Posts tagged: ISP
Col. Jerry Russell, director of the Idaho State Police since January of 2007, plans to retire on Jan. 18, Gov. Butch Otter announced today. “I couldn’t have asked for a better director, a better leader or a better example of a true public servant than I’ve had with Jerry Russell,” Otter said. “I regret losing him, but I know that one of his priorities has been establishing and maintaining a strong bench of leaders at ISP who can continue his great work. … I wish him the best in all his future endeavors.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.
The Idaho State Police have announced that a veteran state trooper who was sharply criticized in an Idaho Supreme Court decision issued Friday - for offering false testimony that helped land a North Idaho man a 25-year prison term for murder - has been placed on administrative leave with pay. Here's the ISP's statement:
“With the May 27th announcement of the Idaho Supreme Court's decision in State of Idaho v. Jonathan W. Ellington, the Idaho State Police is fully aware of the significant issues involved with this case. As is standard procedure, the ISP has started an Administrative Investigation into the issues identified by the Idaho Supreme Court. The ISP regards this as a serious matter and fully intends to complete a thorough investigation. The involved employee has been placed on administrative leave with pay, and since this investigation involves a current employee in a personnel matter, the ISP will not be able comment further.”
The unanimous high court decision said, “It is extremely disturbing to this Court that an officer of the law would present false testimony in any case, especially a murder case. In this case, however, it is impossible to believe there was any truth to the testimony of Cpl. Rice. It is abhorrent to this Court, as it would be to any other court, that a man can be sentenced to twenty-five years for second-degree murder based primarily on the false testimony of a trooper of this State.” The court tossed out the conviction and sentence, which stemmed from a road-rage incident, and ordered a new trial.
Robert Mertens is serving a 37-year term in federal prison for drug trafficking, firearms violations and money laundering - he's been behind bars since 2004 - but it's taken until now for all appeals and asset forfeiture proceedings in the case to be completed. As a result, today the Idaho State Police got a check for $456,446, and the Coeur d'Alene Police Department will get one for $18,630.
“The investigation, prosecution and conviction of Robert Mertens was a success on many levels,” said U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy J. Olson. “A drug trafficker who was harming Idahoans was removed from the community and received a lengthy prison sentence; through the financial investigation and forfeiture proceedings he was stripped of his ill-gotten gains, and through today's equitable sharing of the proceeds of the forfeiture, we are able to financially reimburse and reinvigorate our state and local law enforcement partners. I am very proud of the patience and cooperation that all of the involved agencies displayed throughout this process.”
Mertens was convicted of 11 federal counts including conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, distribution of cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute heroin; a federal jury found that from 1995 to 2003, he regularly sold drugs from his Coeur d'Alene business, Northwest Coin & Jewelry, his homes in Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint, and a flea market in Sagle. Among the assets seized in the case were $1.2 million in gold and silver coins and precious metals; those were taken by armored truck to Southern California and auctioned off by federal authorities as part of the asset forfeiture process, drawing interest from collectors around the world.
For the ISP, which is facing a big budget crunch, the long-awaited payment will be enough to replace aging radios for its investigations division; the current system is more than 20 years old. “It'll be extremely helpful,” said Col. Jerry Russell, ISP director. Still awaiting funding: radio replacements for the patrol division, which would cost $2.3 million, and for which there's still no funding source. But Russell said getting the investigations radios is “certainly a good start,” and said, “It couldn't come at a better time.”
Olson and Russell joined officials from the FBI and the IRS at a ceremony today to present the money to ISP. “This is yet another shining example of the quality investigations conducted by joint efforts of local, state, and federal agencies,” Russell said. “Due to the collaboration with our local and federal partners we were able to dismantle a long-term narcotics trafficking organization and make a positive impact to the citizens of these communities.”
Leadfoots beware: The Idaho State Police plans to crack down on aggressive driving, from tailgating to quick lane changes to speeding, in or around trucks on I-90 through North Idaho all week. Sgt. Jim Eavenson of the Idaho State Police said 70 percent of crashes that involve both big trucks and cars are caused by the car. “The problem is, when cars and trucks collide, the cars usually lose,” he said. Many motorists don’t realize that big trucks have blind spots and can’t stop as quickly as cars, he said, so it’s not safe to cut them off or dart in front of them. The ISP’s “Targeting Aggressive Cars and Trucks Program,” or TACT, already has run enforcement pushes in the Boise and Pocatello areas; the Coeur d’Alene area is up this week, through Saturday.
Eavenson said the program has been shown to reduce the number of commercial vehicle crashes in targeted areas in Idaho by more than 30 percent. The trucking industry and safety agencies helped develop the national program. “Our goal is to make the roads safer for everyone,” Eavenson said. “Aggressive drivers, whether they are in a truck or a car, make the roads more dangerous for all of us. This program focuses on those drivers that are making bad decisions and creating an unsafe situation for everyone else.”
