Police Transparency Watch; UPDATE: Sheriffs Dept “visits” home of Reason Magazine writer Radley Balko…
From Radley Balko:
Back in 2010, I wrote a column for Reason on the startling lack of transparency among police departments in Northern Virginia.* Despite the state’s reasonably sound open records laws, the state’s largest police agencies have chosen to interpret a exception clause in the law to give them carte blanche to deny information requests. They turn down allopen records requests as a matter of policy, even when journalists have attempted to test them by, for example, requesting information that was in a press release the agency had put out earlier.
I’m still a little thrown back when I see laws with names like “the police officer’s bill of rights.” Informal, corrupt deference to cops accused of criminal misconduct is one thing. But the idea that the government agents in charge of enforcing the law would get an official, codified set of rights above and beyond those afforded to the rest of us is really an affront to everything a democratic society is supposed to represent. And we’ve seen how even the slightest violation of a cop’s extended set of rights can excuse even egregious abuses of power.
(*That 2010 article inspired a visit from an Alexandria Sheriff’s Department deputy to what he thought was my home. I had already moved to Nashville. I had no luck trying to find out the deputy’s name or the purpose of his visit.)
Finally, I’ve spent the last few months trying to get information on a somewhat disturbing personal twist to all of this. I lived in Alexandria for about seven years, until May, when I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In September, I received an email from one of my former neighbors. It seems that in late September the new tenant in my old house got a visit from an Alexandria Sheriff’s Department deputy. Apparently, the deputy stopped by my old home and inquired whether anyone from “the Reason Institute [sic]” lived at the residence.
I’ve since spoken with one of the new tenants about this (though she gave me permission to look into and write about this, I’m not going to publish her name, for obvious reasons). She confirmed to me that all of this happened. She also said the deputy was holding some papers that looked to have articles printed on them, but he shielded them in a way that prevented her from reading them. She said the officer didn’t mention me by name, only the name of my employer.
Now there are lots of reasons why an Alexandria deputy might have cause visit my home. Perhaps an unpaid parking or speeding ticket. Maybe there was a break-in in the area. Several months before I moved out, my roommate called the police after being assaulted by a neighbor, and I was one of the witnesses. I can also see someone from the department possibly disagreeing with an article I’d written about the area’s police agencies, in which case they could have called or e-mailed Reason, or written a letter to the editor.
But it’s hard to come up with any justification as to why a uniformed deputy would visit a private residence asking whether anyone from Reason worked there, just after we’d published a series of articles critical of local police departments, other than a misguided attempt at intimidation. Maybethere is an innocuous explanation. But I haven’t been able to find one.
I spoke with the Alexandria Sheriff’s Department about this. The officer who patrols the area where I lived says it wasn’t him, and that he was unaware of anything I’d written. His supervisor said she’s never heard of me or of Reason, and has no knowledge of any officer visiting my former residence.
In October I called the tenant back, asked her for a general physical description of the officer. I have since tried to call the department back to give them that description, but they haven’t returned my calls.
ADDED: We are preparing a piece on police harassment of those who bring misconduct and criminal acts by the police to light. This “harassment” is wide spread, across the nation and ranges from “visit”, like the one Radley Balko details. To more sinister incidents involving SWAT Teams kicking in the doors of an Arizona Blogger in the middle of the night… make no mistake about this. It is intentional and designed to scare, intimidate and silence the voices of those who dare to question their actions.