Profiles in Unintended Consequences


The Baltimore Sun's Tim Wheeler takes a look at an ordinance in Prince George's County, Maryland, that's "barring any new home construction where police, fire and ambulance calls are not answered promptly—within six to 10 minutes for emergencies, and 25 minutes for all other calls."

[T]he pioneering law has—to almost everyone's surprise—effectively halted new development from being approved for the past five months, even inside the Capital Beltway, where there is broad support for revitalizing the county's older communities….

County Councilman Douglas J.J. Peters…said he spearheaded the emergency-response legislation because he was concerned that the county's growth was outpacing its ability to protect its residents—particularly in the rural tier, which stretches along the Patuxent River down to southern Prince George's. That's where pricey new homes have been springing up like dandelions, with fewer police and fire stations to cover them.

"You can't compromise public safety," Peters said.

But the law revealed that slow responses are not limited to the countryside. Three of six police districts covering half the county have been unable to meet the required response times.

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  1. [/whine]

    The housing prices in this area are absolutely fucking ridiculous, because of shit like this. A person solidly earning at a middle-class level can’t even afford a townhouse.


  2. I just moved to Maryland from Pennsylvania, where I had a concealed carry permit. Of course, Maryland doesn’t recognize such a right, and it specifically forbids firearms from being loaded unless an individual is actively hunting or at a shooting range. Reading the police response time data in light of these ‘englightened’ laws doesn’t make me happy about my relocation decision.

  3. The county should be allowed to waive the fee for projects in developed areas, and use the impact fees to improve response times in those areas.

    Any extra money spent on improving service in the exurbs will only provide service for the new developments. Extra money spent on improving service in developed areas, on the other hand, will improve service for the new growth and for the existing underserved population.

  4. BKT:

    Keep one in the chamber, and stay outta PG!!

  5. BKT,

    How about bill to loosen the carry laws in areas with poor police response times?

  6. joe,

    Did you see the part in the article where the cops took 30 minutes to go 1.5 miles? Jeez, I could walk faster than that. Seems like the poor response time is throughout the county.

  7. But, but, how can the police be expected to respond to petty crimes when they’re so busy solving real problems?

    So a three-bed rowhouse, 10 miles from metro, goes for $400k minimum? So what? It’s for our benefit. And they’re growing smart!

  8. Russ D,

    If I had to guess, it sounds like the first responders were busy on another call, rather than moving very slowly. State and federal aid to fire houses has gone down the crapper in the last four years, leaving them understaffed.

    In my city, one fire station is vacant each day, on a rotating basis.

  9. Some Guy:

    Yeah, I love those “Click it or Ticket” campaigns. I’ve seen billboards where they have a group of multi ethnic/gender cops all popping muscles and glaring with menace. Yeah, I’m so relieved that these top law-dogs are cracking down on idiots who don’t wear their seat belts. I can’t wait until they nail the jay walkers.

  10. Some Guy,

    Homes in the DC burbs were insanely expensive before the smart growth initiatives started, too. There’s a few decades of screwed up real estate markets to get under control, and that’s not going to happen overnight.

    Maybe if your acceptable housing choices weren’t limited to new construction in the suburbs, you could find something in your price range. Capitol Hill? Logan Circle? Something off New York Ave? Cheverley?

  11. you wusses. 400k in downtown brooklyn will get you a 750sqft 1br, if you’re lucky.

  12. joe, can I ask what train of logic you hopped on to get from So a three-bed rowhouse, 10 miles from metro, to new construction in the suburbs? The latter may be a subset of the former, but it isn’t the entirety of it.

  13. Yes, but in ‘downtown Brooklyn’ you don’t have the added necessary expense of a car, and you don’t have to battle traffic to get a pint of milk.

    Brooklyn supports a lot of additional infrastructure and has a lot more to offer than Prince George’s County, Maryland. One would expect high-density areas of Brooklyn to be more expensive.

    Moreover, while there are some nice parts, quite a bit of PG County is composed of many of Washington’s most, er, downmarket suburbs.

    In a DC suburb that’s even moderately in demand, $400K for a 750 square-foot 1BR apartment would be at least normal if not a bargain. It’s likely to be newer and less roach-infested than its counterpart in Brooklyn, but it’s also more likely to be marooned in an apartment ‘complex’ off a six-lane road miles from anything but other apartments.

  14. The two lesbians across the street were fighting and one was screaming for help, so I called the cops. They said they’d *try* to be there in 30 minutes. I told the dispatcher that maybe if I ordered them a pizza that might quell the situation faster. She was NOT amused.

    Later I was leaving my “No CCW Allowed” campus traversing the surrounding ghetto and about ready to board a “No Guns” transit bus when I was robbed less than a quarter mile from the local police station.

    It took them 10 minutes to respond because I chose the unfortunate time of the 2:00p shift change to be robbed. They pointed out, that on the bright side, EVERYONE there came to look for the guy. This wasn’t much consolation after being violently assaulted.

    I had ineffectively emptied a can of Triple-action Mace into his face, but the .45 I carry (when I’m not going to university) would have made the perp much easier to find.

    The local media likes to pat the local PD on the back for ending a shooting spree that killed Damageplan musicians and fans in my neighborhood – but they’ve ignored that fact that 2 disarmed (because the venue served alcohol) CCW license holders were forced to helplessly watch the whole thing go down before their eyes.

  15. Phil,

    I know the area. Townhouse developments 10 miles from a Metro station = built within the last 10 years.

