For taking a photo of a parking infraction a Fort Lee, NJ bureaucrat threatens to have me locked up, calls cops

Posted on September 10th, 2009 by bile
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To recap: Around the corner from where I live there is a section of road which had been three’ish parking spots. A white curb, a sign indicating it was for residential parking and one indicating when the town cleans the street. There are also two sign posts on either side of that section of the block which indicate the flow of traffic. Recently “No Stopping or Standing” were added to the outside posts and several individuals on the block have found out the hard way that that now means no parking. Given most people on the block has gotten ticketed you rarely will see a car parked there.

So I get off the bus yesterday (2009-09-09 ~6:05pm) and I see that there are two cars parked on that section of the block. I notice that one of them is the same vehicle we’ve seen parked there times before without receiving a ticket. A car which has a sign on the dashboard saying “official police business.”

Fort_Lee_bureaucrats_car PoliceBusiness

I took out my camera to record the fact that this town or bureaucrat owned and “officially” used vehicle was parking in a location which had been designated, at least in practice, as not for parking and it had been parked there regularly negating the likelihood it was actually parked there for “official police business.” I took two quick photos and was turning to leave when I hear yelling coming across the street. I look up to see a woman walking down the steps of a house coming toward me. The footage below is what transcribed after I got the chance to switch on video.

The camera started in my hand and then was clipped to my shirt so please excuse the awful video footage. It may as well been audio but more information the better. Additionally the video was edited for time not content. It’s largely unedited with only the time between the woman’s call to the the police and continued dialog cut. Therefore it may be considered repetitive and long winded due to the constant back and forth. I didn’t have the time to edit it for only the good parts.

Highlights:

  • The woman refused to tell me who she is. (Update: On a second listening of the first video it appears her first name is Donna. At about 8m10s in you can hear her as she talks on the phone with someone at the police station. Danny or Daren?)
  • She refuses to tell me what official police business she’s claiming to be involved in at that moment.
  • She implies that because her car is private property I can’t photograph it while it’s parked on a public street.
  • She threatens to have me locked up.
  • When I attempt to make the point that her business, in regard to potential illegal parking, is my business because she’s supposedly a public servant and that has a different standard from those who work in private institutions she informs me that I belong in an institution.
  • In an accusatory tone asks me if I’m a good Samaritan? Don’t I have a life? A job? Something better I could be doing? Why it’s my business? Why am I looking out for my neighbors? “You trying to get into heaven?”
  • She calls the Fort Lee Police department. She appears to do so in a personal rather then professional capacity as any other third party to the police would. Two officers in seperate vehicles show up. Officer 220 (Ordonez (sp?) Part 2 10:15) and 224 (Kutrabenous (sp?) Part 3 3:30).
  • Officer 220 started off with an attitude. Informed Laur and myself that “She can park where ever the hell she wants. She works for the city.”
  • Officer 220 blocked traffic and when informed was completely unconcerned leaving individuals stuck behind him.
  • Laur called him out for being confrontational and his demeanor changed. He ended up agreeing that the signs were contradictory and told us that he’d tell other officers that there was an issue with that section regarding parking and not ticket anyone until the appropriate changes were made to the signs/curb.
  • We are told we can’t rely on calling the town to get anything done. It must be done in person. Obviously speaking highly of the town bureaucrat’s level of service.
  • Officer 220 claims he generally doesn’t give tickets unless it’s unsafe.
  • Officer 224 says at one point that she shouldn’t be parked there regardless of signage due to it being effectively a turning lane.

The woman was totally out of line. I can understand questioning the taking of photos or being ignorant of the others who had received tickets but her attitude was completely uncalled for. Clearly she should not have the “official police business” sign in the window of the car if she is in fact not performing official police business and since it seems obvious she was not in fact performing official police business she was caught lying. She made threats and threw insults. And rather then deal with the supposed issue like mature individuals she called for backup. Called her friends / coworkers at the FLPD likely to come intimidate me. Makes me happy to know I’m forced to pay for her “services.”

