Friday, February 17, 2006

Big Brother, Where Art Thou

Let's take a look at what Houston's Chief of Police would like to do:

Police chief wants surveillance cameras in Houston apartments

HOUSTON Houston's police chief is suggesting putting surveillance cameras in apartment complexes, downtown streets and even private homes.

Chief Harold Hurtt today said it's another way of combatting crime amid a shortage of officers.

Houston is dealing with too many police retirements, too few recruits and a population increase of about 150-thousand hurricane refugees.

Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf coast in late August.

Rita hit southeast Texas about one month later.

The Houston City Council is considering a public safety tax to pay for more officers.

Scott Henson with the American Civil Liberties Union calls Hurtt's proposal to require surveillance cameras as part of some building permits -- "radical and extreme."

Houston Mayor Bill White hasn't talked with Hurtt about his idea, but sees it as more of a "brainstorm" than a "decision."

Many of us in Houston pretty much expect the local cops to be corrupt and inept. In fact, the phrase "corrupt Houston police" is much like "crooked politician" or "raving moonbat"; it's simply redundant.

Take this in conjunction with Nicki's post, which I reproduced earlier, and taking a look at the manner in which cops all over the nation are acting, it's becoming even clearer that many police organizations see themselves above the concerns of the paltry and irrelevant rights of us mere citizens.

Emperor Mayor Bill White, best known by readers of this blog to be the orchestrator of the "Cars for Kickbacks" scheme known as SAFEClear, says this is only "brainstorming." I couldn't help but notice that every time Emperor Mayor White gets involved in brainstorming, those policies have a tendency to get passed into law without the subjects citizens ever being informed until the law has been passed.

It makes me wonder how long it will be until something like this gets passed, then how much longer until it's not shot down by the Supreme Court.


HPD may add video cameras to its ranks

Feb. 16, 2006, 1:09PM
HPD may add video cameras to its ranks

Officer shortage leads city to look at surveillance of streets, malls — even some homes

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Facing a shortage of police officers, Police Chief Harold Hurtt called Wednesday for a new type of patrol: surveillance cameras on downtown streets, apartment complexes and shopping malls — and in extreme situations, private homes.

"If you're not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?" Hurtt told reporters.

His remarks came as the City Council approved a financial-incentive program to help the Houston Police Department recruit officers.

The department is struggling with a manpower shortage as well as a spike in violent crime. To supplement officers on patrol, HPD is considering installing five video cameras downtown, Hurtt said. He also suggested that new apartment complexes and malls be required, as part of the building-permit process, to provide security cameras.

And when asked whether the need for cameras extends to private homes, he said, "If they're putting a burden on the criminal justice system and cheating the other residents of Houston, yes."

He did not elaborate on how police would accomplish such surveillance or when it would be appropriate.

Source of funds
The downtown-camera project already has a group to fund it: the Houston Downtown Management District. Once the cameras are installed, the project would be carried out by HPD. Officers would monitor video feeds from a new storefront office planned for downtown.

"It's going to be a lot less expensive than having officers standing in those locations or responding to all those calls," said Hurtt, who wants to have the cameras up by the end of this year. "What we need is a combination of technology and human resources to deal with this issue."

The Downtown Management District, which works to improve the central business district using taxes paid by downtown property owners, has proposed five sites for cameras at intersections on and around Main. They are high-pedestrian-traffic, not high-crime, locations, said Bob Eury, executive director of the district.

Mayor must approve
"The goal is for people to feel safe," said Eury, who compared the cameras to those at shopping malls. "We're finding new ways to make it basically safer in reality and perception."

The program would cost tens of thousands of dollars, Eury said, declining to estimate more precisely since the project will be put out for bids.

The emphasis on new police and surveillance is part of the city's response to a recent spike in violent crime.

It was up 2.3 percent through November 2005, compared with the same period in 2004, though the overall crime rate was down 2.2 percent.

Mayor Bill White, who must approve the camera program for it to go into effect, said he had not yet discussed it with Hurtt.

"There's a legitimate right to privacy," White said. "On the other hand ... if there are some crime hot spots, then we want something where we don't have to have uniformed officers staring at a particular spot 24 hours a day."

