Archive for the Westminster Category

Westminster Should Consider Approval Voting

I read in the January 25 Westsider that the Westminster City Council is considering eliminating run-off elections for mayor:

If the top candidate does not receive 40 percent [under the current system], the top two candidates face off against each other during a run-off election. This process requires a second election, costing about $100,000. . . . Resident Tim Kauffman told council [at a January 14 meeting] the run-off election is important because the mayor position needs widespread community support.

The council will decide the measure to eliminate the run-off election on January 28, the paper reports.

But the city could avoid both problems—a costly run-off and a low-popularity mayor—simply by instituting approval voting, a process I wrote about a couple years ago.

Here’s how it would work. For the mayor’s election, voters would see all the candidates’ names on the ballot. Voters could vote for one or more of these candidates—as many as they “approved” of. Then the candidate with the highest vote total wins.

This guarantees that the winner has broad support, yet it saves the cost and hassle of a run-off election. What’s not to like?

Westminster Police Used Dog for “Drug Checkpoint”

My wife and I drove past signs stating “Drug Checkpoint Ahead” on the night of June 12 as we headed northwest on Highway 36; the signs were placed before the Church Ranch exit, which we use on our route home.

Here are the basic facts already established about the incident based on direct observation and news accounts (see also my first, second, and third reports):

  • The police pulled over 23 vehicles, arrested one man for felony marijuana possession, and issued three citations.
  • The police did not stop every passing vehicle; rather, they pulled over people for an alleged “identified violation” (and yet, again, they issued only three citations).
  • My wife witnessed the police in the process of searching six vehicles, two along Highway 36, and four more along Church Ranch. I do not know how many vehicles in total the police searched.
  • The Department of Homeland Security was involved in training the Westminster police to conduct these sorts of “drug checkpoints.”

The new information is that the Westminster police used at least one police dog in the course of the “drug checkpoint,” and Randy Corporon, a defense attorney and fill-in host for Grassroots Radio, had a conversation with Trevor Materasso of the Westminster Police.

There’s a humorous aside regarding the bit about the drug dogs. Complete Colorado features a headline, “Homeland Security trained police dogs for HWY 36 checkpoints?!?” Accompanying this headline is a photo of a police dog. However, the link goes to my article about Homeland Security; there is no mention of a dog. So yesterday Ken Clark invited me on to Grassroots Radio to discuss the police dogs, and I had nothing for him on that topic. (Clark is one of the show’s two regular hosts.)

But it turns out Westminster Police did use a police dog, though my wife and I didn’t see it.

In the June 22 North Jeffco Westsider (front page, “Police enforce drug checkpoint”), Ashley Reimers cites Materasso: “One of the biggest resources we use in these checkpoints is K-9 units. We have a dog on scene that alerts us as to whether or not . . . drugs are in the vehicle, and then we search the vehicle.”

But that must not be much a police dog, given the police searched six vehicles that we saw and made only one arrest for drugs.

Today I went back on Grassroots radio to discuss this detail and hear Corporon’s additional insights.

Mostly Corporon verified previously reported facts, including Materasso’s claim that police pulled people over for “identified violations.” One example Corporon gave of an alleged violation was an illegal u-turn.

However, it seemed to me that Corporon was overly credulous regarding Materasso’s claims. My wife and I witnessed no cars pulled over on the other side of Highway 36, as would have been the case for an illegal u-turn. Moreover, as previously noted, the police issued only three citations (and made one arrest) out of 23 stops. These alleged “violations” were evidently mere pretexts, for the most part.

Again, the issue is not whether such police activity passes muster in court, but whether these “drug checkpoints” inappropriately harass citizens “guilty” of nothing more than going about their business.

Image: City of Westminster

Homeland Security Trained Westminster Police for “Drug Checkpoints”

What is Homeland Security doing training local police to operate “drug checkpoints”?

Today the Denver Post published an editorial condemning the Westminster Police “drug checkpoints” that I wrote about last week. The editorial follows Vincent Carroll’s June 15 piece on the same topic for the Post‘s opinion blog.

The Daily Camera, which the Post cites, published the first newspaper account (to my knowledge) of the “drug checkpoints”:

Westminster police stopped 23 cars and made one arrest at a high-profile drug checkpoint in the Boulder-bound lanes of U.S. 36. . . .

Of the 23 stopped, it’s unclear how many were searched for drugs, but three traffic tickets were issued, and one man was arrested on suspicion of felony marijuana possession, [police investigator Trevor] Materasso said.

The Post also cites a Colorado Independent story that contains the information about Homeland Security:

In a Friday email to the Independent, Materasso added that the drug stop operations have not been designed by the Westminster force in isolation but are a product of interactions with federal agencies.

