14 November 2004

Questions From Abroad

From the other side of the pond Lewis Maskell asks 3 questions:

What is it about the Scott Petersen case? I mean, it doesn't seem particularly special. All of America seems fazed by it. There is just something about all the trial-watching that this Brit just does not get.
Join the club.

There's nothing spectacularly different in this case than any number of others. I'd like to attribute it to 24 hour news networks and Court TV needing something to show but that's only a partial explanation. Court TV has news from all sorts of trials each week and very few take off like this. What I think sparked it all was the time when the victims were "missing." Everything that could be done by a couple upper class families and the police to publicize the search was being done (let's not kid ourselves, if this family didn't have money it probably would have gotten a little local coverage - if that). So we had all sorts of interest built and then all the stuff about Scott Peterson started coming out and everybody was getting sucked in more. Then a couple big name attorneys swept in and the soap opera was on in full force. It just kept feeding upon itself from that point.
Don't you ever get the feeling that a round-up of marijuana seizures (or other drug seizures for that matter) is really just the authorities patting themselves on the back?
It's not quite that simple. The primary purpose of any police force is to keep the peace. It is the force which keeps every other block from being run by whatever gang is prominent. It stops "real" crimes such as murder, rape, or robbery. It deters future crimes by apprehending those who have committed them previously and by "showing the flag." However, this all requires officers to cover a large enough area and respond to emergencies in sufficient numbers. Thus, for a substantial portion of the time the officers are not going to have anything to do.

Thankfully, our legislators are willing, and able, to step into the breach with all sorts of laws establishing less important but far more common violations. Among these are drug laws which guarantee that any enterprising officer who really wants to can fill up his entire day stopping cars which have air fresheners or Saint Christopher medals hanging from the rear view mirror (or some other bogus, minor violation) so that he can check ID, issue a warning, give back the driver's license, and then proceed with the real purpose of the stop:
Officer: "You don't have anything dangerous or illegal in the car like a gun or drugs?"

Driver: "No sir." (What else is he going to say?)

Officer: "Then you wouldn't mind if I searched your vehicle?"
A couple lucky stops and suddenly you're a big guy on the force. Unlike homicides or robberies (where the police are most often in reactive mode), drug enforcement is where an officer can be proactive and show he's a hard charger. Maybe he can get a promotion or get tagged to work on some task force.

The various task forces are filled with those who have shown the drive and ability to succeed at drug interdiction. These people are then tasked with succeeding at an even greater level. Their careers depend upon it. They don't come in with massive marijuana destructions during harvesting season and everybody knows they have failed. They don't interdict the drugs everyone knows travel down the interstate and it doesn't bode well for their careers. Thus the massive interdictions and crop destructions.

The problem is that it just doesn't work. No matter how many times and how hard these officers work their rears off to plug the dike it does no good. For every hole they plug 3 more open and the water is flowing over the top as well. They really have no chance. Most of these officers are dedicated and work extremely hard (I doubt many are craven enough to merely be ladder climbers); however, they are so badly outnumbered it's hard to see any real difference which comes from their effort.

So, no I don't feel as though it is the police patting themselves on the back. I feel more like it is the police being tasked with an impossible duty and taking some pride on those occasions when they do accomplish enough to be noted.
And was there any particular reason why you switched to wearing the orange top half-way through? I kept wondering if there was some particular point, or whether it was simply because you got cold.

Actually, if I had a little better lighting you'd see that the first section is in a maroon sweater, the next in a jacket over it, and the third in a yellow sweatshirt from my college. This reflects the fact that the first two were filmed on the first day and the last section was done on Thursday when the courts were closed and I could come into my office in comfortable clothes. You'll note I said comfortable, not casual. One of the perks of being your own boss is not having to answer to anyone if I come into the office dressed like a slob.

1 comment:

Arvin said...

Officer: "You don't have anything dangerous or illegal in the car like a gun or drugs?"

Driver: "No sir." (What else is he going to say?)
If you're in Contra Costa County, apparently drivers say: "Why yes, Officer, I've got some cocaine right here in my pocket" all the time...