The City Council's Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security will consider the program Feb. 28.

Some privacy concerns
Some privacy advocates questioned whether apartment owners should be required to install cameras.

"It's radical and unheard-of," said Scott Henson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Texas Police Accountability Project.

But on city streets, it's a different story. Cities across the country, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, already use surveillance cameras in public places. In London, where cameras are commonplace, the technology helped police solve last year's transit bombings.

Technology isn't the only tool HPD is using to fight crime. The understaffed department hopes to entice experienced officers nationwide to work in Houston by offering a $7,000 bonus and increased pay under a program approved Wednesday by City Council. By hiring 700 new officers every year for the next three years, Houston would have 2.8 officers for every 1,000 people, the national average, instead of the current 2.2 per 1,000 people, Hurtt said.

Under the incentive program, HPD officers who have less than five years' experience will also get a pay raise.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

"I don't care what the laws or the Supreme Court say. WE are NOT going to have people running around, wearing guns..."

Cross posted at the Liberty Zone.

Mark Edward Marchiafava did not break the law in Gonzales, La. on January 28, 2006. But nonetheless, he was handcuffed, arrested, and his firearm, which he was legally carrying in the open on his side was confiscated and not returned.

I don't know Mr. Marchiafava very well. We have had several email communications, but nothing more than that. We have not always agreed, and sometimes our discussions got heated. But what I do know is that Mr. Marchiafava's right to keep and bear arms and his property rights were violated by the Gonzales, La. police.

When I deployed with the National Guard to New Orleans in support of relief and recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina, I remember a meeting on an abandoned tarmac (where we slept the night before inside our humvee) with the Louisiana JAG. We were informed, in no uncertain terms, that open carry was legal in Louisiana, that we were there to help enforce the laws of Louisiana, and the law stated the people had a right to keep and bear arms. He were told that unless we witnessed a crime being committed, under no circumstances were we to relieve people of their firearms if they were carrying them in the open.

The Army and Air National Guard understand this. I wonder how brainless the Gonzales cops have to be to not get this simple concept.

In Mr. Marchiafava's own words:

After meeting my youngest daughter, Christie, and my adopted daughter, Kelly, along with Kelly's 2 year old daughter, Isabella, Kelly drove us to Gonzales, La. to visit my oldest daughter, Michelle. Needing to pick up something, I asked Kelly to drive into Tanger Factory Outlet. She dropped me off in front of the store, I ran in and out in less than 2 minutes while Kelly circled the parking lot.

While waiting to check out, I noticed an older guy standing right outside, staring intently at me. I KNEW he was either an off duty cop or he had just CALLED the cops on me. Yes, I WAS openly carrying a gun, which is quite legal in Louisiana. The state constitution CLEARLY states so. It does, however, retain the right by the state to regulate concealed carry, something that doesn't come into play here.

Sure enough, as I was paying, a Gonzales police car came cruising by slowly. After exiting the store with my purchase, I got into Kelly's car and within seconds, the cop turned on his lights and blipped his siren. Kelly exited and the cop told her it was ME he wanted to talk to.

Carefully, I approached officer Rome, and he asked why I was wearing a gun. After telling him EVERY citizen had that right, he just stood there, speechless.

I asked if he was aware of that, but STILL there was no answer.

It took THREE further queries before he finally answered, "No, I didn't know that."

Seemingly satisfied, he handed my driver's license back to me, and I heard him tell headquarters to print him out a copy of my driver's license info. At that point, I knew "they" were about to do "something." I got back into Kelly's car, not wanting to alarm them.

Sure enough, as soon as we exited the center's parking lot, FOUR Gonzales cop cars swooped in and, in true TV cop fashion, with guns drawn and lots of loud shouting.

I slowly exited the car, hands away from my side. Yes, I was roughly handcuffed to the point of having red marks on both wrists 3 hours later. I was transported to Gonzales Police headquarters. There, Officer David Breaux was trying to figure out just what to charge me with. Since he was holding Louisiana revised statutes, title 14 (criminal code) in his hands, I suggested he read 14:95, "Illegal carrying of weapons," which he did.

