The police force in Troy, New York, has introduced a new initiative aimed at reducing thefts from parked cars – permitting officers to enter your vehicle in the event it is unlocked, and locking the doors for you.
Via the Troy Record:
With a recent spike in thefts from parked cars, the Troy Police Department is looking to roll out some preventive measures it thinks will not only reduce the amount of thefts but also make some residents more aware of what they’re leaving in their cars.
In this effort, if a police officer does notice a valuable item laying out in plain view in a parked car, the officer will then check its plate numbers, and if the address comes back locally, the officer will go to the registered owner’s place of residence and leave a blue card in the entrance way of the building. If the car does not belong to a local address, the officer will then leave the card on its windshield.
If a car is found to be unlocked, according to Police Chief John Tedesco, the officer will lock the vehicle.
Tedesco said the plan was developed over the last several months and has been approved by Mayor Lou Rosamilia.
No word on whether the officers will fill up your gas tank if your fuel level becomes too low, reducing the number of disabled vehicles on city streets, or if they will actually drive people around town in an effort to reduce car accidents as well.
Honestly, we were disappointed that a police officer didn’t personally type up this blog post in an effort to reduce carpal tunnel.
There is a basic comparison here that should immediately identify this action as flat-wrong. Would any police force in America ever, ever, allow their officers to enter a home if the doors were unlocked, so they could lock them in an effort to deter theft? A vehicle is private property, and quite frankly people have a right to defend and protect it – even from the well-intentioned police force.
There are clearly defined problems with this new initiative other than common sense, however:
- It allows a police officer into your vehicle and creates a slippery slope on what he/she can look around for. For that matter, what exactly can be defined as valuable? Does every car with a GPS on the dashboard now contain a ‘valuable’ item, opening it up for police scrutiny? A custom car stereo?
- It essentially puts a sign on one’s vehicle that says “Hey, there are valuable items in here.” So if a would-be criminal wasn’t thinking about taking any action, he/she will certainly be tempted now that they know the vehicle has an iPod inside.
- If something has already been stolen from the vehicle by the time an officer arrives, or if it is stolen after the officer places a blue card on the windshield, you’ve just provided the criminal with reasonable doubt if he/she is charged. At that point, you have two people who may have been in the car against the owner’s wishes – the thief, and the officer – creating a problem in investigating who may have committed the crime. The criminal may now claim that perhaps it was the officer who stole the item, and it causes a headache for the officer who may have to prove he didn’t touch anything.
What, exactly, are they trying to accomplish? Do they think that theives won’t just find something else to steal instead? If cars are locked and they don’t want to risk breaking a window, will they try door knobs instead? Won’t that be riskier for the public? What will they do then – start a door knob checking program?
She adds, “…the ‘unintended consequences’ can be problematic.”
Normally here, we are of the belief that if you’re not doing anything illegal, then you have nothing to worry about. But the police initiative in Troy is foolish, and quite possibly illegal itself.
In an e-mail conversation with a friend who specializes in Criminal Law, the issue of whether or not this policy is legal was addressed. He broke it down into two parts, one explaining why looking into a vehicle in a public space is justified, and another explaining that once the door is opened the action constitutes an illegal search under the 4th Amendment.
The issue is two-fold. Observing items within plain sight albeit within the vehicle is legitimate only if the cop has the right to be in the place from which he observes. This is why the underlying reason for a traffic stop is so important. In the situation you pose, the cop has the right to be in a public place – a parking lot – and observe the contents of a stationary vehicle.Opening the door, however, changes everything. Opening the door begins a “search” under the 4th Amendment. The cop cannot do that. The inside of a vehicle is personal space the same as if it were your home. The rules are a bit different, but the bottom line is the same – with no evidence of a crime and no owner permission, a vehicle can only be searched with a Warrant.
Thursday’s edition of Inside Politics saw the Times Union getting up to speed on a story first published here last week, in which Troy City Council Democrats censored James Gordon for having the gall to request a review of a morally challenged convicted felon who is actively serving on the council. Kevin McGrath, the councilman who currently serves more as a distraction and embarrassment than a viable public servant, is the man in question.
In the Times Union piece, McGrath once again brushes off valid concerns of the citizens of Troy by saying any attention being focused on him is merely “a smear campaign”.
McGrath is right. The smear campaign has not been conducted by the GOP however, it has been waged by McGrath himself on the City of Troy.
Kevin McGrath’s moral bankrputcy has smeared the City of Troy.
When he ran for public office despite being ‘concerned’ about his history of substance abuse and ‘the fact that he is a convicted felon‘, he smeared the City of Troy.
The City of Troy and the judge in the voter fraud trial were smeared when McGrath’s testimony involved cracking a joke about his lack of drug-peddling business savvy – a comment that forced him to apologize to the judge.
The public was once again smeared when details of McGrath’s drug selling prowess were proven false – he was one of 17 arrested for an open-air drug network that operated at a profit of ‘a few million dollars’. It was the arrest that earned him the honor of convicted felon.
The people of the City of Troy, along with the integrity of the entire local election process were smeared when McGrath was presented with a stack of forged absentee ballots that defense attorney Brian Premo alleged were handled by the Councilman himself. While Premo had only made allegations according to the media reports, court transcripts show an exchange in which he asks McGrath if he realizes he “committed crimes in this case”. To which McGrath responds, “I have been told, yes.”
Perhaps the ultimate smear on the City was this – when presented with forged ballots that the defense attorney said were handled by McGrath personally, he blamed the voters for any confusion about his handling of their ballots.
Indeed, McGrath has been a participant in a disgusting smear campaign – his actions have smeared the City of Troy, and its residents are left cleaning up the trail of slime left in his wake.
That said, two points regarding the Times Union piece yesterday:
First – The article states that Lynn Kopka ruled Gordon out of order for personal attacks. The way that it is written would make the reader think that she was accurate in that assessment, which she was not. If citizens are not allowed to cite facts – provable facts at that – when voicing concerns over a sitting Council member, then that is a major problem. Now, any item that Kopka disagrees with can be gaveled out of order as an alleged personal attack.
Second – The last sentence reads in a manner that gives the impression that McGrath would have to have been charged in order for the Council to take action. This too, is false. The charter specifically cites ‘disorderly conduct and malfeasance’ as means to expel a Council member. McGrath may yet face charges for ballots forged on the Conservative and Independent lines. He was shown to have admitted in court that he had committed crimes. He just recently admitted to felony drug charges. If these things do not constitute disorderly conduct, then I am at a loss.
As for James Gordon’s right to free speech having been violated, I have contacted the Council and the Mayor’s office several times since the video of the meeting surfaced, and have yet to receive a response.
Mayor Lou Rosamilia and Council President Lynn Kopka can only hide behind their gavels and closed doors for so long – at some point they have to address the expulsion of Kevin McGrath, or continue dodging questions about an election-rigging, convicted felon in their midst.
I should think the former would be the easiest route.
Democrats in the city of Troy have already proven to have a complete disregard for the cherished right of a citizen to cast their own vote. Now it seems they are hell-bent on stifling another fundamental American right – the right to free speech.
At a City Council meeting on Thursday night, First Amendment rights were ushered out the door when Democrat Council President, Lynn Kopka, refused to listen to an opinion that may have dissented from her own.
On the Troy City Council web page, meetings are described as being open to the public, and that citizens will have a forum “where you can address the Council members and briefly speak your mind on any topic pertinent to city government.”
Kopka herself, sports a “likes Freedom of Speech” update on her own Facebook page.
So when Troy Republican Committee Chairman, James Gordon, took to the podium to discuss a ‘topic pertinent to city government’, there should have been a minimal number of complaints.
And initially, no umbrage was taken. When Gordon started off on an issue in which he actually praised the council – voting against pay raises – nobody spoke up. But when he turned to the topic of a sitting councilman, who recently accepted a plea deal in the voter fraud case, may yet face future voter fraud charges, and admitted to being a convicted felon, things turned dicey.
Gordon had written a letter in which he requested that Councilman Kevin McGrath step down from his public post, in lieu of the recent embarrassing revelations. When he started reading his request to the council, Lynn Kopka took the extraordinary step of trampling on his free speech rights, gavelling him out of order and demanding that he simply hand her the letter.
