Friday, July 11, 2008

I'll Bite - It's Entrapment

This is a great article in City Business. Big props to Richard Webster. Big time props.

A pack of Kool cigarettes, a can of Budweiser and a box of Boston Baked Beans sat on the dashboard of an unlocked car with the windows rolled down at 1732 Canal St.

Somewhere nearby two New Orleans Police Department officers watched and waited for someone to reach into the bait car and snatch the items.

They wouldn’t have to wait long, as the police parked the car just one block away from a homeless encampment under the Claiborne Avenue overpass, where dozens of desperate, hungry and addicted people lived in a makeshift village of tents.

Absolutely repugnant, but there's more:

For stealing less than $6 in items, the police charged the two homeless men with simple burglary, a felony that can carry up to 12 years in prison. Neither suspect had any prior arrests in Orleans Parish.

A month later, the men remain in Orleans Parish Prison awaiting court dates and the possibility they will spend the better part of the next decade in state prison.

“I don’t know what the policing justification is for such an action,” said Pamela Metzger, associate professor of law at Tulane University Law School. “But on a fundamental human level, it smacks of a meanness, a pettiness, a spitefulness that has no place in a city as broken as this one. It’s a way of manufacturing offenses that may not have otherwise existed.”

Well said by Professor Metzger.


Mr. Webster goes even further to extend his article beyond sensational outrage to discuss the racially and socio-econimically loaded implications of the use of Kool Brand cigarettes and beer.

Further, Webster leaps away from sensational discussion to point out how fiscally irresponsible the policy is:

The district attorney has 60 days to accept or refuse the charges against a suspect. It costs $23.39 per day to house an inmate in Orleans Parish Prison. If it takes the district attorney 60 days to decide the fate of the eight people arrested in the sting, the cost to the taxpayer for incarcerating them in parish prison would be $11,227.20.

Should anyone be convicted, the cost of housing an inmate in state prison for one year is $14,815.

It's a sickening story but it's great journalism. Kudos to Mr. Webster and shame on the NOPD.

It is part of a three part series that examines the utility of Police Superintendent Riley's ideological comitment to catch-and-release style policework. I discussed this at length at a few different junctures earlier this year and I look forward to seeing the rest of Mr. Webster's series unfold. I'll also take the opportunity to reiterating my request for Mr. Riley's resignation so that we can ideologically realign the department to better reflect community policing practices and the desires of the great majority of NOPD officers on the beat (obviously excluding the jerks entraping the homeless).

Also I'd like to point out that the cost of housing a homeless man in prison for a year is significantly less than renting them their own apartment in high-rent New Orleans for a year. I'd like to point out that Unity's model for housing the homeless has been proven effective throughout other urban communities in the United States and is much cheaper than jail. Finally, let me also point out that our affordable housing crisis has never been addressed by the Mayor or City Council and is the biggest contributor to New Orleans' large homeless population.


charlotte said...

My reaction to this "sting"? Disgust.

Really great post, E.

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