It's easy to rat someone out these days -- hotlines abound for reporting everything from drunk driving to drug dealers. In fact, two hotlines inspired by the Columbine killings made their debut on the same day (with more to come). The first, backed by Mayor Wellington Webb, is the Crime Stoppers Weapons Watch Hotline, which promises $50 to $100 rewards for students who tell on classmates carrying more than just textbooks. Answering the call from these secret squirrels will be Detective Manny Alvarez of the Denver Police Department.
A second line, the Colorado School Safety Hotline -- promoted by District Six representative Tom Tancredo -- relies on goodwill rather than money "to help ensure our schools are safe," the congressman says. But there's added incentive for stool pigeons: Anyone calling this hotline reaches a highly trained employee of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation who has been schooled in all the latest techniques for...fingerprinting?
Yes, the CBI's fingerprint examiners have been answering the phones since the 1-800 number began operating on August 19. "The line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and so are we," explains Shelley Goepfert, who runs both the fingerprint program and the hotline.
As of September 3, the hotline had already taken 44 calls. "Some were media calls, some were from people requesting information. Six of them could be considered potential threats and were forwarded to county sheriffs," she says, adding that since she isn't "law-enforcement personnel," she wouldn't want to define what constitutes a threat. "There are all kinds of threats, and all kinds of people call them in: parents, students, teachers, neighbors. Anybody can make a phone call."
No rest for the wicked
Since idle hands are the devil's sock monkeys, the Colorado Department of Corrections likes to keep its inmates busy. In June the pace was particularly frantic at the soon-to-open Sterling Correctional Facility. To get the place spanking clean for the likes of Governor Bill Owens, DOC chief John Suthers and other dignitaries, the advance team of staffers and ninety inmates sometimes worked from early morning until the wee hours. The feat earned polite letters of appreciation to the prisoners from their keepers, acknowledging that "the work performed was tedious and required great perseverance."
But at least one inmate, the aptly named George Lien, wasn't satisfied with a simple thank you. Claiming that he'd already put in hours well beyond the forty-hour week allowed under DOC regulations, Lien refused to go to work one Sunday morning, telling staffers it was against his religion. He was disciplined as a result. "The Department of Corrections, at this time, does not recognize any religion which practices a 'no work' Sunday Sabbath," a hearing officer concluded.
Lien has decided to make a federal case out of the DOC's un-Christian attitude. He's filed suit in U.S. District Court, arguing that the department discriminates against Irish Protestants such as himself by recognizing some holy days but not others. His cites include DOC's own administrative regs, the state case Pinsker v. Joint District, the first and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution -- and, of course, Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy..."
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Last month the Denver Post again rolled out its traveling road show, "Snapshot of Colorado," in a sorry effort to find out if anyone actually listens to the Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire. "Tell us what's on your mind," the paper beseeched its readers in an August 15 article that included a list of thirteen "town meetings" the Post would hold in towns stretching from Denver to Gunnison to Parker. "What's good about living in Colorado? What's bad? What picture should we paint of the state at the end of the 20th Century?"
At last Wednesday's dismal meeting at West High School, it certainly wasn't a paint-by-numbers picture. The evening was attended by as many Denver Post employees -- four -- as members of the public. Platters full of cookies, cakes and brownies went uneaten; the newspaper's questions went unanswered.
One reader, a west Denver resident, told grim-faced editorial-page editor Sue O'Brien (since editor Dennis Britton had been dumped the day before, he was not in attendance) that her biggest peeve with newspapers is their lack of accuracy. Case in point: The Post's own piece touting the meetings, which listed a non-existent date for this one.
Off Limits is compiled by Jonathan Shikes. If you have a tip, call him at 303-293-3555, send a fax to 303-296-5416, or e-mail email@example.com.