GRANOLAPARK: Oh, did you want those civil liberties?


Dear Readers,

They say a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged.

For liberal Takoma Park it was a carjacking, a mugging and 17 robberies on Sycamore Avenue.

The neighbors called a meeting and wrote a “white paper.” That paper included a proposal to increase the number and use of license plate scanners – ditching some civil-libertarian safe-guards the city council placed on license scanners back in 2009.

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Peter Marra gives Sycamore Avenue resident’s white paper presentation to a panel of local police chiefs. Feb.25, 2014.

“We hope that Takoma Park residents’ concerns about national and international security agencies will not prevent any consideration of crime reduction strategies in our own back yard.” the paper said.

In other words, “Can your bleeding-heart liberal moaning about civil liberties!”

The city council discussed that license scanner proposal last week, and a majority appears to favor it – so far.

Police spying

Why does Takoma Park have license-scanner limits?

Because in 2009 it was revealed that the state police had been spying on peace, anti-death penalty, and environmental activists right here in Takoma Park from roughly 2004 to 2007.

As the Washington Post reported Jan. 4, 2009, “The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored — and labeled as terrorists — activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.”

One local establishment they spied on was the “Electrik Maid community center in Takoma Park, where death penalty foes were organizing rallies.”

“Troopers have said they inappropriately labeled 53 individuals as terrorists in their database, information that was shared with federal authorities.”


Ah, sharing database information. That’s how license plate scanners are used.

Other law enforcement agencies keep all the license plate numbers for various lengths of time, 30 days to a year. They share those numbers with other jurisdictions, state and federal agencies. Takoma Park dumps their data every 30 days. It does not share its data.

The reason is bad timing – or good timing, depending on your point of view. The city’s first license plate scanner arrived in 2009 – right on the heels of the state police spying scandal. Angry citizens and the city council had ample proof that they, not the police, are the guardians of civil liberties. So, the council stepped up to guard them.

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Citizens lined up to speak at Feb. 25, 2014 Takoma Park crime meeting.

Now they are poised to step down and let the city police share data with other agencies because this year’s angry citizens are more worried about “our own back yard.”

Proponents, including the city’s police chief, assure citizens that the data will only be used for “legitimate law enforcement purposes.”

Uh, from 2004 to 2007 the police spying was for legitimate law enforcement purposes. As defined at the time.

Then-state police superintendent Tim Hutchins, the state police superintendent under whose watch the spying took place was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “You do what you think is best to protect the general populace of the state.”

Another license scanner policy public hearing is scheduled for June 23.

Quibbling with Africans

Also last week, the council spend way too much time talking about a $5000 grant request. Didn’t they know they were keeping Your Gilbert up past his bed time?

Mr. Tebabu Assefa, a well-known character-about-town, made the request to support his US Africa Forum. Assefa says the forum is to help all the small, local African-owned businesses. He says those businesses don’t get county and state support other small area small businesses do – they have “fallen between the cracks,” he said.


Mr. Tebabu Assefa, center.

The council supported the idea, and the city has waived the Community Center fee – the forum will take place there June 21 – but they quibbled over how the grant would be used. Some felt the printing and dissemination of a forum brochure amounted to subsidizing advertising.

It was odd to see them so worried about a $5000 grant so soon after they bestowed an extra $20,000 (making a $70,000 total) to research a dog park.


Speaking of which, a public hearing on a dog park is scheduled for Monday, May 19th.

There seems to be a disconnect between dog parkians and most of the council and city staff. The council and staff say they are in the preliminary stages with many unresolved issues: whether to build one, how to fund it, whether to have more than one, which site or sites are best, and what do the neighbors around those sites think.

The dogged proponents seem to be following the example set by the Safe Grow Zone ordinance activists. They are showing up at meeting and demanding to know “Why aren’t you building the dog park?”, acting like it is a done deal.  But, Joe Edgell, one of the dog park activist leaders, acknowledges that much is still on the table, including where to put it, and how to fund it.

– Gilbert



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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.

1 Comment on "GRANOLAPARK: Oh, did you want those civil liberties?"

  1. john muir | May 10, 2014 at 3:41 pm |

    there is no legitimate law enforcement purpose,
    for ” general warrants ” as this action is very clearly.
    If it is collected in Takoma it should stay in Takoma.
    If a neighbor jurisdiction wants to know about a suspect
    vehicle, then let them ask us to ” run ” it thru, but don’t give them
    carte blanche forever.
    This so clearly a bad idea, why is this even open to question?

Comments are closed.