Skeptical of crime fighting tactics

I am so glad I will be out of this country (the US) for the summer. I already wish I did not have to come back. I am quite sure that the best part of my trip will be that I won’t have to read crap like this in the news. And, ha, here’s the rub. I’ll be in a frakking ex-Eastern Bloc country. Waddya know. A former Soviet republic with more freedom that people in the capital of the so-called “land of the free and home of the brave.”

When D.C. police begin stopping cars at a “checkpoint” this weekend in the Trinidad neighborhood, they will record all license plate numbers, verify residents’ addresses and ask others for phone numbers of those they are visiting, according to a directive issued by Chief Cathy L. Lanier.

Lanier, who has been working on the “neighborhood safety zone” program for two months, said the checkpoints can expand to any neighborhood in response to violent crime. Police said it is a tool they plan to use to increase visibility, make arrests and gather intelligence. 

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said the plan could be viewed as an infringement on civil liberties. 

Yeah, ya think? There’s got to be a way to curtail crime without turning local police into the frakking KGB.

Sorry for the outburst but after 5 or 6 crappy news stories in a row, I just couldn’t take it any more. Enjoy the day. Especially if you don’t live in the US.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. The most infuriating thing about the past eight years — even moreso than being lied into a disastrous war on foreign soil, I think — has been the legitimisation of these ridiculous knee-jerk reactions to any kind of crime. Which is to say, the transformation of America into a police state.

    What’s the point of this policy? What threat was it created in response to? Do the police have any evidence that the high crime rate in the Trinidad neighbourhood is related to cars at all? What if the criminals just go about on foot? How does this plan help stop them then?

    Stupid! Just completely stupid!

    At least drunk driving checkpoints set up on holidays are responding to an actual threat, based on real data about accident rates. This seems like just another heavy-handed knee-jerk overreaction by a bunch of impotent city officials who have no idea what the real problem is or how to fix it.

  2. Ben Franklin said it best, and I have been repeating it all too often with stories like this.

    “Those who would trade freedom for security deserve neither”

  3. Speaking as someone who has lived in a lot of different countries, I think the U.S. still does pretty well. In many places, there aren’t privacy laws to protect people and infringements on civil liberties are so common that they don’t even get news coverage. Or an investigation from the ACLU.

    I’m still happier living here than elsewhere, and happy to be able to participate in my own small way in speaking out against any injustices I see. That in itself is a pretty uncommon freedom.

  4. If it makes you feel better the citizens of England and Wales will soon have to endure the disgrace of having to carry an ID card with all our personal and biometric data on it. It’s not voluntary and it isn’t a requirement for someone else like driving or travelling abroad. Oh, and we have to pay for it.

    Not a police state, not a nanny state, a database state.

  5. I live in D.C. and I can see both sides of this topic.
    One side: We have had a epidemic of murders in three particular neighborhood’s all by young people in stolen vehicles. It has gone too far now than just circumstance. D.C. isn’t as dangerous as it used to be in the 80’s, it’s relatively safe. Anytown USA would probably take up the same tactics as this if all of a sudden you had 15 murders in certain neighborhoods over a few weekends.

    What would your solution be to this frightening problem?

    2) I take offense to people who put down my country, our country at every possible ACLU moment. I served my country proudly for six years, your relatives probably fought for the United States at some point in their lives, maybe not. What I’m saying in a nutshell is that the form of government and the society of multiculturalism in the United States isn’t perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than all of the others.

    Have fun in Eastern Europe for which I have lived and you’ll see for yourself just how corrupt and un-democratic life and politics is there, but please don’t put down my country as I actually am proud of it sometimes.

  6. DFT,

    If Donna didn’t flip back and forth between decrying loss of personal freedom and suggesting her own authoritarian measures to counter people who behave in ways she finds objectionable, she wouldn’t be the Donna we all know and love.

    If you want a consistent voice, she ain’t the one to listen to. She is not trying to be consistent. She is reacting in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.

    She brings up interesting issues in a provocative way and can be enjoyed greatly in that mold. I find it much more interesting to do so than to be offended, but yeah, if you choose to be offended by her instead, you will find plenty of ammunition within easy reach.

