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Reconciling power and responsibility

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

So thank your lucky stars you’ve got protection. Walk the line and never mind the cost. But I wonder who them law men were protecting when they nailed the Savior to the cross.

— Kris Kristofferson

There are some stories that, with their telling, elicit within us a desire to share similar stories of our own.

And so it was recently when a friend called to tell me of a misadventure that had cost him a ton of aggravation, a night’s sleep and a pocketful of money.

Details of this story are altered slightly to protect the identity of the people involved, but:

“I was in bed last night when the phone rang around 1 o’clock in the morning. It was my son calling to say that he was in jail in (a nearby community). I jumped out of bed and went to find out what had happened. When I got there, I couldn’t believe what all had taken place.”

It seems my friend’s son was heading home from Albany when he was targeted by one of those new tag readers that local law enforcement agencies now use. The officer told the young man the car had no insurance, and even with his assurances that the car was indeed insured, the officer not only arrested him, he put him in handcuffs and into the back of his patrol car.

“(The officer) stopped my son about a mile out of the city limits, but they wouldn’t let him drive the car back into town and park it at the police station,” my friend said. “When I got there, I had to get in touch with a bail bondsman to get my son out of jail, and I had to pay for a tow truck that took the car the mile back into town.”

Amazingly, even when my friend brought proof of insurance on the vehicle his son was driving and showed it to the law enforcement officer, he still had to pay all the appropriate fees — bail, fine, tow truck — before his son was released.

“I’d changed insurance companies, and I’m sure that caused some kind of glitch in their computer system,” my friend said. “But even when I showed them proof of insurance, that didn’t change a thing. Their tag reader said that the car had no insurance, so the car had no insurance.

“Oddly enough, I had the same thing happen to me in Dougherty County, and the officer did not put anybody in handcuffs and they did not treat anyone as a criminal. When I provided proof of insurance, all money that I’d had to pay was returned to me.”

Now I count myself among the most ardent supporters of law enforcement agencies. I have nothing but respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day — for not nearly enough money — to keep our communities safe. And I know protocol for various law enforcement actions vary from community to community.

But I have to wonder what kind of law this officer was following when he handcuffed and arrested a young man for operating an uninsured vehicle. Yes, the insurance industry has paid our local, state and national elected leaders enough through its lobbyists to entice them to enact laws that require drivers to buy ever more expensive policies, but is handcuffing and arresting a driver without insurance truly serving the community (or even the almighty insurance companies)?

Perhaps the officer who made this arrest was simply following his agency’s protocol, or maybe he was just one of those overzealous small-town cops who likes to exert the power of his seldom-on-display authority. His actions, though, are indicative of the kind that have many fearful that our country is devolving into something of a police state.

I’ve scoffed at such notions in the past, but when I hear more and more about such aggressive action by law officers in such minor cases — while hardened criminals and gang members, incidentally, are generally treated with kid gloves — I’m left to wonder if maybe there might be something to these claims. At least in some officers’ and some agencies’ minds.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.

Comments

Kay523 1 year, 10 months ago

If we read this column carefully, these folks have had an ongoing probem with car insurance. Yet they have their champion, Mr. Fletcher, who only knows one side of the story. Lets hear the rest of the story - the son threw a temper tantrum and used profanity with the officer. The father is an ex-con who is a convicted drug dealer. Where did this side of the story come from? Who knows but it has the same level of journalistic integrity as the column.

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billybob 1 year, 10 months ago

And if the kid used profanity at the officer, so what? Using profanity at a cop should result in being cuffed and arrested? Nonsense. Most police officers are decent public servants. But there are some who are jerks who enjoy making things difficult for decent citizens.

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Abytaxpayer 1 year, 10 months ago

Sure wish Carlton would try a story “Reconciling Journalism and Responsibility” What a piece of BS CRAP to write a story like this and add his little disclaimer “I have nothing but respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day — for not nearly enough money”.

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LoneCycler 1 year, 10 months ago

While Mr. Fletcher is no doubt not mentioning all the facts of the situation I don’t agree with the police using license plate scanners. They are an invasion of privacy and there are few controls on the information they produce. Police departments maintain a database of what tags were scanned that gives the date and location and this information can be kept indefinitely. The police have no business collecting information on the location of citizens without a warrant but this is exactly how the information can be used. In this instance the machine made the decisions, not the human in the loop, and this practice is common. The database says you are a criminal and it is up to you to prove your innocence. Welcome to the police state whose eyes never close and whose memory never fails.

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waltspecht 1 year, 10 months ago

The scanner can also be programed to detect plates that there is an alert on. I don't know about you, but I really don't care that folks know I have been in Dawson at least twice a day, and that I eat lunch. If the records are as complete as Lone Cycler says, they may provide me an alibi if I need one. Does it record if I am traveling North or South? Just what does it do, or is capable of doing? Am I being exposed to dangerous rradiation? Do I need to line my wallet with tin foil to prevent them detecting my cash assets? Sorry, I am glad to see it. I have been wittness to too many uninsured causing an accident, and to way to many driving on a suspended license. As long as it is used against locals at least equally as against transients. I can remember the Police being told by the Mayor not to ticket locals because they can't afford the fines, and not to set up any standing radar.

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