Thursday, July 30, 2009



I’ve Posted on this just recently: the Bill S.7612, by which some New York pols are trying to get a local Megan’s Watch group the authority to access the NCIC and start hunting SOs, and funding them a million a year for five years.

But a news item today gets me to thinking that there might be a lot more of this sort of thing already going on. And that’s worth saying it again.

In the small Cape Cod town of Wareham (MA) a retired police officer, now 70, has become the head of the municipal Crime Watch volunteers. He has taken to driving around town in his own plain Ford Crown Victoria (which even without any antennas or a spotlight would look like an unmarked police vehicle), with some sort of a radio. (Whether there are any emergency grille lights or a siren in there is another question.) His group – there are about 60 of them – even shares offices in a police substation.

Well, it’s a small town, and it fills up to many times its usual size in the summertime with strangers and renters. The local police force is no doubt stretched, even with the summer ‘temp’ officers and whatever auxiliary police the town has.

But this gent got himself into trouble a short time ago by ‘telling’ a driver to move her truck out of a parking space because it was illegally parked. She didn’t take orders from other citizens and he sort of got loud and – ummm – assertive, and he wound up getting arrested himself for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon: He started photographing her truck, then he came at her with his car and hit her.

He claims she made “insulting comments” to him. You can imagine: Grow up; Get a life; You’re no cop; Didja buy your own fake police car, ya loon? The comments apparently hit a nerve and then she got rammed.

Can anybody say such a scenario was ‘impossible’ or even ‘improbable’?

It’s also possible that once he realized that she wanted his name and was taking his license plate number down, then he didn’t want to play anymore and just wanted to get out before – ummmm – ‘real life’ kicked in.

He’s back on the streets now. And it turns out that he and his cohorts actually do give out parking tickets – real ones, that you have to pay.

Well, the town can use the cash, and if you are familiar with summer beach locales you know how people from out-of-town can be when they just want to get out of the car and get onto the beach.

The local police union had misgivings. And I agree with them. It’s not just a ‘turf’ thing or a ‘jobs’ thing; it’s that you start crossing a dangerous line when you’ve got civilians doing police work. Whether it’s because the civs feel like they want to help the overworked police, or because the civs feel like the cops aren’t taking something ‘seriously enough’ – it’s not a wise thing in the larger picture of the integrity and legitimacy of law enforcement. The town management says that “Crime Watch is a separate entity unto itself” although it has “permission from the Police Department to issue parking tickets”. That sounds nice, but so did the Iraq War in the beginning.

Indeed, some critics of the arrangement question whether the parking fines legally have to be paid. And they’re right. It would be a ‘legal’ cover if all the civs were sworn in as ‘temps’ or ‘auxiliary’ officers. But even so, if they haven’t attended a police academy and been formally sworn in – with all the competence and accountability that the training and swearing-in are designed to provide – then you’re starting to weaken a very significant carrying wall in the Constitutional structure.

Courts give deference to sworn officers in the cop-said/defendant-said scenarios that arise so baldly, especially in ‘traffic’ cases. And that seems reasonable. But not if it’s a volunteer-said/defendant-said type of situation.

I had mentioned in my earlier Post that in Ohio the laws passed to try to bring that State into conformity with AWASORNA refer to “the sheriff or his designee” as persons authorized to check on the compliance of SOs. There is – as best I can make out – no indication in the law that the “designee” has to be a police officer.

And as we know, there are plenty of volunteers willing to step up ‘for the Cause’, as in New York.
I don’t know what would be worse: volunteers (so often ‘wannabes’) who just like the frisson of doing ‘police work’ or ‘dedicated’ sex-offense law believers who are now given legal authority to go out hunting on their own.

In either case I think it would be hugely bad – and dangerous, Constitutionally – for the integrity and legitimacy of law enforcement and for the health of American society itself.

And this is especially true in such an area of mania-law and public mania as has been created in the matter of ‘sex offenses’ and ‘sex offenders’. It’s probably bad enough with the real police and criminal justice personnel feeling that they can do ‘whatever it takes’ with impunity; don’t forget, as long as a police officer swears in court that s/he was acting “in good faith”, the pols have written a free-pass of criminal and civil immunity for them into all the relevant enabling legislation.

