Tuesday, September 04, 2012

On law enforcement as rent seeking: A lament

A couple of recent stories reminded me of the extent law-enforcement has come to be viewed by many in government as a revenue enhancer as opposed to a means dispensing justice.

On Saturday, the Houston Chronicle ran a story titled, "Ticket dismissals cost Houston, thanks to plea bargains," lamenting that traffic ticket cases in municipal court aren't bringing in more money. The police union president opined that, "Traffic tickets are rarely dismissed because of problems caused by Houston police officers who write up the infractions," but others in the system pinned much of the blame on exactly that cause. "Sylvia Garcia, the former chief judge of Houston municipal courts, said prosecutors are often forced to dismiss or plea bargain traffic cases set for trial when witnesses, such as police officers who issued the ticket, are not available to testify," reported the Chronicle's James Pinkerton. And Houston traffic attorney Paul Kubosh "estimated that 30 to 40 percent of officers subpoenaed to testify don't appear for trial."

Whatever the reason, the story frets that "The substantial number of dismissals, which costs the city millions in lost revenue, is a result of an overburdened court system reliant on plea bargaining, according to police union officials and attorneys." Coupled with an overall decline in tickets written recently, both in Houston and statewide, the result is the justice system generating less revenue. Of course, that's not its purpose, or it shouldn't be.

In Dallas, the city council fired several municipal court judges they thought were being too lenient and brought on newbies who they expect will generate more revenue for the city, a move which has sparked intense controversy and a lawsuit.

On a similar theme, I was interested to see an AP story published in the Lubbock paper (Sept. 3) lamenting lost revenue from truancy by students which noted that:
The attendance push has been particularly strong in California, New York, Texas and other states where schools funding is based on how many children are in their seats each day, rather than enrollment. Several California districts have made a back-to-school ritual of reminding parents that schools lose money whenever kids are out.

Some have asked families with children who missed school for avoidable reasons such as family trips to reimburse schools the $30-$50 a day the absence cost in lost funding, or at least consider having a child with the sniffles or a stomach ache show up for the first part of the day so he or she can be counted before going home sick.

“If a child is not at school for any reason at all, including sickness, the district does not collect revenue,” the Spreckels Unified School District in Salinas, Calif., wrote in a pledge form issued this month asking parents to take vacations and to schedule routine doctor’s appointments when classes are not in session.

Under pressure from the local district attorney (emphasis added) and others to improve its attendance rate, officials in Berkeley last year got much stricter about demanding meetings with parents of students with three unexcused absences and conducting midday “sweeps” of local teen hangouts to identify ditchers. By June, the district had made $1.4 million more for the current school year and avoided laying off 148 teachers, said student services director Susan Craig.
How often is law enforcement dragged into truancy enforcement? A bill analysis from failed 2011 legislation at the Texas Lege declared that, "there were 65,521 cases filed for parents contributing to nonattendance in the municipal and justice of the peace courts of the state" in the previous fiscal year. I have no problem with schools making every effort to identify students who miss class and work with their parents get them to school as a means of dropout prevention. But I've got a big problem with criminalizing everyday juvenile behaviors and diverting criminal justice resources from public-safety for rent-seeking purposes, particularly when the agencies doing so will later turn around and raise my taxes. To me, kids skip school (and parents condone it) because the product is often not of sufficient quality to make it a big priority for them. Then the state punishes them for voting with their feet.


Anonymous said...

Grits said:
"To me, kids skip school (and parents condone it) because the product is often not of sufficient quality to make it a big priority for them. Then the state punishes them for voting with their feet."

Three cheers for Grits! He actually said it! Somebody actually said it! Now, if you can only go one step further and admit that public education is nothing but another social handout program. And, as such, you not going to get the best education from it, and people who can afford better will do so. Govt doesn't give away Cadillacs. They give away Yugos.

Robert Langham said...

Folks who want the babysitting services should pay a user fee and cut the property owners loose. The rest should go online for EVERYONE.

Grits- I have to tell you, it takes several tries to get through your robot-trap. Letters just too blurred. I only had public education, but it was back when they beat us is we couldn't learn the letters, so I don't think it's me. Turn that mess down!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 12:18, at least a Yugo will still get you to work, and so will a public education. A Yugo may not be as good as a Cadillac, but it's a lot better than walking in the Texas heat!

Robert, I'm afraid there's no volume button. The word verification is either "on" or "off," and off is not an option. I could switch to a different platform (at some expense), but the word verification I see on other blogs is essentially similar.

Anonymous said...

Dang, Grits, are you advocating school choice? Vouchers? I'm sure the Romney campaign would appreciate a donation while you're at it!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:33, so now simply acknowledging a problem means endorsing Romney, vouchers, etc.? Read my comment at 12:45 re: Yugos vs. Cadillacs and explain how I'm doing what you're saying.

What I actually said was that truant kids and their parents are voting with their feet, and it's true. IMO the answer is to improve quality to make the product more attractive, not to use the justice system to coerce compliance with mediocrity.

