It is hard to believe but Federal agencies are not supposed to be able to create new laws at whim and require the American people to obey them. There is a procedure set out that allows proposed rules to be reviewed and commented upon.
According to the blog of the Competitive Enterprise Institute,
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses more than 700 full-body imaging scanners in 160 airports nationwide. In addition to the empirical evidence that shows they don’t actually make us safer and the questions on the intrusion of traveler privacy, the TSA is violating the federal Administrative Procedure Act. Next Tuesday, June 24, marks the one-year anniversary of the public comment deadline on body scanners and the TSA is still failing to comply with federal law and a federal court’s order.
Why is this important to the average citizen? The TSA’s scanners inconvenience travelers, provide few if any safety benefits, and face high deployment costs. The limited data available suggest body scanners are a completely inappropriate airport security tool and should be scrapped in favor of more effective and less intrusive security measures. Given this, the TSA’s thumbing its nose at the rule of law is especially troubling.
The Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies create regulations like airport body-scanners, states that agencies must publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register and solicit public comments before promulgating a rule. TSA failed to do this and has been flouting the law for years.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and then the Competitive Enterprise Institute have taken the TSA to court to force them to comply with the law. The court ordered the TSA to publish a rule for public comment. The TSA did not obey this request.
On March 26, 2013, the TSA finally proposes their rule and opens the required comment period. However, it fails to comply with the court’s order to produce a legislative rule governing the use of body scanners in airports. Instead, the TSA proposes a brief, open-ended amendment to their screening regulations that essentially states the TSA might have body scanners and, if it does, it may use them. This is a far cry from the legislative rule the court ordered to be produced in 2011, a rule that should have included details related to the rights and obligations of affected parties. The TSA also fails to justify their rule on benefit-cost and risk-based grounds and classifies other supposed justifications for no apparent reason.
Of course the real problem here is that practically no one has the power to rein in these Federal bureaucracies. The law is simply not enforced when it comes to them. Court cases take years and then, if the Federal agency ignores the court, the only recourse is to take them to court again. The TSA can do what it wants, and the TSA knows it.
Read more at Political Outcast
Darren Rainey, who died after being placed in excruciatingly hot shower by guards as punishment Florida Department of Corrections
The purported details of Darren Rainey’s last hour are difficult to read.
“I can’t take it no more, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,’’ he screamed over and over, according to a grievance complaint from a fellow inmate, as Rainey was allegedly locked in a shower with the scalding water turned on full blast.
A 50-year-old mentally ill inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution, Rainey was pulled into the locked shower by prison guards as punishment after defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up, said the fellow inmate, who worked as an orderly. He was left there unattended for more than an hour as the narrow chamber filled with steam and water.
When guards finally checked on prisoner 060954, he was on his back and dead. His skin was so burned that it had shriveled from his body, a condition referred to as slippage, according to a medical document involving the death.
But nearly two years after Rainey’s death on June 23, 2012, the Miami-Dade medical examiner has yet to complete an autopsy and Miami-Dade police have not charged anyone. The Florida Department of Corrections halted its probe into the matter, saying it could be restarted if the autopsy and police investigation unearth new information.
“They told people that he had a heart attack,’’ said a source close to the prison system with knowledge of the case.
The shower treatment was only one form of punishment inflicted by the prison’s guards to keep mentally ill patients in line, according to the inmate/orderly and two other sources privy to the goings-on at the state prison.
The inmate/orderly, a convicted burglar named Harold Hempstead serving a decades-long sentence, filed repeated formal complaints, beginning in January 2013, with the DOC inspector general, alleging that prison guards subjected inmates — housed in the mental health unit — to extreme physical abuse and withheld food from some who became unruly. The complaints were sent back, most with a short, type-written note saying the appeal was being returned “without action” or had already been addressed.
In September, another inmate was found dead inside his cell. Richard Mair, 40, hanged himself from an air conditioning vent.
