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.