By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The trick is in laying it all out on a table side by side--the press release with stuff taken out, the press release with stuff back in and the DEA report minus page four. What emerges is a picture of two things: 1) the issues found by the DEA, and 2) the issues the DPD has been seeking to keep out of the public eye.
Follow the money.
Even with page four missing, I can see some of what the DEA was telling the police department about its accounting practices. In the redacted press release, a section called "Guidelines for Informant Payments" says only that the DEA recommendation is "protected information."
Not confidential or secret or withheld for police security reasons. Not exempt or sensitive. Just "protected," as in protecting their you-know-what.
The recommendation had nothing to do with any inside police information about investigative techniques. Instead, according to the report when I finally got my hands on it, the DEA was telling the DPD it needed to establish a firm system of permissions, sign-offs, authority and audit trails for cash taken out of the department and handed to street sources.
The DEA also tells the DPD in the report that "the largest single payment to any confidential informant" should be no more than $20,000. The DEA goes on to say the DPD should adopt a guideline that says, "The maximum sum paid to any confidential informant in any calendar year is $20,000."
The DEA recommends that the DPD adopt a formal amendment to its procedures manual stating that only the management persons authorized to sign off on payments can sign off on those payments: You can't claim the boss was out of the office, in other words, and then go shop for another signature or scratch something on the page yourself and say you can't remember who signed it.
Think about this. Think of a situation where you work, in which there was a cash drawer from which you could take amounts over $20,000, and the money was basically uncounted. I can see why the DPD would not want a lot of press scrutiny of its accounting practices.
In fact, I can see why no one anywhere at City Hall would welcome that focus. Robert W. Reynolds, a CPA who is basically being hounded out of his job with the city auditor's department, has talked to me in the past about the city's habit of not counting its money ("The Emperor's Checkbook," November 21, 2002). Reynolds points out that if you put a large pile of cash in front of people and then demonstrate over time it will not be counted, it will be stolen. Count on it.
The DEA report provides other keen insights, especially concerning corroboration of evidence. More on that soon.
By the way, I was not the only person pushing for this report, and I may not have been the most effective in forcing it out. I learned late in the game that Councilwoman Dr. Elba Garcia had also been looking for it.
She said on the phone: "I remember, Jim, the first time during one of the press conferences we had, you asked the chief if he had any information about the DEA that he had not revealed, and his answer was, 'Not that I can think of.'
"And I said, 'Wait a minute.' My brain started clicking at that point." Garcia, who remembered a briefing to the city council by former Chief Bolton on the DEA report, asked Acting Chief Randy Hampton to provide her with a copy. What she got initially was a version with major portions crossed out--apparently yet another edition that I haven't seen yet. Busy, busy, busy over there at the cop shop, getting ready for Christmas with the scissors and the Marks-a-Lots.
Garcia didn't give me a lot of particulars on what happened after that, but I suspect it was her inquiry that led to City Attorney Johnson's personal review, not mine.
Whatever it takes.
And by the way: I am quite confident at the moment of this writing that the full DEA report still has not found its way to the city's fake-drugs panel. Can't tell you why I know that. But the panel will soon ask for it.
So for now, guess what I want for Christmas? You think it's page four, right? No way. What I want to find under the tree is page four with certain paragraphs tragically eaten out of it by moths. Oh, that would make for such a joyous holiday season at my house. Jingle, jingle!