Saturday, November 17, 2007

Police state

Sometimes a picture is worth a 1,000 words. And sometimes those 1,000 words can say a lot about the society we live in. The picture showing up on thousands of doorsteps throughout the Spa City in Saturday’s Daily Gazette speaks volumes of the near-police state the area has become and is indicative of the worsening condition of this American democracy.

For those who didn’t happen to catch the picture entitled “road checks,” it shows a young Waterford police officer waving a motorist through a checkpoint on Route 32. The officer is no doubt being paid through the state’s bogus “Click-it or Ticket” campaign, of which the state police have so glowingly boasted about. The mandate funded through the governor’s Traffic Safety Committee allegedly saves lives by prompting people who would otherwise not wear seat belts to buckle up for once

The problem in the picture is that the patrolmen and his rather bulbous compatriot aren't checking whether drivers are wearing seat belts, according to the caption. They’re checking vehicle inspection and registration stickers. Of course, it should be noted that a duly inspected vehicle bearing a valid registration will do nothing to either save lives in horrific high-speed traffic accidents or convince people to wear their seatbelts.

These two innocuous stickers do, however, provide a perfect opportunity for the state and local municipalities to levy a sort of road tax on motorists. In most municipalities, violations of either can prompt a fine of nearly $150. The only way to avoid such a cost would be to prey the ticketing officer doesn’t show up in court. Otherwise, it’s the lofty fine in addition to the already steep cost it can sometime take to get one’s vehicle inspected.

Sure, $25 for an inspection is fairly cheap and does ensure the more radically unsafe vehicles are being kept off the road --somewhat. But when a grease ball mechanic can fail an inspection for something as minor as a small lesion in a windshield wiper blade, the whole process seems a bit comical.

The laughing stops when the police get involved. Unlike the inspections, police don’t come cheap. It costs about $90,000 to get a rookie cop trained and then at least $35,000 to keep him or her on the street. This doesn’t include the other hidden costs, such as uniforms, police stations or even the patrol cruiser, which needs to be replaced every other year. This also doesn’t include the cost of a town justice, court clerks, and an assistant district attorney to adjudicate something as ridiculous as a registration that expired the previous week.

So the police issue tickets and the courts extract their pound of flesh through fines, half of which go directly to the state with the other being pumped into the municipality’s general fund. The more stringent the regulations, the more people are busted and the more these two entities can collect for projects “to put more police back on the streets.”

But the streets are already crawling with cops. Take for instance any Saratoga County-owned road or thoroughfare. Drive for any spell during the week and you’re bound to run into at least one Saratoga County Sheriff’s deputy, a brand of uber-cop that can pick out just about any bull-shit reason in the book to pull someone over. Even if they can’t find a legally justifiable reason for a stop, they might flag you anyway just to make sure your story checks out.

Behind it all is Sheriff James Bowen, New York’s longest tenured sheriff. Since being appointed to the position by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1972, Bowen has built himself a vast public safety empire, through which he’s slowly edged out one small police force after the next. With the hire of 23 additional staffers last year, the sheriff’s department has grown to include a total of 94 deputies.

Controlling the county’s largest omnipresent police force isn’t enough for Bowen, who recently proposed hiring another nine deputies. His requests are the lion’s share of a $1.5 million list pitched by department heads for next year’s county budget. And like another grizzled veteran Saratoga County regulator, Bowen seems to thinks his force is worthy of multi-million dollar public safety castle at the taxpayer’s expense.

“We've outgrown [the old] facility. It was built in 1987,” Bowen told the Daily Gazette in August, after a consultant determined the new structure would cost $15.2 million.

Built 20 years ago and already outdated? Perhaps this due of poor planning. Or perhaps it’s because of the relentless hiring of deputies to harass the public and pad local municipal budgets. Either way, Bowen’s troop is slowly spreading its way across county like a scourge of locusts and contributing to the already overextend long arm of the law in a county that is a generally crime-free.

