As most of you already know I have previously written about how corruption is more than a financial quid pro quo. Corruption comes in many forms including using a position of authority to cater special favor and officially treating one group of individuals differently from others. Former El Paso police Assistant Chief and current Sheriff Department’s Commander of Criminal Investigations, Paul Cross gives us an opportunity to examine this further. Consider the following.
Many of you who kept abreast of city council around the 2004-2007 timeframe may remember Paul Cross as the face of the El Paso Police Department. When police matters came before city council he was the one usually addressing the city representatives. He was also frequently featured on television newscasts about police matters. In 2005, Eliot Shapleigh awarded his “Adelante con Ganas” award to Cross.
The Celina Avila Case
On May 22, 2007 two El Paso police officers arrived at the KVIA studios a little before 4 pm to arrest Celina Avila on warrants for driving with an invalid driver’s license and not having automobile insurance. According to media reports, she owed about $4,000 in traffic fines.
While the police officers waited at the reception area, Celina Avila called Paul Cross, then a chief at the Police Department, and asked him for a “favor”. Celina asked if Paul Cross would let her turn herself in at the police station after she finished her newscast. Paul Cross then spoke to one of the officers and told the officer “not to arrest” Avila out of “compassion” because she was seven-months pregnant.
Celina Avila was not arrested and she was allowed to turn herself in.
Even after being allowed to turn herself in, Celina Avila was booked and released on bond within 45 minutes of her arrival. Police officers complained that she received special treatment not only for avoiding arrest but also for the expedited booking process as many people can remain in jail for up to 12 hours as they go through the system.
A subsequent press release by the El Paso police department into the issue stated that “no special treatment” was afforded Celina Avila. The police commentary also indicated that El Paso Police officers sometimes allow people under similar circumstances the same accommodations.
Now think about that for a moment, how many of you would be allowed to keep two El Paso Police officers specifically there to arrest you waiting while you call an assistant police chief?
On December 10, 2007, after serving four years as an assistant police chief, Paul Cross announced that he was retiring from the police force. Richard Wiles had earlier announced his own retirement to run for Sheriff. Cross had been rumored as a likely candidate for police chief however Joyce Wilson had picked Greg Allen to lead the police department. Paul Cross worked at the police department for 24 years, with the last four years as Chief in charge of the Office of Operations.
According to news report, Richard Wiles stated that he “had not discussed any future positions” with Cross although many in the community openly discussed Paul Cross as a potential employee at the Sheriff’s Department after Wiles had won that position. Immediately after being elected Sheriff on November 2008, Richard Wiles appointed Cross as commander of support services in December of that year.
Double dipping is the practice of collecting taxpayer funded pensions while drawing taxpayer funded paychecks. Richard Wiles retired from the police department and is now the county’s sheriff. Therefore he is drawing a pension while accepting a paycheck, both coming from taxpayer funds. However it is important to note that Richard Wiles was elected to office and therefore presumably his electorate was aware of his taxpayer funded income.
In the case of Paul Cross, Richard Wiles hired him thus the double-dipping from taxpayer funds is a direct result of Wiles hiring him. Keep in mind that each year both the city and the county set tax rates based significantly on the cost of public safety; the cost to keep the pension funds sustainable and to pay for the salaries.
Guess where Paul Cross’ current salary and pension comes from? Yup, that’s right the taxpayers of El Paso.
According to the Texas Tribune, current as of 2012, Cross makes about $113,000 at the county. I do not know how much pension he draws however conservatively he is probably drawing somewhere around $40 to $50 thousand, making his annual taxpayer funded paycheck about $145,000.
Therefore, not only does Paul Cross, in his official capacity, favor certain individuals over others he also cashes two taxpayer funded checks as well. Double-dipping may be legal, as the Texas legislature has tried to do away with the practice but has failed, but is it ethical?
More importantly should double-dipping be allowed when the city and county grapple with annual budgets while the taxpayers foot the bill? The electorate has a say in this issue as they put in office Richard Wiles who not only double-dips from the taxpayer funds himself but has also hired Paul Cross.
My bigger concern is one of favoritism that the El Paso Police Department seems to have instituted as part of its modus operandi. Official favoritism is wrong because it creates two or more sets of people each treated differently. This goes against the notion of equal treatment under the law. This is exemplified by the treatment afforded to KVIA’s former anchor Celina Avila and how Ann Morgan Lilly’s charges of assault were handled in 2005 and the ones recently filed against her. These are just two examples of many more I routinely point to.
The common nexus in all of this is the El Paso Police Department. Consider that under former police chief Carlos Leon, Richard Wiles and Paul Cross rose through the ranks. Leon, who is also drawing a taxpayer funded paycheck while accepting a taxpayer funded pension, as a county commissioner led a department that has resulted in many current issues of police misconduct many of which are still under investigation. The department has even created a special division specifically tasked with investigating certain individuals designated as VIPs.
I argue that by the mere fact that certain individuals are treated differently from others creates a culture of inequality that has led to abuse. I further argue that allowing the police department the ability to create two or more classes of people by the way they treat them not only violates the principal of “equality under the law” but is also corrupt.
Understanding this it makes it is easy to see why someone like Paul Cross sees nothing wrong with double-dipping from the taxpayers of the community as they struggle to make ends meet while at the same time directing police officers not to arrest someone simply because she felt entitled.