The letter, seen below, contains nothing out of the ordinary. It gives a clear and concise argument for why McGrath should step down. In the letter, Gordon sites specific testimony between the defense attorney and McGrath:
Question by Premo: “And you said a few minutes ago that you realize you committed crimes in this case. Is that correct?”
Answer by McGrath: “I have been told, yes.”
This candid admission according to Gordon, “is in clear violation of the Troy City Charter due to his “disorderly conduct” as outlined in Article VII, subsection C-31.”
That portion of the charter reads:
The City Council shall determine the rules of its proceedings; may compel the attendance of any regular or regularly called special meeting of Council members absent therefrom; may declare the seat of any Council members inexcusably absent from three successive regular meetings to be vacant; and may expel a Council member for disorderly conduct or misfeasance in office. No seat shall be declared vacant and no Council member shall be expelled until the delinquent Council member has had an opportunity to be heard in his/her own defense.
A taxpaying citizen of the city of Troy making a formal request to remove a council member who is in violation of the city charter seems pertinent to most. Perhaps more importantly, the concerns voiced by James Gordon are all valid concerns of many residents of Troy, as dozens of community members have contacted him personally to find out why McGrath is still allowed to serve. There is a demand for answers here whether Kopka or McGrath want to admit it.
Video of the incident can be seen below, with the relevant portion beginning at 28:33.
As Gordon begins reading his letter, McGrath can be seen sitting to the left of the viewer’s point of view, and is seen motioning to Kopka at 30:26 to cut the speaker off. Kopka dutifully does his bidding, and responds by interrupting Gordon saying, “Jim, I’d like to remind you there’s no personal attacks…” Gordon responds that, “This is a statement of fact, not a personal attack.”
Facts, as they say, are stubborn things. More stubborn however was Kopka’s insistence on cutting Gordon off.
At this point, McGrath himself added insult to injury saying, “It’s a little early for the silly season, Jim.”
After some cross-talk, Gordon asks if he can continue and again assures the Council that there are no personal attacks. One council member is heard asking for Gordon to simply hand over the letter, assuring that the people in attendance would not hear his thoughts and concerns.
Shortly thereafter, Kopka interrupts the speech again with her gavel, and calls the statement “out of order”. Another person is heard saying that he may have crossed legal boundaries, though it is unclear what legal boundaries can be crossed when exercising one’s right to free speech.
Kopka eventually demands the letter from Gordon and turns off his microphone.
Why any of this came as so offensive that it would have to be censored can only be understood by Kopka herself. To the casual observer, there can be only one explanation. Kopka and McGrath do not want the criminal history of a currently serving member and representative of the city as a matter of public record.
At the time of this printing, e-mails to the City Council and Mayor Lou Rosamilia have gone unanswered. Fellow Councilmember Ken Zalewski however, voiced his opinion on Facebook saying, “At last night’s City Council meeting, Troy residents James Gordon and Jim de Seve were prevented from exercising their free speech rights. I disagree strongly with the Council President’s decision to gavel them out of order, and I offered my own thoughts on this subject.”
Last month, we also called on the immediate resignation of Mr. McGrath based on a newly revealed history of felony drug charges, and more importantly his latest role in the voter fraud scandal.
Yet McGrath continues to make light of these incidents, calling Gordon out on initiating the ‘silly season’ for wanting to address them publicly.
McGrath for his part, has a propensity to crack jokes in the midst of very serious matters. During the voter fraud trial, he cracked wise about his inability to turn a profit selling drugs (proven untrue), the same crime for which he had been convicted. While most would have hung their heads in shame, McGrath laughed it off, prompting an apology from the judge in the case.
But the reality here is that the joke is squarely being played on the residents of the city of Troy. This joke is not vaguely amusing, it is a practical joke gone horribly awry – the career of Kevin McGrath.
McGrath’s history is too checkered to ignore. It needs to be addressed by the City Council today. From drug deals, to plea deals, his record is a blight on Troy politics specifically, and New York politics in general.