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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sheriff Joe's 'techno cops' goes online and Scottsdale's freeway cameras go live

"While we make every attempt to ensure the accuracy of our web based arrest warrants, there is no cause for arrest based on information found here. In ALL cases, warrants must be confirmed with the originating agency AND the issuing court prior to attempting arrest. While warrants are issued, cleared or quashed hourly, it is not possible to ensure all data is current. "

So reads Sheriff Joe Arpaio's new Techno-Cops website, where you can search in a wide variety of ways, including last name and zip code and, according to news reports, gender and race, to see which of your friends have outstanding warrants. Everybody's least favorite county sheriff has compiled and put online a database of 30,000 warrants (updated daily), searchable by anyone with access to a computer. Turn in your friends and neighbors, comrade.

"Some people may say this is a new kind of community policing," said Sheriff Joe in a recent Arizona Republic article. "Some might say, 'You want people to spy on their neighbors.' I don't like that word: spying. (I'm asking them to) keep their eyes and ears open . . . It's all geared to protecting the public."

According to the article, about 40 percent of the warrants online are for failure to appear. Nevertheless, the Sheriff's Office recommends that "[a]ll felons should be considered armed and dangerous." Channel 3 TV, not known for either their objectivity or their anti-authoritarian tendencies, uncritically advises us in a story on their website: "If you find someone you know, you can report them anonymously through the Web site."

Republic reporter Lindsey Collom, however, gets right to the heart of the matter.
Arpaio said anyone who knowingly submits false information is "going to jail." But what about those who report anonymously?

"I'm not giving up a program just because some jerk wants to play a joke on the sheriff," he added.
Hit the nail right on the head, I'd say. But, will Arizonans go for it? Just one day into making the database public the MCSO had it's first arrest.
Ulises Ayala... was wanted on a narcotics warrant when a tipster saw his name on the Sheriff's Office Web site and e-mailed information on where he would likely hide to avoid capture, officials said Friday.

Within hours of receiving the tip at 4:45 p.m. Thursday, deputies captured Ayala at a home near Thomas Road and 37th Avenue. Sheriff's officials said Ayala tried unsuccessfully to flee.
A second arrest was made the next day. Since it's debut, county cops report that the site had received nearly 170,000 hits and 45 tips.

Some of the Sheriff's fans may remember his other notable forays on the internet, such as the live webstream broadcasting from jail video of folks who hadn't even been convicted of a crime, and his infamous "women in prison" toilet cam. Currently, you can also view booking photos online of county jail inmates, many of whom just can't afford the bail money to get out (make sure you turn the volume on if you go to the booking photo page).

In other police state news, as many are aware, Sunday was the first day that Scottsdale's controversial freeway speed cameras went live, snapping photos of anyone their radar system catches going more than ten miles per hour over the speed limit. It's the first time anywhere in the country where a city has used speed cameras on a freeway.

For the first 30 days, the system will only issue warnings. Following that, the cameras, which are scheduled for a nine month trial, will provide the photos of smiling drivers that accompany $157 speeding citations from the city. A lot of public agencies are watching the results closely, hoping to use similar cameras to coerce drivers into driving slower in other cities and jurisdictions, once the precedence has been set.

As with surveillance cameras in general, the idea is not to catch you; it's to get you to self-police - and to substitute the decisions of largely unaccountable social scientists (Arizona State University traffic engineering professor Simon Washington, for one), bureaucrats and politicians for that of your own. Or, as reported in the East Valley Tribune today: “The whole idea, really, if it’s effective, is not to give tickets,” said Doug Nintzel, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation. “The idea is to get people to drive the speed limit.”

The city of Scottsdale's data shows that more than 50 percent of drivers on that section of the 101 are travelling more than the speed limit on weekdays (outside of the six hours of bumper to bumper rush hour, that is, when no one moves much at all). While moderate speeding is common on the 101, officials and media boosters quite frequently push more spectacular copy. The East Valley Tribune said yesterday that the 101 "has been deemed a serious problem, with the highway patrol pulling over motorists driving as fast as 120 mph."

Needless to say, that sensational and quite exceptional figure serves the purposes of those who advocate for more cameras and further state intrusion in our lives. But maybe the cameras don't go far enough.

Remarking on the new cameras, Scottsdale resident John Lutz, 66, of Scottsdale said, "I'm 100 percent for photo enforcement. Now I wish that the pictures they take of the drivers could be blown up to show if they are also talking on a cellphone." Maybe they can be posted on Sheriff Joe's website. After all, more enforcement means more tickets, which means more people unable or unwilling to pay and therefore more fugitives from the law.

While speed cameras on Scottsdale freeways continue to chip away at our freedom and criminalize ever more Valley residents, there is some good speed camera news out of the UK. For the second time in a week someone set a speed camera on fire along the A370 freeway. The camera's suspicious location - partially hidden behind a telephone pole - has cast doubts in the minds of local residents about the supposedly public service motivations of local authorities.

Felicity Down, a local business owner, blamed officials: "They have only got themselves to blame. If they hadn't tried to hide the camera and instead put it in a spot where everyone could easily see it then this would never have happened."

The camera was destroyed, fittingly, by burning a car tire on top of it. I wonder if some of the new cameras on the 101 are big enough to balance a tire on top of?

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