Officer 220 was out of line too. He obviously was acting with a bias due to his relationship with the woman. Not only was his demeanor unbecoming but his initial defense of her action and claims she is effectively above the law was a clear sign that they see themselves to be of a privileged class. Not unlike how the NYC traffic cops see themselves. The officer attempts to make lite of the fact that these admittedly “bullshit” tickets will have to be fought in court and likely dropped. As if calling out of work to attend said court date is not often a larger cost then just paying the ticket. Unlike those in many government jobs, those in the productive sector of the economy generally can’t afford to randomly take off to fight a $28 ticket regardless of whether the ticket will be waved or not. He also admits that “for the first couple times” getting a ticket I’ll have to be “inconvinenced” and fight it. Why should I have to be inconvenienced? They made the mistake. They are costing myself and others time and money. Both of which we will never be compensated for. And as many know bureaucrats tend to look out for themselves and while I’m unaware of what goes on in Fort Lee many towns will drop tickets against officers and their friends automatically so the claim they’ve gotten tickets before is likely irrelevant. If indeed these tickets are “bullshit” all “No Stopping or Standing” violations issued in the past month or so should be dropped without any effort required by those who had been issued them.

Officer 224 seemed more calm and reasonable. I was a bit startled though when he lightly grabbed my shirt and leaned in to clearly speak his name into the camera. I honestly didn’t hear his name the first time. He probably shouldn’t have done that but given they didn’t make any issue otherwise of my recording and it was probably completely innocent I’m happy to ignore it. NYPD tend to be far more concerned with cameras and confrontational about them.

So any employees of the FLPD, other officers or random bureaucrats… no hard feelings but know that you aren’t above the law.  You’re supposed to work for us and if you step out of line there will be those of us who will record your digressions and publicize them. I would hope that you’d agree that this oversight is necessary and beneficial for all involved. We don’t want any corruption and you shouldn’t want to be associated with corruption. And please learn to regulate yourself in such situations. I’ll admit I got a bit testy but I was the one being threatened, insulted, cut off while speaking and had the cops called on for merely looking out for my neighbors well being.

I’ve considered issuing an official complain against the woman especially since she claimed to be acting in her official capacity. However, this post and video are likely to make their way back to the FLPD and to her and I think her behavior speaks for itself.

Military and police team up to train handling protesters

Posted on September 1st, 2009 by bile
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http://www.wtvr.com/...

Some of the soldiers meeting today’s tough military standards put their skills to the test this morning at Fort Lee.

It’s part of a three day long anti-terrorism drill.

The Army post staged a fake protest to show how well soldiers and Fort Lee Police are equipped handle the situation.

As the protestors make their way towards the fence that separates Fort Lee from the rest of the world, Police and soldiers gear up for a possible confrontation.

That’s exactly what Colonel Mike Morrow, Fort Lee’s Garrison Commander expects. “We train our solders as realistically as we can, to protect for us as a garrison, other soldiers and families on the post”.

As the chants grow louder and the protesters get angrier, the scenario changes from training exercise to being real life in just a matter of seconds

Fort Lee Chief of Police Joe Metzger wound up right in the middle as the protesters made there way to the fence. “Yea you forget because you’re thinking in your mind how you’re going to interact with these people. How you’re going to keep things calm, how are you going to get the questions answered” says Metzger.

Specialist Nick Hulsey was one of the soldiers participating “The demonstrators, they had rounded up, they were all acting, but they did an excellent job, they looked like they were seriously agitated at something”.

It takes weeks to plan out an anti-terrorism training exercise that combines the civilian base police with active duty soldiers.

Chief Metzger says in times of emergency’s everyone has to work together “We forget one’s wearing blue, one’s wearing a uniform. We all come together for the same cause”.

While the protesters are all volunteers, when they leave the training is far from over.

The exercise will last three days with Soldiers and Fort Lee Police going over all aspects of protecting of the military installation whether its protesters or terrorists.

Private Tiffany Saunders was another solider who participated “I learned over here we also have missions back in the U-S to protect our families and friends and this is a part of doing so”.

Aren’t the military more or less forbid from performing domestic policing? With the growing unrest due to the government induced economic crisis and the rumors of FEMA camps and increased militarization of police forces these stories are not welcomed.

Drug and gun FUD in North New Jersey

Posted on August 21st, 2009 by bile
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http://www.northjersey.com/…

A traffic stop of a vehicle with tinted windows led to the alleged discovery of cocaine and firearms and the arrest of a Bronx man.

On Aug. 12, at approximately 10:26 p.m., Daniel Santana, 25, from the Bronx, was stopped at the intersection of Martha Washington Way and Bruce Reynolds Boulevard.

