Reporters turn tables on Mayor, Police


December 31, 2002, 06:00 PM
Excerpt of the article is below. Slashdot users have the main site overloaded with requests as they all try to read the story...

Gotta love it. Mayor, police chief, DA say it's okay to go through trash taken from the curb outside people's homes without a warrant. But when done to them, boy, 2 out of 3 are highly upset.

Rubbish (

Portland's top brass said it was OK to swipe your garbage--so we grabbed theirs.


Web-only content:
Vera Katz's press release
Stories that have appeared in other media
The Oregonian

It's past midnight. Over the whump of the wipers and the screech of the fan belt, we lurch through the side streets of Southeast Portland in a battered white van, double-checking our toolkit: flashlight, binoculars, duct tape, scissors, watch caps, rawhide gloves, vinyl gloves, latex gloves, trash bags, 30-gallon can, tarpaulins, Sharpie, notebook--notebook?

Well, yes. Technically, this is a journalistic exercise--at least, that's what we keep telling ourselves. We're upholding our sacred trust as representatives of the Fourth Estate. Comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable. Pushing the reportorial envelope--by liberating the trash of Portland's top brass.

We didn't dream up this idea on our own. We got our inspiration from the Portland police.

Back in March, the police swiped the trash of fellow officer Gina Hoesly. They didn't ask permission. They didn't ask for a search warrant. They just grabbed it. Their sordid haul, which included a bloody tampon, became the basis for drug charges against her (see "Gross Violation," below).

The news left a lot of Portlanders--including us--scratching our heads. Aren't there rules about this sort of thing? Aren't citizens protected from unreasonable search and seizure by the Fourth Amendment?

The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office doesn't think so. Prosecutor Mark McDonnell says that once you set your garbage out on the curb, it becomes public property.

"She placed her garbage can out in the open, open to public view, in the public right of way," McDonnell told Judge Jean Kerr Maurer earlier this month. "There were no signs on the garbage, 'Do not open. Do not trespass.' There was every indication...she had relinquished her privacy, possessory interest."

Police Chief Mark Kroeker echoed this reasoning. "Most judges have the opinion that [once] trash is put's trash, and abandoned in terms of privacy," he told WW.

In fact, it turns out that police officers throughout Oregon have been rummaging through people's trash for more than three decades. Portland drug cops conduct "garbage pulls" once or twice per month, says narcotics Sgt. Eric Schober.

On Dec. 10, Maurer rubbished this practice. Scrutinizing garbage, she declared, is an invasion of privacy: The police must obtain a search warrant before they swipe someone's trash.

"Personal and business correspondence, photographs, personal financial information, political mail, items related to health concerns and sexual practices are all routinely found in garbage receptacles," Maurer wrote. The fact that a person has put these items out for pick-up, she said, "does not suggest an invitation to others to examine them."

But local law enforcement officials pooh-poohed the judge's decision.

"This particular very unique and very by-herself judge took a position not in concert with the other judges who had given us instruction by their decisions across the years," said Kroeker.

The District Attorney's Office agreed and vowed to challenge the ruling.

The question of whether your trash is private might seem academic. It's not. Your garbage can is like a trap door that opens on to your most intimate secrets; what you toss away is, in many ways, just as revealing as what you keep.

And your garbage can is just one of the many places where your privacy is being pilfered. In the wake of 9/11, the U.S. government has granted itself far-reaching new powers to spy on you, from email to bank statements to video cameras (see "Big Brother's in Your Trash Can," below).

After much debate, we resolved to turn the tables on three of our esteemed public officials. We embarked on an unauthorized sightseeing tour of their garbage, to make a point about how invasive a "garbage pull" really is--and to highlight the government's ongoing erosion of people's privacy.

We chose District Attorney Mike Schrunk because his office is the most vocal defender of the proposition that your garbage is up for grabs. We chose Police Chief Mark Kroeker because he runs the bureau. And we chose Mayor Vera Katz because, as police commissioner, she gives the chief his marching orders.

Each, in his or her own way, has endorsed the notion that you abandon your privacy when you set your trash out on the curb. So we figured they wouldn't mind too much if we took a peek at theirs.

Boy, were we wrong.

Perched in his office on the 15th floor of the Justice Center, Chief Kroeker seemed perfectly comfortable with the idea of trash as public property.

