Is Anyone In The Criminal Justice System Doing Their F*cking Job?

by Travis Mateer

Most of the people I write critically about are decent people, like Jacob Coolidge, a municipal judge who used to volunteer for my Homeless Outreach Program many years ago. Back then Coolidge was a grad student and his thesis was a critical look at the Broken Windows Theory. Here’s a portion of the definition from the link:

In criminology, the broken windows theory states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes.[1] The theory suggests that policing methods that target minor crimes such as vandalism, loitering, public drinking, jaywalking, and fare evasion help to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness.

The theory was introduced in a 1982 article by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.[1] It was popularized in the 1990s by New York City police commissioner William Bratton and mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose policing policies were influenced by the theory.

Jacob Coolidge studied my homeless outreach program for his thesis to provide an alternative to the Broken Windows policing approach to the “shelter-resistant” population my program served, a population with a significantly higher rate of police interactions than the general public. I was even invited to listen to Coolidge defend this thesis in front of the scholarly inquisition that vets this kind of academic work.

I became critical of Coolidge when he joined two other judges and allowed Westridge Creative to steer their collective campaigns. For context on Westridge Creative and the disappointment I experienced when Coolidge threw-in with these political hacks, check out the following posts:

Corralling Progressives: The Political Pedigree Of Pete Talbot And Family (August 24th, 2020)

Jim Parker’s Killer Connection To Peace Keeping (September 6th, 2021)

Does Jim Parker’s Westridge Creative Give Zero Fucks About Campaign Laws? (November 1st, 2021)

What Kind Of Judgements Will The Westridge Defenders Be Bringing To Municipal Court? (November 5th, 2021)

To answer the question posed in that last post about what kind of judgements the Westridge Defenders will bring to municipal court, it appears the police think they have an answer, and it isn’t a good one. But is it accurate? That is the question being asked in this Missoula Current article about whether or not Municipal Court is holding homeless campers accountable.

From the link (emphasis mine):

City officials on Wednesday said they’ve received concerns from police officers who have issued urban campers a citation for any number of violations, only to see the charges dismissed in municipal court.

“We heard from various staff that municipal court has dismissed more than 100 different citations related to houseless people,” said council member Kristen Jordan. “We heard there’s a lot of citations being issued by the police and the city attorney tries to prosecute, only to have them dismissed when they get to municipal court.”

Missoula Municipal Court Judge Jacob Coolidge pushed back on the suggestion, saying a recent Ninth Circuit Court decision has changed the landscape when it comes to dealing with homeless campers.

The image above is one I took of a camper, truck and trash near my studio. It’s been there for a very long time, and one local business told me the inhabitants often engage in abusive arguments with each other. Since this business rents out bike and river equipment, the impacts of what’s happening this spring, and soon to be summer, are hitting them on multiple fronts–and the tax bill hasn’t even arrived yet!

Once upon a time I was an adamant critic of Broken Windows, but that was before the graffiti spread literally everywhere, including trees. Further down from the camper pictured above are some not-so-subtle communications from a houseless member of our community to the rest of us:

Now let’s get to some of the numbers that are fueling the argument that the police are not perceiving things correctly (emphasis mine):

“We heard there was reference that perhaps we’ve dismissed 100 of those cases and are somehow flippant about their existence,” Coolidge said. “We ran a report and saw there were 50 cases cited in the last calendar year and we had dismissed two. From our data and perspective, we’re not sure where this narrative is coming from that we’re dismissing cases, because our data suggests we aren’t.”

At this late stage of the everything crisis, where structural rot has metastasized across every institution, I’m sure most within the criminal justice system THINK they are doing their job, it’s just that the definitions of those jobs have changed without the public getting the memo–because the everything crisis is all over the media as well.

Maybe we, the public, should get more creative like those resilient houseless people who are trying out clever things along the river trail, like this trap and/or art installation:

What the hell is this? I don’t know, but a stick to the left seemed to invite me to poke the wire to see if it was, in fact, a trip wire. Was it a trip wire? No, but the plastic card, when turned over, did bring a smile to my face:

Isn’t this hilarious? I thought so, but maybe my sense of humor is out of whack from the rivers of rage I keep experiencing. To counter a possible anger-trigger, I decided to pocket the card, since I like to stop in to the Missoula Downtown Association every now and then to give them updates on the blogging I “bill” as journalism. These images will be fun to share with the crew!

If you appreciate what I share with YOU, the reader, then Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF) is one way to support my work, and making a donation at my about page is another.

I’ll be testing out the questions I’ve developed for urban campers soon, and am considering offering a dollar per-question-answered. Thoughts? This is riding the line of enabling, but no-strings cash is a potent incentive. I’m on the fence, personally. In any case, stay tuned, there’s plenty more to come.

Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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3 Responses to Is Anyone In The Criminal Justice System Doing Their F*cking Job?

  1. John Kevin Hunt says:

    I have never understood, and still don’t understand, your persistent hit pieces against Judge Coolidge and his Municipal Court colleagues. You certainly identify some valid issues, but you meander far off the trail when you continuously fault three judges far more familiar than you are ever likely to be, with the legal complexities, limitations and nuances of judicial authority. In my own way, I’ve tried to explain the vagaries of the criminal justice system regarding the social ills about which you commendably expend so much time and effort documenting in this news media-anemic town. It seems to have been a waste of my time.

    Now you’re utilizing a form of ‘guilt by several degrees of separation’ to justify your contention that somehow, the municipal judges are responsible for our uptick in social anomie, street crimes, untreated dangerous mentally ill persons, housing crisis refugees, and so on. It seems that you’ve also recently decided that you previously scapegoated the wrong people, and are now pledging fealty to them while taking potshots at new scapegoats such as our municipal court judges.

    Rather than scapegoating, what’s needed is a coordinated, comprehensive resetting of city policies to reflect the situation on the ground and implement a regime of responses to that reality that fosters assertive enforcement of criminal, envirionmental health laws and regulations, while simultaneously upholding all of the many constitutional rights that inevitably come into conflict under the current incompetent, ineffective policy regime (to the extent there is one). This is a failure of Mayoral leadership, but more than that, it’s a failure of our City Council to do the job with which it is tasked by the City Charter: setting policy, which the Mayor and city departments are tasked with implementing in a rational, coordinated, flexible, constitutional and transparent way. The City Council abdicated that duty during the 17-year cult of personality around John Engen, and now there is no one on the Council who knows how to write an ordinance, make a proper motion, or do anything else essential to performing the Council’s policymaking function. The bureaucracy constructed under Engen is effectivelty unaccountable and insulated from oversight.

    This week, I made one small effort to turn this around by drafting and submitting to the Mayor, Council and City Attorney a proposed ordinance that does what our City Charter aurhoriizes and anticipates should be done in these circumstances we find ourselves in. I’m not betting the farm that the proposal will be tabled intact, get a fair hearing, be adopted and implemented, but support and constructive critique from all with skin in the game, including the public, involuntarily unhoused persons, and those with extensive personal experience in the trenches, would sure be helpful — unlike pointing the flying fickle finger of fate at our municipal judges who have a narrow range of options and are actively engaged in efforts to ameliorate our crises iin compliance with the law, in conjunction with the other city governmantal branches.

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