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Readers: Body Cameras For Local Police Worth The Expense

October 2, 2014 Crime, Politics/Policy 2 Comments

In the poll last week readers overwhelmingly indicated they believe body cameras for local police are worth the expense, here are the results:

Q: Are body cameras for local police worth the expense?

  1. Yes 67 [72.83%]
  2. Maybe 13 [14.13%]
  3. No 9 [9.78%]
  4. Unsure/No Opinion 3 [3.26%]

With so many jurisdictions and police departments we’ll likely see a patchwork. One August 20th now suburb voted to equip their officers with cameras:

The Ellisville City Council unanimously approved Wednesday night buying body cameras for each of the city’s 24 officers at a cost of $7,500.

Police Chief Tom Felgate said he thought of making the proposal a year ago. “It’s for the protection of the officers,” said Felgate, who also said the body cameras will likely reduce complaints from violators. (stltoday)

Last month the issue was debated within City Hall:

The cost to outfit the city’s police force with body cameras will come with a price tag of $1.2 million — and that’s just the start.

Richard Gray, the city’s public safety director, told an aldermanic committee on Tuesday morning that the department would need an additional $500,000 to cover labor and maintenance costs, plus an increase in the department’s annual budget of about $800,000 to $900,000 for replacement and maintenance costs. (stltoday)

The police union is speaking up:

The police union said it must agree to any policy covering body cameras before a policy is adopted.

“They can’t employ this equipment without violating the union contract they signed,” said Jeff Roorda with the St. Louis Police Officers Association.

Union representatives told News 4 police and the union must forge an agreement on what the recordings will be used for before any decision is made on whether to use body cameras. (KMOV)

Over the weekend a Ferguson officer was shot in the arm, but the camera wasn’t turned on. Other departments have a way to deal with this:

There’s also an important feature called the pre-event video buffer.

The camera, always on, records half-minute clips. If nothing happens, the piece is erased and the camera starts over. But if an officer spots something and hits the record button, the previous 30 seconds is preserved at the beginning of the recording. (San Francisco Gate)

I’ve not seen any mention of this 30 second buffer in local news reporters.

Further reading:

Hopefully we’ll see more use of body cameras and a reduction of force, citizen complaints.

— Steve Patterson



Readers Use Plastic (Debit/Credit) For Most Purchases

September 24, 2014 Crime, Economy, Featured, Sunday Poll 3 Comments

You may have heard the phrase “Cash is King” before, but it doesn’t refer to paper or coin currency:

The belief that money (cash) is more valuable than any other form of investment tool. The “cash is king” phrase is typically used when prices in the securities market are high and investors decide to save their cash for when prices are cheaper. It can also refer to the balance sheet or cash flow of a business; a lot of cash on hand is normally a positive sign, while strong cash flow allows a company more flexibility in regards to business decisions and potential investments. (Investopedia)

Currency is being replaced with plastic and digital money, just in time too:

In 2013, the cost of making pennies and nickels exceeded their face value for the eighth year in a row. The cost of minting a penny stood at 1.8 cents, nearly twice its face value. Nickels cost twice as much as dimes – 9.4 cents vs. 4.6 cents – despite being worth only half as much. (The Washington Post)

How does this compare to paper currency?

Each year, the Federal Reserve Board projects the likely demand for new currency, and places an order with the Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which produces U.S. currency and charges the Board for the cost of production. The new-currency budget for 2014 is $826.7 million, and reflects the following costs per denomination: 

  • $1 and $2 = 5.4 cents per note
  • $5 = 10.1 cents per note
  • $10 = 9.2 cents per note
  • $20 and $50 = 10.2 cents per note
  • $100 = 13.1 cents per note (source: Federal Reserve)

A nickel costs more to make than a dollar and ten dollar notes? Over $800 million per year to create the physical currency some use?

As of July 2013, currency in circulation—that is, U.S. coins and paper currency in the hands of the public—totaled about $1.2 trillion dollars. The amount of cash in circulation has risen rapidly in recent decades and much of the increase has been caused by demand from abroad. The Federal Reserve estimates that the majority of the cash in circulation today is outside the United States. (Source: Federal Reserve)

Many still use cash, but the numbers are shrinking:

The national telephone survey of 983 adult U.S. credit card holders found that 1 in 3 usually uses a credit card or a debit card for in-person purchases of less than $5. The breakdown: 11 percent prefer credit cards, 22 percent debit cards, 65 percent cash.

But the generational divide is striking. A slight majority (51 percent) of consumers 18-29 prefer plastic to cash, the only age group to do so. A preference for cash becomes stronger in each advancing age bracket, until at age 65-plus, 82 percent prefer cash. (CreditCards.com)

Here’s another look:

While credit and debit cards represent more than half of the purchases made for retail goods and services in the U.S., cash continues to dominate in small transactions. A recent consumer survey conducted by the Federal Reserve found that cash represented 66% of transactions under $10 and 58% of transactions under $25. When the transaction was more than $50, cash was used in less than 20% of the payments. (Wall Street Journal

It was the above statistics on cash use that prompted the poll last week, here are the results:

Q: What size purchase would you use cash versus plastic (debit/credit)?

