Friday, May 30, 2008

Musings: A Common Enemy

The sky was dark, with clouds squeezing all the color out of the sky, save for a streak of red in the northeast and a wedge of moon shining white-gold in a small circle of clear directly overhead, when Koko and I went alking this morning.

We headed mauka, toward a mass of black relieved by patches of jagged gray that obliterated all the interior mountains, where surely it was raining. I thought some might reach us, with clouds swirling in from all directions, but save for a brief burst when we’d already returned home, none fell and the sky gradually grew lighter.

I had a talk yesterday with someone who shed a bit of light on responses from the police chief and Tom Iannucci, chairman of the police commission, that were printed in the local paper following a commentary written by Juan Wilson.

This source, whom I know to be a credible person with deep, and sometimes adversarial, connections to the police department, said that Chief Perry didn’t actually pen the piece that carried his name. Instead, it was most likely written by Deputy Chief Mark Begley.

While Katy Rose, in a letter published in today’s Garden Island, objects to the sarcastic and disrespectful tone of the responses from Iannucci and Perry, it seems there was a reason why that particular approach was taken.

Contrary to what some in the community may believe, the chief’s overriding concern at the moment is not the purchase of Tasers or what type of vehicles officers should drive, but unifying a badly fractured department into a cohesive whole.

My source estimated that at least 20 percent of a KPD officer’s time is spent accusing other officers of misconduct or defending oneself against such allegations. Meanwhile, the three divisions that are supposed to work together in unity — Investigative, Patrol and Vice — “despise each other.”

“So what’s the best way to unite people who hate each other? Create a common enemy,” my source said. “Of course, it could also be done through love, but that’s not going to happen, because we’re talking about the police. So now you have Investigative, Patrol and Vice all screaming ‘F*** Juan Wilson’ in unity.”

Certainly Katy’s right that it’s best for public officials to avoid derision and disrespect, even when responding to derisive and disrespectful communications from the public. But sometimes there’s more going on than what’s visible on the surface.

I personally do not want to see the Kauai cops armed with Tasers, especially if there is no policy that makes their use consistent with the model for deadly force — in other words, don’t pull your Taser in a situation where you couldn’t pull your gun. And that means no misdemeanors, or escaping misdemeanors, which account for about 90 percent of KPD’s case load.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that Tasers are only a very small issue in this very troubled police department. The bigger problems, as I see them, are rooting out bad cops and getting KPD to function at all.

So let’s step back a minute and put things in perspective. Chief Perry has been on the job just seven months. According to my source, before the chief was even hired, he was vetted by the FBI, whose public corruption unit was working to weed out some of the bad guys at KPD.

The chief’s first official act was to get rid of the FBI’s “two most wanted” guys on the force — cops that former Chief K.C. Lum wouldn’t touch, and to take on “some known brutality and corruption cases” within the department. [Update: Just to clarify, the two cops in question technically resigned in a "you can't fire me, I quit" scenario.]

Frankly, when you’re dealing with stuff like this, while also trying to implement an Internal Affairs division, learn the ropes and politics of a small town department and improve coordination with the Prosecutor’s office so that cases can successfully come to trial — all while watching your back — a person grumbling about the wording of the mission statement and suggesting the cops switch to electrical carts comes across like a flea to be shaken off.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t expect respectful dialogue with police officials, hold the chief accountable for serious reforms or offer thoughtful comments and solutions for the issues that concern us. And I'm certainly not saying Begley's strategy was the best one, even if it does prove effective.

But if we want to advance any of our own agendas, let’s just make sure we’ve got our priorities straight when we engage the KPD.


Katy said...

Thanks, Joan, for offering information that we can use to deepen our analysis of the KPD.

Perhaps if they are so busy fixing things up in the department, there might have been a better use of their time than snarling at a citizen.

I understand that it could be a tactic to unify the police forces around a common "enemy," but isn't this choice in itself a cause for alarm?

