He Has Moxie

When people hear that I used to work for my local police department, they usually want to complain. “The cops don’t do enough!” is the usual refrain.

My position is that they do as well as they can. Budget constraints also constrain the ability of the police, and the department has to compete with other government agencies for a slice of the taxpayer provided pie. Although everyone interested in the subject should remain wary of excesses and corruption, the vast majority of police forces here in the United States do a pretty good job with what they have. But that isn’t what most people say.

There is never enough cash to provide the equipment the public demands, provide the training the public demands, provide the size of the force the public demands, or provide the services the public demands. People looking at police work from the outside can see that there is a lot more cop work that can be done if there was unlimited money, so how come they can’t get it now without their taxes going up?

I was reminded of the neverending litany of woe while reading this news article. It appears that giant billboards have been erected over the facade of many famous landmarks in Venice, Italy. This has elicited outrage from prominent figures in the art world, who have complained that blocking the view of such historical treasures in order to sell soft drinks and sports watches is an act of “stupidity and incompetence”.

The mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, says that selling the advertising space is the only way to pay for desperately needed renovations since tax revenues have been falling. He also says that his critics should get bent.

“The only way to get around the problem would be to have a magic wand and repair all the buildings in Venice without having to cover them up. These days public money is tight. I would be very happy to accept donations, if they’re willing to give them.”

Mr. Orsoni is a Leftist, but a practical one. How rare!

16 thoughts on “He Has Moxie”

  1. The only complaint I have about most cop shops is the inordinate amount of time and money spent on enforcing speed limit laws – time and money that could most certainly be spent elsewhere fighting real crime.

  2. A leftist? Uhm. I would not call him that way. Sure, he’s been elected by a center-left coalition, but here the political spectrum is someway funny, with Christian-democrats and even some classic Liberals on the ‘left’ and socialists and post communists on the ‘right’.
    However, I think he’s right and the critics just hypocrites. There’s a need to save some important landmarks and the job must be done. The Repubblica has got no money? Donations from private citizens are non tax-deducible? Way for advertising.

  3. Ops, just to make it clear: the billboards appear only on the buildings affected by the restoration. I mean that the billboards cover up just the tubular structures needed for work. I truly cannot see any scandal.
    Then again, this is Italy, and anyone has the right to make a press release.

  4. “The only complaint I have about most cop shops is the inordinate amount of time and money spent on enforcing speed limit laws – time and money that could most certainly be spent elsewhere fighting real crime.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “…fighting real crime.” What exactly are you proposing?

    The police do a pretty good job of investigating crimes after the fact. If they do more, then people start complaining about how they are violating someone’s rights. (And with good reason!) So they try to avoid too many proactive policing methods in order to keep the public happy.

    But people also bitch about those who violate traffic laws. (“Never a cop around when you need one! That guy was driving like a maniac!”) Traffic code enforcement causes people to pay more attention to the niceties, if for no other reason that those who like to speed don’t want to pay a ticket.

    So the cops hand out tickets, and try to keep from poking around where there isn’t a clear reason for them to poke. This keeps Joe Voter happy.

  5. There seems to be a tendency for the police, at least around here (Bergen County NJ, home of some of the highest paid policemen in the country) to move away from their traditional position as enforcer of the law, independent of all around them, and toward a more union-centric attitude.

    When I see a policeman sitting in his parked patrol car, lights on, protecting a small road construction project from the dangers of suburban traffic, I wonder why a set of cones and perhaps a $10/hour flagman seemed to work well 10 years ago.

  6. Traffic enforcment is more a tax on the productive class than a boon. Pulled over in some slum for a missing tail light after leaving a know distributors hang out, well that’s probable cause. Joseph S. Ragman running 70 mph in a 65 zone on his way home from work on an interstate system, not so much.
    There are state databases of known child molesters. If there’s a need for visible police activity to impress the voters, why don’t these individuals get a bit more of the “treatment”. Perhaps that would curb their recidivism rate and help them “observe the niceties”. That’s police work that this voter could get excited about.

  7. There are state databases of known child molesters. If there’s a need for visible police activity to impress the voters, why don’t these individuals get a bit more of the “treatment”

    Remember what I said above, about how there would be problems if they violate someone’s rights. Sounds to me like you are actually proposing police harassment when there is no clear indication of a crime, as long as only the people you don’t like are the target.

    Besides that, you guys are getting way off topic. How does your ire about being forced to drive the speed limit, or even child molesters, have anything to do with unreasonable demands for cash-strapped government agencies?

    So far, only Sejo has commented on the subject of my post.

  8. Well, you’re the one who brought up police as an example of something that doesn’t get enough civic funds to operate properly, tying it to lack of money for landmark or “heritage” preservation and repair. In both cases the ungrateful taxpayers [fx: sobbing violins] don’t give the Responsible People enough support to do their work.

    ISTM that Signor Orsoni has the right approach. Perhaps police should sell advertising space on their patrol cars, rather the way race drivers do.


  9. I remember reading an interview with Orsoni in a recentish National Geographic feature on Venice, and liked him immediately. His city seems to be turning into a giant theme park and squeezing out residents, and he isn’t shy about telling the world what he thinks of it.

