Save Rock Quarry Rd.

Rock Quarry Rd. may be the last remaining scenic drive in Columbia. Most everyone in the area is familiar with the old road that winds through the grand wooded hills and valleys south of the University. What most do not know is that our local government is hatching a plan to change all of that — supposedly in the name of safety.

The flags are out and trees are marked for removal. Concerned citizens contacted Public Works to see what was afoot and were told by Director John Glasscock that the road is going to be widened. This comes after a 2011 report that stated no change to the road was warranted.

The accident rate on Rock Quarry — determined through a complex formula — is 37 percent higher than the state average; however, according to the report, redesigning the road for safety would not be considered prudent until the accident rate exceeds twice the state average.

Rock Quarry Rd. is narrow and curvy to be sure. Couple that with an uptick in traffic from ill-conceived, behemoth student housing projects at the road’s south end and the rate of traffic accidents starts to climb. Sure, there are better-lit, wider, and straighter thoroughfares to choose from, but for the late-night run from downtown for those headed south, the dark relatively un-policed road is inviting.

The Columbia Police Department has requested a new study for updated accident statistics, apparently concerned about driver safety. Linked here is story from 2011, when the discussion about Rock Quarry Rd. was taking root.

The report indicated the leading causes of accidents on the road were speeding, inattention and drunken driving, accounting for 55, 25 and 23 accidents, respectively.

But is the road really the problem? Are we tax payers really responsible for the poor driving skills and lack of good judgement on the part of drivers who venture down the old road during the wee hours? If the safety of ill-equipped and sometime impaired drivers is really our concern shouldn’t we bulldoze, flatten, and pave everything?

Roughly half of the accidents resulted from vehicles hitting fixed objects such as ditches or trees.

And do people really need to be walking and cycling on Rock Quarry Road? Who are these people?!?!

Commission members also expressed concern that the road lacks accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists.

This all seems like a silly waste of money that may drive down the property value for those who own homes along the quaint and scenic path. Implementation of this plan would be a waste of scarce resources at a time when the City is complaining about a lack of funds for updating long-ignored infrastructure in the central city.

Should we allow our government to butcher the last remaining scenic drive in our city simply because developers built student housing on a road that could not support the traffic?

I say we save everyone the headache, heartache, and money and simply post a large and well-lit sign at each end of the road bearing the message, “SCENIC ROADWAY: NARROW ROAD WITH DANGEROUS CURVES AHEAD. DRIVE WITH CAUTION.” Then we can sit back and let nature take its course.

Let us at least brainstorm for some less invasive means to make the road safer while preserving the scenic and real value of existing properties. The government answer is always to use a sledge hammer when a small finishing hammer will get the job done with more finesse and less mess.

Please contact your City Council representative and tell him/her to leave Rock Quarry Road alone.

 

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Banning Ryan Ferguson From Hickman: The Rest of the Story

After most media accounts failed to report the whole story surrounding Hickman Principal Dr. Tracey Conrad’s decree forbidding Ryan Ferguson to set foot on the school campus during the school day, it seems important to present the facts. Read the blog post that started it all HERE.

Ryan Ferguson

Ryan Ferguson

The district bosses are doing some serious backpedaling, mounting a public relations assault that attempts to present the entire incident as a big misunderstanding. Big boss Superintendent Belcher even went so far as to accuse Keep Columbia Free of posting “an erroneous report.”

 

Belcher said he was surprised and disappointed when a local blog posted an erroneous report saying Conrad banned Ferguson from the school. He said that led to many “negative, hateful emails to some of our staffers.”

Chris Belcher

Chris Belcher

Well, Superintendent Belcher, this community is not surprised, but certainly disappointed that you chose to use your public pulpit to accuse Keep Columbia Free of spreading false information. I guess it is easier to deny mistakes and berate the work of the citizen journalist instead of simply admitting that your staff made a glaring mistake.

The good news is that most people don’t buy the explanation that Mr. Ferguson “wasn’t really ‘banned,’ we just told him he couldn’t come.”