This post will give me much food for thought while I work today- thanks again.

Andy Parx said...

And that’s how they unify the department? With Machiavellian distractions? A bombing the Reichstag?

I hadn’t heard the fact of the two cops who were fired. I’d like to know more. If they were that should be public information.

But the question is whether this is the way to unite the department- around defending their abuses and ridiculing anyone who wants to point out the emperor has no clothes?

The factionalism in KPD has been going on since before statehood. It was structured originally around the Hawaiian-Japanese Democrat-Republican rifts but has evolved to where the feuding factions are still there but no one remembers why they started feuding.

Now they’re using the factionalism to say that the honest and corrupt cops have to co-exist?

You don’t root out corruption by postponing the day of reckoning in the name of unity. All you do is tell the good cops that you are asking them to come together with the crooked ones. That’s how this situation got to be the way it is- suborning abuses of power

This response makes the situation all the worse- that it was actually planned and intended doesn’t say much for those involved. What are they uniting behind- a “screw the public” attitude?

I can hear politicians- even those who are minimally politically astute- reaming out Tom and Darryl- and now Mark- for making a molehill of Juan’s column- which was a one day story (if people even read it buried in the paper as it always is)- into mountain of headline news playing out every day in the paper and blogs.

I’m more worried than ever if this is what the KPD leadership thinks is proper- sacrificing all “community relations” for a juvenile “enemy of my enemy is my friend” temporary gambit?

Good thing there’s a community relations specialist in this year’s budget- maybe they’ll get an education- yeah, that’ll solve everything

Anonymous said...

I was at the first Superferry demonstration and I worried for the law enforcement officers who were being taunted by some of the dumba--es in the crowd. The police officers kept their cool, which is more than I would have done if some idiot started taunting me in the same way.

Does KPD have personnel problems? Ain't no doubt about that. But let's give Chief Perry a chance.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Joan for functionin here as our island's "fourth estate." The Fourth Estate is the press, which give all the facts in appropriate context, in order to keep government power in check. Today's post is a perfect example, in how it has provided important facts and has framed the KPD issue in a way that enables us as citizens to function more effectively. God knows we wouldn't get it from the daily rag.

Anonymous said...

It's as good a conspiracy theory from an unnamed source with "adversarial, connections to the police" as any other.

Anonymous said...

And this excuses Ianucci's response as well? Moving forward is always harder in the mud. The response from the 'officials' can hardly be described as trust building and professional. Leadership, to be effective, needs to rise above this.

Anonymous said...

It's as good a conspiracy theory from an unnamed source with "adversarial, connections to the police" as any other.

Does that mean your comment has no credibility since it was posted anonymously?

Anonymous said...

wasn't begly in court a few years back claiming he had brain damage?

Joan Conrow said...

Good catch. He lost his lawsuit at trial.

Anonymous said...

"Does that mean your comment has no credibility since it was posted anonymously?"

If my anonymous comment had made a factual claim it would have no credibility. If I said something like, "Chief Perry didn’t actually pen the piece" and "it was most likely written by Deputy Chief Mark Begley" then my anonymous comment would have no credibility.

Anonymous said...


You're not quite clear here. Did your source actually tell you that he/she knew this was a specific plan to unite the force against a common enemy? Or was your source doing something more along the lines of thinking out loud or speculating or expressing opinion? It's a critical distinction, especially since at least one corner of the blogoshpere is interpreting you to mean the source claimed to know for certain that this was a conspiracy.

Anonymous said...

I doubt the "common enemy" ploy would work. It's probably bogus, or as the previous anonymous (no relation) suggested, thinking out loud.

The next day it would simply be infighting as usual. There's no action to be taken against this common enemy, so there's nothing that would unite a divided organization.

Anonymous said...

How did this fear mongering, militaristic, born-again Karate Christian Iannucci get in a position of power in our community?? God help us!

Anonymous said...