"Things inside your house are to be guarded," he told WW. "Those that are in the trash are open for trash men and pickers and--and police. And so it's not a matter of privacy anymore."

Then we spread some highlights from our haul on the table in front of him.

"This is very cheap," he blurted out, frowning as we pointed out a receipt with his credit-card number, a summary of his wife's investments, an email prepping the mayor about his job application to be police chief of Los Angeles, a well-chewed cigar stub, and a handwritten note scribbled in pencil on a napkin, so personal it made us cringe. We also drew his attention to a newsletter from the conservative political advocacy group Focus on the Family, addressed to "Mr. & Mrs. Mark Kroeker."

"Are you a member of Focus on the Family?" we asked.

"No," the chief replied.

"Is your wife?"

"You know," he said, with a Clint Eastwood gaze, "it's none of your business."

As we explained our thinking, the chief, who is usually polite to a fault, cut us off in midsentence. "OK," he said, suddenly standing up, "we're done."

Hours later, the chief issued a press release complaining that WW had gone through "my personal garbage at my home." KATU promptly took to the airwaves declaring, "Kroeker wants Willamette Week to stay out of his garbage."

If the chief got overheated, the mayor went nuclear. When we confessed that we had swiped her recycling, she summoned us to her chambers.

"She wants you to bring the trash--and bring the name of your attorney," said her press secretary, Sarah Bott.

Actually, we couldn't snatch Katz's garbage, because she keeps it right next to her house, well away from the sidewalk. To avoid trespassing, we had to settle for a bin of recycling left out front.

The day after our summons, Wednesday, Dec. 18, we trudged down to City Hall, stack of newsprint in hand. A gaggle of TV and radio reporters were waiting to greet us, tipped off by high-octane KXL motor-mouth Lars Larson.

We filed into the mayor's private conference room. The atmosphere, chilly to begin with, turned arctic when the mayor marched in. She speared us each with a wounded glare, then hoisted the bin of newspaper and stalked out of the room--all without uttering a word.

A few moments later, her office issued a prepared statement. "I consider Willamette Week's actions in this matter to be potentially illegal and absolutely unscrupulous and reprehensible," it read. "I will consider all my legal options in response to their actions."

In contrast, DA Mike Schrunk was almost playful when we owned up to nosing through his kitchen scraps. "Do I have to pay for this week's garbage collection?" he joked.

We told Schrunk that we intended to report that his garbage contained mementos of his military service. "Don't burn me on that," he implored. "The Marine Corps will shoot me!"

It's worth emphasizing that our junkaeological dig unearthed no whiff of scandal. Based on their throwaways, the chief, the DA and the mayor are squeaky-clean, poop-scooping folks whose private lives are beyond reproach. They emerge from this escapade smelling like--well, coffee grounds.

But if three moral, upstanding, public-spirited citizens were each chewing their nails about the secrets we might have stumbled on, how the hell should the rest of us be feeling?


Decked out in watch caps and rubber gloves, we are kneeling in a freezing garage and cradling our first major discovery--a five-pound bag of dog poo.

We set it down next to the rest of our haul from District Attorney Mike Schrunk's trash--the remains of Thanksgiving turkey, the mounting stack of his granddaughter's diapers, the bag of dryer lint, the tub of Skippy peanut butter, and the shredded bag of peanut M&Ms.

There is something about poking through someone else's garbage that makes you feel dirty, and it's not just the stench and the flies. Scrap by scrap, we are reverse-engineering a grimy portrait of another human being, reconstituting an identity from his discards, probing into stuff that is absolutely, positively none of our damn business.

It's one thing to revel in the hallowed tradition of muckraking. It's another to get down on your hands and knees and nose through wads of someone else's Kleenex. Is this why our parents sent us to college? So we could paw through orange peels and ice-cream tubs and half-eaten loaves of bread?

And yet, there is also something seductive, almost intoxicating, about being a Dumpster detective. For example, we spot a clothing tag marked "44/Regular." Then we find half of a torn receipt from Meier & Frank for $262.99. Then we find the other half, which reads: "MENS SU 3BTN." String it together, and we deduce that Schrunk plunked down $262.99 for a size-44 three-button suit at Meier & Frank on Saturday, Nov. 16, at 9:35 am.

