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Breaking Rank – Review

by: Stamper, Norm

Publisher: Nation Books

Copyright: 2005

Cover: Maria E. Torres

Type: Hardcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 11/28/2005

Summary: Excellent discourse on law enforcement. Also see review for Paul LaRosa’s TACOMA CONFIDENTIAL.

During the week of October 31, 2005, France experienced some of the worst riots it has had since the 1960s. As the French are wont to do, they will designate this riotous period in history with some descriptive name signifying the uniqueness and import of French “civilization”. In fact, they already have. Buried beneath the title, barely registering as a detail, will be the fact that the French abandoned the concept of “community policing” and went back to a bureaucratic, centralized administration system of policing about a year before the riots started. Is that detail important?

Norm Stamper is the former Police Chief of the Seattle Police Department. He spent thirty-four years of his life as a policeman on the West Coast-first in San Diego, California and then in Seattle, Washington. You get drawn into this book from the opening pages. Stamper gives us an open letter to Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, who shot and killed his wife on April 26, 2003. Brame then killed himself. As you begin to read Stamper’s open letter, it is exactly what you would expect. It is a textbook example on domestic violence counseling. But gradually, the sixteen page letter becomes a personal statement. You quickly realize that whatever direction Stamper goes from this point in the book, there is no turning back. He doesn’t. BREAKING RANK is about people. The people are men and women who elect to wear a uniform and serve as law enforcers.

There is a degree of honesty and frankness here you are unlikely to find in other works by high level law enforcement officials. If nothing else, BREAKING RANK sketches the boundaries of responsibility-responsibility for your own actions and responsibility for what you contribute to community, and what you leave as a legacy for others. The message is very subtle, but persistent. Stamper achieves a rare equilibrium between self-criticism and self-promotion. It is one reason you keep reading. Despite the extensive detours into sweeping recommendations on how to run a police department-a subject which may or may not be of primary interest-BREAKING RANK presents policing, and the men and women who do the job, within the context of being people.

A lot of what Stamper says is controversial. Legalized prostitution and decriminalization of drug use does not go over big with law-makers or law enforcers. He also raises both sides of some issues which may not go over well with anyone. In Chapter 13, titled “The Police Image: Sometimes a Gun is Just a Gun”, he boils the issue of police community relations down to PR (public relations) policing versus law enforcement policing. He maintains that it was the PR policing policies of the “new ‘professional class’”in federal law enforcement agencies which contributed to September 11, 2001. The point he makes, rather obliquely but legitimately, is that law enforcement is about enforcing the law, not walking the middle-line of relating to the pubic.

He drives the point home later in Chapter 21, titled “A Dark Take on Financial Liability”. He posits the supposition that if Rodney King had been “immediately shot dead by a bullet from a police service weapon” upon exiting his car instead of being video taped by George

Holliday, there would not have been a Los Angeles riot and all the other fallout. This “what if” scenario rings chillingly true. But Stamper flushes out the alternative sequence of events to demonstrate the “pecuniary” versus moral divide in law enforcement. His discussion of money and law enforcement is one of the best in the book.

This book is a break from the customary self-serving “I was law enforcement” volumes making it into print. Stamper does not blame “the suits” for his shortcomings as a cop, nor does he extol his exploits as examples of heroic, legendary deeds. After all, he became one of the “suits” and he made it to retirement apparently pretty much whole. He keeps the focus on the humanity of the job-from “Demilitarizing the Police” to “Up with Labor (Not so Fast, Police Unions)”. BREAKING RANK is definitely worth reading.




Amerithrax – Review

by: Graysmith, Robert

Publisher: Jove Books (Berkley Publishing Group)

Copyright: 2004

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 11/3/2005

Summary: Recommended reading. Excellent general source of information on the threat of anthrax as a terrorist weapon.

Of all the information gleamed from Robert Graysmith’s AMERITHRAX, the most surprising is learning the amount of biological kill-agents stockpiled by research and military organizations around the world. In America, between 1949 and 1969, “239 simulated biological weapons tests [were conducted] in urban areas using ‘relatively’ harmless bacteria” in search of an effective biological weapons delivery system. At one point, in the 1980s, the Stopnogorsk Scientific Experimental and Production Base in the former Soviet Union was producing nearly five tons of anthrax a year. In South Africa, the apartheid regime had a research program called “Project Coast” which, among its activities of stockpiling anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola, Marburg, and human immunodeficiency virus, spent time looking for a “blacks-only infertility virus”. In Iraq, in 1985, Saddam Husein began a crash biological weapons program. Iraq acquired “thirty-six strains of ten different pathogens from ATTC [the American Type Culture Collection in Maryland] for thirty-five dollars”.

