In the immortal words of my favorite stand up comedian, Ron White, “Got in a little trouble last week…”
When I got home the other day, there was a very nice, very polite Washoe County deputy waiting for me with a warrant for my arrest on a year and a half old, 10-mile an hour over speeding ticket in Mineral County.
They handcuffed me, put me in the back of a really crappy Chevy Tahoe, and took me to jail.
Now, as White’s experience in Florida goes (and if you haven’t seen it, go to one of his shows or buy an album), I’m not whining. I might (depending on advice of my counsel) have broken the law, and that’s what happens.
But, as Mr. White would also say, during the 23 mile drive from Washoe Valley to the jail, we passed 8 meth labs and maybe two dead hookers. And it took one of the two deputies assigned to a very large area away from real police work for maybe five hours. For a traffic warrant in Hawthorne. Your tax dollars at work. That’s something I’ll have to remember the next time response time to an emergency becomes an issue and the elected Sheriff of Washoe County starts whining about a lack of money. Being an upstanding citizen, if the nice deputy had asked, I would have driven myself down there and reported in. That way, my wife would not have had to come get me, and both deputies would have been doing real police work.
So I get to the Washoe County jail, and it is refreshing to see that politeness is the word of the day. It happens that the deputy allowed me to make a call before we left, so I had already arranged bail. They did some processing, and I sat down to wait with a group in the intake area.
Now you might think that I would see a bunch of gangbangers, bad guys, tough hombres, and other assorted scary people.
Not so much.
The room, frankly, could have been confused with a jury pool over at the courthouse, except they took our belts because we might have wanted to hang ourselves over being arrested on a traffic warrant. (Actually, I was in a jury pool once where I almost DID want to hang myself.)
The vast bulk of the arrestees were…wait for it…hard core traffic offenders. It pretty much looked like America. There were a few DUI’s, some real and at least one where the poor kid blew a .081 after his truck broke down and he managed to get it to the side of the road without any damage to anyone else. A vigilant NHP trooper worried about his agency’s budget, and his personal paycheck made some lawyer a lot of money. And there were some drug guys, including one young man with a very interesting story who could probably write a Master’s thesis on the correctional system but doesn’t want to work that hard.
“I love doing drugs,” he said. “I have no life, so drugs are it.” That’s exactly who we want in jail at our expense, right?
You could easily mistake this kid for a grad student at UNR. Someone ought to help him become one instead of wasting our money on incarceration.
What’s the common thread here?
Well, it seems our justice system has morphed into a collection agency. We’ve allowed the state agencies to use traffic enforcement, among other largely irrelevant misdemeanors, for a revenue source. And whenever you give that kind of power to a government, you are tossing the Constitution out the window.
You know how we’re so proud of not having debtor’s prisons?
Well, that’s a bunch of crap.
Most of the people who spend the night at the Washoe County Jail do so because they don’t have the bail money. That part of the jail is a very lower middle class place. The intake room is just plain middle class. You know, the people Barack Obama says he’s busy helping.
Isn’t there a better way to insure safety on our highways? Or to get people to stop doing hard drugs?
Now I want to be clear.
I’m not taking a pro-anarchy, anti-government position. But we’re not the longest lived experiment in self-government because we can put a cop on every corner.
We are that because our system is based on voluntary compliance.
People comply because they have respect for the system, thinking that the system is reasonable. We need to disincentivise the use of these laws as a hidden tax. Maybe a citizen’s initiative constitutional amendment that makes it illegal to use any fines, fees, or cost assessment for any other purpose so they can’t take the money and use it in place of tax revenues they can’t raise. We ought to start at the front end and make it easier to go to court and challenge a nonsensical ticket. Or, perhaps, we ought to level the playing field a little bit by passing traffics laws that cannot be abused they way they are today. Maybe all of the above.
When there are a large number of traffic warrants, that says that the public knows it’s a bunch of crap and has lost respect for the law and the enforcers.
And to put a point on it, one of the questions they asked me at the jail—after they asked if I was affiliated with any prison gangs—was, “Are you a member of any anti-government group.”
I didn’t want to play with the young lady—I was just waiting to be released after my bond had already been arranged—so I said, “no”.
But the correct answer should probably have been, “keep this nonsense up and I might join. Where do I go to sign up?”