TWIN FALLS — When Medina Alajbegovic first found out nearly two years ago that she and the other officers in her police squad would be adding body cameras to their uniforms, she welcomed the news.
“I thought it was a great idea,” she said, “just because of watching videos of other departments that were using them.”
Alajbegovic, who was one of the first Twin Falls police officers to get a body camera, has had her calls and traffic stops recorded since August 2016. Since then, the department has gradually equipped all of its uniformed personnel with cameras.
As of April, all regular uniform patrol officers, traffic officers, school resource officers and special investigation unit officers in Twin Falls — currently, 67 people overall — don the tiny, lightweight cameras on their uniforms. Most interactions, with the exception of peaceful demonstrations and some extremely sensitive interviews, are recorded.
The use of body cameras by law enforcement has grown across the U.S. in recent years, in part due to a public demand for increased transparency after a wave of highly publicized officer-involved shootings.
But body cameras don’t just benefit the public — they’re a helpful tool for law enforcement as well, members of the Twin Falls Police Department and others say.
A 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of law enforcement across the country — 66 percent — supported the use of body cameras to record interactions with the public.
While some departments have reported internal backlash to the police cam movement, Twin Falls police “didn’t have any issues,” according to Staff Sgt. Brent Wright.
“I think that was partially based on the fact that we did move as slow as we did and that we included a lot of people in the discussions,” Wright said. “It was just normal business.”
August 2016 wasn’t the first time that Twin Falls police had used cameras to document interactions with citizens: The department has used in-car video recording for two decades.
The goal of introducing body cameras was to encourage better behavior and accountability for both officers and citizens, a spokesmen for the department said at the time the cameras were first announced.
But the introduction of the cameras raised some questions and concerns about privacy as well. County Prosecutor Grant Loebs wondered at the time whether the cameras could lead people to avoid talking to the police for fear of being recorded.
The extent to which the body cameras have been successful in promoting good behavior on all sides — or discouraging people from speaking with police — is difficult to quantify. The department has not done a formal study of the body cams’ effects.
What is known: Footage from the cameras has been used to assist in prosecutions in court, as well as in internal investigations stemming from complaints against officers. Video captured with a body camera has led to the exoneration of multiple officers in internal investigations, Wright said.
“It definitely helps us show our side of the stop or our side of the call,” Alajbegovic said. “I love it.”
TWIN FALLS — Tim Stastny was working on his patio one day when an older gentleman struck up a conversation.
It was then that Stastny got a history lesson about the building that’s home to his pizza restaurant, Slice. During Prohibition, the man said, the basement had been used to store alcohol. Some of that booze was then smuggled through an underground tunnel to a gambling operation down the street.
This solved a mystery Stastny had previously discovered in his basement: A list of beverages chalked onto a streak of black along one white wall. These markings are remnants of that era.
Later this month, the restaurateur will come before the city’s Planning and Zoning Department to request a special use permit. If approved, Stastny will be able to open a private room and bar, with extended hours, below the restaurant.
“It will be a speakeasy-style bar,” he said. “That’s kind of what we always wanted to do.”
Unlike the restaurant, this room won’t have food service, except for private parties. The rest of the time, it’ll be solely for drinks and socialization. Stastny thinks the room could comfortably accommodate 60 to 80 people.
The not-so-secret entrance will be at the foot of a stairwell in front of the business. Stastny imagines that like similar establishments, there could be a slot that slides open in the door, and customers would present a passcode and a receipt from a local business to get in.
“My idea is just to get people to support local businesses,” he said.
Customers will have to follow a dress code to get in. The bar itself will be somewhat hidden inside the room, and will serve only Prohibition-era types of drinks.
“You won’t go in there and be able to get a Coors Light,” Stastny said. “It’ll be old-fashioned.”
He plans to keep much of the basement just as it is, with exposed concrete walls and floors. In accordance with fire code, the room will have a sprinkler system and an emergency exit opening to the alley.
The historic chalk markings, he said, will be carefully cleaned and preserved.
The Planning and Zoning Commission will consider Stastny’s special use permit at a public hearing Feb. 13. The permit is required in order for the basement bar to stay open until midnight.
Renee Carraway-Johnson, zoning and development manager, said the city would like to see more downtown businesses staying open at night.
“I think it would help generate activity downtown in all aspects,” she said.
The public hearing begins at 6 p.m. Feb. 13 in the City Council Chambers at 203 Main Ave. E. If the Planning and Zoning Commission approves Stastny’s request, he will move ahead with construction. Any decision by the commission could be appealed to the City Council.
Stastny feels confident he’ll be able to finish construction and open the bar by this fall, if not earlier.
If you do one thing: Kenny Saunders and Kayleigh Jack will perform from 6 to 9 p.m. at the First Friday event at Rudy’s — A Cook’s Paradise, 147 Main Ave. W., Twin Falls. No cover charge.
BOISE — Members of the Idaho House Education Committee on Thursday continued to balk at proposed new school science standards that deal with climate change, even as public testimony came in 100 percent in favor of the newly revised standards; more testimony is scheduled on Friday.
Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, said he’s planning to propose that the standards be approved with two sections removed – one of the five regarding climate change that lawmakers ordered removed last year, and one additional one. “There’s two that I don’t like, and they didn’t go far enough last year,” Syme said, when the state Department of Education, at lawmakers’ direction, revised the five sections. “They have conclusions drawn in.”