According to the police report, Mair left a suicide note in his boxer shorts claiming he and other prisoners were sexually and physically abused on a routine basis by guards.
DOC officials declined to be interviewed for this story. A spokeswoman said Friday that the agency would provide public records in response to the newspaper’s formal written requests, but no comments.
Over the past several weeks, the newspaper has requested maintenance records, grievance logs, prison death records, guards’ disciplinary records and emails by administrators, including DCI Warden Jerry Cummings.
As of Friday, the agency had released a handful of documents: a single report about a prison guard admonished for falling asleep on duty last year; brief, coded disciplinary records for Hempstead, Rainey and several other inmates who Hempstead says were also subjected to searing hot showers as punishment; and a heavily redacted copy of the DOC inspector general’s report on Rainey’s death.
On Friday, the Herald learned from three independent sources that Cummings and four of his top aides had been temporarily relieved of duty last week.
It’s not clear why Cummings and other administrators were suspended, or for how long.
The DOC did not respond to an email query about the suspensions late Friday.
Rainey’s family, meanwhile, finds the silence surrounding his death disturbing.
“Two years is a very long time to wait to find out why your brother was found dead in a shower,’’ said Rainey’s brother, Andre Chapman.
Rainey, who was serving a two-year sentence for possession of cocaine, was scheduled to be released in July.
Between January and February 2013, Hempstead filed numerous grievances and complaints with DOC officials about Rainey’s death, all alleging that the circumstances were being covered up.
His reports, replete with the names of other inmate witnesses and prison guards on duty that evening, describe what he and others purportedly saw and heard that night. The details in his complaints match the wording in the inspector general’s report — at least the parts not redacted.
The inspector general’s report said that the video camera in the shower area showed DOC officer Roland Clarke place Rainey in the shower at 7:38 p.m.
Hempstead said the shower had sufficient room for an inmate to avoid a direct hit from the spray, but that the extreme heat would eventually make the air unbreathable as the scalding water lapped at inmates’ feet.
Hempstead wrote that he and other inmates, whose cells are directly below the shower, began hearing Rainey’s screams about 8:55 p.m. It went on for about 30 minutes before it sounded like he fell to the shower floor, he said in his complaint.
The DOC inspector general’s report said Clarke found Rainey dead at 9:30 p.m. and called for medical assistance.
“I then seen [sic] his burnt dead body naked body go about two feet from my cell door on a stretcher,’’ Hempstead wrote.
Miami-Dade homicide investigators were called to the prison.
But another inmate, a convicted murderer named Mark Joiner, wrote in a letter to the inspector general that he was ordered to “clean up the crime scene’’ prior to the area being secured.
Early in the week after the incident, maintenance workers at the prison disabled the plumbing that fed the shower, Hempstead told the Herald in an interview at the prison.
Despite all his written complaints, Hempstead was never interviewed by anyone from the prison system, he said. Another inmate was spoken to, according to the report. That’s presumably Joiner, although the DOC will not divulge the name. The Herald is waiting for a transcript of that interview, which DOC officials said would be redacted of any information pertaining to an open criminal investigation.
As for the video camera in the shower area, the inspector general’s report noted that it malfunctioned right after Clarke put Rainey in the shower. As a result, the disc that may have recorded what happened was “damaged,’’ the report said.
The redacted report doesn’t say how Rainey’s body was found, whether the water was on or off when he was found or whether state investigators ever questioned any of the guards or nurses in the unit at the time of Rainey’s death.
The union that represents the prison guards was not aware of the incident as of this past week. No record was provided to the Herald to indicate that anyone has been held accountable for what happened.
A suicide note
Mair was found hanging in his cell on Sept. 11, 2013. A braided rope, made from cut sections of bed sheets, was attached to the ceiling air vent and looped around his neck, according to a Miami-Dade police report.
Tucked into a pocket sewed into his boxer shorts was a suicide note in which Mair, serving life for second-degree murder, described a litany of abuses against inmates in the mental health unit.