I tried, in vain, to explain to him there is nothing in the entire book which prohibits anyone from openly carrying a weapon in Louisiana.

His response: "Tell it to the judge."

Another "officer," Billiot, transported me across the Mississippi river to the jail in Donaldsonville. On the ride over, I tried to explain to HIM what the law states and the rights of any citizen.

He said, and I quote, "I don't care what the laws or the Supreme Court say. WE are NOT going to have people running around, wearing guns, with women and children everywhere."

I was fingerprinted, photographed and released on a $200.00 bond. Yes, all this for a MISDEMEANOR and a $200.00 bond. I am still trying to retrieve my gun at this date.

Now, let's take a look at what the law says.

Louisiana state constitution
Article 1 sec. 11 Right to Keep and Bear Arms
The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, but this provision shall not prevent the passage of laws to prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on the person.

Louisiana Revised Statutes
Title 14 sec. 95
Illegal Carrying of Weapons
A. Illegal carrying of weapons is:
(1) The intentional concealing of any firearm, or other instrumentality customarily used or intended for probable use as a dangerous weapon, on one's person, or
(2) the ownership, possession, custody, use of any firearm, or any other instrumentality customarily used as a dangerous weapon, at any time by an enemy alien, or
(3) the ownership, possession, custody or use of any tools, or dynamite, or nitroglycerine, or explosives, or other instrumentality customarily used by thieves or burglars at any time by any person with the intent to commit a crime ; or
(4) the manufacture, ownership, possession, custody or use of any switchblade knife, spring knife or other knife or similar instrument or having a blade which may be automatically unfolded or extended from a handle by the manipulation of a button, switch, latch or similar contrivance.
(5)(a) the intentional possession or use by any person of a dangerous weapon on a school campus during regular school hours or on a school bus. "School" means any elementary, secondary, high school, or vo-tech school in this state and "campus" means all facilities and property within the boundary of the school property. "School bus" means any motor bus being used to transport children to and from school or in connection with school activities.
(b) the provisions of this Paragraph shall not apply to:
(i) a peace officer as defined by RS:14:30(B) in the performance of his official duties.
(ii) a school official or employee acting during the normal course of his employment or a student acting under the direction of such school official or employee.
(iii) any person having the written permission of the principal or school board or engaged in competition or in marksmanship or safety instruction.

United States Code, title 42, chapter 21, subchapter I, sec. 1983
Civil action for deprivation of rights
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any state or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, priviliges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purpose of this section, any act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.


District Attorney, Tony Falterman, obtained a copy of the arrest report and, after reading it, dismissed the charge. According to his assistant, Melissa, "Mr. Falterman has read the report and considers it complete BS."

A local reporter, Steve Ward with the Advocate, contacted chief of police Bill Landy concerning my arrest. According to Steve, the chief stated "We have a policy of arresting anyone carrying a gun without a permit. We don't care what Mr. Falterman says or does."

I attempted to retrieve my gun, only to find out the Gonzales police department has a "policy" of sending all seized weapons to the state police crime lab for ballistics testing.

So let's get this straight. A man broke no law. He is arrested. His property is confiscated. The prosecutor recognizes this case as complete crap. The police will not give back property, even though no crime was committed.

Check out the letter Mr. Marchiafava received from the prosecutor in the case below.

What kind of circus are they running down there in Gonzales?

Should you want to contact the fascist nazis on Mr. Marchiafava's behalf -- and on behalf of our constitutionally guaranteed rights -- please do so. The Gonzales Police Chief's name is Bill Landry. You can email him here:

Or if you're feeling particularly angry about this, give him a call and demand to know why a man who has committed no crime has been relieved of his property by his tyrannical staff, and why his officers have no respect for the laws they have sworn to enforce. His number is: 225-647-2841

Sunday, February 05, 2006

When will it end?

LONG BRANCH, N.J. - The city wants Anna DeFaria's home, and if she doesn't sell willingly, officials are going to take it from the 80-year-old retired pre-school teacher.