So, what does it mean to be banned? The Oxford Dictionary defines “ban” as:

Ban: Officially or legally prohibit: officially exclude (someone) from a place

For instance, The City of Columbia has banned smoking in all businesses during business hours. Smokers must go outside and smoke on the sidewalk. In the same way, Dr. Conrad has banned Ryan Ferguson from visiting Hickman during normal school hours. The interview with the school paper must be done outside the school boundaries, perhaps at the neighboring McDonald’s.

bannedphones

It is clear that Ryan Ferguson was “banned” from Hickman High School. The district is attempting to say he was only banned from the school during class hours. If this were the case, why did Dr. Conrad suggest the interview be conducted as McDonald’s? Even if Mr. Ferguson was only prohibited from visiting during school hours, he was BANNED during those hours. That is not an erroneous claim. If anyone is making erroneous claims, it is Chris Belcher and his administration.

Here is the timeline of Keep Columbia Free’s involvement:

Wednesday 11.20.2013, evening: A Keep Columbia Free volunteer was approached by a Hickman student who was upset at being told the interview with Ryan Ferguson had been cancelled by the school principal. The student said that Dr. Conrad had said that too many students believed he was guilty and his presence at Hickman would be a class disruption. The student said that when Ryan’s Mother, Leslie Ferguson, was told that Ryan was not welcome on the Hickman campus, she said that if her son could not come, she did not feel comfortable visiting the school.

Tracey Conrad

Tracey Conrad

Wednesday 11.20.2013, 9:30-9:45PM: A Keep Columbia Free volunteer sent emails to several Hickman teachers and Dr. Conrad requesting comment and verification of the student’s story.

Thursday 11.21.2013, 9:34AM: A reply from a Hickman teacher was received verifying the story told by the student. The teacher declined to make a comment about the story and referred KCF to Dr. Conrad for comment.

Thursday 11.21.2013, mid-afternoon: Keep Columbia Free decided to go ahead with the story after receiving no response from Dr. Conrad explaining her decision.

 

Thursday 11.21.2013: The story began to receive viral attention via social networking sites, garnering over 1200 “likes” in the first few hours, and fielding nearly 8000 page views by midnight. Keep Columbia Free alerted the local media about the growing story.

Friday 11.22.2013: The viral spread of the blog intensified with the post receiving nearly 19,000 visitors in a 24 hour period – over 26,000 hits since originally posted. The post received over 4000 “likes” and was shared via Facebook and Twitter several thousand times. Radley Balko of the Huffington Post tweeted the blog to his followers as did Ryan Ferguson’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner. All day, call and email floods targeting CPS were being spontaneously planned by Ferguson supporters across the country. Unfortunately, some of these calls and emails were reportedly hateful and borderline threatening. Keep Columbia Free does not condone hateful and/or threatening calls or emails to any person or group.

balko tweetzellner

Friday 11.22.2013, late-morning: After receiving a flood of calls and emails denouncing Dr. Conrad’s decision and receiving a protest letter from the student staff of the school newspaper, Superintendent Belcher, his staff, and School Board Member Helen Wade meet with the newspaper staff and reach a compromise stating that Ryan Ferguson can visit the school before and/or after regular school hours.

The Local Media:

What we at Keep Columbia Free found quite amazing was the markedly lackluster reporting done by the local main-stream media. After Keep Columbia Free uncovered, researched, blogged, and tipped off the local MSM to the story, the role that we citizen journalists played was summarily ignored. Traditional journalists should be able to work peacefully, hand in hand, with citizen journalists, not against them.

Click HERE for the KOMU story that indicates the outrage came from thin air.

The Missourian also ignored the role of the citizen journalist. Read their account HERE

The Tribune’s original story HERE makes no mention of the blog, but the followup story HERE contains at least a backhanded jab at the blog from Superintendent Belcher.

The Complaint:

There are a few unanswered questions surrounding the original complaint(s) that prompted Dr. Conrad to ban Ryan from the school. Some of the media accounts linked above indicate that Dr. Conrad fielded complaints personally. The rather lengthy Missourian article makes it clear that the complaints were fielded by John White, the district’s safety and security director.

Conrad said she learned of the interview Wednesday afternoon when John White, the district’s director of safety and security, told her about parents objecting to Ryan Ferguson’s presence on campus.

White told her that parents contacted him to say they wouldn’t send their children to school Thursday if Ryan Ferguson were there.

Conrad said she expressed her concerns to the journalism teacher at Hickman. Later Wednesday night, Conrad talked with a student in the journalism class on the phone and further explained her reasoning.