  7. Hey, I love this country, too… which is why I hate what she’s being made into. Yes, we have freedoms few other places have, but look around you and see how many of those have been taken away in the last seven or eight years, and ask yourself if you really believe we won’t be losing any more in the near future.

    If you’re a military man, you swore an oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Well, the enemies are domestic these days. They’re filling the seats of our government offices.

  8. I don’t love America any more and I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to say that as loudly as I want to. When the day comes that I can’t, then my fears and frustrations will have been proven right.

    This country has been ruined for me. I hope the next President and Congress can restore my faith, but I’m not sure that’s possible at this point. I currently think things will keep going downhill in the coming decades, and I just hope it doesn’t fall apart completely before I die.

    Sure, there’s corruption in Eastern Europe. Anyone who denies that would be a fool, but those countries don’t claim to be the bright light of democracy to the world. They are just trying to overcome generations of oppression and violence. And they’re doing a damned good job if you ask me. At least they are moving toward more freedom and liberty instead of away from it, as America seems to be doing.

  9. Seriously, somebody point me to where Donna advocated anything even remotely like this be turned against people she doesn’t like.

    She’s opinionated, and she doesn’t suffer fools, but she’s never advocated putting believers into camps or whatever the fuck you idiots want us to believe she’s suggested.

    Stop being jackasses, people.

  10. Oh, and I don’t really think my own authoritarian measures should be used counter people who behave in ways I find objectionable. But I do get frustrated at stuff that goes on, especially stuff that results in violence against women and the oppression of women, and I like to rant. :-) I really think education and spreading modern values is the way to counter the barbaric stuff I rant about. Unfortunately our government seems to think tanks and bombs are better, and they don’t really seem to give a crap about stopping the violence and oppression of women (particularly in the Middle East) or we wouldn’t be on kissing terms with Saudi Arabia.

  11. Americans still use slave labor. The slaves are just not in our own country any more. Don’t kid yourself and don’t get me started. Our entire economy is based on one form of slavery or another.

  12. writerdd –

    Your follow-up comments really have little to do with your original hyperbolic claim that the residents of whatever former Soviet nation you are visiting actually enjoy more liberty and freedom than the citizens of the U.S. That’s most likely false, but you feel the need to make such a claim without evidence. All of us skeptics should be quite aware that the plural of anecdote is not data.

    I think you ought to be more aware of your confirmation bias. I do not necessarily disagree with the observation that our current administration is responsible for some broadly anti-free tactics in the past eight years. But I’d rather read about, you know, actual empirical evidence thereof than your irrational extrapolation of one incidident into some apocalyptic trend.

    My point is that hysterical rantings, even if I largely agree with their basic substance, are not something I’m interested in reading, especially on a site full of skeptical, rational, evidence-lusting folks.

    And one more thing – I know the US is fucked up in several obvious ways. I know things often look rough. But for fuck’s sake, some of us are actually trying to do something about it, in our own small way. How dare you spit your vitriol down the throats of those who are working for progress and change, and who actually see some potential for a positive future?

    Don’t spread your unsupported claims of the death of America. Just move to France or the UK or Japan or Germany or India or Australia or Kazakhstan or WHATEVER. The rest of us have work to do.

  13. Give me a fuckin’ break, dude. That’s all I have to say. You’re too ridiculous a person for any other response.

  14. “Oh, and I don’t really think my own authoritarian measures should be used counter people who behave in ways I find objectionable.”

    And nobody who has truly paid attention to your postings long-term would think that you did. For people who have just popped in, it can be harder.

  15. Oh, and to actually contribute on topic, I don’t think for a moment that we are on a big slide to tyranny. Such is perennial cry of people who do not like the current political situation.

    I am generally not a big fan of patriotism as a virtue. For me, it is just not a skeptical attitude, and patriotism tends to worm it way into a lot of topics that require a lot of skepticism.

    I do love this country, but that doesn’t mean that I want to ignore its faults be they big or small. I am also most certainly against demanding the same love of country from others.

  16. This measure the DC mayor is taking is evil and unconstitutional, and will end up in court the instant it gets applied.

    It’s too damned bad that an elected official can’t be personally sued for dragging the BoR through the mud like this.

  17. jtradke,

    What a load of crap. If something pisses you off that much, don’t read it.

