New crime-stopping plan would fine the victims

Submitted by Bill St. Clair on Wed, 23 Jan 2002 14:07:40 GMT
THE LIBERTARIAN, By Vin Suprynowicz
New crime-stopping plan would fine the victims

Clark County (Las Vegas) officials met recently with representatives of the Nevada Retail Association, as well as delegates from such local supermarket and department store chains as Smith's, Wal-Mart, and Albertson's, to discuss the problem of the wandering shopping carts.

Store representatives warned about the likely cost of a county proposal to require stores in unincorporated Clark County to install mechanical or electronic systems preventing shoppers from removing carts from store premises -- costs they would only have to pass along to customers. But did anyone think such common-sense concerns would sway County Commissioner Erin Kenny, who doesn't figure it's been a good week unless she's laid down another restriction on somebody, somewhere?

(Aim to bar "big box" discount stores with groceries right inside? Ban smoking in restaurants -- including the smoking sections? Outlaw buying a new car on Sunday? Just ring up "Mrs. No.")

The grocery and department stores have a sizeable investment in the sturdy, four-wheeled carts. It defies logic to believe they like to see them rusting in abandoned fields, culverts and dry washes. Jim Spinello of county Administrative Services says it costs his men good money to gather up the stray conveyances ... which would seem to be as good a starting point as any for some productive discussions about how much the stores might be willing to pay for each cart returned in good condition -- perhaps even giving birth to a cottage industry among private entrepreneurs anxious to earn that bounty and thus take the job off the county's hands.

But these days, why on earth would the County Commission take the path of quiet and productive negotiation and accommodation, when there are so many more political points to be won with a dramatic gesture, forcefully demonstrating how "hard they can come down" on the greedy capitalists?

And so the commission has slated a Jan. 15 public hearing on Ms. Kenny's expensive but unfunded mandate for the shopping-cart equivalent of more than 1,000 new electric cattle fences -- a new law required only because police aren't enforcing the existing statute against stealing shopping carts in the first place.

No, in this day and age it's probably not realistic to expect any judge to send a homeless "shopping cart lady" to jail for ... well, stealing her shopping carts.

But it hasn't been that many decades since any young brigand spotted by an officer of the law committing a grab-and-run from the corner fruit stand would be unceremoniously dragged back by the ear to the scene of his crime, there to offer full and instant restitution along with a heartfelt apology.

Didn't New York City recently figure out the only way to stop a neighborhood from slipping further into decay was to aggressively enforce laws against even "minor" crimes, such as window-breaking? Is it so far-fetched to ask what conclusions our young people draw today about ethics and respect for the law when they see police cruisers rolling oblivious past some "street person" in unmistakable flagrante delicto, walking down the street with the evidence of their petty larceny -- that is to say, their shopping cart -- in plain view?

Is the traffic-stop treasure hunt really so vital that an officer can't be expected to occasionally pull to the side of the road and quick-march that "street person" back to the scene of his or her crime, there requiring the return of the purloined property along with a hearty apology to the store manager in question?

Instead Ms. Kenny would now fine the store owners themselves $40 for each of their carts stolen. I might ironically suggest that perhaps after a stolen auto is involved in a hit-and-run the correct course would be to file charges against the person whose car was stolen ... except that I hate to give Ms. Kenny and her associates any further ideas.

The most pathetic irony here, of course, is that such proposals must eventually generate precisely the kind of pernicious Catch-22 which now afflicts parents who are warned they'll be held financially responsible for any vandalism committed by their children. Let the father respond by whupping his incorrigible teen-ager upside the head after his latest adventure in hooliganism, and it's precisely the likes of Ms. Kenny who will call for that father to be jailed under a policy of "zero tolerance for domestic violence."

Let some hypothetical store owner install batteries in his carts, triggered by boundary sensors to administer a nasty shock to anyone pushing one off store property without permission. And let the first miscreant with a pacemaker fall to the ground insensate as a result. Will Ms. Kenny be there promptly and loudly in the store owner's defense, declaring: "We did require them to install such systems, after all -- if anyone's to blame you should come see us at the County Commission"?

Sure she will. On the same day the Clark County teachers union embraces merit pay, while calling for the revived study of Latin, French and algebra in the seventh grade.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter by sending $96 to Privacy Alert, 561 Keystone Ave., Suite 684, Reno, NV 89503 -- or dialing 775-348-8591.

Vin Suprynowicz,

"When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right." -- Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926)

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and thus clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." -- H.L. Mencken

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