Monday, October 3, 2011

A Bang for no buck

From our "What could possibly be wrong about this idea?" file, here's a story from the Frederick MD News-Post.

City ponders empowering volunteers to patrol parks by Patti S. Borda

Frederick is prepared to arm volunteers with a weapon to get litterbugs and park scofflaws under control.

Aldermen agreed in theory with the concept of authorizing trained volunteers to pack mighty pens and write citations when people park on the grass, leave litter or fail to pick up their dog's feces.

"We're lacking any kind of enforcement in the parks," Alderwoman Shelley Aloi said. "This is an immediate solution to that problem."

Aldermen agreed with Roelkey Myers, deputy director of parks and recreation, that one outstanding volunteer has been doing noble work, but without much teeth behind her effort. Jolene Hart has been handing out informal citations, but they were little more than words of advice.

Hart, "one very, very dedicated volunteer," stepped forward to keep an eye on parks after two paid enforcement officers left and the city decided not to fill their jobs, Myers said.

Many errant park visitors reformed once they knew the rules, Myers said. Other offenders don't hesitate to park on grass a day later or let their unregistered canines use the dog park, he said.

"One of the biggest things ... is seeing vehicles parked on city land," Myers said.

Aldermen discussed how to grant the new authority to more than just Hart, who has gone through training as a member of the police department's auxiliary. Aldermen did not decide whether the police auxiliary should write citations.

Myers hopes to attract other volunteers to join Hart on the job. Myers said he would work with city staff to formalize the training and application process for future volunteers.

"I do not want to let bureaucracy get in the way of a good idea," Alderwoman Karen Young said.

As for liability concerns, all the duly appointed volunteers will be covered by the city's insurance policy, said Saundra Nickols, city attorney. Myers said they would not be expected to put themselves at risk in dangerous situations.

"They wouldn't be breaking up fights," Myers said.

Frederick is known as a pretty cool city these days.  It's on the road between Baltimore and Western Maryland.  They have a minor league baseball team, lots of up and coming techno-industry, and - the sure sign of a hipster haven - plenty of brewpubs and cafes. 
Mrs Fritchie

Back in the day, Frederick was known to elementary school kids as the destination of a field trip.  Everyone would pile onto school buses and go see the home of Barbara Fritchie, who, according to a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, stood in the street and waved a flag to try to stop Stonewall Jackson's troops during the Civil War.  The fact that she was home sick in bed as the rebels strutted through town, the fact that the Confederates didn't get within a half-mile of her house, and the likelihood that she was upstairs waving her hair, and not a flag, have never stood in the way of this stirring myth.   All fifth-graders who get to go on this field trip return home profoundly moved, usually because they saw their teacher sneaking a smoke behind the bus before they all went back home.  I know we did!

If you've ever known anyone who fell this thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis short on getting on the cops as a career and wound up doing security in polyester at a construction site or bingo hall, and yet still walked around like Barney Fife in blue, you have known the sort of person who craves authority and power, and finds them by being given a modicum thereof. 

So take some yahoo with a closet full of guns 'n' Four Roses, let him strap on a .40 and hang around the park, on the prowl for litterers, people who walk on the grass in defiance of Keep Off The Grass signs, people who bring beer to a picnic, or dare to enter the park after dusk. Am I the only one who thinks that Really Dirty Harry might see the need to fire off a round or two in order to bring peace, justice, law and order to the crime-ridden parks of Frederick?

I don't think this will turn out well.  And remember, I'm the guy who begged you not to go goose hunting with Dick Cheney.

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