  18. Umm…how could it piss me off if I didn’t read it?

    Please try to consider the substance of what I’m saying, rather than simply reacting to the fact that I didn’t agree with writerdd.

  19. This is fantastic. I love discussing things rationally. I love it when we can all have a fruitful conversation without anyone being shouted down.


  20. Well, I quite obviously used the word “hyperbolic” in my post.

    What’s the beef here? I’m actually kind of dumbfounded by the response to my post. Was it the last paragraph? Maybe I should have spent more time on that. I didn’t mean “don’t let the door hit you”. But if you’re unhappy somewhere, why not move instead of just complaining about how bad it is? That’s like staying at a job you hate.

  21. Hyperbowl! Sport of the future!

    Seriously, though. Hyperbole, or exaggeration for effect, is a time-honored (if often misunderstood) means of communication, both literary and verbal. If I say Kate Beckinsale is a million times hotter than Angelina Jolie, you don’t see the skeptics around here demanding I break out the Hot-O-Meter and show them the readings… well, maybe as a joke. By the way, the Hot-O-Meter is broken right now a because I pointed it at Kate Beckinsale, and the meter doesn’t seem to go up to infinity.

  22. I can’t afford to move. Why? Because the frakking dollar is worthless. Whatever, fight amongst yourself. I have work to do.

  23. I hear Moldova has some “acting” jobs you could move there since you hate the United States so much.

    ….just kidding, but some of us would rather work on changing things than abandon what is, or was or could be a wonderful country to raise a family or pierce your ass cheeks or whatever the hell you want to do.

  24. Admitting this country has a problem… Many problems is the first step in changing them. I my self have been feeling the urge to leave as well, but I like the weather too much.

    Also I don’t have to like the Country to live hear that’s one of the finer points of The United States, we don’t have a loyalty oath. All the benefits and no obligation to like it.

    Right now I’m not too happy with the direction of the country and this silly misplaced belief that we are any better than any one else on this planet.

  25. Writerdd – fair enough, so do I. But I tried to justify my opinions. If I failed at that, I certainly expect to called out on it, but not just dismissed as though my views are worthless.

    Rystefn – Clearly your Hot-O-Meter is broken, since it told you that Kate Beckinsale is any hotter than Angelina Jolie. Why, I just read a paper in Sciencey Stuff Biannually that Angelina Jolie is approximately 45% as hot as Heather Graham, who in turn is 3000x hotter than Kate Beckinsale. By my math, that makes Angelina, um, like, twice as hot as Kate, or something like that. I was never good at fractions.

    Anyway though, hyperbole as a literary device is only effective if it’s so extreme as to be absurd. Otherwise how is the reader supposed to tell the difference between hyperbole and actual opinion? There are plenty of people who would stay stupid stuff like that and mean it. How am I to tell the difference?

    I apologize if I was mixed up about her actual beliefs, but I’m obviously not the only person who is confused by the literary devices Donna employs. Perhaps she should wield them a little more wisely so as not to confuse her readers.

  26. Poe’s law is not limited to fundamentalism. You can’t say anything so ridiculous no one will take it seriously… Like your assertion that Angelina Jolie is anything like on the same plane as Kate Beckinsale in the hotness dimension. I’m sure someone is going to come along and think you were serious about that.

    I will, however, give you that Heather Graham is about 1500 times as hot as Jolie.

    P.S. I know it’s broken. I said that myself. The Hot-O-Meter doesn’t go up to infinity, so I broke it when I pointed it at Beckinsale. It was my own reckless stupidity, kind of like pointing your telescope at the sun – you have no one but yourself to blame when you destroy something that way.

  27. Oh, jtradke, I just pull stuff out of my ass with no concern whatsoever for reason or justification. I don’t even try to back up my opinions with fact or data. I don’t care about truth or reality, as a matter of fact. Since that’s what you are accusing me of, I figure I may as well own up.

  28. I appreciate the spirited conversation, but perhaps an ice cream break is in order. According to Sciencey Stuff Biannually, 90% of all arguments escalate to dangerous levels due to a lack of chocolate chip cookie dough.

    Food for thought, friends. Food for thought.

