Tag Archives: Amarillo PD

‘Free’ speech gets drowned out … good!

They called themselves the “Free Speech Movement.” They planned to stage a big rally in Boston, but got drowned out by others who were having none of what this movement had to say.

The “Free Speech” folks said they disavowed the hate speech that’s become the talk of the nation. But thousands of counter protesters showed up to swallow up the “Free Speech” crowd.

It appears that advance knowledge of some of the speakers slated to talk alarmed community residents, which triggered the big counter protest. They were concerned about what they considered to be “veiled bigotry.” One big difference between this gathering and the one that erupted in Charlottesville this past weekend is that no one got hurt; there was no riot.

This all sounds familiar to yours truly.

In 2006, the Ku Klux Klan came to Amarillo to have a rally in front of City Hall. The city granted the KKK the permit they needed. The police came out in force. Amarillo PD deployed many officers, as did the Potter County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety. The police set up an effective barrier that kept the crowd of onlookers away from the Klansmen.

At the moment the Klan leaders were set to start addressing the gathering in front of City Hall, a parade of counter protesters came marching onto the parking lot. They were loud, man! They were banging cymbals, blowing horns, beating drums, yelling at the top of their lungs.

I don’t recall, 11 years later, what the Klan’s message was on that warm summer day. The haters couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

I couldn’t have been prouder of the way our community reacted to the Klan’s presence in our midst.

The most fascinating encounter I witnessed occurred right next to me. It involved then-Amarillo Police Chief Jerry Neal and a Klan member. Neal was there in full cop regalia: dress blues and all the hardware that beat cops wear when they’re on patrol … if you get my drift. The Klansman asked the chief, “Can I ask you something?”

Neal’s response was brusque and right to the point: “No. You can’t. Now, get away from me.”

What happened today in Boston had plenty of precedent. It should continue for as long as hate groups — or those aligned with them — believe they have license to spread their bigoted message.

There are Klan rallies, then we have what happened at UVa

I feel as though I’ve dodged a bullet or two, having watched the tragic events unfold in Charlottesville, Va.

Now for the explanation.

My former life as a full-time journalist enabled me to two attend two Ku Klux Klan rallies. The first one was in Orange, Texas, way down yonder on the Gulf Coast, just west of the Louisiana state line; the second was right here in Amarillo, Texas.

Why the feeling of relief? They both were peaceful. Unlike the pandemonium that erupted in Charlottesville, the rallies in Orange and Amarillo were tame — although one was far tamer than the other one.

The Orange rally occurred without incident of any kind. Some Klansmen showed up to protest the racial integration of a federal housing project in nearby Vidor, Texas, a community full of fine folks but also a town known to be a sort of KKK haven. There were no counter protests; just a lot of fiery and ignorant hate speech coming from the podium.

The Amarillo rally was a bit different. A Klan chapter sought permission to gather at City Hall; the city granted it. The head Klansman started to speak, only to be drowned out by a large procession of cymbal-bashing, drum-beating, horn-blaring and shouting counter protesters who marched onto the City Hall parking lot. They drowned out the KKK speakers.

There was no physical confrontation. There were no fights. No violence. Indeed, the Amarillo Police Department, the Potter County Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety were out in force to ensure a peaceful outcome … although they couldn’t guarantee a quiet one.

I’ll stand by my previous posts in asserting that the “white nationalists” who gathered in Charlottesville were the provocateurs. They instigated the violence merely showing up. Then to have someone mow down counter protesters with his motor vehicle? I believe I would call that a terrorist act.

We well might have witnessed a horrifying symptom of a deteriorating national mood.

I never want to see anything like that again, let alone up close.

Not so fast, Mr. Manager

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Amarillo City Council members have put the brakes on a search for a city manager.

This is an interesting — but I’m not yet sure it’s a necessary — development in the rebuilding of the city’s top administrative infrastructure.

Interim City Manager Terry Childers came on board after Jarrett Atkinson resigned a job he held for about six years. Childers then got entangled in an embarrassing kerfuffle involving the city’s emergency communications center. He apologized for bullying a dispatcher over an incident involving a misplaced briefcase.

