When the Law fights the Law, does the Law still win?

Last month the Stockton Police Officers Association made the perplexing move to give Police Chief Blair Ulring a vote of no confidence. The vote was confusing for a couple reasons, most notably that the best reason anybody could come up with for the vote was Ulring not allowing the SPOA to fundraise through alcohol sales. At the time everybody was sure more information was on the way because organizing against the Police Chief over beer sales sounds incredibly petty. So much so that the guy who broke the story, Record crime reporter Christian Burkin, took to his blog to assure critics that he too thought there was probably more to the union’s story and urged those in the know to enlighten him.

Meanwhile, our old pal Fitzy took a swing at making sense of all of this. The result was a laundry list of nit picky complaints from the union about uniform fabric and management styles. Eventually he too realizes that the issue the union appears to be most passionate about is the beer sales thing. Essentially putting us back at square one, the SPOA pitching a petty fit about a seemingly insignificant order. At the end though, Fitz does manage to eek out a telling nugget of information. That at least one officer may have defied that order, and that they hold some serious juice within the union.

Fast forward a month and we now know that the officer in question is SPOA President Steve Leonesio, who is now being investigated for what appears to be a pretty open and shut case of insubordination, and that this is indeed over something as petty as beer sales. Granted, their are other management style issues at play here, but the beer thing is what they’re suing Ulring over. Christian Burkin explains it in great detail in his blog (which you should read), but the thrust of it surrounds a state law dictating who can be issued alcohol permits. Specifically, the California Code of Regulations, Title IV, Article XI (which CB has in the previously linked blog) says that you cannot be issued a permit to sell alcohol within a county that you enforce the law in. Somehow, the SPOA was granted a permit by Alcohol and Beverage Control anyways, and that prompted Ulring to send someone over to tell them to shut it down.

The SPOA contends that their one-use permit was issued to their non-profit organization, and thus doesn’t violate the law, which is an adorable leap in logic. Somebody still has to sign the permit and assume responsibility as a representative of the organization given the permit. It’s a safe bet that since the organization was the police officer’s union, that the signee was a cop and thus ineligible to sign the permit. One would think that would void the permit. Regardless, not only does the SPOA maintain that their permit was perfectly legal, but that Ulring doesn’t have the authority to question the legality of their permit. Which is funny since this whole thing revolves around the police department’s ability to enforce alcohol-related laws.

This whole debacle essentially boils down to a pissing match between two of the most powerful people in the Stockton Police Department, Leonesio and Ulring. The union is fed up with Ulring and his gruff management style and is standing up for itself. If they’re successful, Leonesio looks like a conquering hero who stood up to their asshole boss and his love of synthetic fibers. The only problem is, they picked the worst possible issue to make their stand on. Not only is the law pretty clear, but it specifically states that these temporary permits are subject to the approval of local law enforcement. So even if the union used a proxy and had Leonesio’s brother sign the permit or something, Ulring could still just say no just because he feels like it. (Although if that were to happen, one would assume that no confidence vote would have done better than 50% voter turnout.)

So instead of looking like a hero standing up to “the man”, Leonesio looks like a petulant child throwing a tantrum when somebody told him no then did what he wanted anyways. Only when you do that as an adult, you can’t weasel your way out of it by crying, you just get disciplined by your boss. Which is a shame since I’m sure all of this could have been avoided by opting for a non-alcoholic method of fundraising at a racing event literally noone I’ve talked to had heard of before this news broke. Man, I sure hope they raised a lot of money to make this worth it.

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~ by Slick Diaz on December 6, 2010.

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