Public Trust & Lawlessness

Every time the public encounters a law enforcement officer, all the experience they have EVER had with police, ever seen other people have with police, and also every story they have ever heard are present. Every story they heard on the news about the breach of trust in overzealous and lawless cops are sins that every cop carries to every encounter. More times than not, the public lacks confidence that law enforcement will help them if they need it, make arrests if necessary to provide a measure of justice.

This has never been no truer than in recent years. In order for a community to feel safe and in turn, be safe, is to have a measure of trust that law enforcement assigned to guard them from harm is actually doing just that. The people must feel and see law enforcement as the good guys doing good work. When that ceases to be the case, public unrest leads to crimes against police, and vigilantism can develop to overcome the sense of helplessness when law enforcement is not there to help for one reason or another. This hurdle has to be addressed by leadership in law enforcement. Perception is reality to people.

Having said that, my hometown of Escambia County, Pensacola, Florida, is facing an epidemic of ECSO lawlessness. WEAR had a story last week about this same issue but the story you are about to read is a separate incident and it is a distressing story has come to me and frankly it should scare the hell out of everyone who lives in the county.

The details are that a neighbors’ squabble results in one neighbor calling ECSO on another playing loud noise on the porch. When the ECSO arrives, the music is off. No more issues, right? Wrong. Deputies arrive and unbeknownst to them, there are outside cameras. Watch for yourself.

The biggest problem here is the report of the incident here:

The two are not even partially the same. The report is pure fiction. Why is that? Because the resident involved called to report the stolen stereo. He spoke with Sgt. Jason Young, who told him that the deputies would NOT ARREST him for disorderly conduct and in exchange they would return his stereo. Arrest him? No crime was committed other than the stolen stereo. But this is the manipulation to act as if Young is doing the resident a favor, for in turn not making any waves about the stereo. This unfortunately is a common thing. Assuming people don’t know their rights and believe if a deputy does it, it must be legal is a fallacy that most in this ECSO administration count on.

This report shows the lengths of the cover up and perjury that several deputies entered into in this one incident. Frankly, if so many will risk their badge and effortlessly cover up something like this, one has to question what major things are handled just the same. This one act of a deputy committing, what amounts to, an armed robbery is white washed and covered up because it was thought the resident would not know their rights.

The most egregious part of this is that this resident is unemployed and not in a financial position to make a fuss. He’s a vulnerable citizen. When law enforcement abuses power, people, like this resident are typically the ones they abuse because the victims of their abuse are marginalized by a criminal history, poverty, or both. When people of power victimize the most marginalized in their charge, that is such a deep violation of public trust. No one is safe.

Checks & Balances

One of the most important founding elements of this country lies in the varying checks & balances. The Founding Fathers knew that it is likely that one entity or facet of government will overstep; therefore, another facet would have to oversee or sign off, as it were.

Strangely enough, the ECSO is not privy to any oversight on the bulk of their budget. The fundamental problem with that is the clear misappropriation of LET funds exposed over the years by this agency. Currently, they are still out of compliance with Florida Statute on that, because they are not following up with the receivers of state/county funds to make sure it was spent properly. That is one of the checks and balances to verify there is no misappropriation by the agencies in receipt of money spent by the county. It’s common practice to require follow up documentation to show where the money went. Most agencies have banned organizations from future funds if they refuse to comply with this follow up accounting. They are shut off from state/county money. Why is this necessary? Governmental accountability….plain and simple. Trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan said.

So we still have millions of dollars being unaccounted by the ECSO, then I find out through varying requests that there is so much more that the ECSO juggles that never sees oversight. With the LET records being dubious at best, and the deputy raises that were provided for by the county but never trickled down to the deputies over the past years (as exposed in the budget impasse of late) when will taxpayers and the county coffers demand accountability and hold the ECSO up to the fiduciary standard that the rest of the county is held to?

Consider this:

This agency can charge a fee for gathering public records if a request is made. Few requests will have any costs associated with the request. If a person is told there is an exorbitant fee for a record request that should garner attention. Unless the request is so labor intensive, or requests information not normally maintained, the majority of the public records requests are easily gathered. In today’s technology world records are available with a few keystrokes in most cases.

Recently, a question was raised about the Escambia County Sheriffs Office involving money. Specifically, where certain monies go, since there is no account that that the ECSO has to deposit into, such as a checking account. It is not something that shows up in the official budget. There must be existing records. Simple request, right? This public record should be answered in a matter of minutes. But, because the ECSO is the agency that has the record, it will no doubt be overcomplicated to jack up the “fees” associated with research, or they will simply state “no records exist”. These are the standard 2 answers when a public records request comes in for information, the agency does not want to disclose. Any request that would expose Morgan as the inept law enforcement official he is always is met with unprecedented push-back as well as any request that requires the ECSO to explain where they are hemorrhaging tax dollars will be met with resistance.

In this case, the money being properly unaccounted for is money related to off duty employment. The ECSO has a policy in place that defines what the procedure is for deputies working “off duty” employment. The policy has a minimum amount deputy will be paid. It also has what the deputy must do to be allowed to work “off duty” jobs. One requirement is that a deputy must pay a fee off two dollars an hour back to the ECSO. The ECSO keeps record of how many hours each deputy works each month.  The deputy is then sent a bill that is paid to the ECSO (cash only for a long time, but now they accept debit cards).

This is Accounting 101. Cash is paid to the ECSO and they could easily furnish records about transactions involving a bill and a payment. But how much money does the ECSO collect from the deputies that pay a fee for working off duty each month? Where does the money go after it is collected? Is it considered income for the ECSO? Is there a requirement to report this income to be taxed? Has it been reported? No trick questions there but important questions that require an answer from the ECSO.

Oh, and I have told repeatedly that the ECSO has no duty to answer questions–only provide public records. They “are not inclined to or have the responsibility to” answer questions, according to Chief Deputy Eric Haines. Oddly enough, every other facet of Escambia County government I have dealt with, including the state attorney’s office, is remarkably willing to answer any questions about process and procedure. It is just the ECSO that is not.

And as we know the ECSO has proven that they are not honest with money issues. It may seem as if off-duty money collected is not a substantial amount of money, but for example, Navy Federal Credit Union is a regular off duty job opportunity for the ECSO. Deputies working that job alone have paid over $1500 back to the ECSO. Now consider that Navy Federal is one of hundreds of locations that have deputies throughout the year. The amount of income collected from the deputies for off duty security employment is thousands of dollars each month. This should not be considered insignificant. There is a former Sheriff in prison for misappropriating taxpayer money. The amount of misappropriated funds in the other Sheriff’s case was far less than the funds in question here.

Shouldn’t the media get involved with this issue? We are talking about multiple millions of dollars. Just in the past week, a Grand Jury was not pleased or impressed with how Escambia County handles money issues or oversight of the money grossly mishandled in Century. The dollar amount in question with the ECSO is at least triple the amount of money being questioned in Century. Wouldn’t a grand jury be even more appalled to see the reckless lack of oversight of the ECSO? Is it not a concern of comptroller or county administrator that there is likely (based on the brief preview of the LET fund) mishandling of the amount of money involved here? Accountability about how funds are handled should be everyone’s priority. It is time to ask these questions as well as the questions, others have. If the media is not going to ask questions and hold officials accountable, the citizens must do it.

Look for updates concerning this topic. If anyone decides to make requests or has information about this, please feel free to share with everyone.