City council is scheduled to vote today on a very important issue for the community – not many will notice and the majority will not understand the issue. I’ve written numerous times about the issue of DIMS. Most individuals have gotten tired of the debate and many feel it’s only a problem for the criminals that are arrested. However, to me, the issue is about ensuring that citizens are protected from the abuse of authority. I believe Martin Niemoller’s poem best exemplifies this issue. Remember the lines “first they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist… then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew and then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me”?
Item 3.2, “That the Mayor be authorized to sign an Interlocal Government Agreement between the City of El Paso and the County of El Paso/District Attorney’s Office, 34th Judicial District of the State of Texas, for services that City and its Police Department relating to arrests and prosecutions of criminal cases in connection with the District Attorney’s Information Management System (DIMS) program from September 1, 2014 through August 31, 2015…” will cost the city taxpayers $238,665.28. Adding in the county’s portion brings the total cost to the taxpayer to $769,888.00.
The presentation, to the city, will likely focus on the cost savings to the taxpayers and the efficiency for the police department. This obfuscates the underlying problem with DIMS and makes it palatable to the community. Let me illustrate to you why DIMS is an issue for me.
Let’s say you are pulled for extra inspection at the airport security line. The TSA agent sees a plastic sandwich baggie with a “white powdery substance” in it. The TSA agent calls the local police and hands over the baggie to the police officers. The police officers ask you what is in the baggie and you tell them the truth, “laundry detergent”. After conducting two field tests, the police officers determine that the substance is “cocaine”, although you know it is “laundry detergent”.
At this point the process of arrest diverges into two processes, the one in El Paso, under DIMS, and the one US citizens expect under the Constitution. Under the Constitution a balance of power system would have you being placed under arrest by the police officers. However the police officers would then have to make their case before a distinct uninterested party – the magistrate that is expected to give you an opportunity to tell him or her it is “laundry detergent”. If the magistrate finds probable cause to arrest you they then set a bond for you to ensure you are available for court. If the magistrate does not find probable cause you are then released.
Under DIMS, the process normally goes like this. When the officer feels they need to arrest you they call a prosecutor and relays the details of the case to them. The prosecutor then decides whether there is probable cause to arrest you. If the prosecutor finds probable cause they then tell the officer how to write the report and tells them what your bond will be. Keep in mind that in US jurisprudence the system is an adversarial one where the police and prosecutors act in concert to take your freedom away. The counter to that is your attorney that looks to keep you out of jail. A judge, a third, independent and uninterested party in the outcome of your arrest, is supposed to ensure fairness and make the final ruling on your case, sometimes with a jury and other times without one.
The initial magistrate is supposed to ensure that your arrest is warranted. Although under DIMS you are eventually brought before a magistrate it could be days later because a bond has already been set and the system seems to give you the opportunity to bond out of jail in preparation for your defense.
However, the arrest itself is punitive in nature. An arrest not only deprives you of liberty and freedom it becomes a scarlet letter you carry on you for the rest of your life. If you don’t believe me look at the last application for employment you filled out and look for the line where it asks have you ever been arrested before. Answering yes immediately puts you at a disadvantage when competing for a job.
More importantly is that however short the time you spend in jail for laundry detergent it nonetheless deprived you of the right to liberty and freedom from government oppression. DIMS is designed to bypass a basic right to arrestees in the name of expediency and savings to the taxpayers but at what cost to the rights to freedom and the pursuit of liberty?
The scenario I presented to you here is based on an actual case. The case of Mark Bittakis, who spent eleven days in jail because of the incompetence of two El Paso police officers who did not properly administer the field test that showed laundry detergent as cocaine. The police incompetence was exasperated by DIMS that took Bittakis’ right to challenge the arrest before an uninterested third party who would take the police version of what happened and balance it with what Bittakis’ version of what the substance was.
Whether the magistrate would have found probable cause is immaterial. The very basic right that everyone assumes they have was taken away from Mark Bittakis. He spent eleven days in jail for the “crime” of having laundry detergent in a baggie at the airport.
Unfortunately little if any comment on the dangers of DIMS will be had today because no one wants to have a serious discussion about it. Think this could not affect you personally? Take a moment to think about the numerous cases of El Paso Police Department misconduct in the last few years and the overall loss of trust in the police across the nation. Ferguson is the latest example of police mistrust in the community. As you think about this ask yourself this question; who will be left to speak up for you when they come to arrest you?