Fort Lee Police Officer Timothy Cullen pulled over the white 2006 Chevy Impala because the car had blacked out tinted windows, said Capt. Joseph Zevits from the Fort Lee Police Department.

Upon further investigation, Cullen noticed a Philly Blunt, commonly used for inhaling marijuana, on the front seat area of the vehicle. Santana denied smoking marijuana and told Officer Cullen to check the car if he wanted.

Officer Cullen “called his bluff” and found a hidden compartment in the front dashboard of the vehicle with a kilo of cocaine, which could be worth up to $200,000 on the street.

“He may have been going to New York City, but we couldn’t say for sure,” said Zevits. “There was no intention to sell in Fort Lee that we were aware of.”

Also found was a semi-automatic Glock Model 17 handgun, fully loaded, with a high capacity magazine containing more than 15 rounds of 9mm ammunition. The serial numbers on the gun were scratched off.

The alleged perpetrator was also driving with a suspended driver’s license. He did not resist arrest.

Santana was charged with distribution of one kilo of cocaine, possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon while in possession of cocaine, defaced firearm, possession of a large capacity magazine, possession of drug paraphernalia, obstructed window view and driving with a suspended drivers license.

Bail was set by Judge Matthew Fierro at $250,000 without a 10 percent option.

Not that this is an uncommon story but it occurred not far from where I live.

So this Daniel Santana isn’t very bright. Tinted windows where it’s illegal. A Philly blunt on the seat. And then allowing the cops to search the car. The Officer Cullen probably could have justified searching the car on the Philly blunt alone but regardless you *never* give cops permission to search your belongings. It can only turn out worse for you.

Note the scare tactics used in the article regarding the gun. “Semi-automatic.” Well of course it’s a semi-automatic. It’s a Glock Model 17. That’s sortof the point of a pistol over a revolver. Through FUD the media has made a term which describes the most common handguns known to people through TV and movies something scary. Most people don’t even know the difference between automatic and semi nor do they know the laws regarding them. And then the article goes on to say it had a fully loaded, high capacity mag containing more than 15 rounds of 9mm ammunition. That’s completely arbitrary. You can get a 17 round clip for the Glock 17 which fits flush in the gun. Just like the 19 and it’s 15 round clip. Fifteen is just some arbitrary number the State of New Jersey came up with. In NY “high capacity” is 10. We aren’t talking about the 33 round mag here that sticks out of the gun by several inches.

Fact of the matter is this guy, while you may disagree with his apparent choice of employment, was not harming or threatening anyone. His need to conceal the identity of the weapon and to have the weapon in the first place is due to the prohibition on drugs. Theory and history shows that the side effects of prohibition is worse then the problems which stem naturally from the thing prohibited. This young man will likely end up in prison somewhere and as a result of the awful prison industrial complex and judicial system he will come out of prison a far bigger threat to society then even the FUD makes him out to be now. I find it rather unlikely the there weren’t any real crimes with real victims that Cullen could have been dealing with or investigating.

Daniel Santana should be allowed to trade cocaine to whomever wishes to do so, possess any size magazine for his weapon of choice, scratch out any damn serial number on anything he owns and smoke as much marijuana that he can handle so long as he doesn’t aggress against other person. To do otherwise is an aggressive and illegitimate act in what is supposedly free society. The truth is there isn’t liberty here… you are owned by the State.

Despite the economic turmoil the Fort Lee Police Department keeps on trucking

Posted on February 5th, 2009 by bile
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http://www.northjersey.com/…

Apparently, the arbitrator handling the Fort Lee police contract did not get the state memo counseling fairness in his award.

I HAVE read with great interest recent articles relating to binding arbitration and the rewards of arbitrators.

In these days of reduced state aid, crashing stock markets, plummeting real estate values and record levels of unemployment, we who govern municipalities feel quite alone. Fort Lee has imposed hiring freezes, instituted novel income-generating programs, amended billing methodology of various vendors of the borough, adopted a “zero balance” budget protocol and have done everything possible to avoid layoffs. Our responsibility is to our taxpayers. However, human nature dictates we depart from ledger sheets and calculators to consider the lives and families affected if layoffs were to occur.

I believe that most people understand the deplorable circumstances we face. Accordingly, employees, department heads, contract vendors and most union leaders have worked with government to negotiate fair contracts that balance reasonable compensation with a recognition of the already excessive burden on taxpayers. They are sophisticated and considerate enough to recognize that “beating the hell” out of us for an excessive raise or costly benefits may potentially trigger that “four-letter” word: layoffs.