Some might argue this is necessary in the post-9-11 world, where every fifth person might be a plotting terrorist in wait. Others of sounder mind might argue this is just another step towards a police state. Needless to say, it’s hard to view the dark-clad fresh-faced Waterford officer with a taught hand waving on traffic without somewhat reflecting upon the storm troopers that once conducted similar check points throughout history.

26 Comments:

Blogger shotinthedark said...

Not only do our paid police and fire departments require luxury surroundings and equipment, this same consumption has also infected many of our volunteer fire departments. Go ahead and take a Sunday drive and shake your head in disgust at some of our country bumpkin's fire stations. These gigantic, no expense-spared, well manicured, and seldom used castles that are stuffed with all trimmings are not cheap.

The drug war, the war on terror, and now the war on illegal immigration; the future looks bright for any young red blooded-American that is thinking of getting into a career of public safety. Money seems to not be an issue when it is used under the guise of protecting the public from all of these false trumped-up politically motivated problems.

9:20 PM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Horatio:
“through which he’s slowly edged out one small police force after the next.”

Now that the count republicans have got their voice being heard in the city council chambers again and we lose our water rights to the county; maybe the next step would be to say good-bye to Saratoga’s Finest in favor of those handsome county boys.
Do you think Moore and the boys would like working under Bowen?
I'm sure Bowen would know how to help Kim with all of his little problems.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bowen goes back to the Pleistocene age along with the Cohoes Mammoth. No doubt, a fan of Broderick Crawford's cold war era's "Highway Patrol", the badge (and the black and white 1956 Ford Fairlane) became synonymous with safety, control and enforcement. But his public safety model of being a traditional “American” conservative, ends when it comes to becoming a junkie, addicted to a seductive tax payer revenue stream, not unlike our own experience at the city level. Often absorbed in their importance, they invest more interest in their retirements than their career’s work. The proverbial, means to an end. Although it does seem, that Bowen doesn't plan on retirement. Code Red. 10-4.

Money’s are spent on hiring and training with little attention towards efficiency, because the taxpayer will eventually pay for it. Enough equipment and TV generated technologies will keep us safe and prepared, unless of course we suffer a power outage or a snowstorm. Is there ever really a working plan? The County’s emergency coordinator is sitting on a plan to evacuate NYC that’s almost 40 years old. It had better not happen at peak commuter times or he’s in trouble, but I’m sure he hopes that it doesn’t happen on his watch, like the New Orleans storm preparedness fiasco. Then there was Y2K. Who even knew what that meant yet afterward, federal monies were secured by communities to prevent another recurrence of that pox. But then, there was the next snowstorm that took out the city generator and power to the city for 3 days.

In Vietnam, we were told, that the enemy was ‘so inferior’ that all we had to do was fire a couple of hundred rounds in a panic into the direction of a suspicious water buffalo and that would keep the enemy fearful and the base safe. More weapons, more equipment, more staff, more safer? Our system is great at acknowledging movements of crime, gangs, drugs, etc. but not good at rolling up the sleeves and trying to stop the advance, which is more often than not, usually left up to the volunteer organizations, working on the dime to be innovative.

I will say, that the State Police are noticeably different. Well trained professionals and all business. They stand behind the door pillar when they pull you over and approach you with the assumption, that you’re dangerous. Personally, I’d like a cross between their professionalism and the comfort of an Andy Taylor know your community -- walk its streets (get out of the cars) – feel its beat – public safety department. I guess our Otis jail cell is only missing the coffee service and Aunt Bee’s donuts.

Yes, it is too bad that we couldn’t expect our police to live within the city. For that matter, all of our City employees. Who can imagine a city development facilitator who influences the future of a city or an assessor who adjusts its values, or 65% of its employees demanding tax increases living outside the City? Welcome to Saratoga Springs. Yes, that would be something. Perhaps then, the connection of asking for things and paying for them wouldn’t be so great.

5:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to quote a book that I think gives people beliefs in magical thinking, but this sentiment really rings true:

"The anti-war movement creates more war. The anti-drug movement has actually created more drugs. Because we're focusing on what we don't want"-- Jack Canfield, from The Secret.

The more we fill up our towns and cities with police, the more we are justifying and encouraging a society of Good versus Evil. It is a literal investment in policing.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Blue Dog said...

Way too many cops out there! Public Safety, not public harrassment! Cut the number of police in half across the board. Less cops and forget building a new station. Move DPW and remodel city hall. Chief Moore should be replaced. Instead of half a million dollars let's give him a swift kick in the ass on the way out the door.

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dem roc said:
being a deadhead and having made the trip to shows in the past, i can tell you i'm no huge friend of the cops. but there needs to be a balance between the 2. i hate that new equipment that can read your whole record as you drive by them. thanks to the rehnquist supreme court for eroding the 4th amendment.
ya and i said the same thing about city hall. keep the police and courts there, put some money into it so it looks goog for the community. then build an office building for the offices.
but anything that does get done will be at taxpayers expence it's kind of silly to decry it just on that account.
and shot in the dark, i'm not sure what your problem is with all municipal employees but i'm glad you're not making these decisions for the rest of us. i would like to think that if you only used the fire house for one fire a year it would still be worth it. better equipment means a better chance to save someone's life or health. so since i can't guarantee that i won't be in a life threatening accident or fire of somesorts i'm all for these fire depts to be well stocked. (within reason)

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, you're all full of baloney. Sure, those checkpoints are bullshit, but in no sane measure are even remotely comparable to anything the Nazis did. Y'all should be grateful for your freedom, instead of whining about your supposed oppression by the police. Boo-hoo. You'll call 'em if you need 'em and they'll come, maybe at risk to themselves. You sound like upper-middle class twits condescending to the working-class cops, whom you apparently think are only good enough to do your dirty work.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was talking to a young man who has graduated from college who recently began teaching in a public school system in the area. This conversation took place in an informal manner as we were having a few beers and shooting pool. He is a friend of a friend.

During our conversation he casually mentioned that his highest priority in his life at the present time was getting his tenure. He was about to begin his second year of employment with this school. He told me that he was very concerned about what he said and did at work because he thought he worked among many backstabbers. He probably does.

This kid decided at an early age that he was going to become part of the system. He has played the game: all of his ducks are in a row. He has a nice girlfriend.

10:01 PM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Dem Roc
"and shot in the dark, i'm not sure what your problem is with all municipal employees but i'm glad you're not making these decisions for the rest of us."

No, I am not making any decisions for you. The fact of the matter is nobody is making decisions for you anymore because the system is out of control.

If you are unable to see the numerous problems that exist with municipal employees at the present time; I would suggest that you have blinders on and don't really want to see the problem. However, I will guarantee you that within the next few years you will not only be able to see the problem but you will also feel the problem; in your wallet.

I am from the old school where public service was considered noble. I know that there are still some people who are in public service for this reason. The only problem nowadays is the simple fact that there are so few of them.

There are too many people who are supposed to be serving the public who in reality are self-serving.

12:47 AM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Anonymous 9:11pm,

"You sound like upper-middle class twits condescending to the working-class cops, whom you apparently think are only good enough to do your dirty work."

You refer to the “classes” of people; I contend the only classes that matter are the haves and the have-nots.

I have paid for my own health insurance for the last 27 years. It presently cost $912.59 per month. If I am sick and miss work I don't get paid. If I take a vacation nobody pays me. The only retirement I have is what I am able to save. If I don't do my job well nobody hires me. I was not born with a silver spoon stuck up my ass. I am very fortunate to be able to live off of my wits and working long hours.

I don't mind doing my own dirty work, in fact I find it rewarding

1:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 9:11 This is not about the working class hero. Our professional enforcement officers and personnel, make a good career out of school by wearing the badge and putting their lives on the line in this crime-infested metropolis community. The salaries and the benefits after 25 years can compensate most with far greater rewards than most critical jobs and careers in our community that do not offer such job security. The Fire department is another well kept secret for those willing to pull night shift and another paying day job. Yes, these are important responsible jobs in our community, but at what price do we indulge a good thing?