But if the “designees” or ‘concerned civilians’ start doing this … what then?

And I won’t accept a pious bleat from the courts and the pols that “we” all have to trust in the maturity and integrity of legislators, police, citizens, and press that they won’t go overboard with all these SO laws. In the crucial New Jersey case of Doe v. Poritz, the 1995 case that upheld the brand-new so-called Megan’s Law, the Court made precisely such a bleat in support of its Decision. Reading it in the dark-bright light of 2009, the Court’s sermon of 14 years ago – vigorously and acutely refuted in the one Dissent – seems either fatuous or witless or worse; recall how reading any of the sermons in favor of going after Sadaam’s WMD seems now either remarkably ill-informed or remarkably treacherous. [I hope to Post my thoughts on this key New Jersey case later today.]

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards themselves? – that’s what the canny Romans asked themselves. And if it’s bad enough that the law enforcement and criminal justice agents are not always doing things right, and the legislators just seem to be churning this stuff out as if they wanted to see how much they can get away with, then what happens when a whole army of ‘volunteers’ – many with ‘causes’ to uphold or games to play – are turned loose?

It’s worth keeping an eye on and maybe asking questions in your local area.


A couple of refinements to this:

As I said above, you have your police-wannabes and you have your ‘Cause’ folks. And the folks dedicated to the Cause are always ‘up for it’; and at this point it may well be that the mania is weakening to the point where the public might start to see just how much of a stampede it has all been. So if the Cause folk are in danger of losing their Cause, and maybe some of the baaaad things perpetrated against defendants in this thing might come to light, then a ‘community of interest’ is certainly forming around keeping it all going.

I would have thought this beyond-realistic not so long ago, but after what I’ve seen in the past few months I’ve got to consider it as a possibility: with States now hesitant – especially for financial reasons – to take on the burdens of AWASORNA, is it possible that the organized pro-mania groups might volunteer to do most of the work that AWASORNA would generate for the States?

Think of it: they would be the “sheriff’s designees”, they would volunteer to do all the admin work … and it would be sold in best defense-industry fashion: overinflate the ‘threat’ to the max, give a wildly best-case outcome of what would happen if your plan is approved, and figure quietly that when ‘reality’ starts to show through, your PR folks will cover the gap “by all means necessary”.

Legislators uneasy about the fiscal problems – and maybe even the conceptual and Constitutional problems – can be seduced with the idea that now they can have it both ways: they can have AWASORNA so that they can still appear to be ‘tough on SOs’ while not having to shell out scarce budget dollars to pay for the skyrocketing cost of AWASORNA’s massive regulatory scheme.

Law enforcement and criminal justice personnel who rightfully oppose AWASORNA will have the ground cut out from under them. And those who still think it still could work (especially if perhaps the ‘dirty work’ can be done by ‘volunteers’ who aren’t bound by Constitutional and police-procedural boundaries) will have more material to spin the web that AWASORNA and all the SO laws can still ‘work’ and even ‘win’.

We are at the point that reminds me of LBJ after Tet: it finally got through to him that Vietnam was the wrong war in the wrong place against the wrong enemy and could not be won … and yet somehow a coalition of various groups and factions and interests kept the thing going for another five years, under the spell of the promise that there was light at the end of the tunnel. I think it was the former CIA analyst Ray McGovern who noted that the entire left-side of the Vietnam Memorial Wall would never have been there (all those troops named on it would not have been lost) if the war had been allowed to die a natural death after Tet, which is what LBJ wanted in early 1968.

While I’m on this theme, I can’t help but notice that Megan’s Law was something of the equivalent of the Tonkin Gulf incident: an incident that was untruthfully spun as evidence of a massive North Vietnamese plan to wage war on us, on the basis of which ‘proof’ and therefore of the ‘emergency’, Congress hastily passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the war was on!

And of course, with more than half a million registered SOs, and maybe double that number if AWASORNA is accepted by the States, a vast blast-wave of tragedy will ripple throughout the entire country.

Funny how the night moves.

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