  1. No amount, I use plastic for most purchases 49 [55.06%]
  2. Cash for $20 or less 13 [14.61%]
  3. Cash for $5 or less 11 [12.36%]
  4. Cash for $10 or less 9 [10.11%]
  5. Any amount, I use cash for most purchases 6 [6.74%]
  6. Unsure/No Answer 1 [1.12%]
  7. Cash for $15 or less 0 [0%]

The results make me wonder if location (urban vs suburban vs rural) has a role in cash vs plastic use? Income & education level? Include me among the 55% that use plastic for nearly every purchase, regardless of amount. I just know I rarely have more than $5 in cash on me, only for emergency stations or the occasional retailer that doesn’t take plastic for sales under some limit.

Despite the shift away from cash, using plastic is far from perfect. Last year many of us got new card numbers after the data breach at Schnucks grocery stores. Since then we’ve seen data breaches from nationwide retailers like Target, Neiman Marcus, and recently Home Depot.

That’s the risk of using debit & credit cards, right? For the moment:

Beginning later next year, you will stop swiping the credit card. Instead, you will insert your card into a slot, just like people do in much of the rest of the world, where the machine will read a microchip, not a magnetic stripe. You’ll still be signing for the time being, but the new system also enables the use of PIN numbers, if card issuers decide to add them to their cards.

The U.S. is the last major market to still use the old-fashioned swipe-and-sign system, and it’s a big reason why almost half the world’s credit card fraud happens in America, despite the country being home to about a quarter of all credit card transactions. (Wall Street Journal

Yes, we’re the last to use swipe-and-sign. I remember the 80s well when we used carbon slips to get impression of the face of cards, before the back magnetic strip was common.

By May 2014 the Target on Hampton had these new readers with a slot
By May 2014 the Target on Hampton had these new readers with a slot

But this type still isn’t the latest. Soon cards will have a chip imbedded allowing customers to just tap the card at retail stores with appropriate POS (Point of Sale) systems, my Ventra card for Chicago’s transit system has a chip and can be used as a prepaid debit card as well.

Alternatively your physical cards won’t be used, your phone will store the information and use NFC (Near Field Communication) to communicate with the store’s POS. Interesting times ahead.

— Steve Patterson




The St. Louis County Municipal Court Racket

Since Michael Brown was shot & killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9th, the entire country has learned a dirty little secret: some of our municipalities make big money ticketing & arresting our residents, often minorities. Just as corporations that operate  for-profit prisons seek more prisoners, some of the 90 unsustainable municipalities within St. Louis County need to stop people driving through their tiny municipal borders to keep the municipal coffers full:

Unfortunately, for many of the poorest citizens of the region, the municipal courts and police departments inflict a kind of low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay without a meaningful inquiry into whether an individual has the means to pay. (ArchCity Defenders: Municipal Courts White Paper)

I recommend reading all 37 pages of the ArchCity Defenders: Municipal Courts White Paper, it’s an eye-opener! They looked at 60 courts and found “approximately thirty of those courts did engage in at least one of these [illegal and harmful] practices.” The report focuses on the three “chronic offenders”: Bel-Ridge, Florissant, and…Ferguson.

A personal friend has two citations from Vinita Park, population 1880, but the fine amounts aren’t on the citations he was issued. Neither of his citations were for speeding.

The fine amount doesn't appear on the citation, note is it online. Nobody at the company in Georgia knows the fine amounts either.
The fine amount doesn’t appear on the citation, note is it online. Nobody at the company in Georgia knows the fine amounts either. You’ve got to show up in court or call to get the amount to pay.

Logging online and entering your citation number doesn’t bring up the fine amount either, you must know it to enter and pay it. Late fees, of an unknown amount, are added. A bench warrant is issued if you miss the court date.  My friend finally reached a person by phone at Vinita Park City Hall that could tell him the amounts. Earlier calls went unanswered.

Yesterday I posted about the Flordell Hills, pop 822, city website which doesn’t list the elected officials, but has a detailed court section accepting online payments.  Their new police force begins October 1st.

More affluent municipalities, such as Chesterfield, don’t need to use such tactics to survive financially.  Their residents & visitors would never tolerate the injustices.

The poor in the region live in or drive through these predatory municipalities daily. Ferguson is taking steps toward change.

— Steve Patterson


Poll: Thoughts On Flordell Hills Police, Pop 822, Starting Its Own Police Force On Oct 1st

Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar
Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar

Starting October 1st St. Louis County will have another police force:

Flordell Hills has decided to form its own police department even though the city only has 822 residents.
The city said the move has been in works for months. The department will feature six full time officers, and it will cost more than what the city paid to have County Club Hills patrol the municipality. The city will have one officer for every few square blocks. (KMOV)

There are different ways one might view this change, so I thought this would be a good poll topic this week. The exact poll question is “Starting Oct 1st the north county suburb of Flordell Hills, pop 822, will have its own police force again. Thoughts:” I’ve provided a few answers but you can also type in your own if you don’t like mine. The poll is in the right sidebar. Mobile users need to switch to the desktop layout.