And then there is the U. S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland. If barren rocks are the most ample physical manifestation in the universe, human life is the most perniciously predacious. The USAMRIID is proof.

The United States formally renounced the use of lethal biological agents and weapons in November 1969 when President Richard Nixon signed an executive order. The Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention treaty went into force in 1975. Biological weapons were bad and banned.

AMERITHRAX seems to have been hurriedly put together. It is a smorgasbord of biological-weapons information. There are some tantalizing statements and a couple of surprises in addition to those already mentioned. The tantalizing statement is a passing reference to a combined law enforcement and scientists exercise conducted in New York in 1996. Graysmith makes a passing comment that the exercise resulted in some “bad feelings” between the scientist and military personnel who participated. Graysmith writes nothing else about it. There were a number of biological-attack studies conducted after the exercise. Papers were written. Estimates given. (It is safe to say that all of this committee-type activity is still going on five years after the anthrax terrorist incident).

In September 2001, almost a month before the first anthrax letter was mailed to the America Media Incorporated (AMI) building in Boca Raton, Florida, Defense Research and Development Canada (DRDC) produced a classified paper demonstrating “how a single anthrax letter with slits in its envelope could poison the mail system and kill swiftly through the air once opened.” Graysmith inundates the reader with this auxiliary information of studies, reports, Presidential Directives, and biological weapons development while tossing out bon-bons on the results of the FBI investigation into the identity of the anthrax-terrorist murder. The auxiliary information is excellent, the reports from the FBI investigation are-, in a word, quaint. The more criminal aspect of the book, rather than who mailed the anthrax, is why it took the postal system so long to shut down the Brentwood postal facility. Postal facility management knew the Brentwood plant was infected with anthrax on October 18, 2001, but did not shut it down until October 21, 2001. What difference does three days make?

In an engrossing chapter, “Anthrax Cow”, Graysmith provides an illustrative example of what anthrax is and how it achieves its “life purpose”. Most biological pathogens do not “purposefully” go about the task of destroying their host. Anthrax appears to be a distinct exception to the rule. Once it infects a host, the host dies, the anthrax spores seep back into the soil from which they came, waiting as long as seventy years for another host to amble along. It is a rather frightening scenario. If only weapons developers could find a way to perfect a delivery system, anthrax could be a formidable terror weapon. Just the thought that there are people who would develop such a weapon is already terror enough. It would be a formidable terror weapon if they could develop it. It ain’t for lack of trying, that’s for sure. Scientist in the former Soviet Union thought they had found it. Why else manufacture 5 tons of the stuff a year. Of course they ended up burying it on an island which, as common sense would tell you, is now a biological toxic garden of evil. (Graysmith discusses the anthrax and island in a chapter appropriately title, “Anthrax Island”).

Graysmith’s AMERITHRAX presents an adept demonstration of how complex systems tend to drift toward chaos. The “systems” in this instance are the regulatory control agencies watching over dangerous and deadly substances. One would think, based upon no information in particular and the general assumption that there are organizations, and management within organizations–for instance, the U. S. Postal service–who are actually charged with guarding public safety. Well, amazingly, there are such entities. However, they seem to patrol their turf with two left feet and a press release dangling from every other appendage, extolling their vigilance and the need for more money.

As for the AMERITRAX murderer, Graysmith merely explains why there has been, to date, only one “person of interest” who has received search-and-seize attention. The author does a very good job of expanding upon what the FBI has said-or not said-about their “person of interest”. A very strong case of innuendo and inference. No facts. It is highly likely that the person who mailed those anthrax laced envelops in October 2001 will never be caught-unless he, she or they does it again or comes clean and confesses. Regarding the FBI profile of the mailer, Graysmith quotes a former FBI profliler, who says the “profile” is a vaporous and is of no help.

If you are looking for a who-did-it, AMERITHRAX offer a bit too much to help you focus. If you are looking for a definitive work on the general world of biological weapons, this is the book.



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