“The operation [was] established based on training provided by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and Homeland Security, which has guidelines, protocols and procedures to ensure Constitutional rights are not violated. These govern how we conduct this type of operation.”

The Post rightly retorts, “[J]ust because a policy does not, strictly speaking [and according to the courts], violate constitutional rights hardly means it earns an A-plus for respecting civil liberties.”

I checked in with Cory Lamz, one of the two Camera reporters who covered the story, and he said his paper got a news tip about the “drug checkpoints” and that multiple staff members also saw the signs as they drove by on Highway 36. Once he started working on the story, he said, he saw my initial post on the subject and then asked my wife and me for a statement.

What I want to know is this: What does training local police to search innocent people’s cars for drugs without substantial reason have to do with “Protecting the Homeland”? In this case, the threats against which Americans need protection are the police abuses encouraged by the Department of Homeland Security and the other agencies involved.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Westminster’s “Drug Checkpoint” Fishing Expedition

June 17 Update: Vincent Carroll wrote about this issue Friday for the Denver Post. He hopes these sorts of checkpoints don’t become a policing habit, and he agrees I make “a number of compelling arguments” in the post below:

On Tuesday night, my wife and I passed two signs stating “Drug Checkpoint Ahead” as we drove northwest on Highway 36, just before the Church Ranch exit. (See yesterday’s initial report.)

Here’s the statement my wife sent to Cory Lamz of the Daily Camera on the matter (a bit of which was quoted in the paper):

Here’s what I saw. We were heading westbound on Highway 36, and we saw two signs that said ‘drug checkpoint ahead.’ We exited on Church Ranch to head home, and there were two cop cars that had two civilian cars pulled over on the shoulder of the highway, just past the exist. They had orange cones flagged out for those cars. The trunks and doors were all open, so they were obviously doing a search. Then we were on Church Ranch, heading west, and we got to the Eagle Landing apartment complex—there’s a traffic light there—and to the left of the traffic light (by the apartment complex), there were four cop cars and four civilian cars. There were two cop cars paired with two civilian cars on each side of that road. There were cops mulling about, trunks open, people standing nearby.

The reporting of Lamz and Joe Rubino adds some important details about what happened:

Westminster police stopped 23 cars and made one arrest at a high-profile drug checkpoint in the Boulder-bound lanes of U.S. 36 on Tuesday night. . . . [T]hree traffic tickets were issued, and one man was arrested on suspicion of felony marijuana possession, [Westminster police investigator Trevor] Materasso said.

Materasso told the reporters that the cars were pulled over “for some identified violation,” but that’s obvious nonsense. If the cars had been pulled over for real violations, the police would have issued 22 citations rather than three. Quite obviously, the police pulled over these vehicles on mere pretexts in order to search the cars for drugs. This was a fishing expedition, pure and simple. Or, to put the matter another way, Westminster police used tax dollars to flagrantly violate the rights of Colorado citizens. (And please let nobody claim that these rights violations are fine just because the police can get away with them in court.)

Moreover, assuming that three of the drivers were in fact violating traffic laws, the police could have pulled them over and cited them without the “Drug Checkpoint” setup.

The police, then, pulled over 23 vehicles at a “Drug Checkpoint” and made one arrest. That’s a four percent success rate. And apparently the guy arrested didn’t actually have large amounts of marijuana, or Materasso surely would have trumpeted that fact.

To state these facts a different way, the police pulled over 19 drivers for no significant reason. For the “crime” of going about their business, they were harassed and intimidated by the police. That’s wrong. (And this is not the first time the Westminster police have employed this tactic.)

And how much did this cost taxpayers? Clearly the Westminster Police Department needs a budget cut, if they best way the police can spend a Tuesday night is to harass and intimidate innocent drivers.

Know Your Rights

The silver lining to this incident is that at least it has prompted many Coloradans to talk about police actions and abuses.

Mark Silverstein of the Colorado ACLU told the Camera:

One of the disappointing facts about the state of people’s awareness of civil liberties is many, many, many people don’t know they have the right to say “no” to a search. If a cop stops you and says, “Mind if I look in your trunk?” it’s your choice.

The ACLU offers some good material on the subject. The ACLU advises:

Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window part way and place your hands on the wheel. Upon request, show police your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. If an officer. . . asks to look inside your car, you can refuse to consent to the search. But if police believe your car contains evidence of a crime, your car can be searched without your consent. Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent. If you are a passenger, you can ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, sit silently or calmly leave. Even if the officer says no, you have the right to remain silent.

The state ACLU also published a multi-part video; here’s the first part.

The group Flex Your Rights offers the video, Busted: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters.

