Monday, June 30, 2008
APD's Iron Fist
By Gene Grant
For the Journal
I knew it. For seemingly years now I've personally witnessed, received e-mails about, and heard second- and third-hand stories stemming from the so-called, “refusal to obey” hammer by the Albuquerque Police Department.
Sunday's article in the Journal, “Does Law Aid Officers, Or Is It Abused by Them?” finally exposed what has been to this point the province of the aggrieved, screaming in futility in the wind. We now, however, are into the facts of the matter.
And the facts speak quite clearly here. As reported, 70 percent of the 517 arrests made (including in the county) under a city ordinance called “resisting, obstructing or refusing to obey an officer” were dismissed. That level of a dismissal rate should be all anyone needs to know that this ordinance is not being applied correctly.
I have a couple of suggestions about this for APD Chief Ray Schultz in a second, but let me share a quick story first for illumination.
A few years ago, I attended a small (small, as in about 15 people) going away party for a local screenwriter going off to Los Angeles. I would hazard the average age being a tick above 30, partly because the host's mother was well into her 70s.
Around 10–ish, a knock. The host's mother opens the door, and three APD officers are there. The music goes off, and the entirety of the party is watching. Some seemingly polite words are exchanged (which I could not hear), and the next thing you know all three are storming past her, unclipping their holsters and swooping through the place.
Whatever they thought they saw or heard from the door was wrong, but the word from APD was the party's over. Everyone out. Now, here is the precise moment the hole in the “obey me or else” ordinance widens. When the party host simply responds that the preference was not to be in a bar, one officer literally leaps into her face, and barks, “do you want to go to jail?!”
She had broken the law and had no idea. That's the problem with this.
Let's stop right here and that question, which, on its face, is asinine. Worse, it's a setup for arrest, putting the citizen in an impossible corner, with no room to simply ask questions for clarity.
My bigger question is: What happened to police instinct? Why is the grown adult hosting a 15-person party with her 70-something mother attending even asked that? While the officer gets the short-term result, the long-term bounce is a bad trade.
As mentioned, we now have some facts, but it seems we have a bigger problem of attitude.
I find it astonishing that a chief of police would actually put across in print that the solution is to let the courts figure it out. This is unacceptable from any legal or moral angle. I'm truly shocked by that because the ordinance Chief Schultz is protecting is, among other things, in conflict with the community-policing directive he adopted a few years ago. You can't have a warm smile and an iron fist, both.
The author Ayn Rand proposed that once a majority of people have been found guilty of “something,” the state will then be in control. Said another way, if the goal of this ordinance — and its application — is to strike fear and paralysis into citizens for people in uniform, then it has succeeded in spectacular fashion.
But the emotional consequence of hundreds of people unnecessarily going through the trauma of arrest, booking, jail (or at the least, the stress of a court date), should be considered thoughtfully by all of us.
Gene Grant is a writer, actor, former congressional staffer and father of two. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.