We are getting to know Portland's top prosecutor from the inside out. Here's an empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label. There's a pile of castoff duds from his days as a Marine. Is he going "soft" on terrorism!?

Chinese takeout boxes and junk-food wrappers testify to a busy lifestyle with little time to cook. A Post-it note even lays bare someone's arithmetic skills (the addition is solid, but the long division needs work).

Our haul from Mayor Vera Katz is limited to a stack of newsprint from her recycling bin--her garbage can was well out of reach--but we assemble several clues to her intellectual leanings. We find overwhelming evidence that the Mayor reads The Oregonian, The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, U.S. Mayor and the Portland Tribune.

We also stumble across a copy of TV Click in which certain programs have been circled in municipal red. If we're not mistaken, the mayor has a special fondness for dog shows, figure skating and The West Wing.

Our inspection of Chief Kroeker's refuse reveals that he is a scrupulous recycler. He is also a health nut. We find a staggering profusion of health-food containers: fat-free milk cartons, fat-free cereal boxes, cans of milk chocolate weight-loss shakes, cans of Swanson chicken broth ("99% fat free!"), water bottles, a cardboard box of protein bars, tubs of low-fat cottage cheese, a paper packet of oatmeal, and an article on "How to Live a Long Healthy Life."

At the same time, we find evidence of rust in the chief's iron self-discipline: wrappers from See's chocolate bars, an unopened bag of Doritos, a dozen perfectly edible fun-size Nestle Crunch bars, three empty Coke cans.

We unearth a crate that once contained 12 bottles of Cook's California sparkling wine, but find no trace of the bottles themselves. Is the chief building a pyramid of them on the mantelpiece? We stack the crate beside a pair of white children's socks, a broken pen, the stub of an Excalibur 1066 cigar, burnt toast, a freezer bag of date bars, orange peel, coffee grounds, a cork, an empty film canister (no weed--we checked), eggshells, Q tips, tissue paper and copious quantities of goo.

We uncrumple a holiday flier from the Hinson Memorial Baptist Church, which contains a handwritten note: "Mark. Just want you to know one Latin from Manhattan Loves You."

Invasion of privacy? This is a frontal assault, a D-Day, a Norman Conquest of privacy. We know the chief's credit-card number; we know where he buys his groceries; we know how much toilet tissue he goes through. We know whose Christmas cards he has pitched, whose wedding he skipped, whose photo he threw away. We know what newsletters he gets and how much he's socked away in the stock market. We even know he's thinking about a new car--and which models he's considering.

By the time we tag the last item (a lonesome Christmas tree angel), our noses are running and our gloves are black with gunk. We scrub our hands when we get home. But we still feel dirty. --CL



* Empty containers and wrappers: Kodiak Washington pears, Washington "extra fancy" fancy lady peaches, Oasis Floral Foam bricks ("Worth Insisting Upon") (2), Kashi Go Lean! cereal, Sunshine fat-free milk, Kirkland Signature weight-loss shake, fat-free Swanson Chicken Broth, mandarin oranges, Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Arrowhead water bottle, Cook's California sparkling-wine box, fried apples, cheese rolls, Bounty paper towels 15-roll pack, Kirkland facial tissue, 12-pack Dove soap, Quaker oatmeal, See's candy bars, lady's razors, Dentyne Ice chewing gum, Vivant zesty vegetable crackers.

* Hershey's Cookies n Crème mini-bars, uneaten (3).

* Several Oregonian issues, still folded.

* Email correspondence between chief and Mayor Katz's staff in which he preps them on what to tell Los Angeles officials regarding his application to be chief there.

* Rough draft, internal police memo.

* Various cash-register receipts.

* Half-full bag of fun-size Nestle Crunch bars.

* Slice of burnt toast.

* Photocopy of WW Nov. 13 "Murmurs" item on chief, hand-dated in blue pen, reporting scuttlebutt that Katz has "taken over the day-to-day running of the Police Bureau."

* Half-smoked stub of an Excalibur 1066 cigar.

* Paper cups from Starbucks and Torrefazione.

* Pears, lettuce, grapes, bread, eggshells, goo, potato salad, wire hangers, a 75 watt light bulb, orange peels, coffee grounds, wine cork, dish rag, film canister, used Q-Tips.