The underpaid public safety individual is a thing of the past, not unlike the once pitied part time teacher. When Lennon wrote, “When you can't really function, you're so full of fear,” he wasn’t referring to the system we’ve watched evolve over the last thirty years. Figuratively speaking, “This ain’t your father’s police station.”

Even our school system has managed to grow like a plague under the guidance of a now retired Ph.D. whose access to, by those who paid for his indulgences were always kept at bay, like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Today, its student population desperately tries to catch up to and respond to (and legitimize) the cost of the system. Like the FD wanting to own and operate their own ambulances, the school system should have jettisoned their buses long ago. It’s an overbearing cost on the system. And why do so many of our police cars go home to Wilton at night?

Unknowingly, the workforce housing advocates started their cry two years ago by suggesting that our teachers and our fire and policemen could not afford a house in the City, but quietly changed their tune to “I’ll take the rural road and you take the city road … you know the rest.” Most of these tenured individuals live in Wilton and pay no City taxes.

The nefarious thinking behind this abuse of power does not trickle down to the individual employee, who is usually too busy first trying to save the world and then themselves once they’ve been in uniform or behind the desk or responding to false alarms for 10 years. The leadership on the other hand, like our County Lawman sees themselves to be omnipotent. Do you realize that communities like Wilton (a community that will very soon surpass our City’s population – just waiting for that water to be paid for by you know who.) and Clifton Park (larger than our City) have NO police and fire departments. That’s right, part of your County tax dollars pay for their police services and Bowan would like nothing more than to absorb more territory, grow larger and appear more vital. “I’m in charge here, get out of the County – by sundown stranger!” 10-4

There is nothing wrong with suggesting a little restraint in fiscal spending – I’m certainly not recommending, death by choke-hold. A dose of reality is not a bad idea for those who have grown accustomed to budgeting more and more each year. The idea that if it doesn't cost more, we're not doing our jobs is a questionable and dangerous path to follow.

Yes, “A working class hero is something to be.”

4:34 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

“Ah, you're all full of baloney. Sure, those checkpoints are bullshit, but in no sane measure are even remotely comparable to anything the Nazis did.”

You’re obviously no historian. The Nazis didn’t come to power by feeding hundreds of thousands of Jews, Russians and gypsies to the regime furnaces. No, they came to power in a far more innocuous fashion, building on national sentiment that was so dreadfully tarnished after the World War I; they built on the fear of Germans that their once great society was slowly unraveling thanks to the flux of foreign laborers and other blood not native to the homeland.

It wasn’t until the Nazis secured a sizeable clutch on government that they began these checkpoints. First, it was something as small as a contingent of soldiers patrolling a city. Then it developed into road blocks. And finally, it moved into storm troopers, raiding buildings, pulling people from their lives and inserting them in death camps. These changes happened in a slow and plodding fashion; so slow that the rest of the world never knew the full extent of the Nazi reign of terror before it was too late to stop.

Don’t think for one minute that this nation’s people or its governance is above falling into the same trap Germany did back in the 1920s. Keep a keen eye on this too, as the middle class is slowly extinguished and the AM shock jocks keep referring to a bunch of migrant laborers as the next scourge on this great nation. The dollar is shit, our gas-driven society is slowly being choked into depression, people are losing their houses and unrest is increasing; American society is at a breaking point and when it finally snaps, there will be Sheriff Bowen and his squad of Keystone Kops to maintain the New World Order.

“Y'all should be grateful for your freedom, instead of whining about your supposed oppression by the police.”

I’m very proud of my freedom. That’s why I spend hours of each day voicing them right here. I’d like to keep my freedoms too, rather than face one of these deputies every time I step out for a drive.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Scoop said...

Speaking as someone who spent 26 years in law enforcement, it wasn't a picnic.