This passage indicates a few interesting things.

First, Dr. Conrad didn’t know about the interview as of Wednesday morning. This would indicate that the plan to interview Ryan was not common knowledge around the school. This means that there was little likelihood of some sort of major disruption.

Second, Dr. Conrad found out about the complaints fielded by White on Wednesday morning and called off the interview by early Wednesday evening. This brings into question the notion that Dr. Conrad was overrun with concerned parents and students – enough to reasonably indicate that there would be a disruption if Ryan visited the campus.

Third, the complaints were fielded by Security Chief John White. White is a former officer of the Columbia Police Department, an agency with a great deal of time and emotion invested in the prosecution of Ryan Ferguson. Is there any formal record of these complaints?

Another source inside the Columbia Public Schools administration contacted Keep Columbia Free with some information regarding the source of the complaints which prompted the ban. Apparently the family of slain Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt was the source of the original complaint. This begs the question - How did the Heitholt family find out about the interview before Dr. Conrad?

As more information comes in, we will share it here. Stay tuned.

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Hickman Principal Bans Ryan Ferguson From School

Concerned journalism students at Columbia’s Hickman High School contacted Keep Columbia Free with a story that is sure to raise a few eyebrows. It seems that these enterprising students working on the school newspaper, The Legacy, had arranged for a press conference and interview with the recently exonerated – after spending 10 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction - Ryan Ferguson and his mother, Leslie Ferguson. Most of the local and national media attention had been focused on Bill, Ryan’s father, so the students decided they would blaze new territory and tell the story of the long battle against the justice system from Leslie’s perspective.

ryan and les

Ryan Ferguson and his mother Leslie

The plan was a good one — a once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity par excellence. The students were geared up to interview Columbia’s newest national celebrity and his mother. They had all chipped in for a “Freedom Basket” as a gift for Ryan. Everything was a go. The excitement was palpable.

Enter Hickman Principal Dr. Tracey Conrad.

Tracey_Conrad

When Dr. Conrad learned of the plan, she contacted the school newspaper staff and told them that Ryan Ferguson would not be allowed on the Hickman campus. She told students that Mr. Ferguson would be a “disruption to class.”  Dr. Conrad did indicate, however, that Ryan’s mother was welcome to come to the school.

Certainly high-profile guests have visited our local schools before. Certainly there is some sort of protocol for high-profile visitors. Does Dr. Conrad not believe in Ryan Ferguson’s innocence? Does Dr. Conrad believe Ryan Ferguson is some sort of liability? United States Representative Vicky Hartzler visited Hickman High School just last month and seemed to have a grand ol’ time with Dr. Conrad.

hartzler

 

In 2010, Hall of Fame NASA astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson visited the school and there wasn’t a riot.

When students contacted Mrs. Ferguson to tell her she was welcome, but her son was not, she told them that if her son was not welcome at the public school, she did not feel comfortable visiting the school.

The students are currently attempting to arrange for an interview at an off-campus location.

A Hickman staffer has corroborated the story told to Keep Columbia Free by the disappointed Hickman students, but understandably declined to go on the record with any opinion regarding the situation. Keep Columbia Free staff has reached out to Dr. Conrad, but as of now has received no response. KCF staff has also reached out to the Ferguson family via their website. If new information emerges, we will bring the information to light.

It is certainly sad that the school administration could not interrupt the rote exercises aimed at improving government standardized test scores for a few hours for an unprecedented educational opportunity for these bright and energized students on the school newspaper staff. At least these young students are getting a taste of what it is like for a free press to attempt to operate under some sort of autocratic regime. Hopefully they will learn to ever value our beloved American First Amendment to the United States Constitution which secures not only freedom of speech, but freedom of the press and the right to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances. I hope these young students find a way to petition Dr. Conrad, a government employee, for redress in this situation.

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Red Light Retrospective: Red Light Cameras and the Birth of Keep Columbia Free

While Missourians far and wide are celebrating the ruling issued by the Eastern District Court of Appeals regarding the legality, or illegality as it were, of red light camera programs in the state, it seems like the perfect time to take a look back at Keep Columbia Free’s relationship with Columbia’s own red light camera program. Most Columbians would not be surprised to find that Keep Columbia Free has long been opposed to the use of red light cameras, but few people know the seminal role these Orwellian cash machines played in bringing together this merry band of liberty lovers.