“Life sucks and then you die, but just before I go, I’m going to expose everyone for who and what they are,’’ he wrote.
“I’m in a mental health facility…I’m supposed to be getting help for my depression, suicidal tendencies and I was sexually assaulted.’’
He then goes on to allege that guards forced inmates in the unit to perform sex acts and threatened them if they filed complaints.
He said guards — identified by name in the note — gambled on duty, sold marijuana and cigarettes, and stole money and property belonging to inmates.
“If they didn’t like you, they put you on a starvation diet,’’ he wrote.
He also alleged that guards encouraged racial hatred by forcing white and black inmates to fight each other in the yard, claiming that the guards would place bets on who would win.
Mair’s next of kin was in prison in Maine and unavailable for comment.
There’s no evidence that the state inspector general’s probe into Mair’s death addressed any of the allegations in the suicide note.
The probe concluded that guards had been negligent in failing to adequately check on Mair the evening he killed himself.
Les Cantrell, state coordinator for Teamsters Local 2011 — the union representing the state’s 17,000 corrections and probation officers — said there has been a spike in prison complaints across the state. Employee turnover is staggering, he said, particularly among prison guards who are often forced to work long hours to compensate for officers they have lost and failed to replace.
“In general, we have a difficult time retaining good officers,’’ Cantrell said. “Assaults on officers have risen and inmates know they are short-staffed.
“It makes it unsafe for the officers and for the inmates,’’ he said.
The six-page inspector general’s investigation into Rainey’s death was completed in October 2012. DOC Inspector General Jeffrey Beasley closed the case, concluding there was not enough information to issue any finding.
“…the exact cause of death has not been determined by the Medical Examiner. Upon receipt of the autopsy report, it will be included in the investigative file,’’ the report said, noting that if “administrative matters” subsequently arise as a result of the autopsy, they will be addressed at a future time.
The report, which includes brief written statements by Clarke as well as other guards and nurses, has large passages that have been redacted — obscured with a black marker.
The Department of Corrections has not responded to requests from the Herald to provide the legal justification for each redaction, as required under the state’s public records law.
After Hempstead was interviewed at the prison by a Herald journalist on April 14, Miami-Dade homicide investigators also paid him a visit to interview him about the two-year-old case, he wrote in a letter emailed to Gov. Rick Scott last week through a family member.
According to the letter, three corrections officers, including a sergeant, responded to the visits by threatening to set him up with false disciplinary reports and to place him in solitary confinement if he didn’t stop talking to the media and police.
He said he feared for his safety and wanted to be relocated to a different prison.
Last week, the Herald sought clearance to speak with Hempstead in the prison a second time after receiving a letter from him authorizing the return visit.
Jessica Carey, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, responded that Hempstead “had a custody classification which prohibits interviews at this time.’’
When pressed further about whether he was being punished, Carey said she had made “a mistake’’ and directed a Herald reporter to fill out a visitation form.
Neither Miami-Dade police nor the Miami-Dade medical examiner responded to requests for information about the Rainey case. Each say his death is still an open investigation, but did not address why it has taken almost two years.
- Grievance from inmate Harold Hempstead describing the death of Darren Rainey
- Inspector General report on Rainey’s death
Businessman upset about Tampa Police search of his truck
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -
“You think if anyone is going to break into your vehicle in Ybor, the last person you think, it’s going to be the cops.”
Matthew Heller didn’t know what to think when he found his truck ransacked and torn apart after leaving a concert in Ybor in February. Then, he found a note.
“There’s a little note left on a 2×3 piece of paper,” said Heller.
The note read “Sir, your car was checked by TPD K-9. The vehicle was searched for marijuana due to a strong odor coming from the passenger side of the vehicle. Any questions call Cpl Fanning.”
TPD found no drugs in Heller’s truck. He was never charged or even questioned.