— Steve Patterson


Poll Results On Ferguson Shooting

The poll last week had two questions related to the the shooting of Michael Brown and the leadership afterwords. Many more voters than usual, but these events are known around the world so I expected higher than usual numbers.

Which of the following do you think happened in Ferguson MO on Saturday Aug 9th? (331 votes)

  1. Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, forcefully stole cigars from a convenience store a half mile away; was killed by Ferguson PO Darren Wilson who used appropriate force 153 [46.22%]
  2. Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, forcefully stole cigars from a convenience store a half mile away; was killed by Ferguson PO Darren Wilson who used excessive force 110 [33.23%]
  3. Unsure/No Opinion 38 [11.48%]
  4. Michael Brown, an innocent unarmed teenager; was murdered by Ferguson PO Darren Wilson. 30 [9.06%]

In the initial week I would’ve voted for the answer that received the least amount of votes; he was innocent and murdered. The Friday before the poll stared Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released images of a strong-arm robbery just prior to PO Darren Wilson shooting & killing Brown. Doing so, just before releasing Wilson’s name, was a deliberate attempt to blame the victim. I was skeptical about the timing, leaving the Ferguson Market and getting to Canfield Green in such a short amount of time.  Only later we learn officer Wilson wasn’t aware Brown was a suspect. Still, I don’t think any objective person could’ve picked the last answer, as 30 people did.

The store police say Michael Brown stole a box of cigars.
The store police say Michael Brown stole a box of cigars.

The answer that got the most votes was that Wilson used appropriate force. I disagree, I voted that Wilson used excessive force.Very few reasons why an officer should shoot someone six times, walking in the street isn’t one of them.

Since the poll started I’ve been researching the use of deadly force and it’s not a pretty picture. I’ve long been aware of discrepancies between the treatment of whites vs non-whites, but the last two weeks has forced me to realized how much white privilege has benefitted me and all white males.

Much of the future legal wrangling will center on the use of deadly force by Wilson, a Grand Jury will decide if charges are warranted.

Neither the patrol car or Wilson was equipped with a camera so we don’t have video or audio, leaving many questions about that day. Was there a struggle? Did Brown surrender? Did Brown go for Wilson’s gun? Assuming Brown did try to get Wilson’s gun, isn’t six shots excessive? Did Wilson follow proper police procedure? What could both men have done differently that wouldn’t have resulted in the death of Brown?   And what if Wilson had used pepper spray, stun gun, or a taser instead of his revolver?

I don’t know what officers carry on their belt, but I’d assume circumstances dictate when you’d pick one over the other. In late 2011 ’60 Minutes’ ran a piece on taster use:

The Taser sounds like the perfect law enforcement tool. Simple, effective and generally safe, it allows officers to subdue a suspect using electricity rather than resorting to blunt or deadly force. But a recent study found that some officers may be too quick to use the popular stun guns when conventional procedures would suffice. As David Martin reports, there’s growing concern that Tasers may be inflicting unnecessary pain and, in rare cases, lead to death. (Taser: An officer’s weapon of choice)

During the poll two white police officers shot a black man holding a knife.  I’ve watched the video numerous times, this seems like a perfect situation where the use of a taser would’ve been more appropriate. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson avoided the type of unrest that was happening in Ferguson by addressing it head on, not shutting out the media. I think those two officers also used excessive force.

Which two of the following officials has displayed the BEST leadership regarding Ferguson? (PICK 2) (290 total votes)

  1. Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson 113 [38.97%]
  2. Unsure/no opinion 51 [17.59%]
  3. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon 43 [14.83%]
  4. Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson 27 [9.31%]
  5. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch 14 [4.83%]
  6. Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal 12 [4.14%]
  7. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles 10 [3.45%]
  8. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar 9 [3.1%]
  9. Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed 8 [2.76%]
  10. St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley 3 [1.03%]

Captain Ron Johnson has earned praise from everyone, it seems. Gov Nixon, though gaining the #3 spot, after unsure, has been praised and criticized.

There have been many calling for Bob McCulloch to recuse himself, but he refuses to step aside. If the Grand Jury doesn’t indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown McCulloch will be blamed. McCulloch easily won the Democratic primary just four days prior to the shooting, with no challenger in the November general election he’ll win another term unless there’s an independent or write-in candidate.

Not on my list was St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, he’d been reporting up to that point. Since then we’ve seen Ald French assume a leadership role. His number of twitter followers @AntonioFrench have ballooned to more than 120,000. French now has nearly four times more Twitter followers than @MayorSlay. Of course, tweeting isn’t leadership. We’ll see if Ald French can unite factions in the city & region. If he can’t, I’m not sure anyone can.

— Steve Patterson




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