Monday, August 09, 2010

9 AUG 10: Safety First?

The Columbus Northern Little League All-Stars are smart enough to tell you - three strikes, and you're out. They occasionally might forget how to count to three after making a double play, yet it didn't stop them over the weekend....

But what happens when a Columbus public safety worker racks up three strikes? We may soon find out, after a firefighter was arrested for a third drunk driving charge. The suspect's name is Patrick Martin -- although I fear other firefighters added an "I" to the last name behind his back.

The Georgia State Patrol claims Patrick Martin was stopped for speeding on Interstate 185. Then a trooper reportedly found an open can of beer and an open bottle of vodka. At least the vodka could have been used for a fire display, the way chefs at Japanese restaurants do it.

WRBL is becoming the "conspiracy theory" station in Columbus, and it found a way to advance one in this case. It noted Patrick Martin's name came up in the recent Columbus Fire/EMT audit - as Battalion Chief Janice Bruner noted he had an earlier conviction for drunk driving. This obviously raises a big question. Did any hardware store ever sell Martin a package of screws?

The earlier drunk driving conviction led to Patrick Martin losing his driver's license for a year. The Fire/EMT audit determined Martin never drove a city vehicle during that suspension. Here's hoping he also never used a fire hose to mix any drinks.

The third DUI arrest has Patrick Martin on suspension without pay, and under Fire/EMT investigation. But am I the only person who's surprised Martin still had a public safety job after two drunk driving convictions? If Martin was a Columbus Police officer.... well, he might be working for the Chattahoochee County Sheriff by now.

The news about Patrick Martin happened to come out as the Columbus Police Department posted its annual report on the city website. Regular blog readers know we've received several e-mails claiming the force is filled with corrupt officers. The report dares to put numbers on that corruption. In Washington, they might count the numbers of "jobs saved" instead.

The police report shows the Office of Professional Standards (gotta love that acronym OOPS) investigated 28 police employees for administrative reasons last year. The final score: 31 out of 39 charges sustained, six employees resigning and five others being terminated - so it's no wonder Stacey Jackson was hired as an attorney by so many Parks Department employees.

The total termination count for 2009 was six sworn police officers (not counting one civilian employee). That's double the 2008 number -- but considering the Columbus Police Department has more than 300 officers, the number is still small. In fact, the percentage of "corrupt cops" still might be lower than what you find among residents at public housing complexes.

So how does Columbus compare with other police departments of a similar size? Our online checking Sunday night found Savannah had five police terminations in 2005 and 2006. Huntsville's Internal Affairs Division handled 91 complaints in 2008, without revealing how many were proven valid. And Montgomery's police reports leave you thinking every officer retires with an untarnished badge.

I'm left with the conclusion Columbus Police may not be any better or worse ethically than other cities. But it seems more up-front with the public, when it comes to admitting problems. In other places, termination numbers might require an Open Records Act request and a team of fire-breathing attorneys.

If all this isn't enough, the Ledger-Enquirer reported over the weekend several law enforcement vehicles received warning citations, for illegally parking near the Government Center. Someone apparently forgot 100 new officers require 100 more parking spaces - unless they're supposed to watch METRA buses during their daily commute.

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E-MAIL UPDATE: We asked Friday for your stories of vacation home break-ins - and that brought this response....

My house was burglarized twice at night in 2002..The first time in the wee hours of the morning with my neighbor watching.He didn't report it until 9AM and then it was to another neighbor. Oh,you said get to know your neighbor..However,don't depend on your neighbor get an alarm system instead.

I heard a man suggest years ago you also should post a "beware of dog" sign outside your house -- even if you don't own a dog. In Georgia, a simple change of spelling to "Dawg" should ease your conscience about posting a lie.

But an e-mail exchange with this writer revealed these were NOT break-ins during a vacation. That's what we're after - home burglaries while you're on out-of-town trips, especially by air. Please let us know if this has happened to you. And no, this is NOT an attempt to start some kind of Virtual Neighborhood Watch.

One other e-mail must be held, until follow-up calls can be made. So let's move on to other weekend headlines:

+ Nathan Deal and Karen Handel held their final debate, before Tuesday's Republican runoff for Georgia Governor. Mike Huckabee came to Georgia, endorsing Deal. Sarah Palin arrives today to endorse Handel. And Roy Barnes may be thinking the only Democrat popular enough to endorse him is Rachel Maddow.

+ First African Baptist Church on Ninth Street marked its 170th anniversary. Pastor Jimmy Elder at First Baptist Church had better be careful - because Michael Weaver might file a lawsuit, demanding he add "Caucasian" to the name.

+ Those Northern All-Stars came from behind to humble Huntsville East 8-7 at the Southeast Regional. After watching the highlights on WTVM, I have two questions. Which Northern player has the Mohawk haircut? And does he really think he can attend school with that cut, after the tournament?

+ Former Carver High School receiver Jarmon Fortson was kicked off the Florida State football team. Fortson broke an undisclosed team rule. You're simply asking for trouble if you call the new head coach Jumbo Fisher, instead of Jimbo.

+ Instant Message to the friends at church who were stunned by a few words I said over the weekend: Really now - I think the phrase "no nothin'" is said in the North as much as the South.

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