Tax-Feeders and Manufactured “Crimes”

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Government is an exercise in pure, wasteful consumption. The only things that government can actually “make” are criminals out of innocent people, and corpses out of living human beings.

Statists often insist that at least some of government’s purely consumptive activity is indispensable, such as law enforcement. But this argument ignores the fact that the first and most important function of police is to collect revenue for the state, and that rather than deterring crimes police often manufacture them.

For example: police departments nation-wide use “bait cars” — automobiles abandoned by the side of the road with the keys still in the ignition and surveillance equipment concealed at various points — to pique the curiosity of well-intentioned people. Any contact with the vehicle, or close inspection of the same, is then treated as an attempt to burglarize or steal the car — even if the intent were only to learn the identity of the owner.

Police in Austin, Texas recently sprang a trap of that kind on Mark Douglas Ledford and his girlfriend, Asia Ward.

Austin’s “Finest” parked a green Honda Accord near Ledford’s home. Curious, Ledford consulted with his neighbors in the hope of identifying an owner; then he reported the vehicle to the police. A pair of officers paid a brief visit to the neighborhood and spoke briefly with Ledford.

“I told them, `Isn’t it strange that someone parked their car there with the windows down and the keys in it?’” he recalled. The police replied that there was no problem, since the car was parked legally, and then left.

Puzzled by the apparent indifference of the police and worried that the car might be a crime scene, Ledford and his girlfriend decided to examine the vehicle in the hope of learning the identity of its owner. They noticed odd things, such as broken glass, a pair of men’s work boots, a length of rope, and a bikini top in the back seat; this made them wonder if the car belonged to a serial killer.

Practically the instant that the couple approached the abandoned vehicle, a police cruiser sped to the scene and Ledford and Ward were arrested. At the station they waived their right to counsel and tried to explain their concerns to the on-scene investigator, who released them immediately.

However, a few days later the couple was served with an arrest warrant signed by the same investigator, who accused them of burglary.

The county prosecutor offered the couple a deferred prosecution if they signed a confession; to their credit, Ledford and Ward — who face a year in jail and a $4,000 fine for committing no crime — gave the prosecutor anatomically detailed instructions regarding the proper disposal of that offer.

According to the police agency that afflicts the City of Austin, the “bait car” scheme produced 70 warrants or arrests in 2008 and 13 so far this year. The department refused to specify how many convictions resulted, and refused to provide a break-down of the charges.

As noted above, “bait car” traps have been laid by police all over the country. Police also use variants of this idea: A few years ago the NYPD, apparently having nothing better to do, enjoyed considerable success in a similar snare involving a “lost” wallet.

12:46 pm on August 10, 2009