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Revenue collection masquerading as law enforcement
By Charles Bloomer
Washington, DC has become the latest municipality to embrace technology in innovative and intrusive ways to violate its residents' privacy and fleece its citizens. The city has bought new photo radar systems to catch and ticket speeders in the nation's capital. Five of the radar cameras are mounted on vehicles and one is permanently mounted. These cameras are in addition to the 39 red light cameras.
District Police Chief Charles Ramsey has defended the system, declaring that the "safety and well-being of our residents are our top priorities", his version of the "if it saves just one life" litany. Chief Ramsey has downplayed reports that the city expects to make $11 million per year on the photo radar system. In its first 10 days of operation, the system nabbed 15,000 speeders.
But the Chief's arguments in favor of the radar system ring hollow when speeding is put in the proper perspective. In 1999, there were 41 traffic fatalities in Washington. Police claim that speeding is responsible for 55% of traffic fatalities, or 23 deaths in 1999. That same year there were 241 murders, 248 rapes, 3,344 robberies, 4,615 cases of aggravated assault, and 5,067 burglaries.
If Chief Ramsey is so concerned about the "safety and well-being" of Washington's residents, maybe he should be as enthusiastic about reducing the other, more serious crime problem in his jurisdiction. But then, aggressively enforcing laws and solving violent crimes aren't likely to bring in millions of dollars. It is obviously more lucrative to ensnare drivers in a Big Brother camera scheme.
But one mustn't be too hard on Chief Ramsey. He is in the same predicament as other law enforcement agencies and police chiefs all over the country. Police chiefs work for elected politicians, and those elected leaders care about only two things - getting re-elected and raising revenue. To these politicians, law enforcement is nothing more than another means of collecting money to feed their ever-growing empires. This attitude toward law enforcement can be seen everywhere, at every level of government. State troopers stand careful guard over carpool lanes, ready to issued a citation should some unwary citizen drive without the requisite number of passengers. City police officers man roadside inspection stations on the lookout for unbuckled seatbelts, or expired license tags, or invalid safety inspection stickers. These examples are easy money activities. Responding to 911 calls doesn't bring in any money to feed political giveaways.
The problem is exacerbated by state and local legislatures that pass more and more laws that have nothing to do with "public safety" or the "well-being of residents", but are cash cows that provide the funds necessary for the politicians to reward favored groups. Most of these laws and ordinances are at the level of nuisance, hardly worth fighting. So hard working citizens, who don't have the time or resources to take the issue to court, end up paying the fine, grumble about the unfairness, then get on with their lives.
The politicians care next to nothing for your rights - your right to privacy, your constitutional rights, your right to face your accuser. Why should they? They have the monopoly on the use of "legitimate" force, the power to tax, the power to pass laws that increase revenues. They have the power to distribute those revenues to people and groups that help them get re-elected. Politicians are more concerned about power, control and money than they are with the safety and well-being of their constituents.
Barring a successful court challenge to the traffic camera schemes, we can expect to see more revenue collection systems put into place. We can expect more lip service to be paid to our "safety and well-being", as our politicians find more high-tech solutions to rob us of our rights as they take more and more of our money. The voracious greed of government is insatiable.
We should insist that law enforcement agencies be renamed Revenue Collection Agencies. At least that would be honest.
Charles Bloomer is a Senior Writer at Enter Stage Right. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2001 Charles Bloomer
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