The Idaho State Police will begin using an electronic system to issue traffic citations starting July 1, with the result that the process of writing out a citation for a stopped motorist will drop from 5 minutes to less than a minute. “E-Ticketing will bring vast improvements to a process that hasn’t had any major changes in the past 50 years,” said ISP Capt. Eric Dayley, who’s overseeing the statewide project. Troopers will use hand-held bar code scanners to input driver’s license and vehicle registration information, the citation will be printed out and handed to the driver without need for a signature from the driver, and the citation will be transmitted electronically to the computer databases for the courts and ISP.
Dayley said the new system, funded by a $900,000 federal grant last fall, will increase accuracy as well as speeding up the citation process. “This will result in reduced time on the side of the highway for our troopers and the public, which is safer for both.”
Here’s a link to my full story in today’s Spokesman-Review on the joint legislative committee’s decision yesterday to delay shifting gas tax funds away from the state parks department and ISP for another year, until July 1, 2011. The panel’s decision is a recommendation to the Legislature, but the Legislature set the panel up to figure out the answer to how to proceed. Here’s an interesting twist, however: Lawmakers on the panel said they felt they had “breathing room” because of savings at ITD due to bids on contracts coming in millions below expectations; some even mentioned “at least $34 million” in savings. That was the amount, earlier this summer, that federal stimulus project bids had come in below expectations; as of now, the total savings is up to $50 million - but ITD has designated all of that savings to additional stimulus-funded construction projects. One of those, for example, is the closing of the 2-mile, two-lane gap that would have been created on Highway 95 in North Idaho between a new four-lane highway and existing four-lane road.
ITD says stimulus savings can’t be used for department operations - like filling potholes or plowing snow - and they are one-time funds that won’t come back once spent. Also, ITD says it’s having money problems of its own right now - last week, ITD announced an $8.6 million holdback on its own department budget - a 3.4 percent cut - because its revenues are falling short, compared to appropriations.
A correction: Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, actually voted “yes” on Sen. Jim Hammond’s motion at the legislative task force today to delay for one year the shift of gas tax funds away from the state parks department; I thought he said “no,” but it was hard to hear him. That makes the vote on Hammond’s motion unanimous, rather than 7-1. To recap: Here’s what the task force decided today: For BOTH parks and the Idaho State Police, it voted to delay the shift by one year, to July 1, 2011. Further, the task force declared its intent that the parks fund shift be permanently reversed, and that the ISP gas tax funds be replaced with a new dedicated funding source for ISP. Said task force Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, “I wish we had a more concrete answer, but we don’t.”
Lawmakers on the panel said they could afford to put off the decision for a year because the Idaho Transportation Department had such significant savings on highway projects this year from bids coming in lower than expected; and also said they didn’t want to get out ahead of the governor’s transportation funding task force. Interestingly, the move puts off a final decision until after the 2010 election, in which every seat in the Legislature is up for election. Off-road recreation advocate Sandra Mitchell told the panel she supported the one-year delay on the parks shift. “It is a program that has worked admirably for decades,” she said of the longstanding deal to send 3 percent of Idaho’s gas tax proceeds to parks, to account for the gas taxes that are paid by snowmobilers, boaters and other off-road enthusiasts on gas they don’t burn on highways. “We do believe that it is wise to wait - we do that reluctantly,” Mitchell said. “We trust … that you are going to do the right thing, and the right thing is to give us back our gas tax.”
Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, moved that “we make it clear that it is the intent of the committee to find dedicated funding for the Idaho State Police in conjunction with the governor’s task force.” He said, “I think that way it’s clear that we don’t want to go down the path that is going to cause other agencies some real concern, and that is going to the general fund.” Wills said there are many user-fee oriented options, and those are appropriate, but he opposed any change in the split between local law enforcement agencies and ISP on fine revenues. “That’s worked for generations,” he said. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, also spoke against changing that. Wills’ motion passed 7-1, with just Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, objecting. Labrador said he favors possibilities like tapping the sales tax money from transportation-related items, and that comes from the general fund.
Rep. Maxine Bell’s motion to delay the shift of gas tax funding away from the Idaho State Police for a year has passed unanimously, winning the 8-0 support of the joint legislative task force. Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, a retired state trooper, said, “I believe this is absolutely the right path to take. There’s no question that down the road, the revenue stream (from gas taxes) is going to be less. … It gives us an opportunity to look at alternative funding. We need to find alternative funding, there’s no question. … I think this gives us a great opportunity to do that.” Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said she was “intrigued” by the idea of a car insurance surcharge, which, at $1 a month, could raise $19 million a year. “If we’re going to go ahead and delay this, I would like to have us shine some light on that,” she said. “It would be a reasonable source of dedicated funding for ISP.” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, said he thought the split in some crime-related funding sources between local governments and the state also should be examined. Noted Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, “There’s still an immediate need to appropriately fund the state police.”
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, has moved to also delay the funding shift of gas taxes away from the Idaho State Police for a year. “This is an area where we need a revenue stream - we need a dedicated revenue stream,” she said, “and again, we’re treading right into the governor’s task force.” Lawmakers on a special task force could pick a new funding source, she said, but it could clash with what that task force decides to do. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, seconded the motion. “We don’t want to get out in front of the governor’s task force,” he said. Plus, he said, “We know for sure we have $34 million” in savings from ITD contracts coming in lower than expected this year. “We do have some breathing room.”
