August 13, 2008 -- The Inlander (WA)
Commentary: About That Jail
By Robert Herold
Original article: http://www.inlander.com/commentary/298057001816365.php
SPOKANE -- Until just the other day, I was teetering on the question of replacing the Spokane County Jail. But then I considered our state's inane marijuana laws. If you are arrested with less than 40 grams of marijuana on your person, you could land in jail for up to 90 days. And more than 40 grams? Up to five years.
In case you forgot, 40 grams equals exactly 1.45 ounces. That's ounces! And our law enforcement people want $245 million of our tax dollars so they have a place to put unfortunates who are found to be toting around 1.45 ounces of an illegal substance that does no evident harm to anyone.
Our intrepid national government's so-called War on Drugs is even loonier. At present, our brilliant minds back in Washington, D.C., draw no distinctions between dangerous drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, and marijuana. And Washington state has gone along with this nonsense.
Both Ron Paul and that late flaming liberal, William F. Buckley, have asked why it is that government doesn't restrict law enforcement efforts to police bad personal conduct. Marijuana arrests, many have noted, now outnumber all the violent crime arrests combined -- one every 38 seconds.
Ron Kampia, who heads up the Marijuana Policy Project, says that the key to reform is ending arrests, period. Oh, and by the way, were we to come to our collective senses and do what Kampia recommends, we could tax the stuff.
So, as I say, I had been teetering. My general attitude had been, if Spokane wants a bigger and better jail, then the state should drop marijuana usage as grounds for incarceration. Failing that reform, I had about decided that, so far as I'm concerned, I would vote no in hopes of forcing the county and city to opt for furloughing because of space limitations. Of course, I assumed that the government would exercise good judgment -- e.g., you furlough that 40-gram convict, but not the heroin dealer.
But after the events of last week, it's clear that's assuming too much -- now I'm past teetering. My decision to vote no -- if and when the jail-funding proposal comes to a vote -- was made far easier by yet another Keystone Cops episode. I refer to the "beer bust" at Holmberg Pool.
Seems that four of the lifeguards (three 17-year-olds, one 18-year-old, all thoroughly bone-headed) had a beer party after hours at the pool. The boys made the mistake of playing music -- loudly, as young people often do after having three beers each. Not a good move. In come our intrepid county gendarmes, along with their crime-fighting dog, Gordy. And the kids went down.
Our local crime-fighting hero, as reported, was one Bryant Robinson, who goes by the august title, "Spokane County Park Ranger." He wants the kids charged with second-degree burglary. (Why isn't clear -- did they swipe the beer from the cooler in the office?) Oh yes, our intrepid gendarmes threatened to sick Gordy on them, if they didn't unlock the gate. (How Gordy could get in if the cops couldn't isn't clear either.) Apparently the 18-year-old was taken to jail.
The county, stunned by this dramatic turn of events and exhibiting the dearth of imagination that gives so many bureaucrats a bad name, announced that the pool would be closed for the season. The reason: Not enough time to find new lifeguards.
Really? Whaddya think? I'd bet that there are no more than a couple of hundred certified college-age kids who might be looking around for a way to make a few bucks the last three weeks of the summer. If the county did nothing more than send someone out to the street with a bullhorn, I'd bet they could round up more than four qualified kids within the hour.
And second-degree burglary? Take a kid to jail? Front-page news?
Are they kidding?
Here's a case study in doing it right: I once did a couple of 8 pm-4 am shifts out on the interstate with a very smart Washington State Patrol sergeant. He spotted a suspicious carload of teenage boys and pulled them over. They weren't obviously inebriated but had beer in their possession; he suspected some of them had been drinking.
He sized up the situation: "I could take them in and spend the rest of my shift filling out forms; or I could really make an impression on them." He decided on impression. "Everyone out," he ordered. "Now, open the trunk." They did, and there he found what he thought he would find: an opened case of beer. They had bought it with hard-earned money. "OK, boys, tell you what," he said. "I'll watch while you pour."
Faces got very long. The pouring ceremony commenced.
Beer all gone, he made some threats and then followed them home.
Now that's a policeman with perspective.
If that attitude had been in use at the pool, the lifeguards would have been fired for being irresponsible, the cops would have read them the riot act, and the county would have immediately gone about rounding up four willing and able replacements. But filling up our already bursting-at-the-seams jail? Booking them? Charging them with burglary? Shutting down a pool in a poor area of the county?
As I say, I'm no longer teetering. Between marijuana convictions and second-degree burglary charges for late-night beer busts at a county pool, I've concluded that a new jail is the least of our needs.
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