Requirements listed for new KPD recruits: GED certificate. No diploma, No special training. Just roll out of Kapaa High, get your GED and here's your Taser.

Lotsaluck,, Perry.

Joan Conrow said...

And what corner of the blogosphere would that be, Charley? I haven't seen anyone making the assertion that "the source claimed to know for certain that this was a conspiracy." Indeed, the only person who has made a reference to a conspiracy theory is anonymous, who doesn't think my anonymous source is credible.

Anonymous said...

It's time to confess.

I am anonymous.

My credibility is zero. I remain anonymous, I tell everyone, because I don't have the authority to speak.

It works, you see me quoted everywhere. So although I am not credible, journalists everywhere rely on me. I'm the most quoted source by far. It's tough making up all those quotes for all those famous journalists and pundits, but somebody's got to do it.

I thrive not only in the blogosphere, but in the New York Times also.

This increases my credibility I'm sure. Doubles and triples it each day. You are supposed to trust me. Public opinion is guided by me. What I say is passed on in families, in churches, everywhere!!!! Listen up when I speak.

Besides, if things keep going the way they are in this country, only anonymous will have the ability to speak. The rest of you will have been rounded up and only I will be left.

Anonymous said...

Do you trust the standards that Conrow sets for herself as a journalist to report reliable information, albeit from ANONYMOUS sources? No? Then find a journalist you do trust.

This is precisely why the reputation and credibility of a journalist is of utmost importance.

Anonymous said...


I'm referring to Andy's post about your post. He's concluding that you said, "the letters were intentionally written and submitted to the paper to lift morale and unite the police force against Juan Wilson..."

You didn't actually say that. But you do sort of imply it. That's what I mean by my question:

Did your source actually tell you that he/she knew this was a specific plan to unite the force against a common enemy? Or was your source doing something more along the lines of thinking out loud or speculating or expressing opinion?

Joan Conrow said...

You're right, Charley, I didn't actually say that.

btw, I'm getting a little worried about your fixation with Andy Parx. Have you considered therapy?

Anonymous said...

can you put all the weather stuff at the end of each post?

Anonymous said...

That's a fascinating non-answer, Joan. You're insinuating that a source indicated to you the "reason why that particular approach was taken" was to unite the KPD against Juan Wilson. But you're not saying your source actually told you as much.

As for Andy, what can I say? He's hot. Actually though, I've only keyed off things he's written twice this month. I've keyed off Garden Island pieces like every other day. Maybe my unhealthy fixation is with the newspaper. Actually, my unhealthy fixation is with whatever is interesting on Kauai. Sometimes that includes the local blogs.

Joan Conrow said...

I'm not insinuating anything. The post is very clear. I reported exactly what my source said.

Anonymous said...

So your source never did actually tell you that he/she knew this was a specific plan to unite the force against a common enemy.

You seem to be taking liberties with the source's claims when you say, "there was a reason why that particular approach was taken." It sounds like you're leaping to a conclusion.

It would be warranted if your source said, "here's what happened. These guys got together and decided to unite the force against a common enemy." But your source apparently never said that.

Now people are saying that you've uncovered an actual plot by the police to unify internal opinion against Juan Wilson. But nothing you've written actually supports that conclusion - not in a journalistic sense anyway.

Joan Conrow said...

No, I'm not taking any liberties with my source's claims, nor am I jumping to any conclusions.

I am amused, however, by your very linear way of thinking.

Anonymous said...

So you are saying your source meant that he or she does know for a fact that the letters were a concerted effort specifically to unite the KPD against Juan Wilson? I don't understand why you don't just be clear about it. If you have some reason to leap from what your source actually says to your conclusion, why not spell it out for us?

Anonymous said...

If by "linear thinking" you mean asking for clarification then, yes, I would call myself guilty. It seems a reckless leap for a journalist to go from what you report your source actually said to the assumption that the source means that the letters were in fact a concerted effort to unite the force against Juan. One would generally expect to see a journalist dig a little deeper and ask maybe, like, "so, do you mean to say you know for a fact this is what happened?"

