Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nothing Sacred

Initially I was going to write about vodka and my not so recent adventures in drunkenness at a Russian New Years party, however today a friend brought the following articles to my attention which I felt warranted discussion here on the ‘Caust.

Officials Make Public Intoxication Arrests Inside Bars

IRVING, Texas – The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Comission has taken its fight against druken driving to a new level. TABC agents, along with Irving police, targeted 36 bars and clubs Friday, arresting some allegedly intoxicated patrons before they departed the businesses.

This did not immediately get my dander up as I, like Scott, am bothered by people that are sloppy drunk in bars. I am sure most of this comes from the fact that when I am drinking in a bar it is more about spending time with friends than the actual drinking, but that is really a discussion for another time. As long as they were dragging the sloppy drunks and clearly debilitated people out of the bars, I was okay with it. Then I got to this paragraph:

The report also said that some agents shared tables with suspected drunken patrons. Some patrons were subjected to field sobriety tests inside bars.

So clearly they were not just getting the broken drunks but just regular patrons who might have imbibed a bit too much, or, like me, not able to pass a field sobriety test stone cold sober. This has also moved from that nebulous region that is somewhere between police overstepping their bounds and the desire to protect the public. This is the sort of thing that police states do and, though we may be headed that way, the last time I checked the good old U. S. of A. was not quite there yet.

Mr. TunaCan launched a fairly vitriolic screed against this practice via email claiming that the police were arresting people who were likely to commit a crime before any crime had actually been committed. Does this sound anything like a slightly more focused version of the racial profiling that police departments do not engage in, no sir, not at all. (Please note that the last nine words of the previous sentence are so dripping with sarcasm that you may not actually be able to make out the letters. Sorry about that. Of course if the police really wanted to practice their racial profiling on drunks they should just arrest all the Irish. Of course I think that’s just good public policy, but then sometimes I am not a good person on the inside.) The follow up article shared even more disturbing details about the pogrom staged for the public safety:

Bar Sweep Sparks Controversy

At one location, for example, agents and police arrested patrons of a hotel bar. Some of the suspects said they were registered at the hotel and had no intention of driving. Arresting authorities said the patrons were a danger to themselves and others.

"Going to a bar is not an opportunity to go get drunk," TABC Capt. David Alexander said. "It's to have a good time but not to get drunk."

Woah. Now hold up there Captain Sparky. Of course going to a bar is an opportunity to get drunk. I know more than a few people who view it as our national duty to get drunk when we go to a bar. Seriously you brown-shirt wearing git! Bartendees predilection for getting drunk is what keeps you in a job and by extension pays your mortgage, kid’s tuition, and wife’s cabana boy bills, if you know what I mean, so sit down and shut your trap.

As it turns out Deputy Dog was within the guidelines set up by Texas law:

Texas law states that inebriated individuals could be subjected to arrest anywhere for public intoxication.

Now I do not have the mad research skills to track down the chapter and verse so I am going to take the journalist’s word on this one. (Of course this is a journalist who decided to write an article and uses a comedian as the counterpoint to the TABC’s actions, so his/her journalistic instincts might be a bit suspect.) This leads me into the story of Ben, one of Mr. TunaCan’s college roommates.

Ben was, lets just say that Ben had issues, tons and tons of issues. I didn’t know him real well, but Mr. TunaCan seemed to like him well enough and I suppose he liked Mr. TunaCan as he gave him the moniker The Aardvark Captain of the Guard. Anyways, one day Ben disappears. For a couple of days. Initially no one was worried as Ben was a bit of a strange cat and unusual behavior was the norm, but after a while (I cannot remember the exact amount of time this took it may have only been hours or it may have been almost a whole day) people really started to get worried. We contacted the campus police in the attempt to file a missing persons report and learned that we had not exceeded the time limit for an adult. Eventually Ben turned up again after having been arrested between the U of H campus and downtown and eventually released. The charge? Public Intoxication. As I said at the beginning, Ben had issues, and he was taking medication for these issues, however Ben would not have known a cocktail if it grabbed him, smacked him around, and screamed, “SAY MY NAME!” at him. And he was in the pokey for PI.

When used judiciously the generic charge of public intoxication serves a good purpose. It allows officers to pick people up who are behaving in an erratic and/or dangerous manner and put them somewhere to cool their heels. From my limited knowledge, in Houston the charge of PI carries a fine that the judges’ bust down to time served after you spend a night in jail. In Ben’s case I feel the officers probably made the right decision, even though he was not drunk. He did not have any identification on him, was out of it (he had not taken his meds), and was a lonely white boy in, what back then, was a very dangerous neighborhood.

Clearly this recent action by the City of Irving and TABC steps FAR beyond the realm of judicious application. This maneuver has the stench of a couple of different things:
  1. Somebody needed to justify their existence.
  2. The City of Irving needed a little cash influx from the state and what better way to get this than incarcerating some drunks for the night.
The first one is pretty self-explanatory, however the second point may need some illumination. As I understand the criminal justice system here in Texas (which comes from a prison guard) when a person is taken to a city or county jail, the state gives the imprisoning entity money (let’s say $700) per day or partial day that the person is imprisoned. This little money train re-ups at midnight, therefore if you are arrested by HPD 4pm on Sunday, Houston then gets allocated $700 from the state. If you are still incarcerated at 12:01am on Monday, Houston gets allocated another $700 from the state. This is why when I was in the pokey for unpaid traffic tickets (I am so lame) I saw the judge sometime in the afternoon, however I was not processed out until about 3am. In addition to this the Irving police may have been on a little fishing expedition in an effort to get more money by catching people with outstanding warrants. They only arrested 30 people, but I would be interested to know how many people they questioned/tested/ran through the computers.

The justification for this entire exercise:

Agents and officers said the operation represented an effort to reduce drunken driving.

Sgt. Chris Hamilton, of the TABC, said some inebriated bar patrons "end up killing themselves or someone else" after departing the businesses.

Ah yes, the spectre of public safety rears its ugly, fascist head. I know I have heard public safety as a justification for the abrogation of American rights before. Where was that? Oh yeah, there was this little episode in American history. Not recent enough for you? Well, you’re all bright kids. I bet if you think about it long enough you can come up with something you have heard on the news recently. Something about the FISA Court and wire-tapping.

This post ended up wandering a bit farther afield than I intended, however I felt it important that you guys know this kind of crap is going on. As for me? They can have my beer glass when they pry it from my cold, dead hand. Or pick it up off the floor. If that’s the case please make sure I am on my face or side. Thanks for your consideration.


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