Pubdate: Tue, 11 Mar 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Andy Stiny


Forest Service Is Under Fire After Release of Memos

SANTA FE - Last month's controversial drug sweep at Taos Ski Valley 
was the result of U.S. Forest Service officers trying to make an 
annual quota for citations, contends a federal worker advocacy group 
that released two memos from the Forest Service on Monday.

In one memo, issued last November, a U.S. Forest Service official 
says the national leader of the agency's law enforcement operation 
expected each officer to issue at least 100 citations a year - and 
that less than a third in the Southwest region had met that goal.

Then three days after the Journal reported that Forest Service agents 
conducted the drug sweep on Feb. 22, which resulted in tickets for a 
number of minor violations including marijuana possession and traffic 
infractions, another memo came out.

This one, from the Forest Service's deputy director for law 
enforcement and investigations and dated March 4, said supervisors 
should make sure "no quotas are being developed" and that while 
officers' performance measurements should be "meaningful," they 
shouldn't include ticket quotas or "'expectations' that can be 
construed as quotas."

The memos were released by Public Employees for Environmental 
Responsibility, a Washington, D.C.-based whistle-blower protection 
group for federal workers.

"Forest Service rangers are whipsawed by contradictory orders from an 
apparently clueless leadership," PEER's executive Jeff Ruch said. 
"The director demands a quota; his deputy says no."

"The larger message from what we can tell, is this is one of the most 
screwed up organizations we have ever encountered," Ruch said.

A Forest Service spokesman declined to comment until he could discuss 
the memos and allegations with Forest Service officials.

The Feb. 22 drug sweep in the parking lot of Taos Ski Valley drew 
sharp criticism from the ski area's management, skiers and former 
Gov. Gary Johnson, a ski valley resident and libertarian advocate for 
drug legalization.

Robin Poague, of the Forest Service's Albuquerque office and special 
agent in charge for the agency's Southwestern Region, has said he was 
not pleased with the "tone" the operation presented to the public, 
was not sure who authorized it out of the Albuquerque office and said 
there would be an inquiry.

Memo to captains

Aban Lucero, regional patrol commander for Forest Service law 
enforcement in Albuquerque, sent the November memo that seemed to set 
a 100-ticket annual quota to Forest Service patrol captains.

Lucero wrote that David Farrell, the Forest Service's national 
director of law enforcement and investigations, "has clearly 
indicated his expectations of LEOs (law enforcement officers) issuing 
a minimum number of 100 VNs (violation notices) per year." Lucero 
added, "As you can see we have approximately 70 percent (of officers) 
who fall below that number."

"Please take a look at the numbers and share with your LEOs. You know 
better than I do if there is reason for concern," Lucero's memo said. 
He did not return a call for comment.

The Journal's article on the Taos Ski Valley drug sweep was published 
on March 1. On March 4, Tracy S. Perry, the Forest Service's national 
deputy director for law enforcement, issued a memo about implementing 
performance plans and measures for officers.

"To ensure there is no confusion," Perry wrote, supervisors should 
ensure no quotas are developed and that "we should all be consistent 
in our messaging" that ticket quotas are not appropriate.

PEER is currently conducting a 2014 survey sent to 750 Forest Service 
law enforcement officers and support staff nationwide. "A number of 
them used the essay (part) to complain about the quotas - distorting 
how their time is spent or how their performance is measured," said 
Ruch. "They believe quotas exist."

Some of the critics cite the Taos raid as a "by-product of citation 
quota pressure," said a PEER statement provided by Ruch. "We believe 
Mr. Perry's memo was a way to dampen down further negative coverage 
and we regard it as a cover-your-ass memo and we have seen that 
before," Ruch added.

Mark Chavez, a Forest Service spokesman in Albuquerque, said he 
needed to speak with Forest Service law enforcement officials before 
he could comment on the quota issue.

Rio Arriba complaints

A Rio Arriba County citizens group also has complained recently about 
Forest Service police actions.

The El Rito Citizens Caucus sent a letter Jan. 22 to U.S. Department 
of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who oversees the Forest 
Service, complaining about "Gestapo intimidation tactics" by the 
Forest Service against the people who live on land grants and in 
other parts of northern Mexico, citing arrests for violations such as 
DWI, lack of car insurance or registration and similar violations.

The letter said Forest Service agents can't legally enforce state law 
without a commission from a sheriff. Rio Arriba Sheriff Tommy Rodella 
has declined to commission the federal agents.

Mark Chavez, a Forest Service spokesman in Albuquerque, said in a 
prepared statement that Forest Service agents can in fact issue 
federal violation notices to enforce state law on Forest Service 
lands and roads, but also said the Forest Service "does not issue 
citations for violations of state law unless its law enforcement 
officers are deputized to do so."

"The violation notices recently issued by the Forest Service at the 
Taos Ski Valley for alleged motor vehicle violations were all federal 
violation notices," Chavez added.

Chavez said he hadn't seen the letter from the Citizens Caucus.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom