from the real-american-heroes dept
Police: they have a job that demands respect, even if those doing the job occassionally do not. We talk a great deal here at Techdirt about some of the frightening uses of military grade equipment by local law enforcement agencies, about what sometimes seems like a neverending list of civil rights abuses, and so on. Still, as I said, I respect the job. It's my respect for that job that leads me to think that the Portland cops who arrested a homeless woman for charging her phone on a public outlet need a greater understanding of what it is exactly that police in this stupid country are supposed to do.
Now, if you're thinking to yourself, "There's no way police in Portland arrested a person just for plugging her cell phone charger into a public outlet," well, you're correct; they arrested two people for that in one trip.
In this case, the theft was first reported by Portland Patrol Inc., and two Portland police officers followed up to issue the woman and her co-defendant, a homeless man who was also charging his cellphone at the planter box outlet, citations to appear in court for third-degree theft of services — a Class C misdemeanor. According to the Electrical Research Institute, it costs about 25 cents a year to charge the average mobile phone. If the phone in this scenario had gone from zero charge to full charge, the cost would have amounted to mere fractions of a penny.Let's play a quick game. Pick out which part of the pull quote above is the most ridiculous aspect of this story. Got it? You picked the part where the homeless woman and a homeless man were charged with theft for plugging in their phones to a public outlet, didn't you? Well, you're wrong. That is ridiculous, of course, but any single police officer might be some asshole idiot capable of being this dumb. No, the most ridiculous part of the above pull quote is that it took four goddamned officers to respond to this request, and they still reached the conclusion that a citation was warranted. If these aren't verified to be the four dimmest officers on Portland's force, then the entire city has much larger problems.
“Jackie,” (who did not want her real name used), says she was shocked when four uniformed officers all agreed her actions warranted not only their response, but also charges and a court summons.
Oh, and should you be waiting to jump into the comments with some snarky question about why a homeless woman should have a cell phone in the first place, please keep in mind that phones cost less than houses. Also, shut up. Because strictly from the point of view of safety, not to mention the hopes of having any kind of future employment or way to communicate with social services, a cell phone at this point is so necessary for the homeless, not to mention everyone else, that the government should probably be furnishing everyone with some kind of holographic communciations and record-keeping tool that appears on your forearm when needed.
Pictured: a homeless person in President Geigner's America
Now, the Jackie in this story has never before been convicted of a crime, but she missed her court date after losing her citation because, well, where the shit is she going to put it? It's not like she's got a damned file cabinet stocked up in the house she doesn't own. Knowing she missed the court date, Jackie turned herself in to the police and ended up being booked into jail. Keep in mind, if you can, that this is all over "stealing" electricity at levels of "fractions of a penny." Jackie is on several waiting lists for assisted housing and might actually want to work someplace in the future, but, if convicted, she'll always have to be checking that "been convicted of a crime" box now on applications, thanks to a dumb law and four brave boys in blue.
And don't think that this is a completely isolated incident, either.
Jackie’s was not an isolated incident. Public defender Jane Fox says she’s seen similar cases.Only if you thought there was such a thing as common sense, which is clearly in short enough supply so as to no longer be common. As I said, I respect the job of the police, but I sure don't respect the job that these four defenders of the public good managed to do. And just to wrap a nice bow on how stupid this all is, how much do you think the public is paying in tax money to prosecute Jackie's fractions-of-a-penny theft? It seems likely that the paper the citation was written up on cost the taxpayers more than what she did, not to mention getting everyone in the court system involved. And, yet, Jackie's the one stealing from taxpayers? Please...
“It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s just insane,” says Fox. “The (case) that I had was somebody charging their phone by the Greyhound bus station. Don’t you have a reasonable expectation that an outlet near the bus station would be OK?”