Encouraging signs from Todd Spitzer

Steven Greenhut: Over the years, I’ve been pretty tough on Orange County Supervisor-elect Todd Spitzer because of his closeness to the public safety unions and support for retroactive pension increases that put the county in a financial bind. I was surprised when county GOP leaders, such as Scott Baugh, backed Spitzer as he sought a return to the board. Spitzer has insisted that he is a new man and wants to promote reforms as he heads back to the board. I take the “trust but verify” approach — but a column by Spitzer in the OC Register certainly is encouraging.

Spitzer harshly criticizes the law enforcement unions and lawyers who tried to set up Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer. Righeimer, a pension reformer who has taken on the police unions, was subject to a despicable tactic by union operatives. He went to a pub after a community meeting and a private eye who had worked for a union law firm called in a false police report — claiming inaccurately that Righeimer was drunk and weaving all over the road as he drove home. The Costa Mesa cops came to Righeimer’s door after he arrived home and demanded that he take a sobriety test.

Righeimer held a press conference with other elected officials who have been subjected to similar Mafia-esque tactics by the police unions who have abused their authority to take down political opponents. Wrote Spitzer:

“Righeimer has been elevated beyond his wildest dreams. He shouldn’t complain about being followed. He should send the union’s law firm and investigator (now both fired in the aftermath of being caught) a big “Thank You” and a big kiss. By going after Righeimer they not only did not discredit him, but their target of him proved that his message is so powerful and persuasive to the general public that they felt that they had no choice but to silence him. It proved that he is the most powerful messenger about public employee abuses in Orange County and California today.

“For generations, plenty of minority, inner-city youth have been falsely arrested and accused. Society’s tolerance for police misconduct has been very high since the unspoken rationale has been that it makes our streets and communities safer (‘Well, they probably committed other crimes that they never got caught for’). Other countries imprison their political enemies to silence their voices.

“The Righeimer 911 call just didn’t cross the thin blue line; it erased it. Given all the events facing police in Orange County calling into question police officers’ credibility, in concert with the pension issues, the line may never be able to be redrawn. Someday, when we get beyond these events, we will be able to evaluate whether this is a good or bad thing for our county.”

This is an important article, given that it comes from someone closely associated with the police unions. I doubt those unions, or their dirtbag consiglieres, will get the message. They are so deeply enmeshed in their insulated world, where they protect and serve the union and treat the public with disdain.

In my column in today’s Register on the same topic, I quote former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara: “It’s a pretty dark side of American policing, and I have personally been a victim of this twisted cop behavior when I was police chief.” This “gangster cop” mentality, he said, becomes more prevalent during salary negotiations.

And I conclude: “It’s one thing for elected officials to be ‘taken out’ at the ballot box. But quite another thing for them to be harassed, intimidated and set up on false charges as union operatives, sometimes acting under the color of authority, try to silence them.”

It’s time for the public to demand accountability when police behave like mobsters. Perhaps Spitzer’s words will give other union supporters the courage to speak out at such outrageous transgressions.

SEPT. 2, 2012

Tags assigned to this article:
Costa MesaJim RigheimerScott BaughSteven Greenhut

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