- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Washington Missourian, Aug. 29

Police competency:

Speaking at a symposium on the Michael Brown shooting, a St. Louis University legal professor said a legitimate argument could be made that many small police departments had long histories of incompetence and misconduct and were ill-equipped to handle certain situations.

Professor Emeritus Roger Goldman said the sole purpose of a number of small town police departments was to write tickets to prop up the town’s budgets and pay judges and mayors and other city employees.

These police departments “aren’t fighting crime, they are not capable of fighting crime,” Goldman added.

The professor was careful to point out he didn’t know whether there was any wrongdoing on the part of Ferguson police during the Brown shooting.

It was wise for Goldman to qualify his remarks until all the facts were in before passing judgment on what happened in Ferguson. Hopefully he is instructing his students on this critical point.

But it’s hard to argue with his larger point regarding some small police forces. He could have been referring to a few in this area.

Remember Bill Jakob? He was the police impersonator who assisted the Gerald Police Department on a number of drug raids in 2008.

Jakob’s story, which made national headlines, ended with him serving a federal prison sentence and the city of Gerald having to defend a rash of civil lawsuits against it and its police department. There were reports that the incident was going to be made into a motion picture. Some said it was slated to be a comedy. Regardless, it was certainly embarrassing for the town of Gerald.

To be sure, not every small police force in this area is incompetent or ill-equipped to do anything other than write traffic tickets. But the Jakob story isn’t the only local example of a police misadventure. There are others that underscore Goldman’s point.

The reality is the degree of police professionalism varies from town to town. That is the case here and everywhere. Without question, there are some local departments that have a level of competency and professionalism.

But whether a police department or its individual officers are competent, usually comes down to the issues of training and experience.

The more training, the less likely an officer is to be criticized, or even worse, indicted for misconduct. The level of training is much better today than years ago.

But training can be expensive. Many small town police departments simply don’t have the budget for the regular, systematic training necessary for officers to maintain a high level of proficiency in every element of law enforcement. That would include training in the areas of use of force, search and seizure, arrest procedures, community policing, and diversity awareness just to name a few.

Police salaries are another issue that impact the quality of an individual department. It is difficult for many small departments to recruit and retain quality personnel when they can’t afford salaries commensurate with larger departments.

Just like school teachers, good officers often transfer from smaller departments to make more money. It’s a complaint we hear all the time from police chiefs in this area. They do the best they can with the budgets they are given.

Goldman’s comments were part of a larger argument for police accreditation. Goldman said policy makers should take another look at legislation that has been proposed in Missouri, Arizona, Rhode Island and Illinois, that would create a set of accreditation standards law enforcement agencies would have to keep up with or face becoming unaccredited, much like public school districts.

It’s an argument we’ve heard before and a concept that is long overdue. If small towns are going to maintain police departments, it is essential that their officers be competent in matters other than writing traffic tickets.


St. Joseph News-Press, Aug. 28

Report rogue breeders:

Our view on commercial dog breeding operations is fairly simple: Breeders need to be held accountable for doing the right thing.

This means meeting certain standards for adequate food, water, shelter, exercise, frequency of breeding, and medical care. Provided the standards are fair, then enforcement should be straightforward - either you are in compliance, or you are subject to penalties and possible loss of your license.

This level of scrutiny and enforcement is justified by problems of the recent past posed by puppy mills. Missouri and Kansas frequently are cited as among the worst states for this problem and all of the accompanying health and safety issues. However, Missouri may be making headway after passage of a 2011 law that stiffened standards.

We note a recent news report showing over the past 27 months, 37 businesses or individuals were referred to the attorney general for prosecution. This resulted in nine licenses being revoked and more than $25,000 in fines.

Also, over the four years since 2010, the number of licensed commercial breeders has fallen from 1,400 to about 800.

Opinions differ on why this is: The recession may have made it difficult to make a buck in breeding. Or the new animal cruelty law may have caused many breeders to shut down rather than risk penalties.

Both explanations seem plausible, but the continued presence of 800 licensed breeders in the states suggests the industry remains viable even with increased regulation.

The bigger problem for all involved may be rogue breeders who never apply for a license, work to avoid detection and take sales and profits away from reputable breeders. These operators may argue otherwise, but history shows they are major contributors to poor animal care and overbreeding that puts animals’ health in jeopardy.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture addresses this problem with the 5-year-old program known as Operation Bark Alert. Find details and a form online that can be used to easily report information when you have questions about whether a facility is licensed or putting the health and welfare of animals at risk.


Jefferson City News Tribune, Aug. 29

An exception in child sexual abuse cases?:

Although the November election is weeks away, a proposed change in criminal law already has triggered controversy.

Constitutional Amendment 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot would ease restrictions on admissible evidence in child sexual abuse cases, by allowing evidence of past criminal acts - including alleged crimes that didn’t result in convictions.

This would mark a departure from the existing prohibition against using evidence of past crimes against a defendant facing a new criminal charge or charges.

The prohibition is a fundamental in criminal law cited by the Missouri Supreme Court in a 2007 ruling. “Evidence of prior criminal acts,” wrote former high court judge Michael Wolfe, “is never admissible for the purpose of demonstrating the defendant’s propensity to commit the crime with which he is presently charged. There are no exceptions to this rule.”

