Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Wisdom Right in Front of Me

“When you find a situation you cannot understand, follow the financial interest.”, is one of the words of wisdom included on a popular famous picture. I know because I have a copy of those clever little lines on the wall directly across from the “throne” in my bathroom. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”, “A man who makes 4 and spends 5 has no need for a purse”, and the list goes longer than I ever had to.

I wrote an op-ed piece that actually got published in the Houston Chronicle not too long ago. It was a short piece of sarcasm aimed at the Mayor and City Council making it known that they intend to implement the use of cameras to catch folks who run red lights, issue traffic tickets that would be mailed to the owner of the licensed vehicle caught by the camera and collect a pre-determined fine. ( Is that a run on sentence? I have several customers who are English teachers and it would be a shame to ruin a good thought with poor sentence structure.)

I still think there is nothing wrong with catching folks who run red lights; after all, I was a police officer for a little more than twenty years. I actually had “Running Red Lights” at the top of my hot button list; right up there with DWI for those trying to get a good read on where I stand. My editorial hinged on one Key word, pardon the plug for my locksmith business, that word was SCAM. Unfortunately when the Houston Chronicle edited my op-ed, they edited out the word SCAM. My sentence against the use of Cameras being used in such a way was changed from, “I have no problem with such a SCAM…”, to read, “I have no problem with such…”.

I got a response back after having pointed out the “minor alteration”, kind of like saying that the sun darkens the skies or that right is wrong; you get the idea. Here is the explanation:
Regarding the change made to your letter and the deletion of the word scam: I wasn't trying to miss the point, but I didn't think you really meant "scam" which to me has a meaning of dishonesty or fakery! Surely you don't think the city of Houston police department is "ripping off" Houstonians by catching red-light runners....”, which missed the point I was working on; that being, that by side stepping the lawful manner in which traffic violators are dealt with, the City of Houston has decided to by pass the use of commissioned law enforcement officers, who are hired to protect the interests of not only the City of Houston; but to include the best interests of each and every individual who comes under his/her jurisdiction.

Right about now you should be asking, “What has this got to do with the title of this article, “Wisdom Right in Front of Me”? Actually, it has to do more with the first line, “When you find a situation you cannot understand, follow the financial interest.”, followed closely by the line, “A man who makes 4 and spends 5 has no need of purse”. I figure if you are reading this blog that you have a better than average distrust of governmental agencies; not to big a step for me to take.

The City of Houston spends more money than it takes in, it continues to put its citizens in harms way by creating monumental long term debt; hence the line, “making 4 and spending 5”. The City’s “solution”, find more money; any where as long as there is lots of it. That brings me to; “When you find a situation you cannot understand, follow the financial interest.”.

When I was a police officer we used to joke about how neat it would be to make a percentage off the fines collected from our efforts; sort of a bonus for being productive. We knew it could never be; way too much opportunity for abuse. The heat generated would be enough to burn down the police station, the court houses and city hall if such a commission were paid to any police officer.

Turn the page… The Mayor and City Council must not see the opportunity for abuse when they want to turn over a percentage of the “take” to a private sector entrepreneur. This does not include the fact that part of the fundamental process of our justice system provides for the right of any accused to confront the witness against him/her. No matter how nice it would be for the purposes of streamlining the testimonial process, camera equipment cannot ever be a stand alone witness. Testimony can only be given by a human being; who may at times rely on the use of mechanical verification, such as a camera. This one sticking point has been brushed over as insignificant by several major metropolitan cities across the nation where they have already instituted the use of camera issued traffic tickets and fine collection.

Turn the page… The City of Houston claims that it is all fired up and worried about the safety and well being of their fellow citizens; so much , that they are willing to save us all by installing a completely robotic enforcement system to protect us all. This system will make the initial observation, record it digitally or on film, and last but not least…send out the finding of guilt along with an envelope in which to put the fine. Does that about cover the new system; the system where citizens are automatically found guilty without the need for a trial?

Would the City of Houston be as fired up if all their new system left off the part about sending in the fine? How about a different twist; start paying police officers, regardless of his/her having to testify in front of a jury or in front of a judge, the same percentage as would be paid the private sector contractor who so willingly wants to help the City enforce those flagrant traffic violators? I think I already covered that turf. How fired up would that generous private contractor be if he were asked to donate all that expensive equipment; but forego the percentage of the fines?

I think the line from the movie, “Jerry McGuire”, answers all of these questions, “Show me the Money!” I rest my case.

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