“It was all sealed up, a parked vehicle in a private parking lot for a hip hop concert in Ybor. There were all kinds of smells, everywhere around here,” said Heller.
Heller says he wasn’t upset about the fact that police searched his truck, but that they broke in and damaged his vehicle.
“Disgusted, I’ve got my whole life savings in this truck. It’s like a marketing tool for my business to promote the air horns and everything. The horns weren’t working, all the electronics were ripped out,” said Heller.
News Channel 8 reached out to TPD to ask about the search and we were told by email, “While the search is legal, it is not typical. The Tampa Police Department is now reviewing the specifics of this investigation.”
Heller said he and his attorney have asked TPD for documentation of the search but he has not heard back. While TPD claims the search was legal, attorney Bryant Camareno doesn’t agree.
“It’s an illegal search,” Camareno said. “Usually if it’s some kind of unoccupied vehicle there has to be some level of exigent circumstance to justify searching a vehicle without a search warrant. Exigent could mean if there is a dead body inside, if there is a screaming child locked in the car, a dog but if the car is unoccupied there is no exigency to justify the search.”
“I am out for the damages and my time but mostly I’m scratching my head and kind of confused with everything. I had no clue this was something that could happen,”said Heller.
Tase first – Ask questions later….. Sure the kid was freaking, but he was just a kid with no weapons. And could he have been having a bad reaction to medication? Was he being abused in a group home prior to hospitalization? Sad.
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A young hospital patient is tased by Baltimore City Police, then falls into a coma and dies. The department launches an investigation into the officers’ actions at Good Samaritan Hospital.
The death of a 19-year-old hospital patient this week is the focal point of a Baltimore City Police investigation after they say one of their officers tased the teen who was in a violent altercation with Good Samaritan Hospital security earlier this month.
“When they arrived, there was at least five security guards who were engaged in a physical altercation with this 19-year-old attempting to restrain him,” said Lt. Eric Kowalczyk, Baltimore City Police.
Top brass say the teen had been given an unknown amount of medication before they arrived. When officers left:
“The person was breathing when the officers left the hospital,” said Dep. Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, Baltimore City Police. “It was not learned that the individual was in a coma and was possibly brain dead until several days after this incident.”
Baltimore Police wouldn’t say if the teen was tased multiple times or for how long, only that he was brought to the hospital initially to be treated for emotional distress.
The hospital tells WJZ they’re saddened by the case: “There are sometimes circumstances that threaten the safety of our staff, which necessitate police intervention.”
“What we will be doing now is to look at what role, if any, any of the contributing factors were,” said Rodriguez.
Police say the teen was taken to the hospital from the home he was staying at. It’s unclear if it was a foster home or a group home.
Police are interviewing witnesses and the responding officers. Their findings will be turned over to the State’s Attorney’s Office.
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – On December 10, more than two dozen police officers from across Miami Dade County converged on a blue Volvo that had crashed in the backyard of a townhouse on 65th Street just off 27th Avenue.
As the car was wedged helplessly between a light pole and a tree, nearly a minute passed before officers opened up – firing approximately 50 bullets at the car and the two unarmed men inside the vehicle.
The two men inside the car survived that initial volley of gunfire, according to witnesses, who said they could see the men moving inside the Volvo. Everything went quiet for nearly two minutes before the officers opened up a second time – unleashing an unrelenting torrent of bullets that lasted almost 25 seconds. By the time it was over, the two men inside the car were dead.
CBS4 News has learned a total of 23 officers fired a total of at least 377 rounds.
Bullets were sprayed everywhere. They hit the Volvo, other cars in the lot, fence posts and neighboring businesses. They blasted holes in a townhouse where a 12-year-old dove to the ground for cover and a four month old slept in his crib.
“It was like the Wild Wild West, man, crazy,” said Anthony Vandiver, who barely made it through the back door of his home before the gunfire erupted. “Shooting just wild; shooting all over the place. Bullets could have come through the window. Anything could have happened man. They weren’t thinking, they weren’t thinking at all.”
