Happy Campers…Well, Maybe Not

Everybody wants to change the world.
Nobody wants to change themselves.

Denver – I said I was going to spend this past weekend prepping for the Final Exam and FAA written exam at the end of this week, and I have started, but I’m probably not where I should be. Nevertheless, I did get laundry and grocery shopping done, as well as begin resolving an issue regarding lots of items stored over here. So I wasn’t technically being unproductive. I’m building my flash card index (thanks, Leslie) for this week’s finals while studying regulations for the first of four tests this week. Anyway, here’s what caught my eye over the last week or so:

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You kind of have to feel for Grand Junction interim Police Chief John Camper. Less than a month into his tenure, he has to deal with the public fallout of having two officers accused of criminal activity, as well as have a spat with the Daily Sentinel over the release of information concerning one of these officers. The Sentinel’s latest editorial contained a little more of a conciliatory tone, but nonetheless puts the weight of the public eye into a significant mandate for credibility and trust. This tempest has made its way from the GJPD’s teapot over to the Sheriff’s Office, as one of the accused officers started his local policing career there.

I’m not going to delve into the particulars of the individuals accused, and subsequently separated from the department. The mainstream media will handle all of that very well. My concern lies with the remainder of the employees of
the GJPD, and how the culture of that organization functions as a mechanism of support for those trying to ply the trade in the wake of another wave of negative publicity.

Ralph D’Andrea had a thoughtful post yesterday on the nature of the investigation. He brought up the idea of a civilian review board, and increased transparency when it comes to these types of investigations. It’s worth a read.

From my perspective, I think that you have to have the ability to laugh at yourself to survive some of the stressors of the job. One factor that affects communications people is maintaining readiness when all the work is caught up, and you’re just manning the phones and radios waiting for the next call.

Early on in my tenure at GJRCC, I once compared a dispatcher’s cross-stitch project to a black velvet Elvis painting. The following shift, the inside of my locker was plastered with magazine photos of “The King”. I kept those up until the day I left for good, in part to laugh at myself, and in part to remind myself of the need to express myself judiciously and carefully.
It worked…sometimes.

Here are some pictures of the Fruita Police Department’s entry in the Bed Races at last month’s Fruita Fall Festival. Pig noses, pink pajama bottoms, and an exquisitely decorated chariot with the team’s name on the side.

To quote the Fruita officer’s Facebook page where these pictures came from, “I think we cover almost all the cliches we could think of”. And yes, that appears to be a donut on the end of a fishing line.

This is what I mean by being able to let loose a little bit and laugh at yourself. Public Safety is a serious business, but the human factors need to be addressed as well, perhaps over and above tangible items like compensation and benefits.

I can certainly see not only the public relations benefits of these types of activities, but also the positive effects on those doing the job, perhaps to keep them from taking themselves too seriously. Well done.

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In the community relations arena, one particular incident was brought to my attention last week. I’m mentioning it with a little more depth because it received ZERO coverage in the Grand Junction mass media.

In previous posts I’ve mentioned the activities of Housing First! No More Deaths!, a homeless advocacy group that had its genesis over this past summer. Apparently the group continues to meet on Tuesdays in Whitman Park. According to a post on Facebook and several independent media websites:

“An organizer of the Housing First! No More Deaths! campaign was arrested 09/29/09 during the group’s weekly meeting, in an act of politically targeted police abuse of power. Housing First! No More Deaths! is committed to empowering people to actively and collectively work to address root causes of houselessness and create grassroots solutions.

The arrest of Jacob Richards was an obvious act of retribution for his political activities. On 9/28/09, Richards assisted local houseless community members who were being harassed in a public park by two officers from the Grand Junction Police Department. The same two officers returned on 9/29/09 during the publicly advertised campaign meeting, asked Richards to identify himself, and arrested him on an unrelated petty matter.”

Mr. Richards’ supporters conducted a call-in campaign on October 1, targeting GJPD officials, Mayor Bruce Hill, and District Attorney Pete Hautzinger. Mr. Richards was released the following day. In a comment on colorado.indymedia.org, Mr. Richards admitted that he did have a warrant for his arrest, and also stated that “the way it was handled speaks to political retribution and/or intimidation”.

Sounds to me that the police did their job, albeit with a sense of timing and decorum that can best be described as questionable. As I said back in July, this group is probably not going to go away, and it is their stated intent to educate the homeless population as to their rights as citizens, and work proactively toward providing shelter and other services for those that may not otherwise have access to them.

This will likely continue to grate at those who seek to gentrify the south downtown area, and put the homeless out of sight. I’ve walked the 16th Street Mall in Denver in the late evening, and if they can’t put them out of sight there, what chance does Grand Junction think they have?

Regardless of what your opinion is of this segment of our population, it’s getting cold and lives are at stake. As CNN and other news outlets across the country are reporting almost daily, this is a nationwide trend, and not limited to large metro areas. The next iteration of this trend is starting to impact those cities; hopefully this is something that the Grand Valley can avoid in the future.

Both sides in this need to continue what I thought was a reasonable attempt at dialogue. If the above account is accurate as to the facts, then Mr. Richards should pay his fines, and the GJPD should exercise their statutory authority with a little more of an ear toward diplomacy.
Now run along and play nice…

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Perhaps one reason that this blip on the radar of homeless advocacy was ignored by the GJ media is that one of its better recent practitioners has moved on to something completely different. Kate Renner, formerly of KREX, is in Uganda as a volunteer under the auspices of an organization called Light Gives Heat. Kate did some really good work covering homeless issues during her time in GJ, and is serving as a videographer in Uganda to document the group’s work and some of the challenges of life there.

Light Gives Heat’s mission statement is “Empowering Africans through the encouragement of economic stability and creative endeavors. Motivating people in the West to ‘be the change they want to see in the world'”. Those in GJ may remember the group selling necklaces made in Uganda at a few Farmer’s Markets this past summer.

The quote at the top of this page came from their website, and it’s given me pause as I embark on an unknown path after school is finished. Leslie would like this.

Kate is documenting her experience in a blog, which can be read here. I’ll feature it in the Favorite Blogs sidebar as well. I’m thinking that regardless of the trappings of a career path, this experience will likely be more rewarding for Kate than being a weather girl in Albuquerque.
Best wishes and godspeed in your travels, Kate.

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In a follow-up to an earlier post, last week the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision, and ruled that the murals on the side of the Headed West ‘smoking accessories shop’ in Englewood were works of art, and thus exempt from that city’s sign code. The court went further to rule that the restrictions attached to the sign code constituted a prior restraint on the exercise of free speech, and ordered the lower court to rule as such.

It’s yet unclear if the City of Englewood will appeal. More information is available via the ACLU of Colorado’s website. An editorial in today’s Denver Post embellished the point even further. Congratulations to the appellants on their hopefully permanent victory.

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Now off to the books, for what will hopefully culminate as a crazy, but successful, week of study and preparation. It’s still not over yet, though. More about that later. Until then, take care and stay warm.
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This entry was posted in Faith, Government, Homeless, Local, Media, Public Safety. Bookmark the permalink.

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