* Half-eaten protein bar, still in wrapper.

* Newsletter from Focus on the Family, a conservative political group. Insert, addressed to "Mr. & Mrs. Mark Kroeker." Insert asks for "one last year-end contribution."

* Photos of chief and a bare-chested man moving a large appliance.

* Creased wedding photo of a prominent Portlander.

* Broken pen.

* Three envelopes from California, hand-addressed, sent on consecutive days.

* Notice from mortgage company for payment.

* Internet printout of "How to Live a Long Healthy Life."

* Postcard from friend vacationing in Arizona.

* Post-it with notes about a new car.

* Extremely personal note on dinner napkin, handwritten in pencil.

* Account summary from Fidelity Investments for the chief's wife.


* Trader Joe's "Happy Holidays" paper bag.

* Several issues of The Oregonian.

* Several issues of The Washington Post National Weekly Edition.

* A copy of U.S. Mayor (a monthly magazine devoted to mayors).

* A copy of TV Click. Someone has marked several programs in red, including Wargame: Iraq, Simulated National Security Council meetings, MSNBC; Everwood: Ephram tries to revive his mother's Thanksgiving traditions, KWBP; CSI Miami: A dead man is found hanging from a tree, KOIN; Life with Bonnie on KATU; The West Wing on KGW; The National Dog Show on KGW; Figure skating: ISU Cup of Russia, ESPN; Biography: "Audrey Hepburn, the Fairest Lady," A&E: Figure skating: ICE WARS: USA vs. The World, KOIN.

* Several issues of the Portland Tribune.

* Daily Journal of Commerce from Dec. 3, 2002.


* Empty containers and wrappers: Cozy Fleece Baby Blanket, Bee Cleaners, Nibblets Corn and Butter, Johnnie Walker Black Label, Fred Meyer unflavored gelatin, Burger King beverage cup and straw, possible Chinese takeout (lots), Dreyer's Mocha Almond Fudge ice cream, Skippy peanut butter (creamy), Land's End, Fred Meyer green beans, Campbell's Chunky New England Clam Chowder with 100-watt bulb inside, Meier & Frank, Jelly Belly jelly beans, Foster Farms boneless and skinless Oregon chicken thighs.

* Coffee grounds.

* Used pekoe tea bags, many.

* Used Christmas napkins, used Kleenex, used Q-Tips.

* Remains of Thanksgiving turkey carcass, drumstick intact.

* Remnants of roast beef.

* Soiled baby diapers.

* Plastic bags containing dog poo, very clean, with some blades of grass (2).

* Bag of dryer lint.

* Christmas wrapping paper.

* Orange peels, empty Millstone coffee bag, containing two very ripe but uneaten bananas, two half-eaten loaves of wheat bread.

* Disposable razors.

* Remnants of peanut M&Ms bag.

* Energizer AA batteries (2), wrapped in plastic bag.

* Shopping lists.

* Baseball cap with crustacean emblem: "DON'T BOTHER ME. I'm CRABBY."

* Baseball cap for Outward Bound.

* Baseball cap with embroidered green fish.

* Military khaki shirts with "SCHRUNK" embroidered on pocket and collar (4).

* Jacket, olive drab, with fading stencils of "USMC" and "Schrunk."

* Yellow Post-it note with sample of someone's arithmetic: The addition is successful (54 + 32 = 86), but the long division of 32 divided by 6 comes up a little bit wide, at 5.4.

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December 31, 2002, 06:30 PM
:D :D :D

December 31, 2002, 06:43 PM
It's about time some people got a taste of their own... uh... nevermind. *gag*


December 31, 2002, 06:53 PM
:D :D :D

December 31, 2002, 07:01 PM

Greg L
December 31, 2002, 07:07 PM
I usually don't have much use for the media. This time however all I can say is AWESOME. :D


December 31, 2002, 07:07 PM
Beautiful, just beautiful.

This is what the watchdog press is supposed to be doing!