Earlier that night, the driver of the Volvo, Adrian Montesano, robbed a Walgreens at gunpoint, and then later shot Miami Dade Police Officer Saul Rodriguez in a nearby trailer park.
Montesano escaped in the officer’s patrol car eventually dumping it at his grandmother’s house in Hialeah – before fleeing in her blue Volvo
By 5 am every cop in South Florida was looking for that blue Volvo – intent on catching the man who had shot one of their own.
But what police didn’t realize before they started shooting at the Volvo is there was a second man in the car – Corsini Valdes – who had committed no crime.
And in fact, as CBS4 News was the first to report, both men inside the Volvo were unarmed at the time police caught up with them. All of the gunfire came from police.
Montesano and Valdes were killed by the dozens of rounds that tore through their bodies.
But Montesano and Valdes weren’t the only ones struck – two Miami Dade police officers were hit as well – caught in the crossfire. One officer was shot in the arm and the second was hit in the arm and grazed in the head. If the bullet had struck just a half an inch to the side the officer would have been killed.
The sound of the gunfire was deafening – literally deafening. Two Miami police officers sustained ruptured ear drums from the cacophony of shots.
CBS4 News has spent the last five months piecing together the events of that evening and the hunt for the blue Volvo. CBS4 News reviewed radio transmissions, analyzed video taken during the shooting, interviewed officials from the different agencies involved, and reviewed records related to the officers who fired their weapons.
The nature of the shooting suggests the officers lost sight of their own training and that the officers, caught up in the heat of the moment, failed to listen to their radios or coordinate their actions endangering not only their own lives but the lives of the public.
It is worth saying, none of this would have happened if Adrian Montesano had not made the decision to rob the Walgreens and shoot a police officer. None of those officers would have been in that backyard if it weren’t for the actions of Montesano. But that does not absolve the officers of responsibility for their own conduct, as well.
Senior commanders admit they are very lucky more officers weren’t seriously hurt or killed. Even more haunting is the danger the residents in the area faced. At the time of the shooting, parents were getting their kids ready for school and across the street men and women stood exposed on a Metrorail platform.
The shooting is being reviewed by both the State Attorney’s Office and the Miami Dade Police Department.
While those reviews will likely take years to complete, what is clear is the Walgreens robbery and the shooting of Officer Rodriguez sent officers across the county into a state of frenzy.
No call is more harrowing for a police officer than a report of an officer being shot. By the time police determined the shooter was Montesano and broadcast a description of the Volvo, officers from a half dozen different departments flooded into the north side of the county.
Many of the officers just seemed to be racing through the streets, according to one supervisor on the scene
“I don’t know what’s going on here,” the supervisor declared over the radio. “There are units running threes everywhere.”
A Code 3 is when police cars are travelling with lights and sirens blaring. The supervisor finally ordered the patrol units to slow down unless they were actually chasing the car.
Dispatchers and supervisors repeatedly told officers Montesano was to be considered armed and dangerous. At 6:23 am police spotted the Volvo.
“I got the Volvo, he’s going southbound on two seven avenue from 79 street,” the officer said.
“It’s going to be occupied by a white male, 5-11, 225 pounds, Adrian Montesano,” the dispatcher affirmed. “Use caution. Subject is armed.”
Unknown to the officers is that there was a second man in the car. It is still not known when Montesano picked up 50-year-old Corsini Valdes.
Montesano led police on a brief chase before busting through a fence and crashing into a tree and light pole. As officers raced in from different directions, there was a pause before that first burst of gunfire. When the shooting stops after several seconds, one of the supervisors on the scene tries to take control. He notes the car is stuck and isn’t going anywhere.
“We need to establish that perimeter, I have not verified if the subject is down or not,” he said.
Another supervisor tells officers to stay back. There is no need for any of them to get into harm’s way at this point.
“We have the vehicle confined,” he said. “The officers need to pay attention to the radios, they are not listening, okay, that’s the inner perimeter – we’re good.”