Syme said he’s “learned a lot about standards” between last year and this year, and his remaining concern is “they should be inquiry-based.” He added, “It was never about climate change.”
“I don’t care if the students come up with a conclusion that the earth is flat – as long as it’s their conclusion, not something that’s told to them,” Syme declared.
Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Lance Clow said he thought the standards were all right, but supporting examples included with them went too far in concluding that the world is warming. “Geologic history shows that temperatures have gone up and down before,” said Clow, a retired personal financial adviser from Twin Falls.
And Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, questioned a clause that said “biodiversity is increased by the formation of new species, speciation, and decreased by … extinction.” Mendive asked, “Have I missed something? Are there new species being formed at this time?”
Scott Cook, director of academics for the state Department of Education, said he’d gladly yield to some of the many scientists in the audience to answer the question, but said, “Yes, new species are forming. … Certainly we’ve seen more extinction recently than we have formation.”
Mendive said, “As far as new species, natural selection just kind of modifies existing species, and actual speciation, new species, I’m still not aware of anything along those lines.”
Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, the committee chair, said, “I think that was just a statement from Rep. Mendive.”
Idaho is the only state in which legislators have successfully removed references to climate change from school science standards, according to a 2017 report from The Weather Channel; lawmakers in six other states – Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming – tried to do the same, but failed.
The standards provide the minimum that schools are expected to teach; teachers can go beyond them. Of the 375 sections included in the standards, the Legislature last year rejected five related to climate change. Now, reworked versions of those five sections are before them for approval, along with the other 370. If new standards don’t win final approval from lawmakers this year, Idaho would revert to its outdated 2001-era science standards – the current standards have been on the books as temporary rules for the past three years.
“It’s going to confuse the daylights out of our students,” state Superintendent of Schools Sherri Ybarra told the committee. “If these do not pass … we’re going to go backwards.”
Melyssa Ferro, the 2016 Idaho Teacher of the Year and the chair of the committee that developed the revised school science standards that are before lawmakers this year, told the lawmakers, “The science in these new standards is sound, and it’s the same science content that is being taught in classrooms around our state.”
She said the new standards encourage students to “be active learners of science instead of just passively receiving a set of facts.” Students, she said, will be encouraged to “question their world and seek evidence” to support their conclusions.
An example of the changes in the five sections: A section saying human activities have “altered the biosphere” was changed to say, “Human activities can have consequences, positive and negative, on the biosphere.”
Among those testifying in favor of the standards was 17-year-old Ilah Hickman, a high school junior from Boise who lobbied the Legislature for five years before finally convincing lawmakers to make the Idaho giant salamander the state amphibian.
“Years later, me and my generation will be the ones that will have to deal with the … effects on the earth due to climate change or anything else that might be going on, whether or not we are to blame,” Hickman said. “Being put in such a role, I believe that we should be as prepared as ever to combat these changes.”
Dick Jordan, a retired high school science teacher who taught in Idaho schools, both rural and urban, for 35 years, said, “I think we can all agree that we must put our personal politics and beliefs aside and recognize that it is negligent to deny our children access to 21st Century science, which in this case has amassed conclusive evidence that human activities are adversely impacting our planet’s life-support systems.”
“The consequences of these global assaults are significant for our success as a species,” Jordan said. “Therefore, it is imperative that teachers have sound science standards behind them, in order to help students understand and address these planetary problems, and so they can compete professionally in our global market.”
Tomorrow’s nurses, farmers, lawmakers and teachers “deserve the very best science and science education,” Jordan said, “not some watered-down, censored version.”
Cassandra Kenyon, a senior at Timberline High School in Boise, said, “Education is being censored due to political fears, and students are the ones that are suffering. … I simply cannot understand what is wrong with giving Idaho students multiple perspectives and asking them to decide for themselves.”
“I don’t care if the students come up with a conclusion that the earth is flat – as long as it’s their conclusion, not something that’s told to them.” Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell
HANSEN — With fewer than 400 students, it’s rare for the small-town Hansen School District to get a large donation.
But this fall, school officials found out a private family will donate $1 million to the school district. They asked for it to be used to build a community gymnasium, which will also be used by school groups.
With only two school gyms in Hansen and a demand for recreational space, school leaders say the project will have a huge impact.
“Even with having two facilities here, we’re finding we’re frequently short,” said Kristin Beck, superintendent of the Hansen School District. “There’s not enough space for all activities going on.”
The school district has put out a request for proposals for a design-build team for the project. Hansen’s school board will make a decision during a Feb. 15 meeting.
The gym will be built on the corner of Walnut Avenue and Rock Creek Road. The school district is aiming to finish construction in December.
“That certainly isn’t firm,” Beck said. “It will depend on who submits proposals for it.”
The project will be funded entirely by the $1 million donation, she said, and the school district is aiming to avoid dipping into its own budget. “We were just overall really excited and feeling very fortunate that they wanted to make that donation to the Hansen School District.”
The school district hopes to eventually build onto the gym for its own programs.
The district is still discussing the donation and the city hasn’t received information about the project, Hansen city manager Adolfo Arrendondo said. But the city would like details, he said, because it will affect services such as water and sewer.
A community gym will be good for children, Arrendondo said, and will give them somewhere to go after school. “It’s good recreation for the kids and it keeps them off the streets here.”