It's amazing how much panic one honest man can spread among a multitude of hypocrites. -- Thomas Sowell

December 31, 2002, 07:09 PM
boy i sure hope no one sifts through MY trash. maybe i should start putting some gross stuff in there just in case?
if everyones trash was boobytrapped with dog poo, how long would it take before intrusive searches stop being performed?:evil:

December 31, 2002, 07:22 PM
They meant it's okay when they do it, not the other way around. :cuss:

December 31, 2002, 07:30 PM
Boy,thats great!
I guess the libs don't like it when their own thinking is turned
on them!:neener:


December 31, 2002, 07:38 PM
Its good to see someone in the press standing up to the powers that be, and giving them a taste of their own medicine for once. I hope that the WW doesn't stop turning the tables on their local gov.

December 31, 2002, 07:46 PM
Do as I say not as I do.

I love it!:neener:

Dave R
December 31, 2002, 07:50 PM
I love it when elected officials are subjected to the same treatment as "ordinary" citizens. If I could change ONE thing in national politics, I would eliminate all perks of elected officials. They need to know what the rest of us live like.

December 31, 2002, 08:05 PM
Simply awesome ( I like that word). Very well written, and good background at the top of the story. Hmmm, I wonder what they'd find in my trash... Q-tips with remnants of Break Free, empty Winchester White Box .45 ACP ammo, old Natchez catalog ... I have a feeling they'd drive away very, very quietly. :D

December 31, 2002, 08:29 PM
They should have told what was scribbled on the napkin, but all in all great work exposing hypocritical sumunabunches! :p

December 31, 2002, 08:40 PM
As ye sow, so shall ye reap! I love this stuff..........:D

December 31, 2002, 08:46 PM
Now that is quality reporting:D :D :D

Mike Irwin
December 31, 2002, 08:47 PM
Funny, but I'm pretty certain that the Supreme Court has said that once you set your garbage out to the curb, the police don't need a warrant to seize it and search it, and that you have no expectation of privacy after doing so.

If you intend to dispose of it, how can you expect it to be protected.

Gray Peterson
December 31, 2002, 09:06 PM
The Willamette Weekly are pretty no holds barred. Unlike most newspapers, these guys don't give a crap about satisfying the wants of the government official's here.

4v50 Gary
December 31, 2002, 09:07 PM
Yep to what Mike sez. I vaguely remember a case where the Supremes held there was no expectation of privacy on stuff that was considered as garbage. Once it's out on the street, it's a free for all.

Now, if that liberal media fellow can go through some of our anti-gun politicians. Wouldn't it be nice if they found porn?

Mike Irwin
December 31, 2002, 09:20 PM
I'm actually surprised that in this day and age those people are throwing out A) stuff with personal financial information on it, B) stuff related to their official city jobs.

I SHRED just about everything that could be used in the slightest to steal my identity.

I was very amused by the reaction of the Mayor.

December 31, 2002, 09:35 PM
Shredding: noticed a bunch more shredding companies contracting with Corp. Hosp. etc.

Know a bunch whom still burn records, used to use an incentirator at a grocery store...those hard to find. Rumor is bookies go out to the country and have a BIG BBQ :D

December 31, 2002, 09:40 PM
This is outstanding!

Steve in PA
December 31, 2002, 09:47 PM
Ditto about putting it out at the curb. Its fair game, no search warrant or permission is needed.

You live by the die by the sword.

December 31, 2002, 10:22 PM
Man, what load of garbage!

One of the few times I am favorably impressed by the press. :D

December 31, 2002, 10:24 PM
I believe that SCOTUS has ruled on this as well. I seem to remember studying this case in one of my business law classes. I know there are some real lawyers on here who can clear this up. I'm really not sure, but something about a tax evasion or fraud case. But this technique has been used quite often in the recent past.

December 31, 2002, 10:43 PM
Thorough reporting job!

Educational for the muckity mucks there too....

December 31, 2002, 10:49 PM
Yeah, back when I took AP Gov in High School we learned about that case. I couldn't tell you any of the details, except what's already been said: if it's on the curb, it's fair game.

Still, turnabout is fair play.

Anyone want to take bets on what would be found in Sarah Brady's trash?
I'm going to guess empty Marlboro cartons, and boxes that used to hold .30-06 rifle ammo.