A dispatcher replies: “Units pay attention. Please listen to your radios.”
Now that the car is surrounded, the plan now is to bring in SRT – the special response team – and have them take over. But so many units have flooded the area, SRT commanders are complaining they can’t reach the scene because the streets are blocked.
“Make sure the units are not in our way so we can pull in, and they’re not blocking the whole road,” the SRT commander said.
“Any units do not block SRT,” a dispatcher
Inside his house, Anthony Vandiver, used the temporary quiet to race upstairs and check on his family. He said he looked out his bedroom window, which looked directly down onto the blue Volvo below. He said he could hear the police yelling at the men in the car.
“They were saying put your hands up, and the guys were still moving after they shot maybe 50, 60 times,” Vandiver recalled. “And the guy tried to put his hands up. And as soon as he put his hands up, it erupted again. And that was it for them. That guy tried his best to give up.”
Asked if he was certain the men in the car were trying to put their hands up, Vandiver replied: “I swear to God on everything I love, my kids my momma, everything, I seen it all.”
We may never know which officer fired the first shot or why. Did he mistakenly think he saw a gun even though neither Montesano nor Valdes had a weapon? But what is clear – once one officer fired the others joined in.
But Montesano and Valdes weren’t the only ones struck. Two Miami Dade police officers were hit as well, caught in the crossfire created when officers on three different sides of the Volvo began firing.
“Get all of the officers off to the side,” shouted one supervisor, “we’ve got to get rescue in here. There are too many officers in here, back them up.”
To avoid any more officers shot, dispatchers pass the order there is to be no more shooting
“Have all units stand down in that inner perimeter, hold it for SRT, let’s give service to that officer that’s injured right now,” an officer declared. “Get out of the way, let fire rescue get in there and let SRT take that inner perimeter.”
As the smoke cleared and the sun begins to rise officers dragged Montesano and Valdes’s bodies from the car. Although he appears dead, they decide to transport Valdes to Jackson.
Slowly neighbors came out of their homes.
“The policemen that had on the black and white vests were out there laughing like it was so funny,” said one of the neighbors, “because they got a free shot off them people. Shooting all them bullets like that, that don’t make no sense.”
A communication breakdown and overzealous police officers who flocked to the San Bernardino Mountains wanting to be the ones who captured disgraced former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner made a dangerous situation even more dangerous, according to a report released Monday by a Washington DC-based law enforcement think tank.
The Police Foundation released its 120-page report, “Police Under Attack,” following a six-month investigation into the historic manhunt, which spanned five Southern California counties and ended on Feb. 12, 2013, near Angelus Oaks with Dorner taking his own life. It is the most comprehensive report released to date on the Dorner manhunt, and includes a nearly 30-page detailed narrative of the incident.
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Protestors have shutdown Monday night’s Albuquerque city council meeting.
At one point, the crowd tried to serve an arrest warrant on APD Chief Gorden Eden.
City councilors were scheduled to debate dueling proposals on how future police chiefs are selected. One resolution calls for councilors to approve Albuquerque’s top cop and another one requiring voters to elect a police chief.
The move comes following the U.S. Justice Department’s report on APD and its use of excessive force.
The United States Supreme Court this week effectively ended all efforts to overturn a controversial 2012 law that grants the government the power to indefinitely detain American citizens without due process.
On Monday, the high court said it won’t weigh in on challenge filed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges and a bevy of co-plaintiffs against US President Barack Obama, ending for now a two-and-a-half-year debate concerning part of an annual Pentagon spending bill that since 2012 has granted the White House the ability to indefinitely detain people “who are part of or substantially support Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces engaged in hostilities against the United States.”
The Obama administration has long maintained that the provision — Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 — merely reaffirmed verbiage contained within the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, signed by then-President George W. Bush in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Opponents, however, argued that the language in Section 1021 of the NDAA is overly vague and could be interpreted in a way that allows for the government to detain without trial any American citizen accused of committing a “belligerent act” against the country “until the end of hostilities.”
