But Have They Got a Twenty-Seven B Stroke Six?

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Radley Balko links a depressing (if not terribly surprising) story about Maryland D.C. cops having to prove their "productivity" by finding any pretext to issue a ticket in neighborhoods that are short on serious crime:

Chevy Chase residents say they are getting more than they bargained for now that the Metropolitan Police Department is providing steady, overnight patrols in their Northwest neighborhood. They say officers are ticketing their vehicles for everything from parking too close to a driveway to having improperly affixed stickers.

[…]

"They have to show some type of productivity during the night," Capt. Willie Smith said. "We have anywhere from 30 to 40 officers working all night in the Second District, and there's two to four in that [area]. If they come in without any tickets, no arrests, no truck stops… they could be challenged by their superiors."

The obvious lesson is, of course, that it's a bad idea to give cops incentives to manufacture offenses. But it's also a reminder that our legal system is the sort of dense tangle of rules that makes labor actions like "work to rule" possible: If you care about the rule of law, you're supposed to be opposed to highly discretionary enforcement of the law, but actually consistently enforcing all the laws on the books would create intolerable burdens.

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  1. (if not terribly surprising)

    Don’t you mean “if not terribly unsurprising”?

  2. I think it’s actually DC cops, not Maryland.

    Which is why you get this:

    “Mary Myers, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works, the agency primarily responsible for parking infractions, said city parking laws are not available online. The only way for residents to learn parking rules is to go to a D.C. government office to purchase the related documents or to find them at a public library, she said.”

  3. cross out “machine gun” and write in “pizza oven”…

  4. I mentioned this kind of thing once before in describing how I was arrested one time…

    My lawyer later explained to me that it was common practice for westchester cops to lurk around for most of their whole shift, then cruise around to find someone to bust for *something* right at the end of their shift… thus establishing ‘productivity’, as well as ~2hours of overtime spent booking you… booking you very, very slowly, while watching boobie movies on TBS.

    These kind of unintentional incentives to have cops fuck with people are horrible.

    FWIW, NYC cops I think are exceptionally good compared to the rest of the country about balancing ‘enforcement’ issues. It’s kind of the opposite – they’ve got so much REAL stuff to deal with, they hardly can be bothered to hassle citizens for no reason.

    Unless you’re parked in the wrong place, that is.

    JG

  5. San Fran cops will ticket you for being “too far from the curb” even if you have a small car, and the SUVs in front and back stick out farther into the street.

  6. Personally I think the residents deserve exactly what they’re getting.

    1 – They allowed their local government toi hire all those cops

    2 – Probably (not that I can confirm this) they cheered when all the vehicle laws were created, always assuming others, not they, would have to deal with the burden.

  7. “…they’ve got so much REAL stuff to deal with, they hardly can be bothered to hassle citizens for no reason.”

    Does that mean they’re not wandering around in the intersections like drunken panhandlers, peeking in your window to see if you’ve got your seatbelt on?

  8. they’ve got so much REAL stuff to deal with, they hardly can be bothered to hassle citizens for no reason.

    You’d think the same could be said for D.C.

  9. If you care about the rule of law, you’re supposed to be opposed to highly discretionary enforcement of the law, but actually consistently enforcing all the laws on the books would create intolerable burdens.

    I’d like to think that enforcing every statute on the books would motivate people to start asking legislatures to eliminate those laws, or at least stop demanding more silly laws.

  10. I read Enterprise of the Law by Bruce Benson a while ago. He brings this issue up often in the book. The idea of showing productivity by the issuance of tickets or arrests. It seems counterintuitive though. Wouldn’t a more accurate guage be whether the crime rate is down or in the case of tickets fewer accidents or automobile related fatalities?

  11. >Wouldn’t a more accurate guage be whether the
    >crime rate is down or in the case of tickets
    >fewer accidents or automobile related
    >fatalities?

    No, because those measures can’t be tied to individual cops. It’s useful for helping the community rate the department as a whole, but not of the department to evaluate how well a specific cop is doing.

  12. Wouldn’t a more accurate guage be whether the crime rate is down or in the case of tickets fewer accidents or automobile related fatalities?

    I’m not even sure those measurements would demonstrate the productivity/effectiveness of the police. Police basically deal with aftermath, it’s doubtful that they do much in the way of prevention.

  13. Boy o Boy, I remember a time when a Libertarian would have used this as an example of what happens when you encourage a police state.

    Libertarian. The new Elite talking over the heads of average Americans everywhwere.

    Yes, your point is valid. And pointy.