Early in 2010 a local liberty group known as Liberty on the Rocks, part of the national Liberty on the Rocks organization, was fomenting opposition to the deployment of Red Light Cameras in Columbia under the leadership of Liz DeFoe-Thomas. Another liberty group in Kansas City, The Liberty Restoration Project, had been sounding the alarm via social media and Liz had heard the call.

Mark Flakne had also heard the LRP call and, via some mutual friends on Facebook, was contacted by DeFoe-Thomas and invited to a sign-making party in preparation for Columbia’s first protest against the Red Light Cameras. It was at that party that Mark met Mitch Richards and the two immediately became fast friends.

The protest received a great deal of interest from the media and was a smashing success, drawing an endless chorus of enthusiastic honks from passing motorists.

Here are a few scenes from the party and the protest…

More protests and more honks followed…

As the first camera protest was winding down, local attorney Dan Viets stopped by and chatted with Flakne and Richards. Viets invited the two — and the rest of the group — to join in a local coalition he was forming to push back against another Orwellian camera scheme, the Downtown Safety Cameras. A week or two later, DeFoe-Thomas, Richards, and Flakne sat down with Dan, the then local ACLU, local Libertarian Party officials, and various other non-affiliated individuals concerned with government overreach. It was at this meeting that the first incarnation of Keep Columbia Free was born.

Following the failed campaign in opposition to the Safety Cameras, the committee was officially dissolved. Sensing the need for a liberty-centered organization with a broader scope, Richards and Flakne took on the mantle of leadership and re-registered the group as the political action committee you know today.

Over the last three-and-a-half years, Keep Columbia Free has often spoken against Columbia’s red light camera program. Here are a few tidbits from these past articles.

From Red Light Rip-Off:

The spin doctors in the Columbia City Manager’s Office have been hard at work twisting the reports regarding the city’s red light cameras. They claim that the red light cameras are to thank for fewer accidents at the intersections where they are installed. Both of our local papers have printed these claims without so much as a peep regarding the legitimacy of the study, so let’s break it down.

From Red Light Cameras: The Documents:

Was the practice of an all-red pause at intersections considered? An all-red pause and longer yellows would do more to improve the safety of intersections than red light cameras, but this change would not generate profits for Gatso and its partners at the City of Columbia. It’s all about the money, folks.

What it boils down to is that these statistics say nothing about the effectiveness of Gatso’s red light cameras. Assuming that Tony St Romaine and Bill Watkins are both intellegent enough to understand these statistics, it is frightening to see that our City Manager’s Office would attempt to distort the truth by feeding lies to the media and the citizens of Columbia whom they serve.

Does this prove that our city government couldn’t care less about the safety of our city, especially when there is a profit to be had?

From Toni and Tony Twist the Truth:

I think we all know that the system is all about the money. A silver-tounged salesman comes in from out of town and with a little Harold Hill song and dance, convinces Mayor Shinn — er– Hindman that there’s trouble in River City that only Gatso cameras can fix. Of course, the city loves the plan — they get to add money to the general fund. The City Manager’s office loves the idea because their respective résumés appear more robust as most of the funds are used to add to our already bloated city bureaucracy. And who can argue with the plan? Heck, it has to make us safer. It’s for the children, right?

What these government agents… I mean… city officials have failed to tell us is the real reason red light violations are down in Columbia. It has nothing to do with these silly cameras.

You see, earlier this year MODOT, in an attempt to reduce accidents at intersections governed by stoplights, changed the timing of the lights by adding more time to the yellow portion of the light timing.  And, wouldn’t ya know it, all of Columbia traffic cameras are at intersections governed by MODOT.

From Is Tony St. Romain Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?:

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine might be smarter than a 5th grader, but when he talks about red light camera statistics, he’s definitely not smarter than a 12th grader.

I asked my 12th grade son the following:

The City of Columbia installed red light cameras at four intersections two years ago. The number of citations issued by the camera machinery dropped 28 percent in 2012 when compared with 2011. The City says that this indicates that the cameras are working. Is that a reasonable claim?