When the provision was first challenged days after Pres. Obama signed it into law on December 31, 2011, Hedges — who previously worked as a war correspondent for the New York Times and covered matters concerning Al-Qaeda for the paper — said, “I have had dinner more times than I can count with people whom this country brands as terrorists … but that does not make me one.”
US District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed with Hedges and his co-plaintiffs, and months later wrote in a 112-page opinion that “First Amendment rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and cannot be legislated away.”
“This Court rejects the government’s suggestion that American citizens can be placed in military detention indefinitely, for acts they could not predict might subject them to detention,” Judge Forrest wrote.
But the District Court’s temporary, then permanent injunction against Sec. 1021 was challenged by the White House, and the Obama administration pleaded with the Justice Department to issue a stay. A federal appeals court ruled in favor of the president last July and said that the government can, in fact, indefinitely detail a person who has provided support to anyone deemed a threat to America.
On his part, Hedges said he feared that the administration’s adamant attempts to keep the law in tact could mean that the government has already relied on the NDAA to imprison American citizens without trial. Attorneys for the plaintiffs responded by saying they would take the case to the Supreme Court, but his week the nine-justice panel said they won’t be hearing the case.
SCOTUS declined to make any comment regarding the case on Monday, but rather simply said that it would not be considered by the high court.
read More at RT
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Steve Upton thinks of himself more as an “Officer Friendly” than a water cop.
On a recent sunny day, the water waste inspector rolled through a quiet Sacramento neighborhood in his white pickup truck after a tipster tattled on people watering their lawns on prohibited days.
He approached two culprits. Rather than slapping them with fines, Upton offered to change the settings on their sprinkler systems.
“I don’t want to crack down on them and be their Big Brother,” said Upton, who works for the water conservation unit of Sacramento’s utilities department. “People don’t waste water on purpose. They don’t know they are wasting water.”
At least 45 water agencies throughout California, including Sacramento, are imposing and enforcing mandatory restrictions on water use as their supplies run dangerously low. Sacramento is one of the few bigger agencies actively patrolling streets for violators and encouraging neighbors to report waste.
They teach residents to avoid hosing down driveways, overwatering lawns or filling swimming pools. While gentle reminders are preferred, citations and fines can follow for repeat offenders.
“We do have the stick if people don’t get it,” said Kim Loeb, natural resource conservation manager in Visalia, a city of 120,000 people that has hired a part-time worker for night patrols and reduced the number of warnings from two to one before issuing $100 fines.
Mandatory restrictions aren’t as widespread as in previous droughts, even among the drier parts of Southern California. One reason is more cities are conserving and making it expensive for residents to guzzle water.
Sacramento, where about half the homes are unmetered, is deploying the state’s most aggressive water patrols to compensate. In February, the city of 475,000 deputized 40 employees who drive regularly for their jobs, such as building inspectors and meter readers, to report and respond to water waste. Of them, six are on water patrol full-time.
Providing a boost to their efforts is a campaign asking residents to report neighbors and local businesses breaking the rules. In the first three months of this year, Sacramento has received 3,245 water waste complaints, compared to 183 in the same period last year.
“There are tons of eyes out there watching everywhere,” said Upton, looking at a computerized map of suspected offenders throughout the city.
Lina Barber was among those warned by Upton about watering on the wrong day, but she said she’s still drought conscious. She’s already waiting for full loads to wash clothes and dishes and just needed a simple reminder, a courtesy she’d extend without dragging in the water cops.
“I’m just going to talk to my neighbors,” Barber said. “I know them well enough to say they are trying to enforce the water rules.”
Sacramento’s suburban neighbor to the east, Roseville, also is deploying an aggressive water-patrol program.
Despite steady rain and snow in February and part of March, the state’s water supply and mountain snowpack remain perilously low, meaning there will be far less water to release to farms and cities in the months ahead.
