Tag Archives: public safety

The Bully Budget: A Saturday Rant

The proposed budget from the White House is a mean-spirited, minimal, and squalid picture of this administration’s Ideal Government. That, after all, is the function of any budget — the household budget is a plan for the ideal month or the ideal year for expenditures.  So, if this is the administration’s ideal state, it’s pathetic.

At bottom, it’s a massive transfer of wealth from working Americans and small businesses, to the wealthy and multi-national corporations.  It supports the military-industrial complex, but not the workers who build the various machines of war. It supports the fossil fuel industry, but not those who labor in the oil fields, or want to make the family budget stretch to putting more gasoline in the tank. It is a budget which quantified people without adding to the quality of their lives. It is a budget that is all stick and no carrots.

It is a budget which calls for more people to “save” for the exigencies and emergencies in their  lives without granting them the tools needed to secure their own futures. It is a budget which tacitly blames people for circumstances that are beyond their control. It is a budget that assumes the mythology of the fictional Horatio Alger, without bothering to read the book in which our young hero goes from rags to riches by marrying the boss’s daughter.

It is a budget that insults the American public — as if we don’t “need” the documentary films by Ken Burns on PBS, as if we don’t “need” exhibitions of art in our museums, as if we don’t “need” programs like art and music in our schools, as if we don’t appreciate the services of our local libraries. It is a budget that presumes that only the cultured (and rich) who can afford to buy the books, the art, the travel to faraway places, will actually benefit from the accessibility to the arts and humanities.  It is a budget that assumes no quantifiable benefit will accrue to a youngster from a family with limited resources who sits in a library thumbing through a book on dinosaurs, or the planets, or flowers and wildlife.

It is a budget that denigrates the efforts of a mother who takes the kids to the museum on a Saturday, the father who sits with his sons and daughters to watch a PBS documentary on “American Experience” and asks questions of them afterwards to see what they’ve learned.

It is a budget that doesn’t even keep the families safe. It cuts expenditures for promising medical research, for containing the dismal prospects of epidemics, even for the ‘welfare observations’ made by the volunteers from Meals on Wheels who not only deliver food to elderly relatives who want to remain in their homes, but observe and report circumstances that impinge on that person’s safety and health.  What the family wants to know is that an elderly grandparent is Okay today, and tomorrow. There will be a time when independence is no longer an option, but as long as the grandparents, or great-grandparents, can stay in their beloved homes, and the relatives can be assured they are safe; programs for the aging help keep those homes safe and the occupants secure.

It is a budget that doesn’t even keep struggling families safe from food insecurity. A full pantry is to be the responsibility of the family.  Except real life doesn’t quite work like that.  If the family consists of a mother who stays home (the traditionalist Ideal) and a father who has a minimum wage job, filling up the cabinets and refrigerator with food is a daily struggle. Even when both parents are working keeping up with the dietary needs of two children puts the “insecurity” into the food equation.  No one is safe who is unfed. Dietary deficiencies have medical consequences.  The Army found that out during World War II when many draftees had to be rejected for dietary related physical conditions; the result was the school lunch program.

It is a budget that presumes that all police officers and law enforcement agencies operate in a realm reminiscent of Scott Foresman’s Dick and Jane readers. There is no need to fund community policing because every officer walks his beat, knows every family in the neighborhood, and returns silly children to the safety of their living rooms. The founding philosophy of this budget is that parents really don’t have “The Talk” with their POC offspring, ignoring the point that policing services are better and safer when the people in the neighborhood feel secure talking to their law enforcement officers.

It is a budget that threatens the safety of entire cities.  Air and water pollution regulations, decried by ultra-conservatives as destructive of jobs (never specified), are to be relaxed. Smog is really no respecter of neighborhood boundaries. Pollution of ground water resources doesn’t respect city limits or county boundaries.  Chemical spills endanger our very own habitat. Toxic emissions don’t magically evaporate.  There are health implications for all deregulation. There are insurance implications for all deregulation. There are property value implications for all deregulation. As property values decline in neighborhoods susceptible to pollution, so do the revenue prospects of the very cities and counties which rely on property taxes.  Deplete the tax base and we diminish the ability of the community to deal with the results of environmental pollution.

It is a budget by and for bullies.  It is an Ideal Plan for beefing up our military, with all manner of equipment with which we can bully those with whom we share this planet. It is not a budget — an Ideal Plan — for talking to our allies, approaching our foes, and addressing the concerns of those who are unsure of our motivations. It is a budget which allows the selfish and successful to announce firmly that they don’t intend to pitch in a dime more than they must toward satisfying the needs of their fellow citizens. It is an Ideal Plan for a mean-spirited, minimal, and squalid vision of America.

 

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Zombie Guns Blazing in NV Legislature

zombie guns 2

This is the kind of news Nevada can do without:

“A “campus carry” bill believed to be dead in the Senate will be amended into another Second Amendment measure on Friday, Assembly Judiciary Chairman Ira Hansen said Wednesday.

Hansen said that because the Senate Judiciary Committee won’t hear Assembly Bill 148 that would allow those with concealed weapons permits to carry their weapons on college campuses, it will be amended into a Senate bill on the deadline day for committee action on most bills.” [LVRJ]

The bills in question is SB 175 and SB 240.  The Guns Galore crowd, championed by Michele Fiore (R-NRA) and Ira Hansen (R-Ammostan), wants those with concealed carry permits to be able to pack “heat” on college campuses.  Little matter that others may find this uncomfortable or downright dangerous.  Happily, there are some restrictions in place on concealed carry permitting in this state – not that the Ammosexuals wouldn’t like to eliminate those eventually.

The Current Requirements

In Clark County those wanting a permit must the a Nevada resident of Clark County, or an out of state resident who has received firearms training in Clark County; 21 years of age, not prohibited from firearms ownership by state or federal law; and must successfully complete an approved firearms course in Clark County.  [LVMPD]

The requirements in Washoe County are essentially the same. A person must be at least 21, provide documentation of competence with a firearm, meet the standards set forth in NRS 202, have no DUIs in the preceding five years or record of “substance abuse.”  [Washoe pdf]

Campus Numbers

The University of Nevada campus in Reno as of the Fall of 2013 had 15,694 undergraduates, of whom 47%, or 7,454 were male, 8,240 were female.  The average age of a UNR undergraduate was — 21 years of age. [CP]  There were 23,090 undergraduates enrolled in UNLV, 12,824 female, 10,275 male.  The average undergraduate age at UNLV was reported as 18 years. 23% were aged 25 or older. [CP]

One obvious feature of these figures is that there are a significant number of young males on both major college campuses in this state.  We do know from the CDC* and other sources  that firearms and young men aren’t a particularly good mixture.  Pew Social Trends reported:

“Men (and boys) make up the vast majority (84% in 2010) of gun homicide victims. The gun homicide rates for both genders have declined by similar amounts since the mid-1990s, though the male rate is much higher—6.2 gun homicides per 100,000 people in 2010, compared with 1.1 for females.”

… and …

“Males are the vast majority of gun suicides (87% in 2010), and the suicide rate for males (11.2 deaths per 100,000 people) is more than seven times the female rate (1.5 deaths). The highest firearm suicide rate by age is among those ages 65 and older (10.6 per 100,000 people).”

Thus, what the ammosexual alliance is proposing is to place more firearms in a setting in which there are significant numbers of already vulnerable individuals in the setting.

Individual Tragedy and Economic Costs

Aside from the human tragedy there are economic factors to consider before advocating any further proliferation of firearms and the situations in which those guns can be allowed.

In December 2012, Bloomberg Business news reported that gun violence was costing the American economy some $174 billion.  Forbes magazine reported in 2013 that gun violence was costing each American about $564.

And, then there is the “market” argument, which the Minneapolis Post analyzed as follows:

“Treating gun violence as an externality assumes that weapons markets are legitimate and that we must live with the consequences.  However, certain aspects of this market may not be legitimate. Markets do not exist in a vacuum.  They are created and designed by people, and societies can decide to modify or restrict markets depending on its values and goals.

Debra Satz, a professor of philosophy at Stanford University, addresses this in her book “Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Limits of Markets.” At the heart of her analysis is the concept of noxious markets, i.e. “markets that people find especially objectionable” and which should be curtailed or eliminated.

One important reason why societies deem some markets as noxious is that trade in these goods causes extreme harm to individuals and/or society.  Markets in assault rifles, large-capacity ammunition magazines and related items could be thought of this way. The damage caused by guns used to commit crimes is so great that we must regulate them and, in some cases, eliminate them.”

We know, for example that alcohol and tobacco products are often classified as “noxious markets.”  There are spill-over effects in society, in terms of public health costs, and other related expenses or losses.  Therefore, we regulate and use tax policy to curb the consumption and use of these items.  State legislatures are quick to add “sin taxes” to diminish the ‘noxious’ markets for some products, especially in the tobacco categories. However, they’re remarkably slow to consider taxing/regulating the use of guns and ammunition.  An amended SB 175 merely serves to advance a ‘noxious’ market, rather than curbing firearms proliferation which endangers young people – especially young men.

U.S. News and World Report was more blunt on this subject, when speaking of the economic costs of firearms and school security in America:

“However, the firearms industry has managed to avoid picking up the tab for its externalities. A recent proposal by Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association shows the size of the problem. After the Sandy Hook school shooting, the NRA proposed that the best solution to gun violence in school is to have more guns in school. They argued that every school should post an armed guard (or several) to stop would-be shooters. Let’s set aside the constitutional and practical considerations and just consider the economics of this for a moment: It would cost nearly $5 billion per year to put a trained, equipped, armed guard in each of America’s 132,000 K-12 schools. That calls for a fee—let’s call it the “Schools Security Fee”—of $500 to $750 for every new and used handgun purchased in the United States. The fee is roughly the cost of a typical good-quality new pistol! If imposed, it would double the price of handguns and cripple the firearm industry. Yet it’s ironic that many of the folks who claim to hate taxes and government see no problem in proposing a $5 billion expansion in government, which necessitates taxes to pay for it.”

Whether viewed in macro-terms such as in the classification of firearms as a ‘noxious’ market, or in micro-terms as in a discussion of school safety officers, the message is essentially similar.  The manufacturers of firearms and their Ammosexual Allies are arguing that lethal weapons do not constitute a ‘noxious’ market and therefore should not be taxed or regulated even if the economic costs run into the $174 billion range.

Hostage Taking

While we can have socially oriented or economically based arguments over firearms regulations it must be admitted that there is an emotional factor to consider.  The positions taken by the Nevada Firearms Coalition which calls for legislation to “enhance personal liberty,” perceives proliferation as a ‘beneficial’ market, and a positive social good.**  “Armed” with this emotional attachment to firearms and their retail sales, the Guns Anywhere advocates are perfectly willing to hold other, and better, legislation hostage in order to advance their cause. Witness:

“As I reported earlier this week, Assembly Members Michele Fiore (R-Las Vegas) & Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) are retaliating against Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) & Senate Judiciary Chair Greg Brower (R-Reno) for shelving their “Guns Everywhere” bill (AB 148) in Senate Judiciary. So they just amended SB 240, Roberson’s mental health & “voluntary background checks” bill, to include elimination of Clark County’s “Blue Card” handgun registry…”  [LTN]

Winston Churchill was right: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

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* Warning: Depending, of course, on your download speed this file can be very slow loading. (94.3 mb .zip format)

** See also: The 50 Caliber Institute.

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The High Cost of Excessive Force

Excessive Force Budget

It really doesn’t do to bemoan the reactions to the use of excessive force by police officers, and then decry the “waste and abuse” of taxpayer dollars. When all the chaff is shaken out, what we have is a situation in which a small number of officers are costing a large number of local governments, and the taxpayers who support them, a significant amount of money.

Although the lack of data collected in a coordinated fashion makes the explication of this problem difficult, we do know that there about 765,000 officers, and between 2005 and 2011 there were 5,545 of them arrested on a variety of charges. [CNN]  If we drill down to “excessive use of force” incidents the Department of Justice does have some ballpark-statistics:

The Justice Department releases statistics on this and related issues, though these datasets are only periodically updated: It found that in 2008, among people who had contact with police, “an estimated 1.4% had force used or threatened against them during their most recent contact, which was not statistically different from the percentages in 2002 (1.5%) and 2005 (1.6%).” In terms of the volume of citizen complaints, the Justice Department also found that there were 26,556 complaints lodged in 2002; this translates to “33 complaints per agency and 6.6 complaints per 100 full-time sworn officers.” However, “overall rates were higher among large municipal police departments, with 45 complaints per agency, and 9.5 complaints per 100 full-time sworn officers.” In 2011, about 62.9 million people had contact with the police. [JRorg]

All situations considered, we are probably safe asserting that a relatively small number of officers are involved in complaints related to the excessive use of force.   However, those complaints can easily become budget busters for local governments.

Cities Big and Small

The cost of settling cases involving the excessive use of force by officers can be alarmingly high – such as the approximately $1 billion ($964 million) paid out in settlements over the last ten years by the City of New York. [CBS] And again we find that a few officers are capable of busting the bank for repeated incidents:

“Some officers are sued multiple times: In the past three years, one Brooklyn precinct sergeant has been sued at least seven times on excessive force and brutality claims, costing the city at least $188,250. A narcotics detective was the target of at least six suits that spurred $103,000 in payouts. The city has paid $171,500 to settle four suits against one plainclothes detective; another case against him is pending.” [CBS]

Los Angeles County spent $43,000,000 on cases involving police misconduct in 2013, including legal fees and settlements.  [LATimes]  

“The county’s overall spending on lawsuits was down from $115 million in 2012 to $89 million in the 2013 fiscal year, according to a report by the county’s attorneys to the Board of Supervisors. The total includes settlements, judgments and legal fees for the county’s own lawyers and outside law firms. But costs for the Sheriff’s Department rose, driven primarily by settlements and trial judgments in excessive force cases. According to figures provided by county Supervisor Gloria Molina’s office Thursday, separate from the litigation report, excessive force cases cost the county $20 million last year, up $7 million from the year before. The Sheriff’s Department accounted for $37 million in litigation costs in 2012, county litigation cost manager Steve Estabrook said, making up about one-third of countywide lawsuit expenditures for that year.”

Imagine for a moment what Los Angeles, New York City, or Brooklyn might have done with the money allocated for paying settlements – much less the legal expenses incurred in the process of getting to a settlement.   However, it’s not just major metropolitan areas that are looking at the expense of cases involving police misconduct or excessive use of force, although the statistics from major areas are instructive.

Oakland, CA a city of 406,253 persons as of 2013, has paid out approximately $74,000,000 in settlements since 1990. [OPB] Denver, Colorado, population 649,495, paid out $13,000,000 over the last ten years to settle abuse claims. [DenPost] About 600 complaints of police misconduct cost the city of Philadelphia nearly $40,000,000 since 2009, and 29 shooting incidents have cost the city $13,139,500 of that total. [MR] On March 26, 2014 the Dallas, TX city council voted to settle an excessive force case for $1.1 million, leading one city council member to remind his colleagues that the high price should be associated with a review of practices so that these expenses can be avoided. [DMN]

The bills are piling up in Pittsburgh, PA. “According to police annual reports from 2011 and 2012, the city paid out a total of $381,764 in settlements, judgments and attorneys fees for lawsuits related to excessive force, civil rights violations, false arrest, racial profiling or harassment.” [PPG] A botched SWAT raid cost the city $107,500 in 2014. [Trib]

A single officer in Chicago, IL racked up 45 excessive force complaints.  One settlement cost $99,000 and a subsequent one another $71,000. [CST]

Baltimore, MD was faced with a bill for $113,000 to settle two cases of excessive force and injuries in 2013. [BSun]  Tallahassee, FL agreed to a $745,000 settlement for police excessive force in September 2014. [WCTV]  St. Paul, MN settled an excessive force case in 2013 for $50,000. [ST] The total paid out in settlements by St. Paul came to $1 million in the period between 2007 and 2013. [TC.com]

Seattle, WA paid $75,000 to settle a 2008 case of police misconduct in 2013.  [KOMO] In December 2011, Allentown, PA agreed to a $35,000 settlement for excessive use of force, which was added to another settlement that year of $915,000 for the death of a four year old boy in an ‘out of control’ police car incident in 2007. [Mcall]

