Archive for the ‘Police State’ 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?

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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.

The Costs and Benefits of Real ID

14 April 2009

The Department of Homeland Security establishes 18 separate benchmarks that need to be met in order to be compliant with the Real ID act.  To date, Maryland has met less than half of those benchmarks.    The state is now grappling with the issue of meeting the remaining benchmarks — including verification of legal immigration status — despite the expense of doing so.

And the expenses are significant.  First, the budgetary costs.  Are these in the budget? How much are they estimated to run?  DHS estimates the costs to average $78 per state — so you can assume it will cost Maryland at least $150 million.

There are also security costs.  Implementation of Real ID will surely lead to a loss of security.  Forming a national database that lists all the private information of license-holders, is like putting all your money in one box.  Sophisticated (and maybe not-so-sophisticated) hackers will have a ready-made avenue for identity theft.  In that respect, Real ID represents a tremendous security threat.  Identity theft is already a widespread problem, and Real ID would make it worse.

Then there are costs to physical safety:  Already, 30-50% of non-native applicants for Maryland drivers’ licenses are being rejected by the MVA, because of insufficient documentation of residence.  The General Assembly is currently considering, independent of Real ID, six separate bills to require proof of federal immigration status for drivers.   What will happen if Real ID is put into effect, and even more drivers are rejected?

It’s not likely that they will just quit their jobs and plop down on the couch at home.  Rather, it’s likely that they will just drive anyway.  This means that they become kind of a black market on the highway.  They will avoid police, maybe decline insurance, and become kind of an underground, below-the-radar fleet.  Unlicensed drivers mean it’s harder for police to track them down in the event of an accident, and it is harder to hold them accountable.  The overall effect is reduced highway safety.

And what are the benefits of implementing Real ID?  Maybe you could say that all the costs are worthwhile, if it reduces the threat of terrorism.  Right.   Somehow, I just can’t imagine Mohammed Atta calling up Osama bin Laden to report, “Uh, sorry chief, we have to scrap the whole operation because I couldn’t get driver’s license from the MVA.”

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.

Cracking Down on the Vegetable Menace

6 February 2009

Preadolescents in the area must be hoarse from cheering. It seems that MoCo health inspectors are raiding farmers’ markets, and shutting down vegetable vendors who are – gasp! – giving out samples.

“A whole tomato or cucumber is fine, we don’t regulate that or have fees associated with that,” said Clark Beil, a senior county administrator of licensure and regulatory services.

“But if they slice up those tomatoes and cucumbers and offer samples, that is different, now you’re food service and we have to treat you differently.”

Distracting the Police from Crime

19 January 2009

Our good friends at Help Save Maryland From People Who Look Different are at it again. Now they are seeking to implement racial profiling on a grand scale. They seek to divert police resources from rapes, murders, burglaries, and other actual crimes, to profile Hispanics as possible immigrants (gasp!). This is particularly idiotic at a time when violent crime in the county is on an uptick.

This isn’t the time to assuage the ravings of a few foaming xenophobes. Keep police resources focused on crime. The Prince George’s County Council passed a resolution in 2005, precluding the police from enforcing federal detainers for immigration warrants. MoCo should adopt that policy, too.