Sunday, February 26, 2012

Support your local police, turn in your neighbor as "suspicious"

Since 9/11. there's been billions of $$$ spent on homeland security from the Federal Government.  Millions have come to Minnesota, about $13 $7 million has been spent to set up a fusion center called MNJAC (Minnesota Joint Analysis Center).  The fusion center in Minnesota became operational in 2005 without any legislative authorization or oversight.
Part of the MNJAC/Fusion Center responsibilities is to develop a process for doing "suspicious activity reports" (SARS) to be shared with Federal agencies and Minnesota state/local law enforcement entities.  MNJAC has been involved in training law enforcement personnel throughout the state in how to do these reports.

A "suspicious activity report" as defined by MNJAC, "means---any reported behavior or activity that may result in the reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred, could occur or is being planned."  Local and state law enforcement throughout Minnesota are starting to implement SARS.

Until recently, SARS was public data at MNJAC. This allowed the public to keep tabs on how MNJAC was doing their job.  It is important that SARS not be used for reporting activities that are non-criminal activity, that compromise First Amendment Rights, encourage racial profiling, and trade off our civil liberties.  SARS were made "security information" by a declaration

SARS experience in Minnesota raises a number of questions how we are implementing the program being pushed by the Feds.

The Mall of America experience which has been highlighted by a national NPR/CIR report brings to attention how a local police department implements SARS, its problems, and need for public scrutiny.  The report found out that many people are stopped and inquired as part of the SARS process.  In my discussion with local law enforcement agencies there is activity going on with the SARS process, but to what extent I do not know.  Answers by most agencies have been evasive.  Secondly, I have not filed any Data Practices requests.

In the first ever audit of MNJAC's SARS, raises issues and concerns also.  Approximately 10% of the cases reviewed did not meet their definition of "reasonable suspicion".  The audit was done on files that MNJAC had 3 years ago.  The sampling of cases was small.

Local police departments and Sheriffs throughout Minnesota are beginning to do SARS.  What is their public accountability and reporting?  How about robust independent auditing?

As previously mentioned, MNJAC SARS are not available to the public as MPR reports, public safety commissioner quietly restricted so-called "suspicious-activity reports" from public scrutiny.  On the local level, Bloomington Police has done a similar declaration.  The Minnesota Department of Public Safety declaration to restrict public from access is as follows:

Suspicious activity reports are a major part of the MNJAC function.  You do not see "suspicious  activity reports" mentioned in the bill introduced at the Minnesota Legislature to authorize MNJAC. The bill will be heard this week.

But now if this bill gets you concerned, lurking at the Legislature is the true spectre of spying and surveillance, the law enforcement "intelligence gathering" bill.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Minn HF 2435, makes policies legit, only few know about

House File 2435 introduced in the Minnesota Legislature will legitimise and authorize a fusion center in Minnesota called MNJAC.  Since 2005, MNJAC has been under the radar of the public and the Legislature.  In other words, many people do not know about it.

Minnesota has received millions of $$$ from the Department of Homeland Security since 2005 to set up MNJAC .  There has been very little public discussion and oversight by the public or Legislature of what the Minnesota fusion center does and how it is organized because of the way it got started.

With money from the Federal Government, which did not need authorization from the Legislature, and a program that Minnesota law enforcement greatly wanted, it became in a very low key way, part of the BCA.

Now the Fed dollars are drying up, the Fusion Center is going to need state $$$ next year.  They also want to expand their "activities".  Hence, the proposed bill.

No specific public hearings to the best of my knowledge were held to discuss in detail this new section of the BCA since 2005.  It was skimmed over several times with the traditional oversight hearings, and possibly one or two others.  MNJAC has had no effective and accountable legislative oversight.

Here is an example of "suspicious activity reports" which MNJAC pushes local police to do.

The bill authorizes in 10 plus lines, less public scrutiny, less public accountability, and more secrecy and expansion of power for law enforcement.

But more important there has never been a "real" opportunity for the citizens of Minnesota to scrutinize MNJAC.  They can start by following or being part of the hearing next week.

THURSDAY, March 1, 2012  -  10:15 AM
Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance
Room: 10 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Tony Cornish,  HF2435 (Woodard) Fusion center to assist with detection, prevention, and investigation of, and response to criminal and terrorist activities provided

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Did Gov Dayton take a dive on promise of transparency?

As I read the AP story on the Governor Dayton's change of heart of openness and transparency, I thought of two things.  First, the office has changed the man.  Secondly, why did he say one thing and then change his mind.

The Governor stated in a AP interview, the public, "have a right to know what I'm doing with my time" and should know who he's meeting with privately.  If Governor Dayton strongly supported principles of open government he should not have taken a dive on the calendar issue.  He could have supplied the calendar and do limited redaction for security purposes.

The action of closing off his calendar for public inspection, the top elected official in  Minnesota, shows a mark, an indicator, and a symbol of how he feels about transparency and open government.