  29. That’s not at all what I’ve said or implied. Or was that hyperbole? We’re all witness to the fact I’m a poor judge of it.

  30. Rebecca – Don’t even get me started on the so-called “spirits of conversation”. My grandma always brings them up when we let her out of the attic.

  31. to Dental_FlossTycoon
    Well, I know that these former soviet states seems so similar on the map, they are very different from each other in fact. While there are serious problems in Moldavia, Lithuania or other Baltic states (especially Estonia) are very different. Writerdd have not mentioned in this post, but from earlier ones one might know that she is referring to Lithuania.
    While generally you are right about the greater freedom that the citizens of the US enjoy, you should not look down on some of the former soviet especially some former socialist countries. In a few aspects of life these countries really offer one a greater freedom [and that does not mean they would not face corruption and other difficulties].

  32. The things that concerns me the most about how many policing tactics are chosen is that are usually the result of the “gut feelings” or “common sense” of politicians rather than any kind of empirical study of the problem (yes they do exist) and often achieve nothing, or even worse they are counterproductive

  33. My favorite thing about Skepchick is reading the comments wherein a reader has a legitimate difference of opinion with the writer, which is then responded to with dismissive/ration less/emotional/insulting comments from other readers and even the writer. I think it’s great, not at all sophomoric, and is a perpetual reminder that this is like, the super-duper best medium for productive discourse EVER! We must ensure that the comments section of skepchick forever remains a forum for masturbatory self-aggrandizement. After all, if we can’t all agree about everything all the time, then ostracize those that don’t, what’s the point of being uber smart, sexy, perfect-in-every-way critical thinkers in the first place?

  34. I really think it’s a false dichotomy that we have to either be safe with this kind of law enforcement or let criminals roam as free as we are. The answer is simply funding police departments to do the same pound-the-pavement police work that has proven effective regardless of the nature of the threat.
    Bruce Schnier writes about this kind of thing being “security theater”. It doesn’t work, diverts manpower and resources from real police work, and only serves to make the non-criminals feel like the police are doing something extra to keep them safe.
    Kinda sounds like alternative medicine only with law enforcement.

  35. There’s legitimate disagreement, Boaz, then there’s calling somebody a fascist just for holding passionate and sometimes unpopular views. Grow the fuck up.

  36. Shiftymruzik, bingo.

    Those of you who don’t pick up on sarcasm, hyperbole, and other types of snarky language should probably avoid my posts in the future.

    I think I respond in kind to comments (even when I shouldn’t). I’m human and when I feel like I’ve been attacked on a personal level, I sometimes lash out in response. I’m trying to develop a thicker skin in anticipation of the hate mail I will probably get when my book comes out, but frankly I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of it.

    If I’ve lashed out at anyone who was attempting to seriously discuss the issue of my post, I apologize. However, I make no apologies for being an emotional human being. If you want polite discussion, then learn how to write polite comments.

    On a related note, amazingly one editor rejected my memoir because, and I quote, “I wanted
    her to be less careful about offending people.” I definitely got a laugh out of that. As regular readers of Skepchick know, I have absolutely no clue how to be careful about offending people.

    Thank you and good night.

  37. Hey Joshua – You have quite the chip on your shoulder. Where did anyone say anything about fascism? Do you simply get angry when people disagree with you? Are you just trying to fabricate controversy or something? I can’t really figure it out.

    I put time and thought into my responses and I expect to be listened to and treated with respect, and I think most everyone else here deserves the same.

  38. writerdd – Pointed criticism does not a personal attack make. I strongly disagreed with how you presented your opinion here, but that doesn’t mean I think you’re worthless or something. If what I wrote came off as a personal insult, I apologize and I surely did not intend that. I’m certainly open to criticism of my writing style – shit, it’s only fair, right? But I don’t appreciate it when my thoughts are dismissed emotionally without consideration.

    I’ve enjoyed most or all of your other columns, particularly the book reviews, and I expect I’ll enjoy your book once I can get my hands on a copy. So just because someone expresses disagreement, even major opposition, to an opinion of yours doesn’t make it a criticism of you as a person.

