“No Cost” License Plate Readers Are Turning Texas Police into Mobile Debt Collectors and Data Miners

“Vigilant Solutions, one of the country’s largest brokers of vehicle surveillance technology, is offering a hell of a deal to law enforcement agencies in Texas: a whole suite of automated license plate reader (ALPR) equipment and access to the company’s massive databases and analytical tools—and it won’t cost the agency a dime.” | click here for Electronic Frontier Foundation article.

AJ Editorial is Bad Opinion Based on Fabrication

Wednesday the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal carried an editorial founded in false reporting, reinforced by fraudulent quotes and bolstered by bad opinion.

In an op-ed piece that was more appropriate to the advertising section, the paper promoted Vigilant Solutions, a company that has devised a license plate recognition system. Their device will read and track license plates as a police officer drives down the street. If a plate owner owes outstanding fines to the city the officer is alerted and can stop the offender and offer to run his credit card on the spot to pay the fines. If the driver has no credit card the officer can choose to haul the citizen to jail for not paying a parking ticket.

Vigilant calls it their "warrant redemption system."

The city of Kyle never implemented the program. The quote from the police chief was a complete fabrication.

The result is to turn law enforcement into the city’s debt collection agency. Vigilant Solutions provides the equipment and charges 25% of the amount collected plus processing fees. 

The AJ, acting as a shill for Vigilant Solutions, advocates the idea saying “it has an appeal.”

The advertisement-parading-as-an-editorial cited the city of Kyle as an example saying it “is now using the warrant redemption program.”

The AJ editorial even quoted Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett saying “the program frees up more time for his officers to handle other police matters.”

The Sandstorm Scholar did a little fact checking and discovered none of the above is true.

First, according to Kyle Assistant City Manager James Earp, the city of Kyle never implemented the program. The city council initially approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to explore the idea. The council later voted unanimously to kill it more than two weeks prior to the AJ editorial. The AJ report was false.

This wasn't a mistake; it was a made-up story to fit a preconceived conclusion.

Further, the quote from the police chief, which can reasonably be inferred to be a quote given the AJ, was a complete fabrication. Police Chief Jeff Barnett told the Sandstorm Scholar he had not talked with anyone from the Avalanche-Journal.

Chief Barnett added that he had seen reports in the media that implied his department had implemented the program but that he had never said that to any media outlet.

“One misconception that I heard that was out there in some media was that we had already accepted the software and had already begun implementation. That is not true at all,” said Chief Barnett.

The Kyle story was not a distortion, it was a lie. This wasn't a mistake; it was a made-up story to fit a preconceived conclusion.

We contacted the AJ’s editorial board. Publisher Brandon Hughes was out of town so we talked with another member of the board. He claimed the editorial was based on information contained in a Texas Tribune article which the AJ had run last month.

LPD Chief Greg Stevens: "That's a terrible idea."

So the AJ’s facts and opinions derive from a left-leaning, factually questionable, online publication.

If it can get worse, it is the opinion that came from the errant editorial. Like almost any other big-government scheme that comes along the AJ editorial board liked the idea of turning the police into a collection agency. “…as long as they are doing it in addition to enforcing criminal and traffic laws and keeping the peace, it sounds reasonable," wrote the AJ. 

We’re left wondering exactly how much spare time the AJ thinks Lubbock police have?

Police Chief Greg StevensLubbock Police Chief Greg Stevens told the Sandstorm Scholar, “I don’t want the police out there collecting any proceeds on the street. That’s a terrible idea. That’s not the business we’re in. We simply serve arrest warrants.”

We agree with the Chief.

The Sandstorm Scholar questions how this editorial advertisement came about? Did it simply come from Vigilant Solutions' lobbyist via the Texas Tribune and blindly picked up by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal? Or has Vigilant Solutions targeted Lubbock and is doing pre-sales work via the editorial page of the AJ? And doesn’t this sound eerily similar to the AJ's support of red light cameras in days past?

Vigilant Solutions is a California company that, according to the website OpenSecrets.org, spent $421,000 on lobbyists at the federal level in 2015. You can be certain they spent that much or more at state and local levels. Most Texas cities, including Lubbock, do not have lobby reporting requirements.

Doesn’t this sound eerily similar to the AJ's support of red light cameras in days past?

Why is this a big deal?

Because there was a time when editorials in the local paper were thoughtfully and carefully prepared. They carried weight. The topics were substantive and they didn't shill for commercial interests. Not coincidentally, that was also a time when its circulation was twice or more what it is now.

Don't mistake what you read in today's AJ editorial pages for something that matters. The editorials and endorsements are sloppy, sometimes based in fiction and make no attempt to reflect Lubbock’s conservative values of limited government and self-reliance.

All in a day’s work at the Lubbock AJ. Is it any wonder we prefer to call it the Daily Nickel?

The rise of American authoritarianism

This article is exhaustively analytical and somewhat editorialized however it is an interesting examination into the rise of the Trump movement. It’s premise is that Trump is the product of a growing Authoritarianism movement inside America and the Republican Party.

If you want something with more depth than Glen Beck’s or Louis C.K.’s accusations that Trump is Hitler then click here for Vox.com article.

Life After the Primaries

Editor's note: Steve Evans will take over as Lubbock County Republcian Chairman in July. His comments are apropos for any party.

The blocks have been walked, mailers sent out, forums attended and hands have been shaken. The votes have been tallied, you have been weighed and measured but you just didn’t have enough. Is there a place for you after a primary?

This author says yes.

