May 21, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 21

Dr. Wes

When the cops miss all your misdemeanors, how do you know they really care?

By Dr. Wes Browning

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I was very interested to read that in the past eight or nine years Seattle has had a steep drop in police enforcement of misdemeanors. My odds of being jailed are now so slim that I am already making plans for a wild, one-man misdemeanor crime spree.

Of course that entails learning what a misdemeanor is, so I’d know what to aim for. This is harder to figure out than you might think. It’s so tricky that the English, who invented this whole distinction between felonies and misdemeanors, just threw their hands in the air and gave up the whole business decades ago, when the Beatles were still together.

I get all my crime categories confused. So, simple assault is a misdemeanor, I’m told. But what, pray tell, makes one assault simple and the next assault complicated? Is it the choreography? Does tag-teaming constitute a complex assault? If I tie someone’s limbs in a figure-eight knot, is that decidedly more complex than a granny knot?

Or what about disturbing the peace? Clearly, there is a point at which the peace can be so disturbed that there is effectively no peace left. I can never figure out where the line is drawn. In fact in my experience it’s been best to suppose that if a policeman is anywhere in sight, all disturbing of the peace will be treated as an act of domestic terrorism.

Apparently though, that is no longer the case. The number of misdemeanor charges filed in court is now about half what it was in 2005. What, did we have a massive migration of new, well-dressed white people to the city, and I didn’t notice? Who’s getting the benefit of all this looking the other way?

Some of it I get. They don’t want to arrest prostitutes like they did back in my day. There are good reasons for that. If you’re a cop, and you arrest every prostitute you encounter, how are you going to find a prostitute when you want one? Some cops have always been aware of that conundrum, but I think in recent years, more and more have joined them in that realization. Plus, if you jail johns, it makes a better deterrent, and it reduces demand and lowers prices, so that’s a win for everyone.

I can see how it could come about that fewer people are being charged with loitering, as judges increasingly ask how a homeless person can be said to be loitering just for existing and having no other place to be than wherever “here” happens to be. The police probably find that extremely frustrating and feel it sucks the joy out of their lives. When faced with such an insurmountable existential dilemma, it is only human to sink into despair and acedia.

Hold on. The number of citations for pedestrian violations is down 89 percent from four years ago? This is Seattle? Is there no respect left for tradition?

One theory that is being tossed around is that Seattle’s police have just lost interest in charging people for misdemeanors and ticketing jaywalkers and such, on account of the Feds are watching and won’t let them punch and stomp people in the process. I don’t want to believe this theory.

I want to believe, instead, that they’re all too busy smoking weed.

I want to believe cops are mellowing out because they’re truly mellowing out. They’ve found mellow dispensers. Isn’t that one of the reasons we citizens voted for legal pot? People were seriously in need of mellow. We did good.

And isn’t it just as likely that the misdemeanants, whoever they are, have been actually doing less misdemeaning and more pot smoking, now that pot-smoking isn’t a misdemeaning?

Remember that No New Jail campaign a few years ago? If we had built that it would be useless now. Now we can look back on the whole thing with 20-20 hindsight and realize that what we always needed was for everybody to just get high and chill out.

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