Then the search commenced.

Why the delay … now?

Mayor Paul Harpole said the city has a lot of big projects in the works that require some administrative continuity.

He noted that the city has a potential bond election coming to seek voter approval on a number of big construction projects; plus, the city is in the midst of negotiations to bring a AA baseball franchise top play hardball in the to-be-built downtown ballpark; and … the city is enacting a series of administrative overhauls within the police department.

Childers is leaving his footprint on City Hall. He’s selected an interim police chief, Ed Drain, to succeed former Chief Robert Taylor, who recently retired.

As an outsider sitting in back row of the peanut gallery, though, I wonder about the status of the individuals the city has examined for the city manager’s post. The delay in hiring a permanent manager could take as long as a year. Do the individuals already looked at hang around, waiting for the phone call from City Hall?

My initial concerns about Childers centered on that silly exchange over the briefcase. He blundered and blustered his way into local headlines over that tempest and, to my mind, it seemed appropriate for the council to proceed with all deliberate speed in finding a permanent city manager.

I’m guessing the waters have calmed a bit at City Hall. If that’s the case, then the council is moving with all deliberate prudence in this search.

However, if the interim manager is here temporarily, then the council needs to get on with the search for someone who’ll take his or her post permanently.

Seeing some symmetry between SCOTUS and APD chief picks

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Am I hallucinating, or do I see a certain symmetry between two appointments: one at the highest level of government, the other right here at home on the High Plains of Texas?

One of them deserves the opportunity to do his duties as an elected public official. The other one also has earned the right to perform his duty as an appointed one.

Amarillo interim City Manager Terry Childers has selected Ed Drain to be the city’s interim chief of police; Drain is set to succeed retiring Police Chief Robert Taylor on July 1.

There might be a point of contention, though. You see, Childers won’t be city manager for very long. The City Council already has begun looking for a permanent city manager and Childers has declared his intention to retire completely from public life.

The council, though, has given Childers all the authority that the city manager’s position holds. Childers can hire — and fire — senior city administrators. He also is able to enact municipal policy changes when and where he sees fit. What the heck? He was able to bring changes to the city’s emergency communications center because he misplaced his briefcase at an Amarillo hotel, right?

Now, for the other example.

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President Barack Obama has named Merrick Garland to a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The voters delivered the president all the power he needs to do his duty when they re-elected him to his second and final term in 2012.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate, though, have said: Hold on a minute! The president’s a lame duck. We don’t want him appointing the next justice. We want the next president to do it. They, of course, are hoping that Donald J. Trump takes the oath next January. Good luck with that.

Here’s the question: Should the city manager be allowed to appoint the permanent chief of police, or should the council demand that the decision be left to the permanent city manager?

My own take is this: I’ve railed heavily against the GOP’s obstructing Obama’s ability to do his job. Republicans are wrong to play politics with this process and they are exhibiting a shameless disregard for the authority the president is able to exercise. The president is in the office until next Jan. 20 and he deserves the opportunity to fulfill all of his presidential responsibilities.

Accordingly, the Amarillo city manager will be on the job until the City Council hires someone else and that permanent manager takes over.

Thus, Terry Childers ought to be able to make the call — if the right person emerges quickly — on who should lead the police department … even if he won’t be around to supervise the new chief.

Interim police chief gets a leg up

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Amarillo has a new interim police chief, who’ll assume his new post on July 1, when Police Chief Robert Taylor retires, climbs aboard his Harley and hits the road.

I join many others in wishing Chief Taylor well and thank him for his 36 years of law enforcement service to the community.

Back to the interim chief selection. The new top cop is Ed Drain, currently on the staff of the Plano Police Department. He got the job after being appointed by the city’s interim city manager, Terry Childers.

The city manager made an interesting statement after he chose Drain to take over as police chief. The question dealt with why Childers went outside the department to find an interim chief. He thought it would be best if he leveled the playing field for all Amarillo PD applicants who might want to seek the police chief’s job.