Jason Stoddard said...

The State is morally agnostic. However, as you recognized, the State is not and now can not be commercially agnostic. The noise you hear about equality, and justice and liberty, is just that, noise. Now that the State has devolved and no longer defends and protects private property, it only exists to expropriate private property. Decline is not inevitable but occurs when government's instruments of expansion is transformed into an institution—that is, when social arrangements that meet real social needs are transformed into social institutions serving their own purposes regardless of real social needs.

Anonymous said...

In the late 80s, Houston Police officers asked to be paid for court appearances. The city declined. Officers stopped showing up to court en masse. I know one person dismissed five speeding tickets in the same year by asking for a trial.

The city realized they were losing revenue and agreed to pay the officers.

A Friend said...

My perfect score on the SAT son and near perfect score daughter were public school educated. She has a master's degree and is widely recognized in the community for the quality of her thinking and work. He has a Ph.D. in math and teaches on faculty at an Ivy-League university. So getting a first rate education in public school is a possibility -- it takes work by the student and encouragement by the parents.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that parents and kids skipping school is really voting with their feet on the quality of education. I think it's more a case of not caring about education at all. This is especially true of Hispanics, who, in my admittedly limited experience (wife is Hispanic), who believe that it's more important to go to work than finish high school.

Prison Doc said...

Gotta agree with Robert Langham,Grits: the robot trap sucks beyond belief. Maybe it is an Alzheimer's Detector and I am getting detected. Lately three tries has kind of become the mean. Once I just gave up.

rodsmith said...

i'm in florida so i'm not sure about texas's system of court appearance.

But here it's part of the officers JOB to show up for court and is done as part of the normal DUTY day.

Had to be set that way since no defendant in their right mind is gonna supeona one! So seems if the DA's are having such a hard time getting them in the witness seat. They should just issue them.

Of course at that point if they don't show up they can be ordered to ARREST themselves! LOL since i know here that failure to show up when suponed's is a CRIME!

Anonymous said...

Public schools as we know them may soon cease to exist as this school voucher movement finally gains the kind of political power it takes to do away with the 1876 Texas Constitution’s mandate to operate an “efficient system of free public schools.” The political party in favor of that system hasn’t won a statewide election in nearly 20 years.

The writing is on the wall. Voters have decided that the public schools should be dismantled.

Lee said...

Scott, the law is not black and white.

It is green.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:09, for some people it IS "more important to go to work than finish high school." Desperate times call for desperate measures, especially when the education quality is sub-par and college isn't an economic possibility. If it was clear to poor folks, Hispanic or otherwise, that school would benefit them in the future, more kids would stay and more parents would make them.

9:47, IMO a change to the Constitution to eliminate the requirement for a system of public schools would never pass in a public vote. It's too deeply engrained in Texas' history (the failure to provide public education was actually named in the Texas Declaration of Independence as a reason to break away from Mexico). They may expand vouchers and charter schools, but I don't see them successfully eliminating that constitutional requirement.

A Friend writes that it's possible to get a good education in public schools and I agree. The truth is, education quality is as much or more about what the kid puts into it as anything else.

To folks complaining about the robot-detector, I'd suggest you get a Google account to post under; then it won't make you do it. Otherwise, I'm afraid we're at an impasse. If this string had 60 spam comments on it it would be unreadable and I don't always have time to read every comment on Grits, much less vet them all.

ckikerintulia said...

For those wanting the demise of public education, a reminder that our second president, John Adams, advocated free public education for all.

Jeff said...

One basic concept I see that hasn't been discussed: there's no such thing as free anything. I lose almost 35% percent of my paycheck every payday. At the end of the year I normally break even or have to pay the IRS. I can only imagine the taxes small business owners pay. The point is that public education isn't free regardless of the argument. Next year I give away 40% of my paycheck after a pay cut. Taxes are going up, the number of teachers are going down, and we expect the quality of that teaching to be better than ever. This system is becoming unsustainable.

Phillip Baker said...

There is nothing wrong with public schools that an actual commitment to their quality by city and state would not fix. Texas' approach to almost everything for the people is to cheap out, offer the barest minimum. And then people whine about quality! Can anyone name the last president or Texas governor who did not proclaim to be the "education president/guv". Unkept promises for many, many decades. There's a price to be paid for such bad social policy.

Stop public education?? THe radical right is really getting scary. Access to education is the very lifeblood of a free society. Restrict access by money, and you lose the enormous pool of talent of those who can't pay to play. For years we ignored the talent offered by minorities and women. Stupid social policy! But we are already far down that road in higher education. By the droves bright, talented young people are scrapping college - and especially grad school - plans because of the sheer debt. How long can this country maintain its premier place in technology, etc if we quit tapping large portions of our talent pool, while our competitors provide FREE higher education?

