Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Budget Review - Does Dunwoody need a Narcotics Task Force Officer and a SWAT Team?


Talking to residents regarding their needs and wants is a big part of being an elected official therefore I am posting an e-mail (with full permission) from my friend and neighbor Mike Kaplan in order to start a discussion on a matter with which I was unaware. I understand Mike's concerns but maybe my rose colored glasses just keep telling me that these budget items (well trained, well armed men with whom I have shared meals and have formed a bond of trust) are there to fight the bad guys and make the city safer and therefore would never allow the injustices documented below to happen in Dunwoody.

John,

I am a straight arrow - I don't do drugs, I barely drink, I don't gamble or even cuss. So I have no sympathy for illegal drug use or other illegal activity but it burns me up to see police act unethically. I would rather have drug users go unpunished than have police use illegal and immoral tactics. Across the country, because of financial incentives and pressures, there has been a growing pattern of Narcotic Task Forces and SWAT teams performing unethically and putting innocent citizens at risk.

Related to the funding of a Narcotics Task Force officer, I am troubled by these sentences in Warren's Memo to the City Council of Sep1, 2009:

"In addition, we recommend one additional sworn position for a Narcotics Task Force officer. The City would benefit from any seized funds recovered by this officer. Typically, the full cost of the officer yields a return to the City to be used for the exclusive purpose of funding capital and equipment needs in the Police Department."

The problem I have with this is the financial pressure on Narcotic Task Force officers to justify their salaries through the confiscation of drug-related cash and assets. This pressure has led to abuses such as officers lying, planting evidence, unjustified civil asset forfeiture and even the death of innocent citizens. Examples in our area include the death of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston http://www.reason.com/news/show/123632.html and the recent death of a pastor, Jonathan Ayers http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/09/01/crimesider/entry5279161.shtml killed by, in my opinion, improper police action in a narcotics task force sting-gone-bad. There are dozens of other cases across the country highlighted in the links below. The common characteristic is a police force more interested in "scoring points" and seizing funds than in actually making life safer for the community.

At the very least let's not make the officer's performance be related in any way to how much funds are seized or the financial "return to the City".

Here is an article about a Mayor of a small town near Washington DC whose house is raided and dogs killed by narcotic officers who did little in the way of investigative work before invading his home. The officers did not have a proper warrant and lied about the events. The lies came to light only because the Mayor was a respected and well known member of the community. It is alleged that these illegal police actions commonly occur by narcotic officers but usually the average citizen, not having the resources of a well-known mayor, is powerless against them. By the way, the mayor is now trying to get SWAT team and narcotic task force team activity brought under control in his community.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/23/AR2009012302935_pf.html

Hand-in-hand with abuses by Narcotic Task Forces are problems with SWAT teams. The wrong kind of police officer is attracted to the violence associated with SWAT teams ( a respected police chief said he would not hire any officer who wanted to do SWAT work). SWAT teams should be used for the rare hostage situation or other possibly violent situation, also rare. The problem is that too many police forces have SWAT teams and, once they are on the payroll, there is pressure to have them "do something" rather than just sit around waiting for the rare hostage crisis. This has resulted in SWAT teams being used in situations that don't justify a no-knock, flash-bang, all-out invasion. This has lead to mistakes, wrong-door raids and innocent citizens killed as described in this white-paper:

Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America
http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpapers/balko_whitepaper_2006.pdf

I don't think Dunwoody needs even a membership in a inter-city SWAT team. If we ever have a hostage situation (how often has that happened in Dunwoody?) we can call the FBI or the Georgia State Patrol. Funding part of a SWAT team and buying equipment for it will lead to pressure to use the team which will lead to trouble.

Mike Kaplan

PS: If Dunwoody does decide to have a narcotics task force officer and a SWAT team then it is my opinion that they should have a strong civilian review board.

14 comments:

Rich Ideas said...

I am a Dunwoody resident and a retired police officer, (NYPD). I had no idea this was proposed for the city. We do not need this. I could speak volumes on this subject, but Mike said plenty.
Richard L

Jonathon said...