The pay and benefits varies from town to city, county and state.

Everyone falls over the state police but all basic police training in NY is the same now.

As far as headquarters or stations are concerned, police have nothing like the volunteer firefighters have today.

I worked all three shifts, weekends and holidays in every kind of weather.

You can bitch about cops, deputies or troopers but until you worked and walked in their shoes, been assaulted, pruked on by drunks, I wouldn't go to far talking trash.

And how many times have I heard, “There is never a cop around when you need one.” Well we would be there if we weren’t across town trying to settle a barking dog complaint while some women is getting the shit choked out of her by a drunken boyfriend.

And its tough to go to work on Christmas morning while your kids are getting ready to open their presents and on a Sunday in July when your neighbors are cooking out you are getting ready to leave to go work a 4 to 12 shift.

It is a career we chose like firemen, who are a hero today when they drag a victim out of a burning building and then get shit upon when they get a 3% raise.

9:32 AM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Anonymous 9:11pm,

"You sound like upper-middle class twits condescending to the working-class cops,"

You must be kidding; your reference to working-class cops shows your ignorance. I do not know the specifics of what local cops make. However, I do have a friend in Mass. whose son started working at a local police force similar to ours three years ago. Last year he made $81,000 with overtime plus let's say another $27,000 in vacation, sick time, health insurance and retirement benefits. He will be able to retire well before he is 55 years old.
If you think that this pay is reflective of "working class" pay in relation to that of the private sector you are woefully misinformed.

There are several major structural problems with the public employee system.
1. The politicians that are elected have nothing personally to lose when they give raises or make improvements to public facilities. The money is not coming out of their pockets. It is very easy to spends someone else money. They also have a monopoly on the products they sell. (Police, fire, education) There is no competition. In fact they detest the thought of competition, cooperation, and coordination as in combining services with other local, county, and state agencies. They are protecting their own turf. They love redundancy.
2. Many of these politicians lose sight of the fact that their obligation is to that of the taxpayer. Instead they become part of the problem by cozying up and rewarding select groups of supporter including public employees.
3. Public employees can not be terminated as private sector employees are. It is easier to disown your own son than it is to get rid of an inept lazy government work.
4. I actually feel bad for the few dedicated hard working public employees. It must be difficult for them to have to work alongside all of those other miscreants. It must be embarrassing to be lumped together with the likes of them.


The system is broken. The system is corrupt. The system is totally out of whack.

I could go on forever on this subject; however, I have to get back to work so that I can pay for my health insurance this month.

I will leave you with this parting shot. If you want to see how noble our pubic employees are; go watch them play golf or fishing, especially the ones that have been fully retired with lifetime benefits with minor injuries since their early 40's.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Horatio, I may be no historian, but you are no logician. If Hitler said two plus two equals four, that doesn't mean mathematicians are all Nazis. Hitler and Eisenhower both built major road systems; that doesn't make them morally equivalent, or have anything to do with the evils of Nazism. Nor does the Waterford checkpoint.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Horatio,
Nice post, but please breathe, brother. Breathe...

7:23 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

No, the Waterford Police aren’t the SS incarnate. In fact, I’d much rather contend with a dozen cops in Waterford than an extra 10 with the Sheriff’s Department. I think you’re missing my point. It’s not to say ALL or ANY cops are Nazis. I’m saying there’s been a fundamental shift in law enforcement over the last two decades and one that doesn’t paint an endearing picture for the future, especially if the public just accepts things like random “seatbelt” checks.

It’s the same principal behind warrantless surveillance. While the Neocon shock-jocks were railing on about how these were necessary to “protect” the nation, I was thinking about how Americans took one step closer a police state. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting damn close. If you don’t guard the freedoms you have, one day you’ll look and they won’t be there. And once they’re gone, there’s only one way to get them back. It starts with an “r” and involves a good deal of bloodshed.

