Thursday, November 03, 2005
While reading today's Washington Post I was reminded of Sheriff Don Gebers who was the long serving sheriff of my home county, Ida County, in Iowa. Sadly, Sheriff Gebers passed away several years ago but I retain fond memories of his community outreach efforts based on the essential functions (more on this later) of his office. It was Sheriff Gebers and his deputies who taught me the science of fingerprinting and the Iowa Hunter Safety Course (oh no! Guns!!) which were natural extensions of their law and order duties for the county.
For me Sheriff Gebers' management style reflected my world view of the proper role of government which I summarize as:
"I want governments to have EXTREMELY few functions and I want them to perform these few functions EXTREMELY well."
However, sometimes -- due to power grabs, good intentions gone bad, or simply the Fall of Man :) -- government entities simply stray far, far from their appointed rounds. The best example I have seen this week of government overextending into an area they should not be nor should society want them to be active in is the Alexandria, Virginia Police Department (APD) which is partnered with Ford Motor Company via the following project:
WHAT: The Alexandria Police Department is teaming up with the "Ford Hybrid Patrol" to pull over fuel-efficient drivers at random in a customized Mercury Mariner Hybrid patrol SUV (complete with flashers and bullhorn). Drivers will be rewarded free gas cards.
The article at this website goes on to say that, "the department's 2006 fiscal year fuel budget is projected to reach $1.5 million, a possible increase of more than $500,000 from last year."
No doubt taxpayers will benefit if the department saves money on fuel costs but using police officers to focus the public on "fuel economy" sounds like the APD has clearly strayed from its core duties. This story should make us all raise serious, critical questions regarding the proper role of our civil servants:
1.) Is Alexandria, Virginia so free of crime that its police officers have free time to seek out and detain drivers with hybrid vehicles?
2.) What is the fully loaded cost of having officers perform this "MPG surveillance" function? Can we safely assume this cost exceeds the $2,500 which Ford donated to the Alexandria Police Youth Camp, Inc. which is cited in the article noted above? Would not taxpayers and the APD be better off if Ford simply donated several hybrid vehicles for the department to use versus the "soft harassment" of drivers program?
3.) Will "excessive petrol use" become a crime in the future especially since the police state has the tools for detaining gasoline guzzlers while rewarding hybrid owners with gift cards?
4.) What if an officer stopped the driver of a Toyota Prius hybrid to reward them with a gift card for efficient fuel use only to discover that the driver was in possession of drugs and alcohol in the automobile? Is "rewarding fuel economy with gift cards" considered "probable cause" thus allowing the officer to arrest the driver in this situation?
Bottom line for me regarding the APD/Ford partnership is multi-faceted:
1.) I can't see how taxpayers are saving any money today -- maybe in the future but the article doesn't explain that well.
2.) We should be concerned that a police department is essentially passing judgment on our personal driving choices.
3.) Government needs to focus not expand into new functions.
See you at the pump my fellow cellmates,