I think you misunderstand what a Narcotics Task Force Officer would be and how they would operate. A Task Force Officer would not neccesarily work the "mean" streets of Dunwoody, nor would they run investigations by themselves. A task force officer is a sworn officer that is hired by the city and then loaned out to a bigger (and most likely federal) agency. For gangs and anti-terrorism there is an FBI Task force for those. For drugs typically the officer would work for HIDTA or DEA. High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (http://www.atlantahidta.org/)
These guys mean serious business. Their investigations are typically longer, not quota driven, and multijurisdictional. A percentage of the monies seized are divided among the jurisdictions participating. These are large dollar seizures and involve lots of time with surveillance and wiretapping to build cases. That amount of time spent keeps things like APDs quotas and lies from happening. Mr Ayers was a victim of circumstance and poor judgement. Don't pick up people off the street,(she was the target and had cocaine in her possession) Mr Ayers likely did get scared but apparently struck an officer with his vehicle and I assume ignored commands to stop, show his hands, and park the vehicle. Most officers would react similarly when a brother in blue is in danger.

A Narcotics Task Force Officer is very different from having your own Narcotics division.

As for SWAT, use DeKalb PD's guys. They are high speed low drag and VERY tactically sound. They train continously and are the cream of the crop. THe Dept has been run poorly recently obviously, but this is not a reflection of many of the fine veteran officers still there.

Brian Morton said...

I think a Narcotics Task Force Officer might be a good idea. Seized drug money is always a good thing.

I agree with what has already been said about a SWAT team. Seems a bit much given that I have lived here my whole life and never known of a hostage situation.

Kcaj said...

What is Dunwoody's statistical history for such crimes? How many of such problem have happened here and when? Also, how were they handled; SWAT, Narc, or regular beat? Until you can sustify the expen$e, I'd vote to save the money! Jack.

Dunwoody Cynic said...

John,

I am against the Narcotics Task Force Officer and SWAT. Vast Majority of our crime is burglary and theft. If this City Council, the CVBD, DHA all want to make Dunwoody out to be the idealic representation of the Farmhouse, we cannot have a dichotomy of an armed task force and SWAT. It is a disconnect. What we need is a continued community policing model, where 1 officer / 1 detective is dedicated to meet and press the flesh with the 60 or so neighborhoods that make up Dunwoody. When we the citizens take full responsibility of watching out for each other in conjunction with the Police, Dunwoody will be a safe and enjoyable place to live with all the positive quality of life items that go along with that. What we need in my opinion is more investigators to investigate the theft, burglary, etc. that is becoming more entrenched in all parts of Dunwoody. Per Crime Reports, since Dunwoody Police took over in April, 1901 crimes reports have been filed. Of those, I see only 129 (6.8%) as serious (assault, robbery, sexual assault), so an overwhelming 93.2% are crimes of opportunity against our business, citizens and visitors. If we work on the old 80/20 rule and by intervention with community outreach we could drop Dunwoody crime by leaps and bounds. Perhaps, we should look into forming a Community group that acts like the Goodwill Ambassadors in City of Atlanta, which walk around the Mall and parking lots and deter most of the crime of opportunity that happens around the PCID. Then, the officers could work the neighborhoods, apartments, and business to decrease the rest.

waterman said...

John,

This is a budget item request that demands much more explanation from Chief Grogan. Judging from all of the discussion, it is unclear what the benefit to Dunwoody is from contributing an officer to a Narcotics Task Force. Perhaps a little more explanation is in order to clear up what exactly DPD's needs are. Please don't frame it in the context of "the city would benefit from any seized funds.." That's not a crime-fighting goal for the City. As for SWAT, for the rare instances we would call upon the resource, calling on DeKalb PD SWAT makes more sense.

Don't bite off more than you can chew, and stick to the knitting. Characterize the problem and present the solutions out in the open. In my opinion, this budget item was not presented with sufficient clarity. Everybody has made very good comments and I hope you find them of use in Council budget discussions.

Mike said...

Jonathon,

If you watch the in-store video at the link, you can see what happened in the parking lot when Pastor Ayers was shot. If his car struck an officer, and from what I can see it does not appear that he did, then the officer did not stumble or fall and the supposed impact did not stop the officer from pulling his gun, giving chase or shooting into the moving car.

Being a Pastor, Mr. Ayers was known to help the poor and down-and-out and giving a ride to a woman seemed like an act of kindness. The poor judgment here seems to be on the part of the task force officers not Pastor Ayers.

If, after watching the video, you think the officers were in danger from Mr. Ayers, then that illustrates the problems many civilians like me have with these operations.

Wishbone Nolan said...

