The budget is coming! You can’t see it yet, Dear Readers, but off in the distance you can hear the rustling of its black, bloody robe, and the swish-swish-swish of its big, sharp ax! Budget Time is almost nigh!
That means it is time for city department annual reports. These amount to “Spare That Ax!” but rephrased in bureaucratese and with a lot more words and charts to pad it out.
The city police chief did a champion job of this at the Feb. 28 presentation of his department’s annual report. Crime is down except for an increase in burglary, which the chief said they were cracking down on. Last year the chief reported that all crime was down except for larceny (theft from cars), which they were going to crack down on – and apparently they did!
Six department positions are currently unfilled, the chief said. He warned that any more personnel losses would mean the police couldn’t provide full service (Spare That Ax!).
Granolapark post on last year’s annual police report.
The three license plate scanner gizmos the police have acquired are a big help Chief Ronald Ricucci reported, pointing out that they were purchased with grant money, not city revenues. BUT, he said it turns out those stringent rules the council required to protect resident’s civil rights are a bother.
Dear Readers, do you remember WHY the council didn’t want license plate scans to be shared with any other agencies? It wasn’t paranoia! Under the last governor, a Republican, the state police spied on several Takoma Park-based groups and residents. The spying included recording license plate numbers of cars parked where meetings were held
So, when the city police asked for a license plate scanner (which “reads” the plates of passing cars – or parked cars) the council placed restrictions on how the data is shared and how long it is kept. Most jurisdictions keep data for 30 days. Takoma Park police keep it for one day.
They are finding this is an obstacle for sharing plate info with local jurisdictions. Oh, and with the Maryland Fusion Center.
The Fusion Center is “an effective and efficient mechanism to exchange information and intelligence, maximize resources, streamline operations, and improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by merging data from a variety of sources. In addition, fusion centers are a conduit for implementing portions of the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan,” according to its website.
It was set up by the federal Justice Department, on the recommendation of Homeland Security.
And they want your license plate number, citizen.
Despite Chief Ricucci’s assurances that the Fusion Center would respect citizen’s rights, most of the council was dubious. The Chief said he’d go over the detains later – as some information should not be shared in public.
The council was more open to the idea of keeping scan info for 30 days to share with local jurisdictions. The scans would not be shared wholesale. Other jurisdictions would have to make a specific request for a particular tag number.
In 2010, the scanners netted 369 citations, 3 stolen cars, 2 wanted persons, and 3 stolen tags. As well as scanning for stolen cars and tags, and wanted persons, the city police scan for suspended registrations, lapsed insurance, and the like.
Granolapark post on the 2008 annual police report in which the license plate scanner was first discussed.
Also last year, councilmember Terry Seamens asked for a breakdown of drug arrests, information that was not included in the report – which didn’t deal with misdemeanors such as drug offenses.
This year the drug arrest breakdown was part of the report. Councilmember Dan Robinson noted that it drug offenses doubled since 2009. Chief Ricucci said that reflected national trends.
Robinson quizzed the chief about how drug arrests come about. Chief Ricucci told him that most result from traffic offenses in which drugs are observed or found after the stop or arrest. Most drug offenses are for alcohol, he said. Almost 3/4 of the arrests were for liquor or DUI in 2009, down to half in 2010. The percentage reduction is due to a 14% leap in 2010 marijuana arrests.
While drug arrests were presented in several pie charts showing percentages, there were no figures showing the actual number of arrests.
Josh Wright asked the staff to find out what the employee pensions are invested in. He’s curious because while the stock market is going up, the pensions aren’t – which means they continue to be a burden on the city budget. Last year,all city expenses were cut back except one – employee pensions.
Council discussion at the time anticipated the one being held now with much more enthusiasm in Wisconsin. It amounted to “Holy moley! These pension payments are bleeding us dry, and tax revenue is shrinking. These staff benefits are more generous than mine or most of my constituents! Maybe we should rethink our benefit package!”
“Tacky Packy” is one of Takoma Park’s nicknames. A “packy” is a nickname for “package stores” (liquor stores) in states and counties that allow free enterprise. So, when and if the state grants permission for the city to have a beer and wine store, we can call it a “Tacky Packy.”
The bill that would allow that glorious, or inglorious depending on how you feel about it, day to happen is proceeding through procedure in a procedurally fashion over in Annapolis. There was a hearing which staff says went fairly well, and now somewhere in the legislative mechanism it is being mulled over.
The council was concerned that one of the bill’s provisions, that the city have a say in what business is given or not given a license. That decision is usually up to the county. One key official, reported staff, is indeed grumpy about that provision.
Have a drink while you wait with baited breath, Dear Readers!