  14. Wouldn’t a more accurate guage be whether the crime rate is down or in the case of tickets fewer accidents or automobile related fatalities?

    Nope. That’s a rationale for reducing the number of cops.

    BTW, I wonder if the same folks bitching about getting ticketed for minor offense are the same sorts of folks who mere days ago were behind the whole “let’s make all illegal immigrants felons” because (wait for it) rules are rules

    I heard that phrase so many times by one anti-immigrant/pro-border protection (pick your moniker) person after another that it was beginning to sound a little…well…bureaucratic.

    DISCLOSURE: I actually agree with alot of the merits of the bill that was causing so much furor last week. I just like observing the ironies.

  15. What this country needs is 100,000 more local cops on the streets. I’m sick and tired of you Aa-holes with little cars parking 17.5 inches from the curb. And for some important reason that I’ve forgotten about at the moment, it should be funded with federal money. Anyone who disagrees is a fascist, or was that promoting a “chilling effect”, oh wait….Nazi!

  16. Dude, I can’t park too close to the curb. I might scratch my chrome wheel.s

  17. So people are complaining that the police are properly enforcing laws?

    Is this a new level of whining or what?

  18. DC, the city that keeps on giving. Always nice to have these little updates on the latest lunacy coming out of those precious few square miles.

  19. i’ve recommended this book before, but james wilson’s bureaucracy provides an interesting look at the problems with and methods of resolving the evaluation of individual performance in various types of public agencies.

    it really is a good read for understanding bureaucracies and why they do what they do.

  20. So people are complaining that the police are properly enforcing laws?

    This is simply an opportunity for those of us who preach against an uber-regulated nanny-state to say “I told you so!”.

  21. So people are complaining that the police are properly enforcing laws?

    Is this a new level of whining or what?

    I’d say yes, except that some of the infractions are on the obscure side. It might be time to steamline the legal code when a person needs to consult a lawyer before parking her car or affixing a registration sticker. I’d say “Serves em’ right!” but then I remember how little power I have to change laws that I don’t like.


  22. I’d say “Serves em’ right!” but then I remember how little power I have to change laws that I don’t like.
    Comment by: David at April 19, 2006 05:30 PM

    It’s called move out of the hellhole.

    Then again, if crime is so absent in the neighborhood, just think of it as additional taxes for the added security of living in a low-crime allfluent neighborhood :p

  23. And for some important reason that I’ve forgotten about at the moment, it should be funded with federal money.

    Actually, if you’re talking about DC, that would be a legitimate (if stupid) use of federal funds; the Constitution specifies that Congress exercises “exclusive jurisdiction” there.

  24. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but I wanted to see what you fine folks think of my idea for a Sunset Ammendment to the Constitution:

    All laws passed by Congress and signed into law shall become null and void five years after the date of passage. All such laws in effect at the time of ratification of this Ammendment shall become null and void five years from that date.

    (Discuss)

  25. Crimethink –

    What about real crimes? (rape, murder, etc)

    As a small l libertarian – I would almost say making them redo laws every five years, even those that should be redone, would lessen their ability to screw up other things, but the pragmatic side says reintroducing real crime legislation every 5 years would be counterproductive.

    Even though the benefit of lossing stupid laws is obvious.

  26. Police basically deal with aftermath, it’s doubtful that they do much in the way of prevention.

    Ha! You must be kidding. If anything, I think they help perpetuate crime. The other night, when returning to work to get some stuff done, I was going to park in my workplace parking lot which is normally reserved during the day for Important People in my company. I didn’t, though, because there were two cop cars parked at the entrance of the lot, chatting it up together while on the job. Instead, I parked on one of the scary urban streets that are notorious for muggings, assaults, and feral dogs, so that I could reassure myself I wouldn’t leave work to find a parking boot on my vehicle.

    Gee, thanks police.

  27. Cops are assholes, end of story.

  28. SixSigma,

    Technically speaking, Congress has no reason to pass laws against rape and murder. Those are state matters. Of course, I would support such an ammendment at the state level as well.

    But beyond that — given the number of idiotic laws that get passed by Congress — or your typical state legislature — in a five year period, I think they would have no problem re-passing the few laws that are that important.

  29. I love “work to rule” strikes. Just the idea…”Work to rule”…Like those kids who decided to drive 55 mph on the highway and caused a mile long traffic jam.

    I like “Extra serving” strikes too. (“Good Work” strikes on the linked page.)

  30. Since nobody else said it, I’ll say it – thanks for the topic reference, Mr. Buttle^H^H^H^H^H^HSanchez.

  31. ‘This is simply an opportunity for those of us who preach against an uber-regulated nanny-state to say “I told you so!”.’

