Hickenlooper vs. Chickenlooper
By Jordan Smith,
3:27PM, Fri. Apr. 13, 2007
According to the Colorado-based group Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation – the folks behind a handful of successful pot-alcohol equalization initiatives across the country (including one at UT) that seek to bring parity to punishments related to the casual use of each substance – the number of adults arrested for minor pot possession in Denver has actually increased, even though municipal voters there approved (by 54%) a SAFER-backed initiative in 2005 that essentially decriminalized private possession/use of minor amounts of pot by adults within the city limits. To wit: In 2005, the year the measure passed, nonfelony pot arrests totaled about 2,200; in 2006, that number swelled to approximately 2,500. “The Denver Police Dept. has done the exact opposite of what the voters demanded and has gone out of its way to arrest even more adults than ever before,” SAFER Director Mason Tvert said in this week’s NORML news e-mail. “Perhaps even more disturbing is the lack of interest among Denver’s elected officials – particularly our mayor – in supporting the people who elected them.”
While DPD officials told the Rocky Mountain News that all arrests have increased since the department has undertaken a so-called “broken windows” approach to law enforcement – that is, in part, directing efforts at enforcement of more minor, nuisance and/or quality-of-life crimes, under the theory that this leads to a decrease in more serious crimes (a generally successful approach most famously credited to a decrease in crime in New York City). As such, Denver police concluded, it is no surprise, or any big whoop, that enforcement of minor pot violations has also increased. While that may be true, it doesn’t answer the main question, which is why the cops are enforcing a crime that voters determined shouldn’t be a police priority? In short, it seems the DPD is suffering from a major case of passive-aggressiveness.
That leaves city officials who are in a position to remind police administrators that the voters have spoken – whether they agree or not. But that, says Tvert, ain’t happening. In fact, it appears that city leaders – or, specifically, that Mayor John Hickenlooper, is instead employing a strategy of self-righteousness combined with the ever-winning, ignore-it-and-it-will-disappear approach. (And we all know how well that works, right? Credit card bills? What bills? Awesome.) Unfortunately for the 'Looper, this hasn’t made the issue disappear – if anything, Hickenlooper’s approach may be making life more difficult, especially as he roams the city this spring talking with voters as part of his mayoral re-election campaign effort. In fact, Tvert and SAFER have been dogging Hickenlooper for a few years now, with the help of one of the greatest tools ever: irony. That’s right, sweet, sweet irony. You see, as it happens, outside of his life at City Hall, Hickenlooper owns the well-known Wynkoop Brewing Company. He makes beer, for cryin’ out loud, the very substance that SAFER argues is actually more harmful – both physically and psychologically – than pot.
Although Tvert says that Hickenlooper has generally dodged any and all questions regarding his opposition to the voter-approved initiative, last week he finally offered up a single reason for his opposition to the booze-pot equalization measure: Unlike booze, pot is still illegal under state law. And since it is illegal, he explained, he is unable to support the measure and, more importantly, is unable to direct police to ignore any pot possession violation.
While it is true that pot is illegal, it is also equally true that individual communities every day determine local priorities, including, importantly, priorities related to law enforcement and policing – it’s called discretion, and without it, we’d all be screwed. (For example, should we believe that Hickenlooper has never gotten out of anything – say, for example, a traffic citation or parking ticket? That he’s never seen or been the beneficiary of any form of police discretion?) Indeed, says Tvert, Denver officials have publicly renounced enforcing certain provisions of state law – including a statute requiring local police to fingerprint and photograph anyone stopped for driving under the influence. Last fall, Denver officials said they would not and could not enforce that state DUI law because to do so would strain police resources, Tvert recalled.
Now, alas, it appears that Hickenlooper has committed himself to his sad and, frankly, embarrassing position on the equalization initiative. Of course, this has offered SAFER countless opportunities to act as a thorn in his side – most recently, by following him around the city as he campaigns for re-election, with one of their ranks dressed in a big, yellow chicken suit. They call him Chickenlooper and he’s really on the mayor’s ass. All Chickenlooper and the SAFER folks want, it seems, is an honest answer to an honest question: Why are you ignoring voter will? But Hickenlooper, it seems, is incapable of providing any real answer. Indeed, ‘Looper campaign manager Lynea Hansen last week only added to the heaping mounds of irony, when she told the RMN that the ever-present Chickenlooper won’t keep the mayor from attending his mayoral town hall meetings because, she said, “The mayor has a lot of policy issues he wants to discuss with people and questions that they have that he wants to be able to answer.” Wait, the mayor wants to answer questions? Perfect! I know a chicken that has one.