[This article appeared in today's Albuquerque Journal North, and is republished here with the permission of the author, a journalist for that paper. This article resulted from a meeting with frequent Opednews contributor Stephen Fox and the Mayor of Santa Fe, to discuss ramifications of allegations of a white supremacist policeman about whom stories circulate of persecuting and profiling the homeless, excessive force, and even calling Native Americans "prairie niggers."]
Santa Fe police are considering providing video cameras to the bicycle officers who use pedal power to patrol downtown. The cameras -- similar to those already used in police patrol cars -- would help resolve disputes over what really happens when confrontations occur among bicycle cops and those they deal with on the street. "They're on all the police cars," Mayor David Coss said of cameras, "and police find them to be very useful to straighten out the he said/she said situations that come up a lot."
At a recent meeting at the Mayor's Office with two advocates for the homeless, Coss also suggested a workshop-style gathering of homeless people, police officers and community members to address concerns.
The mayor was responding to complaints concerning police treatment of the homeless in the downtown area.
Santa Fe faces a problem confronting many towns -- trying to find ways to help and provide for the homeless population while policing illegal behavior, such as public drunkenness. Two homeless men recently killed a third in the bed of the Santa Fe River near downtown's De Vargas Park. Coss, in fact, has made the problems of homelessness a priority -- he created his Blue Ribbon Panel to End Homelessness shortly after he was elected mayor four years ago.
But Coss is standing by Santa Fe bicycle cop Jeff Worth, who has became the target of complaints by some homeless advocates.
"The Police Department has investigated every formal complaint they've gotten" and he has been cleared, Coss said.
Police Chief Eric Wheeler said the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce wants the police to do more about panhandlers and others confronting visitors who arrive via the Rail Runner Express train in the downtown Railyard.
The chief said he's not going to tell Worth to stop doing his job, including finding and arresting lawbreakers. "If they break the law, they're going to held accountable," Wheeler said. "We've got to have enforcement but not by violating their rights."
Critics maintain Worth, known among the homeless as "Thor," goes too far when dealing with the homeless. The accusations appear to be more often about alleged harassment or alleged threatening or offensive language than actual use of force. A pending Magistrate Court case, in which a defendant is charged with resisting arrest, does involve a scuffle.
Retired lawyer Donna Lynch operates a legal clinic at the St. Elizabeth shelter next to the Railyard and attended the recent meeting with the mayor. She told the Journal she has "several homeless clients tell me that he (Worth) harassed them in one way or another, that he frightened them."
Worth denies that.
He said in an interview that he has problems with about 5 percent of the people he deals with. "A few are troublemakers," he said.
Chief Wheeler said the SFPD has two prototype cameras it's testing for use beyond patrol cars -- Worth has one and another has been assigned to a motorcycle officer. In a similar test program, San Jose, Calif., recently issued head-mounted cameras to 18 of its officers because of criticism over interactions between officers and the public.
Nickname no longer fun
Worth has been with the department since 2000 and has patrolled the downtown area for several years. He said the street nickname of "Thor" was amusing at first but has evolved into an outlandish mythology, including a story that he had an offensive tattoo on his arm.
Worth took off his shirt to show a Journal staffer that he has no tattoos and said the story goes to the credibility of the people complaining about him. Accusers once identified him as a short Hispanic instead of the tall Anglo he is, he said.
"We've had problems in Santa Fe with homeless killing each other, stabbing each other," Worth said. "One way you take care of these things is to enforce the small things," like public drinking or drug offenses, he said. "I think the record shows I've done my job quite well," Worth said.
Lynch said she was at the meeting partly to learn how homeless people can file reports with the police.
During the meeting, she said she plans to file a report that claims Worth caught a man drinking and threatened "to shove his crutch up his ass" before putting his hand on his gun and telling another man, who wasn't drinking, to get on the ground. Once that man got on the ground, Worth said he was only kidding, Lynch said.
Lynch said later in an interview: "The question is, legally, was the victim really afraid? Did the person who threatened it have the ability to do so? I can tell you he was scared."