Without hesitation, my 12th grader reasoned that this claim could not be reasonable without knowing the traffic rates for the time periods in question and the number of citations at non-camera intersections during the same time periods (provided that enforcement patrol patterns had not changed at the non-camera intersections).

So why does Tony St. Romaine continue to claim that the red light cameras are a stunning success based on phony, partial statistics and tortured logic? Is he really a simpleton?

From Banning Red Light Cameras in Columbia:

I’ve written a couple of  blogs on the subject of red light cameras in Columbia, questioning the City Manager’s assessment of their effectiveness. You can read them HERE and HERE. I contend, and the city’s own documents support the fact, that red light cameras do not keep us safe from accidents at intersections. Instead, these Orwellian tools serve only to extract a profit for international corporate giant, Gatso, and the City of Columbia. Along with financial profits, the cameras added over $80,000 to the city budget and bureaucracy which gives a boost to the resume of any up and coming assistant city manager.

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Proposition 1 is a Stinker: Give It the Royal Flush

What’s that smell and where is it coming from? Is it the sewer backing up? Nah. The malodor is emanating from a Columbia, Mo sewage-leak-releasesewer bond proposal, which seeks to place the city’s sewer system on terra firma—or, at least, that is the justification for the bond. While some say the bond proposal is a boon to the city because it helps pay for an improved sewer system, others say it is a massive waste of important resources and, ultimately, baneful to Como citizen’s wallets and pocketbooks.

Nonetheless, if Como citizens vote for the bond on the Nov. 5 ballot, which is a debt owed, rates will increase, fees will be enacted, and a multitude of taxes will follow in order to pay down the loan.

Before talking about bonds in general, let’s take a trip back in time: Columbia voters passed a $77 million sewer bond issue in 2008 that was supposed to allocate $4 million to cutout Columbia’s ” private common collector sewers.” Not only was this 2008 iteration of today’s sewer bond proposal a waste of taxpayer dollars (“private common collector sewers” split the cost of maintaining sewers with the taxpayer 50/50, lowering the cost to the taxpayer), as highlighted by Columbia Heartbeat’s Mike Martin, but it was also a promise that went unfulfilled because this year’s proposal is making the same promise: eradicating the “private common collector sewers.”

Instead of repackaging a turd from 2008, maybe Como’s City Council could flush these ridiculously expensive bonds down the toilet. After all, turds were meant to be flushed.

But I guess the Columbia City Council wants to act consistently: They say, well, we wasted $4 million in 2008, we might as well stay consistent and waste approx. the same amount in 2013.

What is worse, it appears as though inequitable utility billing practices have plagued Columbia for years.

Indeed, four years ago it was revealed that former Columbia sewer superintendent Bill FOURTHWARD_032113_Bill_Weitkemper_RP048Weitkemper—a man with an absolute stranglehold on sewer spending in Columbia—found that utility bills were more expensive for individuals in residential households than for large utility users like the University of Missouri, apartment owners and strip malls; Weitkemper, in a letter to the City Council, said “master meters,” which measure sewage usage at several apartments and buildings, are the reason why individuals residents have higher utility bills than MU, strip malls and apartment complexes.

I guess it is true: shit really does roll down hill.

The master meters, he admonished the Council, should, for purposes of making utility bills more equitable, be abolished in favor of individual meters, which measure individual units and buildings.

As for bonds in general: It is easy to see why they are so attractive; a bond’s immediate input of revenue into public coffers allows local governments, state governments and the federal government to avoid increasing taxes.  But like most personal loans, which are oftentimes frivolously spent by the borrower with nary a consideration for repayment in the long run, the issuance of bonds becomes easier and easier to undertake.

To wit, the issuance of bonds, by dint of the fact that they are easier to stomach than tax increase, can easily become part of normal operating procedure. To that point, the potentates in Congress and in state legislatures suggest bonds for myriad things: Does our local police force need a tank? Issue a bond; do we need a new, modern national airport? Issue a bond.

In short, bonds tend to stack up on top of another, making them nearly impossible to pay off.

Apparently, spending other people’s money is habit forming.

For example, as explained by the Show-Me-Institute’s Michael Rathbone during testimony before the Missouri Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Missouri’s Missouri’s FY 2013 budget showed that the state completed payments for the Third State Building Bonds, but the state is still paying for the Fourth State Building Bonds, and Water Pollution Control Bonds.