  16. tino: yeah, i know. that’s why i live there (not that i’d buy a 1br condo anytime soon). i was just being a dick.

  17. State and federal aid to fire houses has gone down the crapper in the last four years, leaving them understaffed.

    No, I would say crappy municipal budgeting is what is leaving them understaffed. Fire departments are municipal departments. If they are underfunded, it is because the city government approved a budget that underfunded them.

    Twenty bucks says your city wastes enough money on bullshit PC programs to keep that firehouse open.

  18. The police and fire departments are under no legal obligation to perform any services, yet the county is inferring that the obligation is there. A nice, legal way to extort money.

  19. You know absolutely nothing about my town’s budget, yet you’re willing to assume we have money for a big increase in the FD budget lying around, just because you’d like it to be true.

    And you completely ducked on the irrefutably true statement that state and federal outlays for municipal aid have gone down.

    RC Dean doesn’t need any stinking facts – he belongs to the faith based party. Municipalities that can’t pay for adequate fire protection have huge amounts of money dedicated to funding condom distribution for black atheist lesbians. Amen.

  20. As I don’t subscribe to the notion that state and federal governments exist in order to redistribute wealth for the sake of assisting “Municipalities that can’t pay for adequate fire protection”, I have no problem with these reductions. I simply wish they were across the board. Oh well…libertarian fantasy…

    One of the more absurd things related to wealth redistribution that I’ve seen while being involved in town government in Greenwich CT is the fact that Greenwich gets a $1 million dollar (at least…I don’t have the exact figures in front of me) Federal grant (CRBG?) each year. I don’t know much about how these grants break down nationwide, but the fact that Greenwich, one of the richest communities in the country, gets even a nickel, is absurd.

  21. Why the hell shouldn’t we compromise on public safety? We could all tax ourselves to hire a personal police bodyguard to escort us anytime we left the house, and build all our homes of strictly nonflammable materials. We compromise on public safety daily.


  22. Russ,

    I don’t live in Boston. I live in a small city with a handful of stations whose adequate response time radii don’t overlap much.

    I agree, in a big city like Boston where there are firehouses every few blocks, closing one is much less of a big deal.

  23. Yeah trotsky, and just like “Dirty Harry wannabe” gun owners who hope to compensate for poor public protection of their person, everyone with a fire extinguisher or a first aid kit is a wannabe Backdraft or ER star.

    I grow vegetables in my own garden to add subtle enhancements to the convenience and quality that supermarket produce provides – why not carry a firearm to protect myself (already a victim of numerous robberies, burglary, and a foiled home invasion)?

    I don’t seek to carry to *replace* the police – just like I don’t maintain a garden to *replace* the supermarket.

  24. Aside: I’ve read in one of Bruce Benson’s books that in New York City something like 30% of the calls to police are not responded to at all. (Take with caution, though, because I can’t find a link to provide verification/particulars.)

  25. in New York City something like 30% of the calls to police are not responded to at all

    That must have been part of Giuliani’s strategy to cut crime…? Heh. So who’s Bruce Benson, and why should we believe such a tale?

  26. Townhouse developments 10 miles from a Metro station = built within the last 10 years.

    Well, it’s not that simple, but I suppose it’s neither here nor there. And there are other factors at play, anyway, which make finding affordable housing a sucker’s game around here. I work in Arlington and my wife works in DC, but we live in Fairfax. Why? Because it’s the only damned place we could afford, that wasn’t surrounded by shitty neighborhoods, and that would accept pets, that’s why. A similar place in Arlington would cost us at least, without exaggeration, 50% more than we currently pay.

  27. My parents live in an unincorporated area and pay for subscription fire protection from a company. I wonder why that hasn’t taken off in places like this if municipal services are so lousy?

  28. I don’t seek to carry to *replace* the police – just like I don’t maintain a garden to *replace* the supermarket.

    Good one, Neb.

  29. That must have been part of Giuliani’s strategy to cut crime…? Heh. So who’s Bruce Benson, and why should we believe such a tale?

    Bruce L. Benson wrote a couple books about law enforcement and the role of private sector therein: To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice and The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State. Reviews available at

    I may have misremembered the statistic, as I warned, but if so that’s my fault, not Benson’s. He documents and footnotes his stuff pretty carefully. The statistic dates from prior to Giuliani, I believe. Anyhoo, an appalling chunk of calls to the cops resulted in no visit from the cops at all. And “I simply can’t believe that can be true” isn’t a powerful counter-argument.

  30. joe,

    In California, the reason cities can’t afford to keep firehouses open is because they give away most of their budget to ex-firefighters and other public-sector retirees with extravagant pensions, often close to 100% of the person’s last salary. It’s a much bigger problem than lack of federal funding, or spending on “PC” programs. Is your town anything like that?

  31. State and federal aid to fire houses has gone down the crapper in the last four years, leaving them understaffed.

    And just where does the Federal Government get money to “aid” municipalities? Are we invading other countries and plundering their wealth, or something?

    Otherwise the money just comes back whence it came, less a handling fee, of course!

    “Federal Aid” just provides camoflage for local pols avoiding the consequences of their expensive public tastes.

  32. [T]he pioneering law has — to almost everyone’s surprise —

    1. We have this huge problem that requires we pass a law to fix what is wrong.
    2. But the effects of the law are a big surprise because, apparently, no one has bothered to even look up the statistics that it relies on, and that represent the problem to be solved.

    Your government at work!

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