Joan Conrow said...

I love seeing you work yourself into a tizzy, Charley.

Anonymous said...

Forgive my denseness, but I'm more confused now than I was before about what you intend the reader to take away from your piece. You seem to want us to come away with the knowledge that the letters were planned and intended to allign internal department opinion against Juan. But the facts you present don't lead to that conclusion. Of course you are free to tell your readers to lump it if they are not willing to take the leap of faith with you, but if I see a logical disconnect in need of some gap-filling, maybe other of your readers do also.

Joan Conrow said...

Wait, aren't you the self-described "intrepid citizen journalist chasing down empty rumors?" Then why, pray tell, do you keep coming back to me? Shouldn't you be broadening your investigation a little?

Anonymous said...

I guess because I am working from the assumption that a writer wants to be clear and understood, and I don't understand why a writer would play cat and mouse and hide the ball with readers. Besides, the question of what you mean for the reader to take from your writing is a question that only you can answer.

Your source doesn't say anything that indicates the source knows or has reason to believe the letters were a concerted plot to focus departmental ire on Juan.

Maybe my mistake is thinking you want the reader to think the source means to indicate it was a concerted plan. I can't tell from your post and from your dancing around questions about your meaning what you want us to believe. I guess the logical conclusion at this point is there's no reason to think it was a plan because nobody so far has said it was.

Katy said...

When I read Joan's post, I came to the conclusion that her source is someone who is close to the department, privvy to the water-cooler gossip and the history of department squabbles, and was making a fairly educated guess about the underlying motives of recent public statements issuing from the department.

This person's analysis, whether or not it is based on incontrovertible evidence, gives us an insider's glimpse, albeit opinionated, into the psychology of the KPD which most of us otherwise wouldn't have.

I took Joan's post at face value. I assumed that it was a report of one person's thoughts - not something on the scale of the 9/11 commission report.

As such, it helps me understand the whole picture better, just as Perry's and Ianucci's statements to the press do.

Not all "theories" are "conspiracy theories" in the pejorative sense.

Joan Conrow said...

It's not "readers" I'm toying with, Charley, but you.

Joan Conrow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joan Conrow said...

I had to delete the last post because it was a duplicate and I didn't want you to think I was rubbing it in, Charley.

Andy Parx said...

Charley- I’ll bet you’d love to get Bob Dylan on your little witness stand to ask him if he was advocating dancing beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free or describing it or recounting an experience- and what exactly were you doing with the other hand Mr. Dylan... or should I say Mr. ZIMMERMAN.

A report is what it is, characterized as it is. If you want more information do some of your own leg work. Or wait for us to do it for you tomorrow or the next day. It’s quite possible that a report is the best information available, reported in a way that there are no mis- characterizations. That might not satisfy you but when there’s eggs in the fridge it’s eggs for breakfast unless you go out and get your Wheaties.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind if you rub it in, Joan. I certainly don't it personally. But not answering questions about how reasonable it is to go along with your thesis has an impact on readers other than just me. The questions are left hanging out there and other readers are left to contemplate them on their own. And that's fine with me if it's fine with you. I think being unwilling or unable to address the questions is itself somewhat revealing.

Katy, I couldn't tell from the piece whether the source was privvy to the water-cooler gossip, or was an outsider with a grudge but no actual knowledge who "wouldn't be surprised" or "wouldn't put it past" the cops IF that's what they were up to, or someone who was a fly on the wall or even participated as the nefarious plan was hatched. How do you decide what amount of "expertise" or "in the know" to ascribe to the source? It seems any assumption at all is necessarily arbitrary.

Katy said...

Alright then.

Let's get back to the important discussion: what do WE as community members think the police department should or shouldn't do?

Joan Conrow said...

Thank you, Katy. Let's please do recall the gist of this post, which is what are our police priorities as a community, and how do they jibe with the priorities at KPD?