Moreover, according to Missouri FY 2013 budget, the state, along with its pending bonds, is also facing nearly $5 billion in unfunded liabilities. These unfunded liabilities and the excessive selling of  bonds portend bad things for many Missourians going forward, and many Columbia citizens especially: we are all going to face massive tax and fee increases to pay off these bonds.

In the end, a bond issuance is not free money–nothing is free. Taxpayers will be asked to pay out the butt for these bonds in the coming years.

Keep Columbia Free, if you have not gathered, thinks that Proposition 1–the initiative that, if approved, would sell bonds for sewer work–stinks.

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Small, Homey College Towns: Columbus, Ohio and Columbia, Mo Have Armies? But Why?

This post originally aired at The College Fix.

We should be asking the Columbia, Mo City Council why it feels the need to militarize its police force. Hopefully the University of Missouri refrains from purchasing an “urban assault vehicle.” But who knows. Those college students can be a rowdy bunch. Maybe a gun turret blast into their dorm rooms will quite them down.

While some universities, in attempts to keep a lookout for lone-wolf shooters, have spent millions of dollars on a vast array of campus security cameras, other campuses have considerably beefed up their police force tools with urban-warfare tanks—in effect creating little armies.

Ohio State University and Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri, are two such examples.

The Daily Caller reported that the Ohio State University campus police recently obtained what appears to be a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicle to add to their security detail. Critics of campus security ask why such a tank-like vehicle, built primarily for urban warfare, would ever be needed in a small college town, let alone on a campus.

The massive vehicle is capable of holding 10 passengers within its bulky frame. It is also armed with a turret, gun ports and a battering ram for those hard-to-get-into dorm rooms. Needless to say, that is a lot of artillery for a small town police department tasked with the unenviable job of corralling young college students.

Not to be outdone, Columbia, Mo.—a small town compared to most other expansive cities with large SWAT forces–picked up its own $200,000, ground-pounding behemoth this past April. The vehicle is called a “Bearcat” which is an acronym for “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.”

To that point, universities and college towns are, under the guise of safety, taking security several steps further, opting to step up the full militarization of their police forces; it remains to be seen whether or not the increasing militarization of the police is an effective tool to use to combat episodic shooting tragedies.

The Daily Caller contacted OSU media director Gary Lewis who bragged that “OSU’s campus cops are the first agency in the state to acquire such a vehicle.”

The vehicle may be used for officer rescues, hostage scenarios, bomb evaluations or campus shootings, according to campus officials.

After Lewis’ comments, and Reason Magazine’s investigations on the story, OSU and its PR department shut out all media inquiries, admitting to reporters only that the university has borrowed other law enforcement vehicles in the past. The admission appears to contradict Lewis’ claim that the OSU campus police were the first in the state to own an urban assault vehicle.

In the same vein, Lt. Geoff Jones of Columbia, Mo., SWAT told The Fix that the Bearcat was meant to replace the police department’s older armored response vehicle that had become aged and worn-out. “The vehicle needed to be replaced,” Jones said. He refused to justify why the police department needed an armored vehicle at all, only saying that it can be used in hostage situations and to break up riots.

As if the “Bearcat” was not enough to keep the crime in check, the Columbia city council in early September filled out a purchase order for more than 40 M4 Semi-Automatic rifles and a set of 25 night vision goggles, according to City Council documents. Again, the purchasing of the rifles and an armored vehicle prompted some to question the city council’s decision to arm to the teeth the city’s police department.

After the 2007 Texas Tech shootings, many universities have acted quickly, and, some say, too hastily to protect their students from episodic acts of violence—forgetting that schools are schools, not warzones.

One of the most outspoken critics of the militarization of all police forces, not just campus police departments, is former Reason Magazine editor Radley Balko.

Balko told The Fix that “schools and police officials will cite Virginia Tech or Columbine as reason for needing SWAT teams or armored vehicles, but the average campus can expect to see a homicide once every several thousand years.” Moreover, Balko said, once these Columbine/VT incidents do not transpire, which they rarely ever do, they then can use these militaristic vehicles for more mundane purposes.

In short, police departments appear to use the public’s fear of lone shooters as a way to acquire armored toys.