Another scary thing: At least one high school in RR now sports a lighted logo for a BANK installed inside. What is a bank doing setting up inside a school? Are they paying for the name recognition, like Enron Field? Is this trend spreading? Why? Who's making the $$ from this scheme?

Tickets in Austin: It used to be that if the cop failed to show, the ticket was dismissed. Now, SO many barriers are thrown in the way of getting a trial! No court time set. You just show up, sit around for hours, and then get told that the set number they take each day is full, so come back tomorrow. Return again, and find the cop failed to show. No dismissal, just another missed day of work. Missing work like that quickly swamps the cost of just paying the ticket. It's wrong. A clear perversion of the court system.

Grits- yes, this robot-trap is hard to figure a lot of time, making 2-3 + tries fairly frequent. But that's a small nuisance price for the value I get from this blog. I doubt this is making you any money, so I'll just hunker down and keep trying till I get through. (And below is a word with lettering so strange, at an odd angle that I'm wondering what the hell it says. Oh well...
(Some will insist on seeing that as sucking up? lol)

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, thanks for the double down.

In addition to Mr. B.,
Traffic Court has ALWAYS conducted business via: Plea Bargaining. It starts with the same exact question. How do you plead? The Not Guilty goes to trial and almost ALWAYS gets found Guilty & stands in line with the Guilty to pay the same clerk. Traffic School for those that qualify (Guilty or Not), is plea bargaining. Either way, money is made hand over fist. Red Light Cameras make an additional $75. a pop.

Reports like this are intended to fool the fools. On one side of their mouths they speak of doom and gloom to anyone with a microphone as they reward themselves with pay raises out the other side. Ex: Dallas just approved raises for all & DISD is throwing money at themselves like crazy as they attempt to shift the blame to kids missing school. Thanks.

Goldy said...

When you said "rent-seeking" i thought you meant the behavior of those in the system that "wink-wink nod-nod" know they are going to get jobs with the camera selling companies when they get out of the purchasing department of the respective police departments who buy the cameras, using justice department, federal funds designated for "terrorist" items and then places the cameras at 12th and Chicon to catch people smoking weed. It has nothing to do with anything else other than profits at the expense of taxpayers.

Anonymous said...


To make sure you aren't a robot or spammer, please answer the following question:

Cider is made from? __________

Another spam/robot screen reads as follows:

[ 2 + 2 = ] (the two numbers in the equation may be randomly selected, I did not test it)

Answer: __________

Anonymous said...

Cutting cost is effectively the same as raising revenue. Alternative Dispute Resolution, e.g., Mediation, is required by some Courts to reduce the number of cases on the trial docket, and this reduces the cost to the County and saves taxpayers' money.

As another example of how so-called justice is driven and constrained by economics, there is a schedule of harmful offenses that are decriminalized because they happen in such great numbers that the justice system cannot process the caseload, e.g., certain types of securities law violations.

It is common knowledge that Court efficiency (time) and judicial economy (money) are considerations that impact court decisions, within the limits imposed by higher priority rights of litigants.

Each political jurisdiction enforces the laws that it can afford to enforce, or else it may risk bankruptcy. That is why not every municipality has a crime lab that makes unlimited tests of DNA samples.

There is no court of justice or court of truth in the USA. There are only courts of law that serve the establishment, the power elite as that term is used by C. Wright Mills in his classic 1956 book entitled The Power Elite.

The main exceptions to the rule of efficiency and economy in the administration of justice is the occasional show trial or Kangaroo Court, as can be seen in the political persecution and military prosecution of U.S. Army PFC Bradley E. Manning. Such trials serve to chill the masses and keep dissenters enthralled.

Anonymous said...

Police officers are some of the most contrary people around, any suggestions that they are working in collusion with the same city officials that are trying to steal their earned benefits laughable. HPD officers, on average, write less than a ticket a day, only the specialized traffic enforcers writing much more than that. Those folks amount to less than 1% of the department, contrary to popular opinion.

The city plans for a certain amount of tickets along with a certain amount of resulting fines, the state grabbing much of the amount per state law. This planning alone does not rise to the level of "it's all about revenue" as some claim, it is merely a budgetary device allowing for various programs to be kept, major changes in fines looked at closely since it is assumed that a percent will take DDC, another percent will not show up, others will show their insurance or registration, etc., and the city will dismiss the rest.

As with any analysis, when the numbers deviate greatly from past numbers, some people worry. The officers writing tickets do so because they believe, rightly or wrongly, in what they were taught at their academy. The few that try to play the court overtime system do not amount to a very many and they tend to be the most productive, by far, so there are tradeoffs.

If the city was serious amount streamlining the process, be it for revenue, consumer convenience, or any other aspect it choose to maximize, it would do well to consult with Kubosh, Sprecher, and the other traffic attorney's out there but they are typically viewed as "the enemy" by those in charge, a foolish notion inherited from the county courts.

Real Estate UAE said...

The attendance push has been particularly strong in California, New York, Texas and other states where schools funding is based on how many children are in their seats each day