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dem roc said:
shot in the dark. thank you for pointing out the obvious. i know you' aren't making my decision's, that's why i said i was glad. because you seem a bit crazy to be making then even for yourself.

4:19 PM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

I was intermittingly (constantly flicking the remote) listening to the council meeting on TV this evening. They were discussing the capital budget for spending on the new police station.

Kim was saying he specializes in bankruptcy and normally this time of year (The holidays) his business is very slow. However, this year he is extremely busy. He goes on to say that there is something definitely very wrong with the economy.

Franck basically says the same thing, referring to some very troubling economic statistics.

Kim states something is fucked up with the economy but we should do SOMETHING about the police station because it has been discussed for the last thirty years.

With the economy faltering in a big way, I’m sitting there thinking that the right SOMETHING to do might be NOTHING.

He mentions some more stupid shit about the cardboard fire they had a couple of weeks ago and how the locks are original to the building 1874? So now they don't lock the cells anymore, instead they pay our finest overtime to sit in the cell with the prisoners. They are worried about getting the prisoners out safely if a fire were to start.

A little common sense goes a long way. I could fix that fucking problem with two guys in less that one day.
I would first get a set of torches and cut out the old locks so they wouldn't inadvertently be used. I would then go and get some grade A chain and buy a heavy duty industrial padlock. I know that this would only be a temporary fix but I am sure it would save the taxpayers beaucoup money. Can't anyone that is in charge down there use their heads to TRY to give the taxpayers a break? Do we really have to spend 19 million because they can’t get the damn locks fixed? With all the money those fucking assholes are being paid you think that they would just try.

Anyways, Kim voted to spend the money: Franck voted no
It passed 3 to 2.

7:22 PM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

dem roc said:

"Because you seem a bit crazy"

Yes, I have on occasion been referred to as a bit crazy by both friend and foe. I wear the label as a badge of honor.

I am also a bit crazy for repeatedly trying to have an intelligent conversation with you. But what the hell, I might get lucky one day.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dem roc said.
s.i.t.d. i'm not sure at what point you've engaged in any intelligent conversations. by the sounds of it, you've been waiting for that conversation you're whole life. you sound more like the grumpy old man character from SNL. "in my day we had no police, firedept or municipal employees, and we liked it."

4:58 PM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Dear demroc,

Horatio won't let me write any more nasty messages to you. I'm actually glad that he's not posting them.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Shot:

Sorry dude, I've got to nip the out-and-out trash-talking in the bud. A few playful jabs here and there is cool. Like I've said before: just make sure there's a cursory association to at least some issue being discussed here.

Everyone here is entitled to an opinion. But let's remember this ain't the FOX network...

9:50 PM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Horatio,

I said I was glad that you have deleted some of my comments. I was being sincere.

I have a very foul mouth.
I am not the type of person that gets invited to dinner parties.

That being said, you’re absolutely right as far as dem roc is concerned; screaming at him is akin to screaming at a dumb animal. Nowadays, I could be arrested for animal cruelty

6:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

demroc said:
yell at me in real life and see what happens shotin the dark. i can assure you you will not be the one arrested, but you might enjoy some of the first responders luxury accomodations that you've mentioned. you've gone far out of your way and over the top on a lot of your comments, instead of coming back with an intelligent argument, you come back with lines from the dirty oldman hand book. i'm more worried about my kid then myself. are dumb animals uncapable of caring aswell.

8:45 AM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

demroc said:
"yell at me in real life and see what happens shotin the dark. i can assure you you will not be the one arrested"

Oh boy, dem roc's a real man. He's going to beat me up.
I'm not really worried because with all of your bitterness, anger, and vitriol that you have directed towards "tmac" he still appears in good health.
I quit worrying about childish bullies like you back in elementary school.
It’s always the same; angry bitter blowhards such as yourself become frustrated because no one listens to your ignorant rants. You resort to feigned macho bravado when called out on the carpet but end up running home to mommy with your tail tucked between your legs.
You like to dish it out but can’t take it when it comes back to you.

1:34 PM  

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