There is a glaring exception to this culture of cooperation: Arbitrators who render determinations on police contracts apparently have not gotten the memorandum and exist in a vacuum. The recent arbitrator’s award concerning the Fort Lee police contract disregarded economic conditions, the government’s fair and, by most accounts, generous offer to settle and the significant burden placed on our taxpayers.

I cannot blame our local police representatives. It is human nature to ask for as much as possible and achieve the most for their organization. Were it not for the economic turmoil, I would have enthusiastically supported a generous contract. I can, however, blame the arbitrator for the complete disregard of the current economic climate.

State officials have told me that arbitrators have been counseled to be fair with their awards and remain cognizant of the economic climate and the fragile financial state of municipalities. Apparently, the arbitrator handling the Fort Lee arbitration did not get that memo either.

The borough is now compelled to spend tens of thousands of dollars processing an appeal in the hopes of avoiding the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars. If, after exhausting every alternative, layoffs are unavoidable, I can look back with certainty and precision in identifying which straw broke the camel’s back.

The arbitrator’s actions in Fort Lee – and the actions of arbitrators across the state for that matter – leave municipal officials feeling abandoned and worried about what lies ahead. With the arbitration award for Fort Lee police, I now sit behind my desk staring at a list that I hoped I would never be required to look at. I know each of the young men and women on the list. I grew up with many of them and in many cases was instrumental in their hiring. If we have to lay off personnel, I intend to deliver this essay to the arbitrator, personally.

Mark J. Sokolich is mayor of Fort Lee.

He’s right in that it’s natural to ask for as much as possible. What is not however is monopoly and that’s ultimately the cause behind this issue. The FLPD has a monopoly on the use of aggression in the geographic area which is known as Fort Lee, New Jersey. The town does not take bids from a range of defense providers. They have a single group of people who are paid by funds taken through the threat of force who have been given their aura of legitimacy by the entity called Fort Lee. There is no true accountability to a customer. All market signals are at best distorted if not outright blocked.

They are given immense powers and a monopoly. What do you expect to happen? They are given the ability to do things the public is not. They are allowed to aggress against individuals who have not infringed on the rights of others. They are allowed to get away with actions which others in the community can not. They are held up as idols without the corresponding expectation of more perfect morals. A man like Johannes Mehserle can murder a man and he’s defended both by his department and many in the public. His defense is ultimately paid by taxpayers and even if found guilty he’ll likely be given a less severe penalty. If the roles were reversed and that young man murdered a cop by shooting him in the back police all across the country would be calling for this mans death as would most of the public. There would be a huge, paid by taxpayers, funeral with pomp and circumstance. Does anyone really believe that such treatment would not lead to large heads and a feeling of superiority?

If Mark J. Sokolich wants to correctly respond to the current economic crisis he will work to marketize the many aspects of the Fort Lee government and allow the market decide who and what are most needed.  By definition any government action, any employment they provide, is less efficient than the market’s. Otherwise the money would not have to be taken but would voluntarily be exchanged. I’d like to say too that layoffs in a time of economic difficulty is a good thing. Jobs are not a cause of a sound economic environment but the result of one. They represent efficiently allocated labor resources.

On another topic… I’d really like to know what these “novel income-generating programs” are. Often that means they are increasing random fees and tickets given to people for victimless crimes. Fortunately for the government, unfortunately for the average serf, most people are too busy to deal with such fees and tickets. The government has individuals who’s jobs are to go to court. The rest of us, the productive ones, have real jobs which often don’t allow us to take a whole day or more off to fight the ticket. If even just a small percentage of those who received tickets and such fought them the courts would jam up. While it’s possible the bureaucrats could further grow government in order to deal with the increase it is more likely they will continue to function at current capacity and at some point they’d need to reduce the enforcement of such statutes. At least one can hope.

FLPD, things are tough right now as I’m sure you know. Those of us who ultimately pay for your salaries and for everything that goes along with protection you are supposed to provide are having to tighten their belts and make sacrifices. You need to also. Besides the moral reasons for doing so there are economic reasons. By not downsizing, by keeping salaries and spending artificially high, you are keeping resources from the economy which need to be saved and put toward more productive uses. It is the same as with the bailouts. Taking resources from productive members of the economy and putting them in the hands of the less productive or negatively productive members. I’d suggest reading Murray Rothbard’s America’s Great Depression for a better description of what Hoover and FDR did wrong and how things are repeating themselves and how you are contributing to that.