More consistently water-conscious communities have found they don’t need to spend as much time or money on enforcement.
Los Angeles has just a small water-enforcement program but has mandated conservation since 2009 and has cut water use by 18 percent. Just a single inspector patrols the streets full time in a city of nearly 3.9 million that imports most of its water, a program that is expected to expand to four by summer.
The program will take a softer approach than its “drought busters” program of 2008, said Penny Falcon, a water conservation manager. The workers will no longer roam the city wearing special uniforms and driving Priuses. Standard, city-issued vehicles will be used instead.
“No one wants to be the water cops,” said Lisa Lien-Mager, spokeswoman for the Association of California Water Agencies. “When they are asked to conserve, Californians will generally respond.”
Some agencies have found that it’s better to maintain a culture of conservation no matter what the winter brings. The Marin Municipal Water District north of San Francisco deployed water patrols during the mid-1970s drought but has since implemented tiered water rates that spike for guzzlers.
It also focuses on voluntary home visits to catch leaks and point out appliances and other devices that are not water-efficient, said Dan Carney, the conservation manager.
Another emerging conservation measure is using peer pressure through bills that show how much water homeowners use each month compared to their neighbors. Studies show such programs reduce overall water use as much as 10 percent.
The San Francisco-based company Water Smart sells software to compare ratepayers’ water use at eight California agencies.
“It certainly feels a lot better to take care of business yourself,” said Andrea Pook, a spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Water District, which uses the software and does not have active water waste patrols. “Who wants a nagging mother?”
Goodbye Bill of Rights! Goodnight and good luck….
In a case from Northern California, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police can pull a driver over based on an anonymous tip that he had forced another motorist off the road – evidence, the court said, that he might be drunk and dangerous.
The 5-4 ruling upheld the convictions of two brothers from Mendocino County whose pickup truck was stopped by the California Highway Patrol on state Highway 1 in August 2008 after another driver called 911 to report that the pickup had just run her off the road.
After following the truck for five minutes, an officer pulled the driver over, smelled marijuana, and found 30 pounds of the drug in the truck bed, the court said. The driver, Lorenzo Prado Navarette, and his brother and passenger, Jose, pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana and were sentenced to 90 days in jail. They appealed, claiming the officer had no legal grounds for the stop.
California courts upheld the convictions, but the Supreme Court granted review to address two issues: whether an anonymous, uncorroborated 911 call is reliable enough to justify a vehicle stop, and whether being forced off the road is a sign that the other driver poses an ongoing danger, allowing police to stop the vehicle without any other evidence of wrongdoing.
The majority, led by Justice Clarence Thomas, answered yes to both questions.
The caller’s description of the pickup and its license number, her use of the emergency calling system, and the CHP’s ability to locate the suspect vehicle 18 minutes after the 911 call were all indications that the information was reliable, Thomas said.
Running another vehicle off the road, he said, “suggests lane-positioning problems, decreased vigilance, impaired judgment,” all signs of drunken driving.
Dissenters, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, said anonymous accusations are inherently doubtful, and the caller in this case gave no indication that the other driver was drunk.
“The truck might have swerved to avoid an animal, a pothole, or a jaywalking pedestrian,” Scalia said. Even if the driver was acting recklessly or intentionally, he said, intoxication was an “unlikely reason,” and far too improbable to justify a vehicle stop.
“Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference,” said Scalia, joined by the more liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Thomas was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservatives Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, along with the more liberal Justice Stephen Breyer.
The defendants’ lawyer, Paul Kleven, said the ruling makes it easier for anonymous tipsters to “call in and sic police on people they don’t like.”
Nick Pacilio, spokesman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office argued the case for the prosecution, said, “We are pleased with the court’s ruling, which supports the hard work of law enforcement.”
Online: Read the ruling in Prado Navarette vs. California, 12-9490: http://1.usa.gov/1eZXnZP.