Wichita, KS paid $37,500 in a 2013 settlement. [TWE]   Rockford City, IL paid $400,000 to settle one case of police abuse in 2013.  [RN]  No settlement has yet been reached in a Martinsburg, WV case  involving a fatal shooting. [CG]  Springfield, MO is facing a $700,000 in the instance of an unarmed man shot by police. [SNL]

A proposed settlement involving excessive force may cost the city of Bozeman, MT $150,000. [BDC] The 39,860 residents have a city budget for general fund operations of $26,897,01. [Bozeman pdf] Santa Barbara, CA settled a 2011 excessive use of force case in 2014 for a total of $170,000.  Santa Barbara’s total combined operating budget for FY14-15 is $$277.2 million, with $155,280,758 allocated for general fund operating expenses.  [SBB]

Smaller communities, like Hamden, CT aren’t immune. On November 16, 2014 Hamden settled a case against three of its police officers for $70,500. [Register] Hamden has a population of 56,913 and a total budget of $125,124,606 for all town personnel and services. [Hamden] In other words, Hamden just allocated 5.6% of its city budget (not including the school district) in payments for police misconduct.

Vermillion, OH paid out $720,000 to settle an abuse of force case in 2012. [LCO]   One officer in Mount Vernon, NY was responsible for a total of $930,000 in legal fees and settlements between 2009 and 2013, [lohud] and in late 2014 he was involved in yet another incident. [lohud]  This officer is almost the ‘poster child’ for the high cost of excessive force in relatively small urban areas – the total proposed budget for the 68,224 person community was $96,090,198. [MVDV]

These examples are probably more than sufficient to establish two conclusions. First, that there are a small number of officers causing a great deal of pain, and secondly, that while the highest settlement costs are associated with large metropolitan areas the expenses are also a drain on the resources of smaller cities and towns.

There will assuredly be more litigation in New York Cleveland, Ferguson, St. Louis, and in the wake of the Beavercreek, Ohio Wal-Mart shooting.

No Silver Bullets

In each of the selected cases above there was excessive force which resulted in injury or death, but there is no single Silver Bullet solution for the variety of incidents – some with and without video evidence.  Lapel or body cameras have been shown to be effective in pilot projects such as in Rialto, CA.  However, in the wake of the Eric Garner case they are obviously not the complete answer.  The response needs to be more systemic if local governments are to avoid both the incidents of excessive force and the litigation and settlement costs attached to those incidents.  Rethinking our ‘system’ may be in order – from the recruitment process to the attachment of the camera on the officers’ uniform.  We might ask our local government officials some pertinent questions:

Do the recruitment policies and practices of the police department reflect a desire to diversify the departments along racial, ethnic, and other lines?  Does the department have a long range plan for hiring and training personnel such that the department reflects the community? Does the department attend to records of previous employment, to the psychological fitness of potential recruits, and to the social maturity of those recruits?

Does the department have an internal review policy which incorporates input from the community? Is there a civilian review board?  If there is such a board, how is its efficacy measured?  Does the department keep adequate records of police involved incidents and shootings? Are these reported on a regular basis?  How are these incidents investigated?  To whom are the results of the investigations reported?

Does the department have a training program which includes sufficient attention to community policing practices and policies?  What, for example, is the ratio of time spent on self-defense and weapons training to the time spent on community relations and de-escalation techniques?  Is the ratio considered effective – and how is ‘effectiveness’ to the calculated?

Does the department evaluation scheme provide an adequate alert to flag those officers and other personnel who are replicating unacceptable behavior, and thus prevent the instances of multiple complaints stemming from contacts made by a few officers?  How does the department balance the due process rights of the officers with the necessity of removing evidently unfit personnel?

Does the department have an in-service training program which enhances the likelihood that police/civilian contact will have positive results?  How much time and effort is put into implementing community policing policies and practices? How often and in what circumstances do officers interact with community members? Is the in-service training program effective in terms of replacing negative behaviors and attitudes with a positive work atmosphere?

Given the fragmented nature of police operations in this country, these questions, of necessity, must be answered at the local level; and, the conversation and dialog can’t happen too soon.

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