In place of her "tiny slip of a bungalow" — and two dozen other weathered, working-class beachfront homes — city officials want private developers to build upscale townhouses.

Is this the work of a cruel government? Or the best hope for resurrecting an ocean resort town that is finally showing signs of reviving after decades of hard times?

Echoes of the debate are happening across the country, after a U.S. Supreme Court decision brought new attention to governments' ability to seize property through the tool of eminent domain. Some 40 states are re-examining their laws — with action in Congress, too — after the court's unpopular ruling.

"We thought this was going to be our home forever," said DeFaria, sitting in a kitchen cozy with photos of children and grandchildren, quotes from the Bible and a game of Scrabble that she plays against herself. "Now they want to take it away. It's unfair, it's criminal, it's unconstitutional."

Not according to the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 ruling last June that was greeted with widespread criticism, the court found that New London, Conn., had the authority to take homes for a private development project.

The Constitution says governments cannot take private property for public use without "just compensation." Governments have traditionally used eminent domain to build public projects such as roads, reservoirs and parks. But for decades, the court has been expanding the definition of public use, allowing cities to employ eminent domain to eliminate blight.

The high court, in its ruling, also noted that states are free to ban that practice — and legislators around the country are thinking about whether they should do just that.

New Jersey state Sen. Diane Allen, with bipartisan support, is pushing for a two-year ban on all eminent domain actions and for a bipartisan study group to re-examine its use in New Jersey.

"Right now government, I think, is using eminent domain to take people's private properties and hand it over to another owner," said Allen, a Republican. "It's really putting a hole in the American dream. Ownership of private property plays such a large role in that dream."

After the court ruling, four states passed laws reining in eminent domain. Roughly another 40 are considering legislation. In Congress, the House voted to deny federal funds to any project that used eminent domain to benefit a private development, and a federal study aims to examine how widely it is used.

The Washington-based Institute for Justice, a libertarian advocacy group that worked for homeowners in the New London case and in Long Branch, argues that state laws should be changed so property can only be seized for public uses like a park or a school — not urban redevelopment that benefits private developers.

Redevelopment usually depends on defining an area as "blighted" or a "slum," though definitions are vague, said Bert Gall, an attorney with the institute. Criteria can include a building's age, lack of compliance with building codes, even the size of a yard.

Abuses are widespread, Gall said, claiming that over a five-year period ending in 2002, more than 10,000 properties were threatened by eminent domain.

Municipal leaders across the country are pushing back, arguing that it's false to claim eminent domain is widely abused and warning that an emotional backlash to the court ruling is putting at risk an important tool that has helped turn around neighborhoods including Baltimore's Inner Harbor and New York's Times Square.

Elected officials have difficult decisions to make, and often must balance a community's needs with a few individuals, said Don Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities.

The plight of homeowners is hard to ignore, he said. "But at the same time ... there are hundreds if not a couple of thousand faces of people you don't see, of people of all levels of income who as a result of the economic development will get jobs," he added.

In Long Branch, there's no doubt the city needed to do something — a comeback wasn't happening on its own, Mayor Adam Schneider said.

"Most people wouldn't walk down those streets anymore. The worst neighborhood in our city was along our oceanfront. And that's been reversed," he said. Since the redevelopment effort began in earnest in 2002 after a decade of planning, new shops and homeowners have moved in, and new sidewalks have been installed — along with a new boardwalk, parks and an ice-skating rink, he said.

"What you do is you've improved your city, you've gotten rid of decrepit housing, you've created jobs," Schneider said. "It's easy to play it out as the city is cruel and government is stealing your property. I'm used to it. ... But this has reversed the decline that's been going on in Long Branch for more than 50 years."

Already, people are coming to new shops along the central waterfront, where the old pier burned down back in 1987. Rows and rows of new, sand-colored condominiums shadow DeFaria's one-story home when the afternoon sun sinks low.

DeFaria said she was offered $325,000 for the home she and her late husband bought in 1960 for $6,400. Where could anyone buy a waterfront view on the Jersey coast for that amount of money now?

But it's not the money, she said: $1 million wouldn't convince her. "They're taking my home away — not my house. My home. My life."