That’s fine. It levels the field for all the in-house applicants. Ed Drain, though, has a leg up on getting the permanent job if he seeks it, too.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/32265897/interim-police-chief-named-for-apd

I’m a bit curious as to why the need to go outside the department in the first place.

The last time Amarillo brought in an outsider to run its police department was in the early 1980s, when the late City Manager John Stiff hired Oklahoman Jerry Neal to lead APD.

I wasn’t here in 1981 when Neal got the police chief job, but I’ve heard all about the circumstance he inherited when he came aboard. He took command of a dysfunctional police agency. It wasn’t working.

The police department needed a progressive leader and Stiff found one in Jerry Neal.

Is the Amarillo Police Department in a similar state of disarray now? Hardly. It is working well. Hey, the city witnessed a police department handle a potentially explosive hostage situation just a few days ago with supreme professionalism.

I’m going to presume that the interim chief understands the dynamics that drive a police department such as the one that serves Amarillo. As Drain told NewsChannel 10: “My goal here is to analyze the things that are going on in the department and any areas where I think there needs to be improvement,”  Drain said. “Some of those obviously I’m not going to get done as an interim, but you heard the city manager say incremental improvement, so I want to do that.”

I don’t intend to get ahead of the game here. The new chief is an interim pick, after all. However, his hiring is beginning to look like a done deal.

It makes me wonder: Do we really need a fresh approach to the police department, which I believe is running pretty well?

Crisis averted at Amarillo supermarket

Imagine this conversation at the home of an Amarillo police officer.

“How did your day go?”

“Oh, we got a call this morning. We scrambled some units to a Walmart. We found a guy inside with a hostage. So we shot him. He’s dead.”

Sure, the questioner probably didn’t need to ask. But the event that occurred this morning at the Canyon Expressway and Georgia Street illustrates the tenuous nature of police work.

It ended with the death of a disgruntled Walmart employee who apparently had a beef with a store manager.

Police have identified the hostage-taker as Mohammed Moghaddam, a Somali immigrant. They secured the area immediately after the incident concluded. Traffic returned quickly to normal around the area.

What happened, though, is extraordinary in this important respect: It came only two days after the nation was stunned to hear about the massacre at the Orlando, Fla., nightclub where 49 people were gunned down before police killed the shooter.

Americans from coast to coast were put on edge as the news out of central Florida began to sink in and as we all begin to process what happened.

There’s some relief — if that’s the correct word — in the knowledge that what happened at the Walmart was the result of a readily identifiable motive. It doesn’t lessen the anxiety that the police suffered as they sought to end this crisis. Nor does it make light of the grief being felt by the family of the man who was shot to death.

I do, though, rest more easily this afternoon in the knowledge that our community has averted something far more terrible.

I thank the professionalism shown by our law enforcement agencies responding to an imminently dangerous event.

Once more about the call center …

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It remains my hope that the Amarillo Police Department, the fire department and medical emergency services officials will spell out in detail what problems existed with the way the city’s central dispatch center was doing its job.

Interim City Manager Terry Childers’ 911 call the other day has resulted in changes to the way the call center works. The city now has assigned police officers and firefighters to work inside the call center alongside the personnel who answer calls requesting help.

Childers said the dispatcher with whom he spoke when he reported the “theft” of a briefcase at a local hotel was “uncourteous.” I’m not sure about that. I’ve listened to the recording and the dispatcher sounded cool, calm and professional.

But the changes brought immediately after the interim manager’s experience seem to suggest that something was wrong with the call center.

If so, what in the world was wrong? Can’t we get an accounting from the folks who run our police, fire and medical emergency departments on those problems? How systemic were they? Did calls go unanswered? Did anyone die as a result?

And if there were problems all along, why didn’t the city act before now?

Meanwhile, we’re left to wonder how it was that a senior city administrator would get so upset with an emergency dispatcher who he said didn’t respond appropriately — on a call involving a missing briefcase!

Some details would be welcome.

 

Changes come to 911 call center

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Amarillo put a lot of effort — and money — into modernizing and streamlining its emergency services response center.

