Monday, October 1, 2012

Go Get 'Em, Elliott

Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum needs a lesson or two in how to look dignified in public. The reason for Van Blarcum's lack of decorum has to do with Ulster County Comptroller Elliot Auerbach's audit of URGENT, the county's joint gang task force. Van Blarcum said recently that Auerbach's audit was "BS," but today the comptroller will issue a final report outlining the details:
Ulster Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, whose preliminary report on the administrative structure of the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team was dismissed by Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum as “12 pages of BS,” will today issue a final report.
Good. I think a lot of people are looking forward to reading about the problems with URGENT in recent months.

And what Auerbach is concerned about is something that should concern all of us: supervision of asset forfeiture laws. These laws, when used scrupulously, can dismantle a drug kingpin's empire. But they can also be used unscrupulously by corrupt government officials to enrich their department and themselves:
On November 18, 2009, Shukree Simmons, who is African-American, was driving with his business partner on the highway from Macon, Georgia, back to Atlanta after selling his cherished Chevy Silverado truck to a restaurant owner in Macon for $3,700 of sorely needed funds. As Mr. Simmons passed through Lamar County, he was pulled over by two patrol officers who stated no reason for the stop, but instead asked Mr. Simmons numerous questions about where he was going and where he had been, and even separated him from his business partner for extended questioning. The officers searched both people and the car, finding no evidence of any illegal activity. A drug dog sniffed the car and did not indicate the presence of any trace of drugs. Notwithstanding the total lack of evidence of criminal activity and Mr. Simmons’s explanation that he was carrying money from selling his truck, the officers confiscated the $3,700 on the suspicion that the funds were derived from illegal activity, pursuant to their authority under Georgia’s civil asset forfeiture law. Despite the fact that Mr. Simmons mailed his bill of sale and title for the truck to the officer, he was told over the phone that he would need to file a legal claim to get his money back.
The temptation to seize something and ask questions later is ever present. And the burden of proof is often on the person whose assets were seized. So, for this process to be above board, there needs to be very careful scrutiny. And that's what Auerbach is talking about:
“The problem is not with the idea of using seized funds to support the program,” Auerbach wrote, “but with the fact that that decision is contrary to the (memorandum of understanding), and the program operated without the internal controls necessary to record its decisions, categorize its expenditures, or memorialize its members’ sign-off on choosing to fund the program rather than distribute the funds.”
Right. The program is only as good as the people who implement it. Oversight is an important aspect. Checks and balances. If everything at URGENT has been totally above board, then Van Blarcum should welcome what Auerbach is doing, right?

Also, Van Blarcum's feelings are hurt, apparently, so he plans to exclude the county comptroller from the continuing process:
Had he (Auerbach) taken the time, he would have found out that I had already done that. I met with the chief of police, the deputy chief of police and we came up with a plan.That plan does not and will not include the county comptroller,” he said.
Man, talk about ego. I realize that Van Blarcum needs to prove that he's macho, but maybe he should have taken the high road instead. He could have, you know, said that he welcomes the audit and looks forward to working with the comptroller -- if only to demonstrate to the public that the program has been a ringing success.

That would have been the dignified thing to do.

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