Mr. Dayton is no newbie to the political scene, a State Auditor, a United States Senator, he is well versed with elected office.  When he made the comment his calendar is open for the public to see, he was not ignorant of what that statement symbolizes to the public.

Did Mr. Dayton take a dive on his promise,  the answer is yes. 

I have worked with Mr. Dayton for nearly thirty years on public issues.  He is an independent and thoughtful person who makes up is own mind on the facts as he sees them.  Why he made this decision confuses me.  Did he have all the facts?  Did he know that he could do limited redaction?  Did he himself make the decision that he is an employee of the state or an elected official which can make some differences with interpretation of law?  Or did the office of Governor just change the man?

The disclosure as to who meets with the Governor does not threaten, nor endanger the future, nor the decision making process of Minnesota.  But the decision not to release the "calender" does raise inquires of campaign promises not kept, his attitude on "public right to know", and who made the decision, his staff or the Governor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Met Council writes one thing, does another with legislation

Over the years I have read many sheets of paper that describes what a legislative initiative from government agencies are.  The "cover" sheet is important because it lets people know, particularly the legislators, what the agency is trying to do.  It serves as the government enity arguments and rationale for the bill.

Today I saw one of these sheets, it was from the Metropolitan Council.  The Met Council is proposing a bill which I have some trouble with for a number of reasons.  Those reasons are from the point of view that some sections of the bill are not needed because the "law" already covers it or it is bad policy to make data "secret" that has been public for years on the local level.

It is the character of many government units to "cry" if they see law that covers one agency or levels of government, but is does not cover them.  An example of this is from many years ago, the Legislature felt that the Governor should have some secrecy when he comes up with his budget proposals, they gave it to him.  Cities and counties wanted it, but the Legislature said no.  There were attempts several years ago to do it again.  It is important to note that Legislators decide to make differences in law all the time based on purpose and rationale.

The Met Council initiative is House File 2146.   What the difference is written in the "sheet" and what is written is in the bill is as follows:

In the Met Council Agency Initiative sheet it states that subdivision 3 of the proposed bill is modeled after current law, State Law 13.599.  One section of the current law is:

"Subd. 2.Request for applications.
Data created by a granting agency to create a request for proposal is classified as nonpublic until the request for proposal is published. To the extent that a granting agency involves persons outside the granting agency to create the request for proposal, the data remain nonpublic in the hands of all persons who may not further disseminate any data that are created or reviewed as part of the request for proposal development. At publication, the data in the request for proposal is public."

The bill as proposed allows to keep secret, data that was used to create the Request for Proposal for being available to the public until a bid is awarded which is different than what the Met Council says they "model" that section of law after.

The difference is that the data becomes public after "publication" in current law of the RFP not when a bid is announced as proposed in the new bill.

Was the Met Council trying to mislead the public?  More than likely not, but questions do need to be raised and answered.  I have seen over the decades government entities trying to do what I illustrated with the Met Council, but nobody saw the differences before it was too late.

What I am trying to do is show you what legislative watch dogging is all about.  How important it is for the public to watch the process and legislators understand some of the pitfalls of proposed bills before it becomes law and make public data secret, which then makes government less accountable and transparent.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Not available for "public consumption", your public records

I was completely startled by the St Paul School District's response to the inquiry what is the "price tag, and the fiscal impact of the new educator compensation package." of the proposed teacher contract.  Not available for "public consumption" said the district as reported by the Pioneer Press.

Is the St Paul School District continuing to avoid the public accountability and "right to know" that is the legitimate interest of the public?  I think it is.

This type of illogical and nonsense behavior is not new to the school district.  Just under 2 years ago, the Superintendent of Schools Silva came up with absurd rationale to keep, clearly, public data away from the people.

Definitely, the data that was requested as described in the Pioneer Press story about the cost is public.  When the school district leaders say invalid statements to keep data from the public and secret, the media and more importantly the citizenry need to challenge their fallacies.

I have discussed with St Paul School District Board members about the budget episode in 2010, and another one in 2011 which dealt with release of public data concerning new schedule times of schools.  With several of them it seems to me they do not care. 

It seems the Superintendent and school district enjoy restricting public access to public information about major initiatives or proposals when the public or media asks for details.  The school district has been successful at controlling the release of public data to their schedule.  The public or media asks for it and by law they should have it, not be given some implausible and wild excuse to create a barrier and buy time.

I call upon School Board members such as Anne Carroll and Keith Hardy who ran on a transparency platform to stop this ridiculousness. I also call upon that transparency and public accountability be made a part of the performance expectations for Superintendent Silva.

Friday, February 3, 2012

What's safe with Minn Legislature on week break?

Mark Twain
“No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”
Mark Twain
I first ran across this quote, many years ago in the basement press office of WCCO's Eric Eskola.  The sign with design was plastered among his many items.  It caught my attention because there is certainly some truth to it.  When Eric on his last days before he retired from the Capitol Press Corp was cleaning out his office I asked if I could have the poster.  He said yes and signed the placard with a great salutation.