Fight Club

Dear Readers,

Wanna fight? Join the PSCAC!

Oops! too late! The council suspended it. But echoes of the infighting continue.

One side says the Public Safety Citizen’s Advisory Committee (PSCAC) was hijacked by a bunch of drug legalization lobbyists. The other side says the committee was run by a group of police supporters who wouldn’t let them advise on policy. One of the committee members blew up at another over the wording of a paper. The chair resigned, so did a lot of other members, turning the PSCAC into an ineffectual shell. The Chief of Police, who had to sit through the committee’s meetings while the battles and drama flamed around him, got fed up and suggested dissolving the committee and forming his own.


Current and past committee members agree with the chief”s suggestion, but the embers of conflict still smolder. Over the last three weeks they have vented circumspect rancor at each other at council meetings as the council discussed police chief Ronald Ricucci’s proposal to spike PSCAC and replace it with his own Police Chief’s Advisory Council.

The failure  of PSCAC,  past members  say, was caused by personality differences on the committee and differing interpretations of what  the committee’s purpose was. A contributing factor was the wide, unfocused scope of the committee’s mission.

Dave Borden, who has served on the committee for the last two years told the city council Oct. 26th during the citizen comment period that the committee had three factions or individuals with “three very different visions at work all at once.”

One faction said that the PSCAC’s purpose was to “advise the city council on matters of policy” related to public safety and the police. Another faction believed that the committee’s purpose was to support the police. A third “vision” was that of “one or more of our professionals on the committee who saw it as a vehicle to . . . forge a relationship with the Takoma Park Police, . . . and to have an influence on policy” that way.

On that last point Borden was tiptoeing around the conflict he had with committee member Mike Israel, a retired criminologist, Their differences surfaced over a paper Israel wrote for the committee. The differences were arcane, having to do with how data might be perceived, but they became quite heated, to the point that Israel “blew up,” sending out “a very angry e-mail.” Borden declined to go into much detail about this conflict.

Borden also clashed with Andy Keleman, who was chairman for 10 years before he resigned last fall. Keleman, he says, was a “leading exponent” of the group that saw support of police work as the PSCAC’s mission.

Andy Kelemen voiced his own perspective to the council October 12th. He said that indeed the group had problems deciding “whose side is the committee on, or what is the committee working for, or who is the committee working for?” The city manager, he said, repeatedly had to tell the PSCAC that she, not they, supervises and evaluates the police department.

People with personal and outside agendas presented serious disruptions to the committee, said Kelemen. He said some committee members were pursuing outside interests in PSCAC to gain a “feather in their cap” for their cause.
Three members of the PSCAC, all of whom joined within the last three years, belong to groups that advocate marijuana legalization.

David Borden is founder and Executive Director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network. Chuck Thomas, the most recent PSCAC chair is a founding member of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Aaron Houston is that group’s Director of Government Relations.

The PSCAC 2006 Activities Report notes new members Aaron Houston and Charles Thomas. The “New Activities” that year include the suggestion that ·”police resources may be further optimized by reevaluating enforcement priorities. For example, several cities nationwide direct the police to make marijuana enforcement their lowest priority, enabling the police to focus on violent and property crimes.”

Committee minutes show that by November 2007, member Aaron Houston was meeting with Chief Ricucci “concerning the issue of marijuana.” The minutes say, “They found points of agreement. While the Chief does not want his hands tied, he is not interested in pursuing smalltime marijuana offenses. Aaron believes that this merits the committee’s continued consideration.”

Dave Borden says that marijuana issues were not as big a deal as some make out. In fact, he says, the committee dropped the subject shortly after he joined two years ago.

Chuck Thomas, the most recent chair (he stepped down at the Oct. 26 council meeting), echoed Borden’s statement that, though three members of the 9-person committee were involved in drug decriminalization groups, that was not a big focus of the committee, despite that perception.

He said the previous chair Andy Keleman asked the council in early 2008 if marijuana was an issue the committee should be working on. They told him “no,” so he called a halt to further effort on it. Nor has the PSCAC worked on that issue since Kelemen left, he said.

Thomas underscored the point that a much praised (but unavailable on the committee’s web site) paper written by Mike Israel for the PSCAC, “On Broken Windows” was approved unanimously by all 9 members of the committee at the time. That report, he says, in part advocated that police enforcement of marijuana laws be made “lowest priority.” He stressed that the entire committee was in agreement with Israels’ paper.

Sorry to stick such an unpretty portrait in your faces, Dear Readers, but now you know a good deal more of why the council and the police chief want to sink the PSCAC.

And that is what they did at the Oct. 26 meeting. The city clerk is preparing language to remove the PSCAC from the code and the council will review and discuss it in late November at the earliest. The majority seemed to be in favor of using the task force model for dealing with safety and police issues that crop up in the future. A task force would be assigned a narrow focus on one or two issues, and once dealt with, the task force would be disbanded.

– Gilbert.

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

2 Comments on "Fight Club"

  1. David Borden | November 3, 2009 at 1:40 am |

    I appreciate the coverage for my point of view on what happened with the PSCAC. I have two important points to note that did not make it into Gilbert’s article.
    First, PSCAC was left as a “shell” not because there were resignations, but because the Council never moved on the applications it received from new prospective members. I don’t know who all of the applicants were, but I believe there were several of them. Of the ones I do know, one of them is a former Congressional chief of staff, and none of them are staff of drug legalization groups. I don’t fault the Council for holding off, but that’s what happened in regard to that aspect of the situation.
    My second point is that of the four resignations (or term expirations), at least three of them were for purely personal reasons unrelated to the conflict. Mike Israel moved to Silver Spring, which meant he had to step down statutorily — he would have very much liked to continue on PSCAC, and fences were well on their way to being mended before his untimely passing. Two other members needed the time to spend helping relatives through some difficult times — if they had other reasons for resigning they never said so — and one of them had missed several meetings for that reason prior to stepping down.
    I hope that Gilbert’s grim accounting of the Council’s intentions turns out to be premature. It seemed at the second to last council meeting that a majority of members leaned toward keeping a policy advisory body in addition to the chief’s new council, and that it was just a question of taking the time to think it through in order to do it right. I hope that’s still the case — we have a fine police department here in Takoma Park, but policing and criminal justice are matters of tremendous consequence in our society, and I believe that a permanent advisory body to the council, with an appropriately reworked mission statement, has an important role to play.
    Regarding the availability of Mike Israel’s paper, we will get it online one way or the other and will let Granola Park know, and/or just send a copy here for the Voice to post. It is a brief but compelling piece of work that says things which need to be said. In the spirit of “fight club” I will mention that I’m proud to have played a role in persuading our former chairman that it was appropriate for us to send this paper that we all agreed with on to the Council.

  2. Mary Ellsworth | November 3, 2009 at 9:56 pm |

    At 9:53 pm, Nov 3, Gilbert reports that 1,728 votes plus 26 provisional votes have been cast in this election.

Comments are closed.