Friday, March 15, 2013

Police State

Cops stick together, but can't Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn find a better inspiration than the East German Secret Police, the dreaded Stasi?

Oppressive even by Stalinist standards, the Stasi became notorious in particular for its use of informers.   With one informer for every 6.5 citizens, the Stasi maintained greater surveillance over the subjects of its state than any secret police force in history, including the rest of the Soviet bloc.

Now Monroe County's own Sheriff asks citizens to spy on and report each other.   Specifically, on fellow citizens they observe driving while "distracted." People reported won't be charged.  They'll get a "warning letter," but won't learn who reported them.

The gimmick of a "warning letter" is itself a cowardly and sleazy way around the right of an accused person to confront his accuser. If there's no formal charge, the constitutional right doesn't apply. Yet the Sheriff gets to leverage all the coercive force of police power, not to arrest, but to intimidate.   Pure sleaze.

Part of the psychological technique of the oppressive state:   isolate and intimidate by not letting people trust anyone else.   Who knows who might report you?   Or for what?

Never mind that the Sheriff provides no safeguard against his informants filing false or malicious reports solely to harass.

Never mind that just writing down the information required for the report will distract anyone a lot more than a simple phone call. Informants must note their victim's license plate and sex, describe the vehicle, the alleged offense and note the date and time.   A lot to write down behind the wheel.

But that just illustrates the real purpose, so grimly familiar here in the Vampire State.   The Sheriff's not going after eating or drinking in the car, rummaging through your purse or briefcase, reading the paper, consulting a map, putting on makeup, inserting a CD, or the thousand and one other things people do in cars.   Informers submit a "Mobile Device Violation Report."

It's all about your cellphone.   What O'Flynn's informants are most likely to notice isn't the indisputably reckless texting while driving. Much easier to spot other people just talking -- an act far less distracting than any of the commonplace in-car activities noted above.   The Sheriff's plan adds further insult to the injury of a bad law designed only to rip off and harass ordinary citizens going about their day.   Typical New York:   find things everyone does, criminalize them, collect the fines.

We've thought of our Sheriff more in the tradition of the gentle Irish romantic than the jackbooted Stalinist oppressor.   But his latest initiative reminds us that there's but a thin line between Officer Friendly and Kommissar Kissoff.   By inviting citizens to turn informant, Sheriff O'Flynn has crossed it.


Anonymous said...

I do so love reading this blog the flawed, demented and paranoid logic you apply to everything really takes you down some amazing paths...

What's most interesting here is that while I agree the program is flawed at a fundamental level and should be abolished, it's not because my tinfoil hat slipped slightly askew and the brain beams got me. It's because, as you said, collecting the necessary information is in itself distracting and that it has no teeth.

I already know how you feel this would lead to the police state you're so desperately hoping is on its way: you suffer from belief in the slipper slope fallacy. But, I am curious how this could be used for harassment? I suppose, were I to disconnect my higher brain functions, I could see how someone could spend a lot of time and effort submitting these against people they don't like. But, the complexity noted above that makes the plan useless also prevents such silliness.

And, sorry, the concept that people just talking (even if using a hands free kit) is somehow safer is simply not true. Study after study has shown any form of distraction, including talking to passengers in the vehicle, is just as dangerous as any other. The incidence of accident are just as high for all forms of distraction.

But, that's pointless. You must be driving on completely different roads around Rochester than I am because all I ever see are people texting on their phones. I'm in favor of allowing other drivers to run these scumbags off the road. Screw simply submitting a form.

Finally, before any of you want to reply about how YOU can drive while juggling 6 cats and 12 flaming chainsaws, please Google the term "fundamental attribution error". You're absolutely not as good a driver as you think, and the number of accidents you've had or not had is not an accurate indicator of that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. When this plan was announced, it just sounded like a bad idea, but I really could not explain that feeling. It just doesn't seem right to ask people to spy and tattle on one another. You've given voice to very solid reasons why it's a poor idea. An important one is your point about denying people the right to know whose accusing them.

O'Flynn's a good guy, not a fascist, but the comparison with the East Germans is a humorous way to make the point. As always, ridicule can be a good weapon against government overreach and pretension. This one deserves plenty of ridicule.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

What worries me here is the due process dimension of this. Do these "warnings" carry the same presumption of guilt as in the "warning" that you get from a cop who decides to give you a break in a traffic stop?

If so, then these will show up when a cop pulls you over and enters your license and registration data into his computer and pulls your driving history. It will affect the judgment call that a cop makes on whether to ticket you or not.

It is one thing for a cop to implicitly trust that a warning given by another cop was warranted. It is another thing entirely for a cop to take at face value a warning based on an anonymous, and possibly malicious, citizen complaint.