    If I’m not mistaken, he proposed a mandatory IQ test before a tourist would be admitted to the city. :)

  10. Sometimes the police give the impression that they’re unwilling to do more when in fact they’re unable to do more. Sometimes both is the answer.

    I think there is a wide spread feeling that police concentrate on the wrong things, but your point about rights is well taken. Here’s where it ties together:

    When governments run low on cash you never see news stories that say, “Governor’s/Mayor’s office will be forced to wait until next year for new carpets, and 5 top aides may lose their jobs while 5 others will be forced to drive last year’s cars. If tax revenues are not increased soon.”

    No, what we see is, “Ten police officers will be laid off, 5 city parks closed, and street light maintenance will be deferred unless tax revenues increase.” I think some people call it the “Washington Monument” strategy, but I’m not sure where that originates.

    I think many people suspect the powers that be of focusing policing resources on things which might boost revenues (like speeding tickets) while ignoring things which are expensive but important to the tax payers, like violent crime stings and “showing the badge” in marginal neighborhoods.

    Basically people feel they are being manipulated and that the non-police administrators are using the police as a combination of revenue generator to support other activities and a goad to convince the tax payers to give them more money.

    Whether all of this is actually going on is another question, but I think for many that is the perception.

  11. Who among us likes child molesters? And why not arbitrarily dispense justice? All of the current Police Drivel shows being broadcast currently pump out tales where lovely investigators short track some justice. The Progressive Masters imply that this is approved, nay, expected!
    My point is just an elaboration on Dan from Madison’s… there are known criminals and criminalities operating with near impunity in broad daylight. If LEO’s want statues erected to them for their sacrifices and virtues, then they need to earn them. Be a Ness… stand up against the known, even the accepted evil. Easier to complain of budget woes, shift the blame to the bureaucracy and run some more radar pickets and hang plastic ribbons around the latest crime scene.I understand, everyone volunteers with the intentions of making a difference. Then someone has “the talk” with them. “Give it a few years kid and you’ll see how things work, don’t be hot-shotting around or you’ll get a lot of people upset”.

    Sounds like the bureaucracy might be the real enemy that you’re trying to describe. The beauty of that idea is that it’s scaleable, as far up the macro that you feel like going. Department, City, State and Fed.

  12. Just because police carry out one of the core legitimate functions of the state, we should axiomatically assume that failures in policing result primarily from a lack of resources. After all, that is how we got in trouble with education.

    I think it is more important to ask if the police are effectively spending the money they have got instead of automatically assuming that more money is better. In fact, I would argue that just as in business, easy money makes government organizations flabby, sloppy, static and ineffective. You get more of what you pay for. If you reward a dysfunctional organization with more money, you get more dysfunction.

    People working for government, even soldiers and police, respond to economic incentives and attempt to maximize their own return for the effort they put in. In other words, they are human. We have to be careful how we give them money.

    Government is really the only area of endeavor in which failure is rewarded with more money and power almost automatically. For example, when it was revealed that the federal government had failed to regulate the financial industry or offshore drilling, the immediate response by most was to grant the government even more money and power to regulate. Education spending has increased by leaps and bounds without any improvement in education but the answer is always more money. Thats like watching someone unable to hammer a nail in straight and deciding the problem is they need a much bigger hammer.

    I would say that police only needs more money automatically when something has changed that drives crime just like the military only needs more money automatically when a war breaks out.

    I think the major reason we throw money at problems is that it easier for politicans to say, “We just need more money” than it is to say, “I have no clue how to make education/policing/whatever,” more cost effective.

  13. LFMayor Says:
    October 6th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    “And why not arbitrarily dispense justice?”

    Because we live in a free society, not a police state.

  14. The subject of your post? Well, you claim that the police “do as well as they can.” My comment was that they seem to be less efficient at that, perhaps because of a more “union-centric” attitude. I used the example of a cop doing busy-work at a small road project instead of doing police work. That is a very obvious waste of taxpayer’s dollars, and it certainly doesn’t dispel the notion that many cops sit around on their ample butts, eating doughnuts.

  15. “I used the example of a cop doing busy-work at a small road project instead of doing police work. That is a very obvious waste of taxpayer’s dollars, and it certainly doesn’t dispel the notion that many cops sit around on their ample butts, eating doughnuts.”

    I can’t comment on policy in other parts of the country, but here in Ohio that is called “special duty”. It is overtime work, done by the officer only after his regular shift ends. Both the officer and his department get extra cash for providing the service.

  16. The best way to help the police do better is to police ourselves. This runs contrary to our indoctrination to view ourselves as helpless beyond dialing 911. But it is at the core of Peel’s Principles.

    In my urban enclave, perhaps the most significant issue in the cost of policing is time management. The cops count on maximum overtime, which allows them to earn more, but costs the public more per officer-hour. And it leads to tired cops who make bad decisions, which has resulted in a comical number of settlements paid to their victims.

    Police in the United States are deservedly tarnished by their bodycount. As allegedly specially-trained and selected professionals, they murder too many people. And their resistance to having the public record them doesn’t help their image.

    To the Venice issue, those who would prefer pristine facades could pay to not have advertising on whichever building they feel are important.

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