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Civil Asset Forfeiture: Policing for Profit in Columbia, Mo Is Grinding To A Halt

In these tough economic times, how do law enforcement officers find the cash for nifty gadgets such as new militarized swat vehicles or fancy, little video cameras?

Why, they steal it.

Principally, civil asset forfeiture tactics have been abused by law enforcement agencies across the nation for decades – and it’s only getting worse.

A 2000 reform act passed by Congress seems to have had little effect, as recent stats by the Department of Justice show $4.22 billion was seized through federal forfeiture laws in 2012, up from $1.7 billion in 2011 – an increase of a whopping 248 percent.

While national nonprofits and law firms  dedicated to fending off such cash-seizing techniques continue to grow, and investigative news reports exposing the fraud pile up, the process continues unabated.

Here’s how the racket is unfolds.

Criminals are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but there’s a caveat. The feds can seize the assets of an individual for the mere suspicion of wrongdoing. Called “civil asset forfeitures,” they’re in stark contrast to criminal asset forfeitures, which allow police to seize cash and property from those convicted of a federal crime.

While criminal asset forfeiture cuts legal muster, civil federal forfeiture laws are heralded by many as entirely unconstitutional. Meanwhile, examples of wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement are easily found.

Typically after such seizures, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies split the loot, using legal loopholes that allow them to collude, although they call it “equitable sharing.”  Local agents are temporarily deputized as federal ones, which helps them get around civil asset forfeiture laws and procure the assets.

Take, for example, a case out of Nashville chronicled by NewsChannel5 in late April. An Indian-American New York businessman on his way to purchase a convenience store with a large sum of cash lost $160,000 after a routine traffic stop in December 2011.

Ultimately officers were forced to return the money – but more than a year later, and after the man proved it was for businesses purposes, not drug trafficking. In essence, he had to prove his money’s innocence. And the feds still kept $5,000 of it as part of a settlement.

Peter Strianse, a former federal prosecutor, told NewsChannel5 “he often hears from people who’ve had $10,000 or more seized through federal forfeiture laws — and he has to tell them to kiss their money goodbye.”

“It becomes just a real losing proposition,” Strianse said. “You are going to spend three times that amount of money to try to get the $10,000 back that was taken from you.”

In another example, as reported exhaustively by Keep Columbia Free (KCF) among others, the Columbia, Mo. Police Department was able to recently purchase a $200,000 armored police vehicle—a military style SUV—with the help of $36,505 in civil asset forfeiture funds.

Perhaps some of that $36,505 came from Kevin Bay, the owner of a Columbia apparel store called BoCoMo Bay. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, Bay was arrested on suspicion of carrying unlicensed firearms and selling synthetic marijuana, but the prosecutor in the case dropped all charges; it was, at the time, not illegal to hold and sell synthetic marijuana.

Unfortunately, however, the dropped charges came after Columbia police seized hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property from his house. He asked for it back. Local authorities refused. Bay’s case remains entangled in federal courts.

What’s worse about the Columbia case is that, any asset forfeitures – whether civil or criminal – are required under the state constitution to be given to the state’s schools and public universities – not to police departments to purchase military-style tanks.

But the following may illustrate police motives, their zeal to seize such assets.

In November 2012, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton’s told the Columbia Police Review Board that civil asset forfeiture is “kind of like pennies from heaven — it gets you a toy or something that you need is the way that we typically look at it to be perfectly honest.”

KCF and civil asset forfeiture reform advocates Americans for Forfeiture Reform (AFR) want to keep the Columbia Police Department from getting its pennies from heaven.

As many readers of this blog know, KCF has kept vigil over the issue of civil asset forfeiture, both in Columbia, Mo and around the country since its inception in 2010.

Progress on civil asset forfeiture reform has been long and grinding, but it looks like the tide starting to pick up speed, building into a crescendo.

As I write this blog, AFR is preparing an ordinance that would ban the practice of civil asset forfeiture in Columbia, Missouri. Furthermore, AFR maintains that if Columbia’ City Council is not receptive to the ordinance, then the group plans on taking the issue directly to Columbia’ citizenry via a ballot initiative. The initiative will, presumably, appear on next year’s ballot.

Here is the ordinance that will be presented to the Columbia City Council. Read over it.

 petition

Read this, this and this to find out more about civil asset forfeiture.

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