The decision to run is a hard one, at least it should be, and campaigning is not for the faint of heart. To properly hold an office you must be a true representative of the people you choose to represent. All too often candidates get in a race for the wrong reasons, for those there may be no life after a primary.

There is a place for the candidates and volunteers whose camapaigns did not receive a majority of the votes.

For the precious few that desire to be real representatives, preparing for a campaign is an arduous process. Many things such as family, careers and long term obligations have to be considered. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that a great deal of prayer and self-reflection should occur before any decision is made to seek an office. For those there is life after a primary.

Some candidates that give their all in a race, only to come up short, have the tendency to walk away never to be seen in the political arena again. Others continue a self-serving cycle of repeated campaigning that will never be beneficial to themselves or anyone else. For the very few that are still called to lead and represent, there is a relentless fire that we hope will guide them to the proper place on the ballot where they can succeed. This is the exception to the rule as far more people fail their campaigns then ever succeed in being the selection of the people.

The volunteers that campaigns bring…are vital new blood for the party.

For those that don’t succeed there is life. There is a place for the candidates and volunteers whose camapaigns did not receive a majority of the votes.

Life after a primary can be hard for the candidate that put their all into a race. It is this type of person that might disappear from the political arena as the thought of losing again would just be too much. Many situations have to be faced. They have to return to work defeated, they have to face their family and friends as someone who couldn’t measure up. The need to return to normal overwhelms the call to stay active in the cruel world of politics; however, it’s this type of person that can contribute so much to a political party.

Relationships and connections, made during the fast paced networking that is campaigning, are the very strengths necessary for a successful party. The volunteers that campaigns bring to the primary process are vital new blood for the party.

Fighting for a better tomorrow doesn't always mean holding an office.

I implore you, don’t fall back into the politically non-existent life you had before running. Stay active and contribute to the party. For those passionate about making a difference, it starts with boots on the ground and the tremendous experience gained during your campaign could pay dividends to others down the road.

Fighting for a better tomorrow doesn’t always require holding an office, sometimes it means helping others attain their goals. For the chosen few who have the courage to continue, there is life after a primary.

There’s something odd about Donald Trump’s Facebook page

“Donald Trump is running for president, and whatever you think of his chances of picking up votes, few candidates trump The Donald on social media.

“Yet there’s something strange about a lot of his online fans. Only 42% of Trump’s 1.7 million followers on Facebook are American, while most come from developing nations including the Philippines, Malaysia, India, South Africa, Indonesia, and Colombia, a Vocativ analysis shows.” | Click here for Business Insider article.

Lubbock County Auditor Office Enjoys Breakfast of Champions

Wander up to the seventh floor of the Lubbock County Courthouse annex some morning and you may encounter the aroma of sausage and eggs and find Lubbock County Auditor office employees enjoying the breakfast of champions.

According to Lubbock County Auditor Jackie Latham the meals are the result of a grateful part-time employee.

“[She] is like a seasonal employee that works for us…She kind of just, you know, just as a 'thank you' for her job and 'I’m glad that I work here and can I help ya’ll out.' And so she stirs up breakfast and kind of makes breakfast burritos on Friday morning for everyone that’s here. And so she kind of just mixes it up [sic],” says Latham.

Latham received a 6.6% "merit" raise last year; the largest in the county.

Sandstorm Scholar asked the Lubbock County Auditor if the employee/chef prepares these breakfasts while on the taxpayer’s time?

“She does,” answered Latham. "It’s possible that some of her time might be spent while she’s on the clock."

Can anyone think of a better way to show your gratitude? Or to endear yourself to your boss?

Latham is quick to point out that while the meal is prepared in the office break room, which is fully equipped with all necessary kitchen appliances, and on county time, the county does not pay for the food.

“I think that…everybody will give two or three dollars maybe. Or, I think some of them have, like, brought some of the food. It’s kind of like a pot luck thing sometimes,” explains the Lubbock County Auditor.

What’s worse than spending money like a drunken county commissioner? Spending it like a judge who has no accountability to the budget.

Indeed County Auditor Latham, who is responsible for reviewing financial procedures for all other departments at the county, can afford to pay for the food. The county auditor, who is hired by the Board of Judges, is the second highest paid Lubbock County employee, making more than any county employee except the medical examiner.

That should not come as a surprise since her salary is set by the Board of Judges also; a group that has no responsibility for balancing the county budget.

What’s worse than spending money like a drunken county commissioner? Spending it like a judge who has no accountability to the budget.

Some elected officials have derogatorily described County Auditor Latham as a "fifth commissioner." The auditor is, occasionally, a fierce watchdog over taxpayer money. That seems particularly true if a proposed expenditure does not benefit her. In last summer's budget meetings, commissioners suggested making a much needed contribution to the employee Health Savings Accounts. Latham, who chooses not to participate in the county health insurance, responded, “Are you going to cut me a check for that same amount since I'm not on the county insurance?"

We're surprised she didn't say, "Let them eat breakfast."

We're surprised she didn't say, "Let them eat breakfast."

Don't you love selfless public servants? We note that while county employees did not receive the HSA contribution, and received a mere 1.97% cost of living raise, Latham received a 6.6% "merit" raise last year; the largest in the county. In real numbers that was an increase from $119,084.94 to $127,000.

But let’s not exaggerate her importance: while apparently more valuable than almost every county elected official or employee, the county auditor does not, of course, make more money than the judges.

We don’t judge Latham too harshly. Some people are just, well, special.

And, after all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.