Jeff Schwartz: Police Putting City Employees Under Suspicion By Criminals – August 30, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Caught on video is an Arcata City water department employee driving up to a home in his Arcata city truck, wearing his reflector vest, yellow baseball cap that dons the City of Arcata logo, holding a hand-held computer, and in his other hand he has a semi-automatic handgun aimed in the face of a half-naked 70-year-old man visiting his brother.

Seems the City of Arcata sanctions the use of its water department to help out the Arcata Police Department stamp out the marijuana madness. It turns out the water department employee in the video was an imposter; he was an Arcata Police officer instead. But someone at City Hall sanctioned the use of the uniform, water meter accoutrements and a City truck with the Arcata oval logo on its doors.

This is troubling and dangerous for everyone involved, save the police. I spoke to some law enforcement friends of mine who say that the use of a “friendly city employee” going to the front door before the guns and badges are flashed makes it safer for the police officers who are about to enter a home with a search warrant.

Perhaps it does. But does the subterfuge make it safer for the real water department employee when he or she comes out to read a meter or check a leak?

When I see city workers at my house, I talk to them and ask how they are doing. City workers are part of the monthly scenery at home, city workers other than cops. Until now I had thought that the water department employee was just that, not a cop in water department’s clothing. You are not going to get me to trust another city worker again unless I see identification. I don’t want to guess whether the City is sending out a water department employee or a police officer dressed as a water department employee.

I have nothing to hide at my house, except my privacy, yet I still don’t want anyone walking around my property with a gun, be it a cop or a robber, unless the cop is there to stop the robber. I don’t mind talking to a cop, in fact I enjoy it most of the time, but I want to know he or she is a cop.

I feel for the Arcata city employee too. When he or she goes out to a resident’s home, the reception will be, and should be, with suspicion. Residents will have to ask for identification to know if the person on the property is there to check the water flow or snooping around for police business.

You and I may be suspicious of the city worker and reluctant to be friendly with the would-be fraudster, but what about the real criminals, how will the criminals treat a water department employee when they turn a corner and see City worker on their property?

The City of Arcata has done a terrible disservice to their civilian employees essentially stripping them of their aura of friendliness and innocence. No one likes an imposter. The City worker will be suspected as an imposter, suffer the specter of deceit and lose the kindness of homeowners.

Jeffrey Schwartz is an Arcata lawyer and a homeowner in Arcata. Check out the YouTube video of a “city water department employee” holding the door open for his storm trooper friends. Search “Arcata Meter Reader”

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23 Responses to “Jeff Schwartz: Police Putting City Employees Under Suspicion By Criminals – August 30, 2011”

  1. Mark Sailors

    Well, someone should make this an issue, and call for this practice to stop.

  2. Stone Eternal Love

    Seems the good counselor is advocating that people assault City employees by forcibly frisking them on sight. His latest rant should be a good exhibit in the civil suits filed against him when residents start grabbing.

  3. Mark Sailors

    Where does Mr. Schwartz advocate anything like “frisking” on site. He said “Residents will have to ask for identification”, that does not seem like forced frisking to me.

  4. Ian Ray

    Some juristictions have rules prohibiting non-uniformed officers from serving search warrants for safety reasons. Disguised officers have been assaulted when trying to enter a residence.

  5. Stone Eternal Love

    Mark Sailors,
    Right under the headline, it says “Next time you see ’em, frisk ’em”. What would you do if someone ran up to you and started “frisking” you?

  6. Mark Sailors

    I am not sure if that’s from Jeffery, or if it is a headline added by the editor. Clarification is needed.

    The author frequently does not control the headline.

  7. jay

    I would at least like to hear from the city that this was a mistake in judgement and it will not be the practice in the future. Has any comment been issued?

  8. Mark, the “frisk ’em” business is Jeff’s. It may have been his headline suggestion, but it’s too long. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for an editor to insert such a provocative idea into someone’s piece. I only wrote the headline, “Police Putting City Employees…” trying to capture the essence of the piece.

    Jay, no, the City has not made any statement. I have talked to the police about the incident. Essentially there was a grow there that was harvested between the time the complaints came in, observations were made, evidence collected and the raid took place.