As for Charley, it's fascinating how you keep commenting on the impact this is having on other readers. No one but you has asked questions about the post, in which I thought it was quite clear that the source was someone with actual access to first-hand information, as opposed to someone like, say, you, who is speculating from the outside.

My unwillingness to address your questions in the way you demand to have them answered is revealing only of my disdain for you, as I made clear on your Planet Snipe.

Anonymous said...


That's a fascinating take - the journalist's factual claims can no more be questioned than the poet's poem or the songwriter's song or the abstract painter's painting. It is what it is.

Are you saying then that the piece is open to whatever interpretation the reader brings to it? That would explain how you get from it that "the letters were intentionally written and submitted to the paper to lift morale and unite the police force against Juan Wilson" - because neither Joan nor her source said that.

Would it be just as valid for another reader to say as Katy did that the source had water cooler privvy and was reporting a sort of gossip that while it might or might not be literally true reveals a certain psychology?

And would it be valid for yet another reader to assert that there is no source and the whole thing is made up from scratch?

Are all interpretations equally valid? Is yours more valid than Katy's or a reader who dismisses the whole tale out of hand?

Anonymous said...

"Distain." Wow. Seems a little harsh for asking for a clarification, but okay. I'm not actually demanding you answer in any particular way. I'm just pointing out that it doesn't follow from what your source says that there was some sort of plot. I just asked if there was any information that bridges that gap. I don't see asking questions as a sign of disrespect.

Joan Conrow said...

Charley, First, it's disdain, not distain. And those feelings stem not from your asking questions, but a number of factors.

That aside, I wrote the post carefully, to convey what was told to me without revealing the source. If I go deeper, it could jeopardize the source.

If it doesn't add up to you, well, I guess then it doesn't add up for you. You have my permission to interpret it any way you want, disregard it totally or attempt on your own to confirm or deny the information that was presented.

Katy said...

Charlie, your questions have a place, but right now they are just serving as a distraction to an important community conversation about policing.

Are you ready to let go of this now, or maybe go real deep with it over on your blog?

As for the rest of us, I think it's important not to let these kinds of discussions slide so far into the minutae that we forget where we're headed.

Again, let's get back to the important topic here, which is NOT the quality of Joan's journalism, but is in fact the question on policing on Kaua'i and elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate you words, Katy. I do, however, disagree (haha. Of course). When these things are discussed - when an important community conversation takes place, a narrative is constructed. And the narrative is built up with the different bits and pieces and claims and posts and comments, etc. In my opinion, it IS important to challenge or clarify the bits and pieces as they come into the narrative. The narrative is made up of the minutae. I'm not challenging or otherwise commenting on the quality of Joan's journalism. I'm challenging, or questioning, the bit that she is trying to build into the narrative.

Joan Conrow said...


To use your words, no, my source never used the terms "conspiracy" or "specific plan," which is why I didn't report that and why I wouldn't confirm it when you phrased it as such.

But my source did speak to intention, which is what I thought I conveyed in the post.

Will this satisfy you, finally? Otherwise, I'm going to have to ask my attorney to object on the grounds of badgering the witness or question asked and answered.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I'm asking: Is your source in a position to know whether the letters were a specific plan to unite the force against Juan? If so, is your source saying that it was in fact a plan to unite the force against Juan?

Anonymous said...

...because if your source isn't saying it was a specific plan, then I don't understand what there is to get excited about. And I gather from your previous comment that you are not saying your source says it was a specific plan.

Your source did not say it was a specific plan. Got it.

So, then, Andy is incorrect when he says "the letters were intentionally written and submitted to the paper to lift morale and unite the police force against Juan Wilson..."

Your source never said the letters were intentionally written and submitted to untite the police against Juan, and so we should not take from what you've written that you meant to imply that they were.

I guess that's what you're telling me. That is what I take from this exchange.

But then you and I were saying exactly the same thing all along.