Snow tickets? A good idea… for the State

Posted on January 28th, 2009 by bile
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http://www.northjersey.com/…

When the prospective bestseller, “Crazy N.J. Drivers and the Signs, Laws and Traffic That Make Us That Way,” is written someday, one extra-long chapter should be titled “Bad Ideas.”
That’s as good a way as any to describe many of our notions about driving behavior that turn out to be wrong, such as the chronic reader complaint about police “constantly breaking the law” by driving while yakking on a cellphone. (Wrong! The ban exempts emergency workers.)

Sometimes bad ideas can be blamed on the sovereign state of New Jersey, but usually they occur because too little oxygen was fueling our pea-size brains at a critical moment. (“Of course, I saw the yellow light, officer. That’s why I sped up.” Or, “I thought we disabled people didn’t have to feed the meter.”)

But there is hope, because sometimes bad ideas can actually make life better. As alluded to in Tuesday’s column, this rarity occurred last month when Emily Wisniewski, 16, criticized her father for failing to thoroughly remove snow from his car.

“It’s the law,” counseled Emily, whose recent study of New Jersey’s driver manual included these 11 words on Page 88: “All snow and ice must be removed from the entire vehicle.”

Her claim, however, was disputed by the family patriarch.

Although he last studied the manual 29 years ago, dad was familiar with driving regulations. After all, he’s chairman of the state Assembly transportation committee, which plays a big role in creating safety laws. Its responsibilities include overseeing the state Department of Transportation, whose duties include posting electronic highway signs that warn us to clear snow from our vehicles because “It’s the law.”

Not exactly. Clearing off snow is a Good Idea. But saying it’s a law is a Bad Idea because statute 39:4-77.1 only says non-commercial drivers can be fined as much as $1,000 if snow or ice from your car causes damage or injury.

That’s what John Wisniewski learned when he looked it up. The assemblyman figured Emily deserved better. To reduce the confusion for 16-year-olds, as well as 46-year-olds like him, Wisniewski revived a bill that had been languishing in his committee for nearly two years.

If it passes and the governor signs it, drivers whose vehicles carry this frosty hazard will risk $25 to $75 tickets — and New Jersey will enjoy the rarity of a Bad Idea becoming a Good Idea.

I think the comment I left on the article covers it.

Good idea? Sounds like little more than a way to increase town coffers. Driving with ice and/or snow on one’s vehicle does not by itself harm anyone. The current law legitimately requires a victim. And as for officers talking on cellphones. I have been told first hand by a Fort Lee police officer that the law was vague regarding non-hands free usage of a mobile phone. It says they are exempt in their official duties. It seems very unlikely it was meant to exempt them from talking with their friend about the game last night while on duty. And for official communications aren’t they supposed to use their radio? Even without that vague exemption some departments, Fort Lee is one, ban the practice. Of course most of us couldn’t know that because the FLPD and others don’t allow their SOPs to be released to the public.

No way to know if they are breaking their own rules

Posted on December 29th, 2008 by bile
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In my last email to the FLPD concerning the officer of car 464 talking on his cell phone I requested a copy of their standard operating procedures. Turns out they aren’t publicly available.

Unfortunately our SOPs are not public information due to officer safety security reasons.

So I have to pay for their operation whether I’d like to or not and I have no direct way of finding out if they are breaking their own rules? You know how many are upset that the banks receiving TARP money aren’t telling them where it’s going? This isn’t too dissimilar. We have the police policing us… who polices the police? Assuming I knew the no cell phone while driving law had an exception and it wasn’t vague I’d have no way of knowing that the officer in question was breaking any statute or rule. Unless another officer saw him and cared enough to report him nothing would have been done. If we trust the officers to self police themselves why couldn’t we trust the public to police themselves? Isn’t it a matter of degrees and not kind?

I doubt many other departments are any different. To an extent I understand the safety concern but I still should be able to know exactly what the SOPs are. I definiately should be able to know what they are and are not allowed to do. In what way does knowing whether they can talk on the cellphone while driving endanger an officer? The excuse given for not saying rings of the whole waterboarding is torture debate. “We can’t say we don’t or can’t torture because that would embolden the enemy.” Right… it also allows the authorities to get away with just about anything they wish.