Thursday, December 1, 2011

Prey for both criminals and bureaucrats

"the book To Serve Man,
it's... it's a cookbook!"
- from Twilight Zone episode, To Serve Man
Here's a unsettling thought submitted by a perceptive reader to Instapundit,
Local governments are clearly shifting from chasing criminals to chasing revenue. Which, from the point of view of their own self-interest, makes a lot of sense.
Let’s say that you are a local government, and you think of your budget as YOUR resources and not those of your constituents. You have a choice of two broad strategies (or a mix thereof): either pursue actual criminals for CRIMINAL OFFENSES, a process which requires the expenditure of resources and can be hard/dangerous work. Or you can pick on generally law-abiding citizens for civil offenses via revenue light cameras, roadside BAC [Blood Alcohol Count] screenings, “driving while talking” laws, seatbelt enforcement, aggressive parking enforcement, laws limiting grass/weed height, etc. While those non-criminals may sometimes show up in court to fight the charge, they typically don’t run or put up much of a fight (physical or otherwise). They pay their fines and get on with working, raising their families, paying their taxes, etc.
Given the quality of our political class, and given how many bureaucrats and government employees see their job as a birthright rather than a solemn responsibility, it should come as no surprise that taxpayers are getting it from both ends, and are seen as prey for both criminals and bureaucrats.
It was in reaction to the post, Drunk Driving Enforcement is A Racket.
The cynic in me says that as long as police officers and municipalities see drinking drivers as cash cows and hide behind the fig leaf of “traffic safety”, arbitrary standards based on BAC will continue even though they may be counterproductive.
What does he mean by counterproductive?
Using 2009 data collected by the University of California at Berkeley, California Watch showed that 1,600 sobriety checkpoints yielded 3,200 DWI arrests. A typical checkpoint would yield only two or three drunk driving arrests. ... When you consider how many hundreds of drivers get stopped at each of those checkpoints, it hardly seems productive to catch a tiny number of drivers that are over the legal limit but may or may not be dangerously impaired, while at the same time seriously impaired drivers go unstopped because so much police manpower is devoted to sobriety checkpoints.
So why have checkpoints if only two people are caught on average?
a single DUI conviction can mean thousands of dollars of revenue for the jurisdiction that issued the citation. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, though. While sobriety checkpoints don’t catch many seriously drunk drivers, they do nab folks for equipment infractions or other sorts of minor crimes and they end up generating a huge amount of revenue for those municipalities and police officers that do use checkpoints. That same California Watch story revealed that those 1,600 police checkpoints may have yielded just 3,200 arrests for DWI, but they resulted in $40 million in fines, plus $30 million in overtime pay for cops and a staggering 24,000 vehicle confiscations.
Bottom Line

Never forget that government exists to serve the people, not exploit them [or eat them].

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