probably other officers, ran police background checks on the protesters. This came to light after Officer Fox released Mr. Williams’s juvenile record in the Tribune’s online comment section. Most of the stories regarding the indecent focused on the criminal release of sealed juvenile records in an attempt to discredit a protester who was merely exercising the most basic of American liberties. What the media accounts failed to recognize was that the CPD was running background checks on law-abiding citizens who dare to speak up and speak out when they see their public servant police force violating civil rights. 

With this in mind, it is not much of a stretch to imagine how this camera system might be used to intimidate the public and ultimately violate the First Amendment. Let’s not forget that the American Revolution and our beloved Bill of Rights was fomented over a few pints of ale in a few New England pubs.  

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