We can’t just leave drug addicts to die, even after previous overdoses

CW39 NewsFix recently featured a story from Ohio about a quite controversial way to deal with the opioid addiction crisis currently affecting that state. From the article:

Middletown City Council member Dan Picard is proposing to give drug users two chances. Paramedics would respond to an overdose twice, and each time the addict would receive a summons and be required to do community service after being treated.

But if they don’t show up in court, don’t complete the service and then overdose a third time? That’s it. No one will come to help them.

Now, the first part is bad enough. Drug addiction needs to be treated as a medical problem, not a legal problem. This is exactly what is wrong with using criminal laws to combat the drug problem. They are simply the wrong tool for the job.

But the idea of paramedics being told, by law, to refuse to save someone’s life is outrageous. And I mean that literally: the idea should be enough to trigger outrage in the community in question, and beyond. It’s enough to outrage me all the way over here in Houston, Texas. It’s unconscionable, unscrupulous, illogical, and reckless. All in the name of saving the city a few bucks, which makes it that much more infuriating to me.

And it turns out I’m not the only one to feel this way:

Truth Pharm, a national advocacy group focusing on substance addiction and drug policy, wrote an open letter to Picard on the organization’s website criticizing his approach.

“To suggest that you withhold emergency medical response to overdose patients is manslaughter at best and premeditated murder at worse,” the letter read.

I’m with Truth Pharm on this. As of the last time I checked, state law takes precedence over city and other local laws. I would find it hard to imagine a state with any degree of law and order where it does not.

There are logical, humane, and compassionate ways to solve the problem of repeated drug overdoses. This definitely isn’t one of them. I wish Ohioans the best in getting through this, but please remember those suffering from drug addiction are people too.

A huge step backwards for technology and free speech?

I’m going to start this post with some affirmations of what I believe, and more importantly what I believe to be sane beliefs regarding technology.

First, computers (which include not only desktop and laptop PCs, but most electronic technology which contains either a microprocessor or its equivalent) are powerful because they do exactly what they are told to do, and don’t do things they aren’t told to do, by their owners. The questions of whether or not it is a good idea, lawful, ethical, etc. are not made by the computer (device) but its operator.

Second, free speech, including documentation of government actions, is fundamental to government accountability for its actions. The ability for a government agency to arbitrarily prevent such documentation is prima facie evidence of a police state.

If these sound reasonable to you, then a recent story by RT News should be extremely troubling. In a nutshell, Apple now has a patent which, if implemented and used, would allow the police or other officials to arbitrarily disable your phone, including the camera.

This is at odds with legal rights under the First Amendment of the US Constitution and similar rights under Article 12, 17, and 19 in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Imagine a world where incidents like those that happened to Rodney King are commonplace–and no video or even still pictures of egregious police brutality ever surface because as soon as the cops want to beat someone up, they shut off all cameras and phones in the area.

It’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it?

And don’t just say “I obey the law, therefore I have nothing to worry about.” With this kind of power, you can be completely innocent, yet the cops can say anything they want. And there’s no video to prove them wrong. Guilty until proven innocent–and there’s little hope of being proven innocent. Already, the badge serves as a “get out of jail free” card for most garden variety perjury charges. This would turn the badge into carte blanche to silence anyone and everyone for any reason.

Those who work at Apple that made this patent a reality should be ashamed of themselves. This is a good reason to document abusive behavior by law enforcement like there’s no tomorrow. Because when it comes to accountability, there may not be a tomorrow.

Why asset forfeiture laws need to be repealed

It pains me to say this, and I hope nobody out here ever needs this advice. If you ever get arrested in Wisconsin, don’t post bail in cash. In fact, if you cannot post bail with a bail bondsman (Wisconsin is one of four states that don’t allow them; Illinois, Kentucky, and Oregon) and most post using actual money, pay with a registered check, cashier’s check, or a credit/debit card.

This recent Huffington Post story tells the tale of Joel and Beverly Greer. The timeline of the events is as follows: Joel gets arrested for a drug charge (not specified in the story), Beverly (his wife) goes to post the $7,500 bail in cash, the cops have drug dogs sniff the money, and then use the dog alerting on the presence of narcotics on the bills as a pretext to keep the money under asset forfeiture laws–without accepting it as bail for Joel.

Something similar happened to Jesus Zamora, who was arrested on a drug possession charge and a gun charge. From the article:

“My girlfriend borrowed some money from her sister and mother and a few friends, and they came to bail me out,” Zamora says. “But then they started asking her if she had brought drug money. They took the money away and said they were going to have the drug dogs sniff it. She asked them when I would be let out, and they told her, ‘He isn’t going anywhere’.”

Most alarming, however, is this quote later in the story:

Brown County Drug Task Force Director Lt. Dave Poteat says the dog alerts were not the only factors. According to Poteat, the Greers and Zamora’s girlfriend appeared nervous when they brought in the bail money. “Their stories didn’t add up. Their ATM receipts had the wrong times on them. And they were withdrawing from several different locations. The times just didn’t correspond to their stories.”

My question for Lt. Poteat: Who would not be a little nervous holding that kind of cash? Should I have my family send in an android to post my bail (that I have programmed never to appear nervous)?

Poteat says an additional reason Zamora’s bail money was confiscated was because during calls from the jail to multiple people, he indicated that the money was drug-related. “Mr. Zamora made a number of calls in which he appeared to be trying to disguise or hide where the money was coming from,” Poteat says. “At one point, he even said to another party, ‘of course the money is dirty.'”

Now, Jesus has a reason to say that, given that numerous studies have indicated that well over a majority of the bills in circulation–a 1994 ruling from the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cited studies showing 75%, more recent studies in 2008 and 2009 have found as many as 90%–have traces of drugs on them. But, taken out of context, ‘of course the money is dirty’ is a convenient excuse to say it’s drug money.

