Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ category

But Why Do You Need to Know Where I Am and When?

5 March 2014

A variety of governmental entities in the state spy on the public by noting the location and movements of vehicles.  In 2011, the Gazette reports, there were 295 license plate scanners operating around the state.  That has increased by 39%.  All that data is being fed into the shady and suspicious “Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center.”  The director of the center insists that information in the database “…can only be accessed by a legitimate law enforcement officer for a legitimate reason.”

He’s missing the point.  People aren’t only concerned about other  entities using that data.  People don’t trust the state – the Coordination and Analysis Center — to hold it, either.  What are they doing with that information? Why do they need it?  Why are they spying on us?

Good News on the Law Enforcement Front

31 October 2012

The commander of the Drug Enforcement Section of the Montgomery County Police was quoted as saying that they are going to step down enforcement of marijuana laws on low-level users.

Better that they should cut out enforcement altogether, against buyers and sellers, but this at least represents a better value for the county’s taxpayers.

Youth Curfew is a Bad Idea

20 July 2011

County Executive Ike Leggett has proposed a nightly curfew for minors in MoCo. Those under 18 could be taken to the precinct if found on the streets between 11 pm and 5 am (12-5 on weekends). Fines and parenting classes could be imposed on mom and dad.

To be sure, kids don’t belong on the streets during those hours. But that is an issue for parents, not for the police. There are lots of problems with this proposal.

First, it is ridden with loopholes. Children are exempt if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian, or if they are on an errand for parent or guardian, or going to or from work, or going to or from a school function or a religious function. It seems that it would be all too easy for children to evade the curfew.

Second, it is likely to be ineffective at reducing crime (its stated purpose). A study of a similar curfew in DC found that the curfew did not help reduce crime rates.

Most important, it is too random and broad for comfort. There are constitutional questions, issues of basic civil liberties (freedom of association, freedom of speech). County Executive Leggett says that it won’t be used except “where youth are exhibiting potentially dangerous behaviors.” Well, police can do that now – without needing this clumsy, overreaching, and invasive tool.

The county has a hard enough time doing the jobs it is supposed to be doing; it shouldn’t take on additional tasks that are intrusive and likely to be pointless.

Leviathan winning battles in Montgomery

16 May 2011

It seemed like it was time to keep an eye on Big Government in MoCo, which has been rolling forward lately.

First, the new bag tax.

Then, the (admittedly coerced) agreement to divert resources from crime to tracking immigrants.

And now, distressingly, more bad news from the education front.  Incoming schools superintendent Joshua Starr (who looks like a real loser so far), is adding to that initial impression.

Starr told the Gazette recently that he doesn’t see the need for any charter schools in Montgomery.  Charter schools, I shouldn’t need to note, are those which would be outside of Starr’s control.

Please Protect Us From Our Protectors

27 March 2009

Unanimity scares me.  Matters that are agreed upon without dissent usually reflect (a) populist passion, (b) a lack of thoughtfulness, or (c) the blindingly obvious.  The state Senate recently passed a bill 43-0, and I’m glad to see it’s in category (c).   It’s pretty unusual, to say the least, to have a bill co-sponsored by Senators Alex Mooney and Jamie Raskin.

The bill requires any “law enforcement agency that maintains a SWAT team” (how many are there, for crying out loud?!) to report on activation and deployment of those teams to the Governor’s Office on Crime Control.   The reports are to include information on the number of arrests made, type of property seized, whether forcible entry was made, whether a SWAT team officer discharged a weapon, and whether a person or domestic animal was injured or killed in the raid.  That office, in turn, is to produce an annual analysis and summary of the use of SWAT teams in the state.

This, of course, is in response to the mistaken raid on the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo last year.    As he described it,

“My government blew through my doors and killed my dogs.  They thought we were drug dealers, and we were treated as such. I don’t think they really ever considered that we weren’t.”
Calvo described a chaotic scene, in which he — wearing only underwear and socks — and his mother-in-law were handcuffed and interrogated for hours. They were surrounded by the dogs’ carcasses and pools of the dogs’ blood, Calvo said.

The raid, it turns out, was entirely a mistake.  I suppose it takes a politician or other celebrity to be victimized before action is taken.  In defense of the SWAT team, Sgt. Ellis of the Sheriff’s office countered,  “We’re not in the habit of going to homes and shooting peoples’ dogs,” Ellis said. “If we were, there would be a lot more dead dogs around the county.”

These kind of paramilitary raids are growing throughout the country, and they represent a fundamental attitude of “We’re the government, and you don’t matter.”   Here’s a link to a local movement to address the problem at Make Maryland Great.

And here’s a map to the website of Radley Balko at the Cato Institute, who documents the horrors nationwide.  This bill is a good start, but only a start.  The police need to be brought under control, with firm regulation– before more people (and pets) are needlessly killed.

Update: Court Backs County Ban on Fortune Tellers

22 December 2008

Nick Nefedro, the fortune teller who sued to gain back his business practice, has lost his case. Apparently, county law for over fifty years strictly prohibits predicting the future for a fee.

I mean, really.  Who doesn’t know that the crystal ball routine is just a gag?  And doesn’t the Office of the County Attorney have anything better to do? And do we expect the cops to nab meteorologists, economists, and physicians next?  Or maybe confiscate the magazines offering tips for your fantasy baseball draft?

Maybe they will.  I’ll just check the horoscope in today’s paper.

They’re Making a List, and not Checking it Even Once

20 August 2008

To the outrage and indignation over the revelations that Maryland State Police have been spying on peaceful protest groups, the police have responding by insisting that they never infringed on anyone’s rights to free speech or assembly.

Granted – perhaps.  When the State is looking over your shoulder, taking notes and naming names, it may not be blocking anyone’s rights, but it sure is intimidating peaceful protest and assembly.

Furthermore, the covert surveillance is only the beginning.  By notifying the feds (including the Transportation Security Administration and the National Security Agency), the state police have placed markers for these people in the feds’ files.  Now people can be put on the terrorism watch list, which no one is allowed to see.  If you’re on the list, though (and there may be about a million people on the list at this point), it means additional hassles and grilling by TSA goons every time you fly.

CNN carried a story about a commercial airline pilot, ironically, whose name is on the terrorism watch list.  James Robinson is certified to carry a gun into the cockpit, but he’s held back and interviewed each time he boards a plane.  Of course, so is James Robinson of Michigan (a former assistant US Attorney General) and James Robinson, a third-grader from California.

Grumbles the airline pilot, “There’s going to come a point in time where everybody’s on the list”.

I’m still waiting for the governor (whose Baltimore Police participated in the spying)  or the former governor (whose State Police carried out the spying) or the State Police Superintendent (Terrence Sheridan) to offer the words we want to hear from our children: “It was wrong, I’m sorry, and I’ll never do it again.”