The amendment would create an exception.

As a rule, we are uncomfortable with special exemptions or, for that matter, protections. Our objection to the Right to Farm amendment on the August ballot was based on our opposition to singling out one industry, agriculture, as a constitutionally protected class.

Proponents of Amendment 2 - including state associations representing prosecutors and law enforcement officers - offer compelling arguments to support the exception.

First, “sexual predators” already can be considered a special class, in that they are listed on a public web site.

Second, precedent for the exception exists. Prior allegations of child sexual abuse are admissible evidence in 11 states, according to the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services.

Last is the human component. Legal proceedings compound fear and trauma for children who already may have been victimized. “This is a measure that I think everybody who supports Missouri’s kids ought to be in favor of,” said Eric Zahnd, Platte County Prosecutor and past president of their statewide association.

Countering that emotional argument, Michelle Monahan, an officer with the statewide defense attorneys group, said the amendment would permit evidence that attacks the character of the defendant, rather than evidence the defendant is guilty of the alleged crime.

Although the amendment is specific, it would create an exception that raises larger issues about due process in legal proceedings.

On this issue, voters deserve comprehensive discussion and debate, which has not begun too soon.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 29

Missouri must stop subsidies to illegal day cares:

One toxic result of Missouri’s notoriously lax system for monitoring day cares and its failure to value children and families is that the state is continuing to pay child care subsidies to illegal day care operators.

The state fails its children by neglecting to weed out illegal day cares. State agencies don’t share information about potentially bad providers. Thus federal and state money intended to make child care affordable for low-income parents sometimes goes to caregivers who are illegally watching more than 10 children at a time.

As reported by the Post-Dispatch’s Nancy Cambria on Aug. 17, about $200,000 in such payments went to providers who had been cited for exceeding child counts in the past 3 1/2 years. That amount is believed to be just a small fraction of the subsidies that have been collected by violators who were not caught.

If there is a silver lining here, it’s that the situation is expected to change next year, partly in response to new federal standards. The new regulations will compel the state to begin monitoring day cares that receive subsidies, which means there will be more inspections and direct oversight.

Many Missouri politicians complain about the heavy hand of federal regulators, but apparently the state won’t do the right thing on its own.

For about 30 years, Missouri has allowed unlicensed churches and home day care providers to receive subsidies with no inspections or direct oversight. That means dogs in Missouri are more secure than children, at least since 2011’s Canine Cruelty Prevention Act.

That is indefensible, although Missouri policymakers did not willingly start taking care of dogs, either. After suffering for decades with a reputation as one of the worst places in the nation for puppy mills and bad dog breeders, the state’s voters took it into their own hands to approve a tough set of dog-breeding regulations.

It’s way past time for Missouri to do the same for children. Missouri may need a “kiddie mill” law.

Among other transgressions discovered by the annual “Kids Count” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, nearly 22 percent of children in Missouri lived in poverty in 2011 (compared to 16 percent in 2000); the state ranks 29th in the nation for child well-being and 30th for health indicators for children; and the rate of violent teen deaths per 100,000 people is higher than the rest of the nation.

As it stands, Missouri can only investigate day care cases if a hotline call is made. And then, if a violation is found, the state has authority to make only one visit unless a new hotline call is made.

That is a travesty.

Part of the blame belongs with the state’s bureaucracy. The two departments that work on illegal day cares fail to coordinate their efforts. One is the Department of Health and Senior Services, which is responsible for inspecting licensed day cares and investigating violations. The other is the Department of Social Services, which administers federal subsidy payments.

Officials from the departments failed to respond to Ms. Cambria’s specific written questions about the degree to which they collaborate on stopping payments to illegal providers. A Health and Senior Services spokesman said the office is “putting a procedure in place to share information,” and the Social Services department confirmed it has authority to revoke the subsidy to a provider found violating its contract.

Despite the confirmation, the department was unable to produce documents showing that it had notified any illegal home day care violators that their subsidies were being cut off.

Who’s to blame? Ultimately it’s Gov. Jay Nixon. Both the Health and Senior Services and Social Service departments are part of the executive branch of government. Mr. Nixon must insist on better performance and greater cooperation. He must require agencies to make sure that day care operators who care for too many children or otherwise violate their contracts don’t get state and federal subsidies.

The amount of money that went to illegal operators cited for caring for too many children doesn’t sound like much, but child care advocates say that most illegal day cares remain unreported. No one is paying attention to them.

Ultimately, there is a significant amount of money at stake. Last year about $111 million in federal and state subsidies was paid to Missouri child care providers, most going to licensed child care facilities that are routinely inspected.

But not all. Some $38 million went to unlicensed facilities, and about $25 million of that was paid to home day care providers.

This isn’t to say that all home day cares are bad, or that providers who aren’t subject to state inspections violate the state law. The law says unlicensed providers may serve an unlimited number of related children, for example, siblings and cousins. But they’re allowed to add only four unrelated children to the mix.

There are enough of them operating outside the law that policymakers should be concerned. The subsidies could be used to serve children in better child care settings. Turning off the spigot would also take away an incentive for a child care operator to disobey the law.

A state that is as tight with its money as Missouri shouldn’t be giving it to people breaking the law.

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