    To recap, I apologize for any comments that were out of line. Feel free to point out which ones were – I don’t want to come off this way in the future, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard that I can be insensitive, and I want to improve that about myself. Feel free to email – it’s my username at

  39. Isn’t it possible to complain about the state of things while simultaneously busting ass to try to fix it? Take, for instance, the time I was trying to fix my car and cursed and screamed and fumed the whole time. I fixed it, eventually, but it was a pain in the ass, and I needed to vent along the way.

    Some of you seem to think that “fixing things” means “not complaining.” HA!

    Regardless, between this and the new full body scanners in airports (the ones that “clearly [show] a person’s gender”:, I am even more concerned for my privacy. How long before monitoring people’s traveling become a normal preventative measure? (“Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am, but you can’t go into this neighborhood unless you live here or are visiting somebody we can call…”)

  40. ehem, Australia is currently suffering a shortage of skilled people and we need immigrants.

    There’s a pretty big list of skills we need.
    Feel free to come over, the crocodiles are under control, drop bears are now friendly and we ditched our pro-Bush Prime Minister.

    We don’t have anywhere near the number of nutjobs running our country as you guys appear to have.

    Plus we have TimTams and our beer and wine is better.

    No, seriously, the place is lot more laid back and the quality of life is much higher IMHO. You don’t have to keep living in the USA.

  41. While I share Shiftymruzik’s position that this is mostly theater on the part of the local police to deter criminals, I have to say — it’s pretty pathetic that Skepchick has “Critical Thinking at its Finest” as the webpage slogan, when — as soon as someone voiced a minority opinion, there was a slew of personal attacks.

    As “The Czech” stated, the “OMG it’s a police state” is the typical cry of those who don’t like the political landscape. We saw those knee-jerk comments here, none of which display the so-called “Critical Thinking at its Finest.”

    The “minority view” posters made cogent points, and attempted some reasoned discussion, resulting in the escalation of the rhetoric and name-calling by those who didn’t share their views. So dissent is ok, as long as you dissent the way the majority likes it?

    I’m hoping the “masturbatory self-aggrandizement “(I would just plain call it an echo-chamber for circle-jerkers) continues — why bother constructing arguments from logic when you can just call people you don’t agree with ridiculous, and then congratulate yourselves on your critical thinking skills?

  42. The critical thinking part applies to everyone – so when a writer posts a piece which relies heavily on sarcasm and hyperbole, the understanding is that those will be taken into consideration before commenting. Taking a piece like that at face value is not critical thinking. If you were unsure of the writer’s intent, then you could have asked much more civilly, instead of making harsh assumptions and prompting a harsh response just out of defense.

    The “minority” points being made here were still missing the main point of the original article, and I think that’s what frustrated some of the other commenters, and the writer.

    And not to get too far off course, but Zytheran – I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind of emigrating to Australia ever since I read an article about Google Sydney actively looking for technical women such as myself. Thanks for the link – I may have to investigate this further :)

  43. I really want to spend a year or so in Europe and see if I like any of the countries over there enough to make a move. But I can’t do that until my house is paid off and Mr. Writerdd is able to take more than 3 weeks a year off. Plus my mom lives with us now, and I can’t really abandon her in Colorado. (So there is more to it than the low value of the dollar.) I don’t know if Mr. Writerdd would like it, but I’d love to move somewhere where English is not the primary language.

  44. Jen – If what I said was incorrect or misguided, then I fully expect a harsh, rational, response. However, I do not expect people to be outright disrespectful, dismissive, and exclusionary like they were in this thread.

    That sort of behavior is not excused by whatever mistakes I may have made in reading comprehension, or critical thinking, or anything else.

  45. Hey hov, I’ll be there next summer so let’s try to at least have drinks!

    jtradke, (and anyone else) as I said, I’m sorry if I misread your comments. I did not mean to be dismissive of any one who was actually trying to add to the discussion in a substantive way. Sometimes I do read the comments too quickly and miss the point, and sometimes read things as personal attacks that are not meant that way. I actually have no problem if readers disagree with my opinions. I know many of them are not held by the majority, even the majority of skeptics, and I expect people to disagree with me.

    That said, I don’t always respond rationally. I am human after all and quite prone to occasional emotional outbursts. At this age, I’ve come to accept who I am and I don’t have the energy any more to try to be someone else.

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