Rep. Raul Labrador’s motion to add a statement from the joint legislative task force that its intention in delaying implementation for a year on the parks funding shift is to permanently reinstate the 3 percent gas tax diversion for parks, has passed unanimously, 8-0. Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said the statement also should recognize the economic impact of recreation in Idaho’s small communities.
Sen. Jim Hammond’s motion to delay the parks funding shift for a year has passed on a 7-1 vote, with just Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, objecting. Labrador then said he wants language added noting that it’s the panel’s intent to repeal the shift, not just delay it. (Note: Labrador later said he actually voted ‘yes’ on Hammond’s motion, making the vote unanimous; see correction above)
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, said, “I would object to any statement that we’re going to find other funding sources. … I just don’t think we should get into that. All we’re doing is tying the Legislature.” Labrador said he’s not sure if he’ll support Hammond’s motion for a one-year delay on the parks funding shift. “We have all learned that we made a mistake here,” Labrador said. “It seems to me that it makes no sense to wait a year … I think we should just back down, reverse this decision.”
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said he and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, met with Gov. Butch Otter to discuss the parks fund-shift. “The dilemma is that the governor recognizes a significant funding shortage for transportation,” Cameron said. “He had a certain dollar amount he was trying to reach. … He’s caught, he’s stuck. It was a recommendation made by (legislative) leadership.” Cameron said, “His caution to me was, look, I’d be willing to repeal it, provided that you’re going to provide additional funding for our highways.” The governor does recognize, Cameron said, that the state’s highway fund is healthier than expected right now due to savings on contracts this year from bids coming in lower than expected. “I believe he is willing to go along with the potential delay for a year, and he is willing to go along with a repeal … upon finding additional resources for transportation.”
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, has moved to delay by one year the shift of gas taxes away from the state Parks & Rec department. “Actually I would go a step further and say that it makes little sense to me that we are diverting these funds,” he said. Instead, he said, “the better part of valor at this point” would be to wait for the governor’s highway funding task force to do its work and see where this fits in. Before he proposed his motion, Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said she couldn’t see the logic of proposing a pop tax or something else to replace the gas tax funds for parks. “They’re being double taxed - they get to have a tax on the pop they drink while they’re snowmobiling, and they also have a gas tax,” she said. “There really isn’t an alternative funding that is not a double taxation.”
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said she’d support the motion, but would prefer a permanent cancellation of any shift away from parks, rather than the motion’s one-year moratorium. There’s been no voting yet on the motion - or any others.
If the legislative task force today chooses to do nothing about parks funding, on July 1, 2010 the state parks department will lose 10 positions and $4.25 million, including: $1.2 million from the waterways improvement fund; $1.2 million from the off-highway vehicle fund; $1.2 million from the capital improvement fund; $600,000 from the road and bridge account; and $36,000 from the search and rescue account.
The Idaho State Police used to get 6 percent of the state highway user fund revenue, which mainly comes from the gas tax. Then, in 1992 it went to 5.4 percent, and in 2000, it went to 5 percent. Some lawmakers questioned whether perhaps the amount should be increased, but others said there’s no point - it’s going away, and 6 percent of nothing is nothing, noted Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, said a different funding source is needed. “It just was not working with that formula, regardless of the percent,” he said. “We were losing more every year.”
Col. Jerry Russell, chief of the Idaho State Police, told a legislative task force that whatever funding source is identified to replace gas taxes for ISP, “We believe that it should be one that will grow with the state of Idaho.” He noted Utah’s approach, tying the number of state troopers to either the number of vehicle registrations or population. “Implementing an initiative like this would ensure that the Idaho State Police Patrol is aligned with the continuing needs of the people of Idaho, reflecting growth or decline in the base,” he said in a memo submitted to the task force. He then reviewed the potential revenue from an array of possible alternative funding options, from increased vehicle registration fees and a sales tax hike to an auto dealer vehicle sales tax, tire fee, dedicated sales tax on transportation items, surcharge on local and wireless access lines, vehicle insurance surcharge or increases in other fees. A vehicle insurance surcharge, for example, of $1 a month would raise $19.4 million a year for ISP.
Idaho also is losing out on $4.5 million in one-time funds available for highway safety because lawmakers have refused to stiffen the state’s seat belt law, lawmakers were just informed; another $5 million to $6 million because the state hasn’t attained 85 percent seat belt use; another $1 million for not having a primary-offense seat belt law; and $250,000 for not eliminated the nursing-baby exemption from the state’s child safety seat law. That money would have come in this year, and would have been for highway safety improvement.
If Idaho were to follow the lead of Ohio and start charging a $20 late fee for driver’s license renewals and vehicle registration renewals (after a 7-day grace period), it could raise a little over $5 million, legislative budget analyst Keith Bybee just reported to the joint legislative task force, based on the number of Idaho drivers and vehicle owners who typically are late. However, Bybee noted, that amount likely would fall in subsequent years, once people hit with the fee react by changing their behavior and getting things done on time.