Here’s one for Lt. Poteat: Go take $500 or more out of your bank account, and see if the drug dogs alert on it. Now, imagine you’re just an average citizen without a badge, and that’s $500 you are using to post bail for a family member, and the cops take that $500 and keep it under the pretense of it being drug money, without releasing the person you’re trying to make bail for.

But the real reason we need to get rid of asset forfeiture laws: especially in cases like this, the amount most attorneys want to take the case exceeds the amount at stake. And, at least in Wisconsin, an indigent defendant in an asset forfeiture case is not entitled to a public defender.

Basically, for law enforcement agencies, it’s a license to steal. They won’t call it that, but that’s what it is. Arrest the money, the owner has no right to a public defender; arrest the suspect, he does. (Of course, there’s nothing stopping them from arresting both.)

Attorney Steven Kessler is quoted later in the story on contested asset forfeiture cases:

“I would think that one of these cases would be the perfect opportunity for a court to impose punitive damages against the police department[.] … You need to make it clear that it would be damaging for the police to attempt this sort of thing in the future. Considering how appalling these cases are, I don’t see why a court couldn’t do that.”

Of course, the problem is that it usually doesn’t come to that. And in a lot of these smaller counties, the cops, the prosecutors, and the judges are often on a first-name basis with each other. In theory, the judges are impartial. In practice, the judge, DA, and police chief are often fishing buddies. How often do you think a judge is going to fillet his fishing buddy in open court? Honestly, I think I have better chances of winning a large lottery prize.

Cop fibs about his identity, then gets promoted

Is there something in the water in New Zealand I don’t know about? Because this is so far “out there” it’s not funny.

The Wellington, New Zealand newspaper The Dominion Post (story posted online by stuff.co.nz) reported on the antics of one officer Aaron Bateman, who apparently had no moral or ethical qualms about fibbing about his identity when stopped for a council bylaws violation (towing a person without an observer). Mr. Bateman gave the name of a friend, who was shocked to get the citation, and Mr. Bateman went as far as to call the incident a “practical joke gone wrong.”

The limit of Mr. Bateman’s punishment by the council was a (NZ)$200 fine on top of the original violation’s (NZ)$200 fine. From the article:

Rotorua area commander Inspector Bruce Horne said Mr Bateman did not commit a criminal offence, but acknowledged he had breached a council bylaw.

“The actions of the officer involved were clearly not of the high standards the police expect, and he was subject to an internal code of conduct investigation.”

Mr Horne said he was “bound by employment law”, which meant he could not reveal the outcome of the investigation.

But this is the most shocking part:

Three months after the incident, sources have revealed Mr Bateman has been promoted from constable to sergeant.

Promoted? Seriously?

I’d like to know what they were thinking when they decided to promote someone who had committed a breach of the public trust, criminal offense or not. This course of events is outrageous enough reading about it thousands of miles away. Is it any wonder we have cops thinking the badge is a “get away with it” card all over the globe, when things like this happen?

The right thing to do, at minimum, is strip Mr. Bateman of his promotion immediately and apologize to the citizens of Wellington and the Rotorua district. I have serious doubts that someone willing to lie to escape a small fine has any business carrying a badge and a gun and enforcing the law.

Highway robbery: An extra $2 per gallon for gas bought with a credit card

A recent Huffington Post story reports on some gas stations on Long Island in New York doing something unconscionable: charging an extra $2 or more per gallon of gasoline for paying with a credit card.

Gas stations are allowed to charge a higher price for a different method of payment, and so far there is no law stating that gas stations in New York can’t do this. New York law allows discounts for cash, but not credit card surcharges. A prior story about this same issue from newsday.com contains this interesting tidbit:

The attorney general’s office said Tuesday that none of the stations
were prosecuted because the law doesn’t specify how to calculate the difference between a discount for cash or a surcharge for credit.

Before you wipe your brow and say “glad I don’t live in New York”, many other states including Texas have (or at least had) similar laws on the books. This ambiguity in the law appears to be a “get away with it” card for the gas stations who want to cash in on the convenience of paying with plastic.

I think it’s bad enough that merchant fees now allow a minimum for credit card purchases of up to $10 depending on what the merchant wants to set. Back when I had something of a blog about personal finance (I never really got it where I wanted it in terms of readership), these minimums were flat out forbidden by Visa and Mastercard, and were technically allowed by American Express and Discover if they applied to all credit cards equally (in practice, unless the merchant only took AmEx or Discover, it was still forbidden). These limits were struck down shortly after I closed the blog to new entires.

Cash is good for some things: buying into a home poker game, refreshments at a ball game, bus fare, coffee shops, fast food, etc. (Though there are cases for some of these where I’d prefer to pay with debit card even then.) But I think expecting the motoring public to carry cash with them to buy gasoline–which these days in the US, often implies at least $50 for a fillup–is ludicrous. If there is a valid reason for fees being this high, it needs to be addressed. If it’s what I think it is (that being pure greed) then it needs to be legally reined in somehow.

I would like to see cash remain an option for buying small amounts of gasoline or other motor fuels. However, it should not be the only choice. Indeed, since I don’t think gas stations take checks anymore, bilking credit and debit card customers for $2 per gallon would make cash the only real choice. And the law needs to catch up to the fact that there is really little difference between a discount for cash payment and a surcharge for non-cash payment. Trying to forbid the latter and allow the former is crazy when most people consider them one and the same. Either call them surcharges for non-cash (credit/debit) or cash discounts, and limit the allowable amount to something reasonable which would adequately cover the difference in the merchant’s costs in accepting one over the other.