City officials touted it as more efficient and customer-friendly. The city remodeled and outfitted an existing downtown office complex and then launched the center that combines police, fire and medical services calls.

Then the city’s interim city manager, Terry Childers, placed a call to the center the other day to report a stolen brief case from the hotel where he was staying after returning to Amarillo on a flight from Dallas. The dispatcher responded according to a set protocol that requires her to ask a set of questions. Childers became agitated and told the dispatcher that she didn’t “know who she is dealing with”; he made that assertion even after introducing himself to the dispatcher as the city manager, which the dispatcher seemed to understand clearly.

The city has initiated some changes in the dispatch center operations. It now assigns police officers and firefighters to help oversee phone center operations. It’s no longer a civilian-only operation.

This is all fine.

But I’m wondering: Was there a serious concern among the community about response times? Has the problem — if one existed — been festering since the call center opened? Or are these changes the result of a single phone call by one highly placed individual?

I’ve listened to the audio recording of Childers’ phone call. To my ears, it sounded as though the dispatcher acted with cool professionalism. I understand that the police did arrive in a timely fashion, although I’m not sure that the cops “shut down” the hotel to search for Childers’ missing brief case, as Childers had demanded.

I hope for all the world that we aren’t witnessing an abuse of authority.

Perhaps the city should conduct a thorough public airing of the complaints and concerns that allegedly have arisen from the new dispatch center. Is there a record of gripes from citizens? If there is, do those complaints rise to a level that compels a change in the way the city responds to these emergencies?

Let’s hear it. All of it.

 

Honeymoon might be over

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Amarillo’s honeymoon with its interim city manager might have hit a rocky stretch of road.

City Manager Terry Childers placed a call to the city’s central dispatch center to report an alleged theft of his briefcase. The dispatcher who took the call sought to follow a protocol that all dispatchers are required to follow. She asked Childers a series of questions: phone number, location, etc. The city manager, though, became agitated at having to answer those questions and demanded that the city send several police officers immediately to the hotel from where he was calling.

https://soundcloud.com/johnstevens-99466989/terry-childers-911

The recorded conversation is contained in the link attached to this blog post.

Perhaps the most troubling element of the conversation that Childers had with the dispatcher was when he told her “I don’t think you’re aware of who you’re dealing with.” The inference clearly was, “I am the city manager and you will do what I demand … or else.”

The dispatcher told Childers she would send someone as soon as possible. Childers said that wasn’t good enough and he said he intended to “shut down” the hotel and search it from top to bottom until he found his briefcase.

I guess my question is this: Would any “ordinary citizen” be allowed to make such demands on public emergency services personnel?

I think not.

As I listened to the recording, the dispatcher appeared to be doing her job by the book.

I am willing to give both sides the benefit of the doubt, but I do believe some explanation is in order.

 

Ready for citizens panel to monitor Amarillo PD?

Let’s go carefully on the notion of setting up a citizens advisory panel to monitor the activities of the Amarillo Police Department.

The issue came up this week in a public hearing. Some residents have complained that the police department has committed acts of “brutality,” mostly against minorities and poor residents.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/29558538/police-brutality-claims-stem-oversight-committee-proposal

Let’s hear the examples, chapter and verse.

The allegations leveled at the police department contain some tough language. The very word “brutality” connotes something quite a bit more severe than an arresting officer twisting a suspects arm a bit too aggressively while slapping on the handcuffs.

I don’t object to a citizens panel being selected to review cases of alleged brutality when they occur. But you’ve got to be careful in selecting individuals to serve on this panel. They need to be as impartial and fair in their assessment as, say, someone selected for a trial jury. There cannot be any predisposition of bias either for or against law enforcement officers.

First things first. There needs to be a compelling need for such a panel to exist. So far, I haven’t heard it.

Randall County Criminal District Attorney James Farren — himself a former police officer — noted that the system already has a “checks and balances” provision built in. He said he’s prosecuted only four police officers during his more than two decades as district attorney. OK, fine. That might be the result of grand juries’ reluctance to indict officers.

This topic has been broached once again.

Let’s talk about it. Carefully and with great care.