December 31, 2002, 10:56 PM
In fact, it turns out that police officers throughout Oregon have been rummaging through people's trash for more than three decades. I've lived in this damp and rainy state all of my life and have yet to see a cop going through anyone's garbage.. If someone pulled this kinda crap down in this part of the state,they would be handed a pink slip immediately..:banghead: :scrutiny: :banghead:

December 31, 2002, 11:20 PM
Colleges have actually done research based upon garbage where they found folks were not always completely truthful. First they would have people fill out a questionnaire with basic likes/dislikes, magazines read, etc., etc. Later the researchers went through the respondent's garbage to see how things stacked up versus what was stated. Among other things, alcohol consumption and Playboy subscriptions were under reported in the original questionnaire.

December 31, 2002, 11:31 PM
Interesting situation.

First lesson is: Do not throw out anything with useful intelligence. Duh.

Second lesson: Maybe the DA is worth encouraging. He seemed to take it in stride; fair is fair.

Mayor Katz is an east coast liberal monarchist. I grew up in Portland and I cannot believe the people of that fair city have elected her; not once, but repeatedly.

The Police Chief is a LAPD graduate. Sad to say, as bad as he is, he's the pick of the litter.

As a nation, we have to get conservatives voting again!!!

January 1, 2003, 01:13 PM
Good for them. Its nice to see the press put somebody in their place when they deserve it.

January 1, 2003, 03:11 PM
Excellent reporting.

Perhaps this would curb the Police Dept activities with the Mayors blessings to "legitimate" methods of investigations.

In many jurisdictions any LEO suspected of drug usage may be tested as a condition of employment. I would venture to say they went through the Officers trash because there was no sufficient evidence to warrant a drug test without recriminations from Police Union (if a member of a local/state PBA) and their own policies.

I think it should be illegal to take samples of blood, skin, hair, etc from a persons trash unless it is part of a major investigation of a felony.

It wouldn't be farfetched for me to think of Insurance companies and major employers to send out investigators to collect such samples to be used in "genetic discrimination".

Good Shooting

January 1, 2003, 04:05 PM
Well done, WW!! :D

I'm interested in how the Mayor's "legal options" turn out. I hope she wins--and that it's used as precidence for any other "fishing expeditions" that the PD does...:cuss:

Jason Demond
January 1, 2003, 06:22 PM

January 1, 2003, 07:02 PM
I'm rather apalled he threw out his old military uniforms with his name attached still.

In this day and age, you would think that people would stop doing such things.

A while back I received an e-mail from a military associate of mine, depicting somewhere in "inner-city" America, this hoodlum was arrested for murder. The picture showed the kid wearing the uniform of a United States Air Force Security Police Major. All the rank, name and badges still attached. Nothing like sending something like that out to all the AF cops...several days after Sept 11th.

January 1, 2003, 10:41 PM
What is good for the goose, is good for the gander.......Uhh not necessarily it appears. Article does point out the hypocracy of power, though.

January 2, 2003, 03:23 AM

I like the definition a la Ayn Rand better then that of 1984 and Brave New World.

ha ha! I love it when they are put on the spot.. See how they like their privacy invaded..

They are lucky it wasn't done by someone like me, I would have scanned that and put it on the internet..

January 5, 2003, 12:29 PM
I am not the tinfoil hat type and I am a little late in posting this but after reading an article in the paper about DNA and how some police depts. were getting a persons DNA with out them knowing about this. How? Your garabage. Any thing that came in contact with your mouth such as a straw. Use a condem,do you flush or throw away in the garbage? Well I guess now my dog will get all my left over food and use no throw away .I guess I will have to start flushing it now. Hope they don't start checking my sewer pipe.:rolleyes:

January 5, 2003, 02:10 PM
I vaguely remember a case where the Supremes held there was no expectation of privacy on stuff that was considered as garbage. Once it's out on the street, it's a free for all. Maybe we should encourage WW to do another dumpster-diving run in the suburbs of Washington DC? :D

January 10, 2003, 09:08 AM
He threw out a half-full bag of fun-size Nestle Crunch bars!?!

There ought to be a law... ;)

January 10, 2003, 10:47 AM
The law is exceedingly clear that when you abandon property, there is no need for a warrant. Garbage in a public place is abandoned property. So, the mayor, police chief, etc., got what they deserved and what they have been begging for. I never thought I'd be saying it but "Good reporter! Now, roll over and play dead!" ;)

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