    Indeed. Well said, MP.

  32. Cops are racketeering. Vice is the pretense.
    Teachers are racketeering. Ignorance is the pretense.

    It’s up to Reasonoids to mop up vice and ignorance, jerking the rug from beneath racketeers.

  33. It would be a better use of tax revenues to simply buy them copies of Unintended Consequences and let the officers read it on their shift, rather than drive around looking for people to harass.

    I confess I am a little surprised there aren’t at least opportunities for a few coke busts in Chevy Chase.

  34. Personally I think the residents deserve exactly what they’re getting.

    1 – They allowed their local government toi hire all those cops

    You’re making some big assumptions. You should see how things are done where I live. I’ll bet Arizona isn’t unique.

    We’ve needed a better highway system for years (make that decades). So they put highway construction bonds on the ballot. Tied to it are the funds to hire 560 additional police officers. If you want anything good done around here, they tie it to approval to hire more cops.

    Meanwhile, it’s already so bad that if you go 2 mph over the limit, they will instantly NAIL your ass and you will have a ticket. It’s way beyond anything you could call reasonable. People pulled over on the side of the road getting ticketed are one of the biggest traffic hazards around here.

    This is after they went around and lowered speed limits in many areas, plus extended the 55 mph zones in and out of the city way way out — just beyond over passes, where they sit and hand out speeding tickets all day long.

    I’ve always said that if the police departments around here have stock offerings, I’m buying in. No way you can loose money on these guys.

    Every time the city gets an extra dime, they hire another cop. Guess what the new cop does?

    It’s beyond voter control. If you don’t understand that yet, you’ve got some growing up to do. The buearacracy has a mind of its own, and the voter’s ability to reel it in is decidedly limited.

  35. So people are complaining that the police are properly enforcing laws?

    You really should move to Arizona and go into local politics. The cops would love you.

    What the police are “properly” doing, is making money with which to grow their empire even more. Which is why this is such a cute little statement.

    Is this a new level of whining or what?

    Agammamon, you were right. Dan T. is your man, and you hit the nail right on the head.

  36. btw, good one Julian. I’ve griped about this kind of crap for several years. I was beginning to think nobody but me had noticed it.

    Between the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war on drunk driving, and the natural urge of government agencies to Go Forth, Be Fruitful, and Multiply, we’re being suffocated by fungus.

    Of course, there are those who tell us that we’re just getting what we deserve. Even that minority of us who opposes, votes against it at every opportunity, and has no real power to stop it.

  37. All such laws in effect at the time of ratification of this Amendment shall become null and void five years from that date.

    A potential downside to this is that it would give the bastards a chance to “re-up” the law in a more draconian way.

    Kahn – how about a “slow down strike” like the one those kids pulled? It sounds like there are lots of people who would love to pay back the system. Find out what the minimum speed limits in Phoenix are, and get as many people as possible to go just above the minimum as a form of public protest.

  38. All such laws in effect at the time of ratification of this Amendment shall become null and void five years from that date.

    You’re assuming the idiots would be smart enough to put enough laws back in place to maintain simple law and order.

    If we could set it up so the bare minimum constitutional laws were in place — so that people at least knew property was secure — it might actually work.

    As long as you had a new batch of legislators coming in every five years, with the expiration of the old batch of laws.

  39. Kahn – how about a “slow down strike” like the one those kids pulled? It sounds like there are lots of people who would love to pay back the system.

    I’m afraid the system is dependent on the revenue. They’d find some other inane reason to write tickets and generate fines.

    Or maybe I’m just in a cynical mood. But with all the money coming in, somebody would miss it and start looking for a way to replace it.

  40. All such laws in effect at the time of ratification of this Amendment shall become null and void five years from that date.

    H.R. 1: An Act to Reduce Crime and Protect Families by Re-Authorizing Laws Due to Expire

    Article 1: All laws due to expire this year are hereby renewed

    How many politicians do you think are going to vote against it? “He voted not to extend the law against raping children!”

  41. All such laws in effect at the time of ratification of this Amendment shall become null and void five years from that date.

    H.R. 1: An Act to Reduce Crime and Protect Families by Re-Authorizing Laws Due to Expire

    Article 1: All laws due to expire this year are hereby renewed

    How many politicians do you think are going to vote against it? “He voted not to extend the law against raping children!”

  42. smacky,

    Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: The police aren’t here to create disorder; they’re here to preserve it.

  43. Even better, since no one except Ron Paul is going to dare to vote against it, you can bet it’s will be absolutely bursting with pork ammendments.

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