Bravo to Mr. Kaplan, how rare is it that anything is posted on this right wing "yellow journalism" reactionary blog that is well researched, articulate, and insightful.

This is a real fear as we have already seen right wing "big brother" flex its muscle in Dunwoody, with Fox News alleging that the mayor abused his power with the DZBA in order to accommodate his wife in having their poor backyard neighbor rip down his wheelchair ramp that he had built for his wife.

I hate to see what kind of Fascist state we will have if this inacted with neighbor reporting neighbor and their homes are confiscated.

I think that Dunwoody will be shooting itself in the foot with this, as it will transition from its original founding credo of keeping the city safe for Republicans and keeping poor minorities out, to that of arresting some of its own.

I'll tell you with as much casual drug use as I observe in Dunwoody, with many reputable men and women of the community occasionally enjoying a joint now and then, and most of these folks are not old hippies, but Dunwoody residents that walk down driveways of large homes that once proudly displayed Bush/Cheney or McCain/Palin for president signs. I'll assure you that once an arrest of this stature occurs, you'll be seeing quite an uproar in the community. Woooo Haaaa!!!!!!! Such fun!!!!!!!

Mark said...

I agree with Mr. Kaplan regarding this matter. Thanks to you both for bringing it to our attention.

TwoDogsTrucking said...

The city manager’s desire to expand government, expand expenditures, entered into tri-city government services, replicate existing services and now a de-annexation article have compelled my two cents worth of thought. Some of the previous campaign issues and the citizen comments for the last nine months have emphasized a visible police patrol in the neighborhoods and a desire for roadway improvements. Dunwoody now owns three parcels of land that work contrary to these goals; I-285, Perimeter Mall and properties facing the Peachtree Industrial Blvd Access Road.

A single or combination of events on I-285 could quickly consume Dunwoody’s 4 or 5 man patrol force for hours and leaving calls for service in the neighborhoods unanswered. The mall also consumes the police patrol and detectives time with patrol transporting prisoners and detectives preparing theft cases, this time could be better spent patrolling and investigating crimes that occur in the neighborhoods. The last is primarily responsible for Dunwoody’s violent crimes. The PIB Access Road will also be a large drain on funds available for road projects; as it services huge industrial parks in DeKalb and Gwinnett.

Two of these area have no city residents and the other has a minimum of registered voters. All three require extensive service by the city to the detriment of the majority of the city’s residents.

A de- annexation of these areas would free the Dunwoody Police to carry forth with the original goals of a more visible police patrol in the neighborhoods and money for traffic improvement. In regards to the mall; a de-annex of west of Ashford Dunwoody Rd, south of Perimeter Center West, east of Perimeter Center Parkway and east from the Marta Station and tracks (think no Marta cases clogging valuable city court time). The area would still be under the sway of Dunwoody and the PCID at little to no cost in city services. The removal of these areas could even lead to Dunwoody finding itself on one of those BEST or SAFEST places to live list. The revenue lost now would eventually be replaced if Georgetown of the Village was redeveloped.


A quick P.S.- A stronger IGA with DeKalb PD should be sought as their SWAT (and I believe their whole PD) is truly a “best in class”, a tri-city 911 center (two of which are in Fulton) would create a critical delay in emergency medical dispatch and since the city manager mentioned it (The DPD… produced a dramatic … impact on public safety) and in the spirit of transparency could the city produce some official crime stats?

DunwoodyPoliceWatch said...

John. Thank you for this posting. The police are looking for more money. This is what they do, they will create a crime is needed. We elected you and others to be our voice in city hall, please help us. From any outsiders view point it looks as police are taking over, making demands on the city etc.

What can we, the good people of Dunwoody do to help stop this paramilitary policing?

Ellen Fix said...

Wishbone Nolan, et al: Thank you for boldly speaking your minds and telling it like it is.

Dunwoody City Council: Remember what one of our nation's Founding Fathers said (either Paine or Jefferson):

"That government is best which governs least."

Wishbone Nolan said...

Well, thank-you Ms. Fixx, and I have always admired you for being such a bold blunt outspoken gadfly of integrity.

Wishbone Nolan said...

And I thought it was deplorable the manner in which the crier published missives from harridans and prattlers perniciously pillorying your campaign for Dunwoody Council Person. They certainly never published my letter in your support. Please continue your resplendent being to make this community and world a better place.