    With regard to the number of personnel used, the police don’t know what’s waiting for them behind the door, or what kind of weapons, and for employee safety reasons have to be prepared for any eventuality.

    The police didn’t release photos of the inactive grow because no criminal allegation was made. They did let me look at them, and that grow was one of the less professional installations I’ve seen. Frankly it looked like something put together by children. Three features of it stand out in my memory: an obviously flammable cardboard box affixed to some shelves in the grow room; not sure what its function was, but I’ve never seen something built out of wood and cardboard – it looked like something from that “There, I fixed it” website. Then there was masses of electrical wiring dangling down in a big tangle. Finally, a row of heavy duty ballasts resting on the floor.

    Jeff Schwartz hadn’t seen these pictures before writing his piece. Nor, for that matter, did he ask the cops why they did what they did in this case or in fact, talk to them at all about it. He told me he didn’t think it was necessary.

    The police will continue to investigate and obtain search warrants for suspected illegal grows, and they will occasionally serve them on places where the grow has either been harvested or is otherwise not prosecutable. They tell me they would rather this didn’t happen, but as you know, investigations of all forms of suspected criminal activity sometimes lead to dry holes.

  9. Mark Sailors

    Fair enough.

    I still think it was in appropriate for the Police to dress up as a water meter reader. It makes the water meter readers job hundreds of times more dangerous now.

  10. Mark Sailors

    inappropriate…not in appropriate…no coffee yet…

  11. well

    Has Kevin Hoover EVER objected to the policies of the Arcata Police Department?

  12. Ian Ray

    I think this is a citizen and officer safety issue, not water meter employee safety. Whether or not the search party found any evidence is irrelevant to the safety issue. Other departments require officers to wear armbands or jackets with “police” on the arm to identify themselves when executing a search warrant.

  13. Note that these are standard tactics used by police departments across the country.

  14. How could anyone do a newspaper for 15 years without occasion to question the practices of the local police department? While most of my editorial wrath has been directed at the CHP (under previous commanders) and the idiotic/deranged/politicized federal gov’t, yes, there have been at least two occasions that come to mind in which I condemned APD practices. One involved a full-blown scathing editorial titled “Adults behaving badly.”

    Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to criticize them.

    But by and large APD has distinguished itself as having high standards and good consciousness of balancing civil liberties with public safety. It has a pretty healthy culture in comparison to some other law enforcement agencies.

    All that said I have no particular loyalty to APD. Remember that it’s not about who you are but what you do.

  15. Mark, how would an undercover officer be “dangerous?”

    Dangerous to what or whom? If they’re an Arcata Police officer, aren’t they responsible for creating public safety rather than danger?

  16. Ian Ray

    Kevin, if it were a real standard, police department policy manuals would say unidentified searches are safe. They do not and generally either do not mention the situation or stipulate that officers must identify themselves for safety.

  17. The APD officers didn’t identify themselves on serving the search warrant?

  18. Mark Sailors

    My point was, it is now dangerous to be a water meter reader, as the criminal element will see them all as undercover police officers.
    Now every person that comes to read any meter will be considered to BE the police if not WORKING for the police.

  19. Ah yes, I see that that was our point, my apologies. And it does seem valid. In fact I believe this same principle is why PG&E is so concerned about their field workers being perceived as possible law enforcement agents.

    When Jeff’s column was in the works he needed help in locating the City workers’ labor union rep, Art Frolli of Operating Engineers No. 3, so I put him in touch. But the column included no mention of any union position on the utility worker guise, so I called Art. He said he didn’t have enough information on the matter to make a statement. He didn’t seem concerned.

  20. Stone Eternal Love

    So this dynamic Einstein defense attorney couldn’t even figure out how to contact the City workers’ labor union rep by himself? I guess that’s why he has to write these “opinion pieces” to try and drum up business. Maybe Kevin can show him where City Hall is.

  21. me again

    “It looked like something put together by children.” I’ll bet there are plenty of children in Humboldt who know how to set up a proper grow.

  22. israel

    All that for marijuana? Lol


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