Of course the problem of overzealous policing is a concern to citizens on the right as well. Grassroots Radio invited me on Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 to discuss the issue; I joined host Ken Clark and Randy Corporon, a defense attorney sitting in for Jason Worley. Listen to Part I (starting at minute 23) and Part II.

I argued the following (starting at minute 33 in the first hour):

Here’s my concern. With these quasi-random checkpoints, either for drugs or alcohol, without any other . . . serious cause of wrongdoing, or reason for the police to think you’ve done something wrong; with things like no-knock raids (which, as we know here in Denver, sometimes the police don’t even get the right address for those); with things like TSA doing these invasive types of searches, even for young children—my fear is that Americans are being conditioned to a state in which, instead of the police officers working for the citizens, and protecting our rights, and being our servants, instead we’re in a state where usually we’re afraid of the police officers, and afraid that we’re going to be intimidated or harassed, even when we’re doing nothing wrong. . . . While I dislike the checkpoint that I witnessed last night, in and of itself, I worry about this growing trend toward—it seems like police have control over the citizens, instead of vice versa.

Corporon, a defense attorney, added some excellent points about asserting one’s rights.

His main advice was to “shut up” if the police are questioning you without the presence of your attorney. He said his biggest headache is when clients call him after they’ve already gone down to the police station and given a statement, without legal representation.

A related video I’ve seen advises, Don’t Talk to the Police. See also my write-up of Boston T. Party’s talk at the University of Colorado about “You and the Police.”

Corporon also advised people never to voluntarily consent to a police search of one’s vehicle. He pointed out that consenting, when the officer has neither cause nor a warrant, only encourages abusive practices.

“Be polite,” Corporon urged.

He pointed out a great reason to roll your window only part-way down: in addition to protecting the driver from overly-intrusive policing, it offers the officer assurance that the driver can’t reach out the window aggressively.

Clark added that his personal practice, as a holder of a concealed carry permit, is to always have his permit in hand with his other paperwork—with his hands on the steering wheel—and to tell the officer right away that he has a permit. (Please note that I’m not an attorney and am not offering legal advice, but merely reporting what others said.)

The upshot is this. As a citizen, you need to assert your rights. By asserting your rights, you encourage decent policing and remind police officers that they work for us, not the other way around. You also need to defend your rights, to speak out against rights violations and injustices. Finally, we need to think seriously about the sort of political system that fosters rights-protecting government activity—and the sort of political system that fosters oppression and systematic rights violations by government agents. Yes, it is a large task, but it is a necessary one if we wish to continue to live in the Land of the Free.

Image: City of Westminster

Drug Checkpoint Outrage

I was shocked and outraged to see two “Drug Checkpoint Ahead” signs this evening along Highway 36 northbound ahead of the Church Ranch exit (in Westminster, Colorado). Even worse, the police had pulled over two vehicles along Highway 36, and another four vehicles along Church Ranch, and were in the process of searching those vehicles.

I do not know which police agency or agencies were involved in this frankly fascistic violation of the civil rights of the citizens. I called the “Administration” and “Desk Officer” lines of the Westminster Police Department but got a recording. (This was at 10:21 pm; I doubted that those at dispatch would be in a position to answer my questions on the subject.)

Apparently the police were pulling over cars totally at random; they did not pull me over (as they all seemed to be occupied searching others’ vehicles).

What is especially angering about this is that the police are spending MY tax dollars for the purpose of violating people’s rights.

Ironically, I witnessed this travesty as I returned from Liberty In the Books, where we had just reviewed an extraordinary set of lectures by Ludwig von Mises on the importance of limiting government to the protection of rights. In those lectures Mises criticizes America’s first “experiment” with Prohibition; I will conclude with his commentary:

[T]he notion that a capitalist form of government can prevent people from hurting themselves by controlling their consumption is false. The idea of government as a paternal authority, as a guardian for everybody, is the idea of those who favor socialism. In the United States some years ago, the government tried what was called “a noble experiment.” This noble experiment was a law making it illegal to buy or sell intoxicating beverages. It is certainly true that many people drink too much brandy and whiskey, and that they may hurt themselves by doing so. . . . This raises a question which goes far beyond economic discussion: it shows what freedom really means. . . .

[O]nce you have admitted [that government should stop people from drinking too much], other people will say: Is the body everything? Is not the mind of man much more important? Is not the mind of man the real human endowment, the real human quality? If you give the government the right to determine the consumption of the human body, to determine whether one should smoke or not smoke, drink or not drink, there is no good reply you can give to people who say: “More important than the body is the mind and the soul, and man hurts himself much more by reading bad books, by listening to bad music and looking at bad movies. Therefore it is the duty of the government to prevent people from committing these faults.”