Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The police state, or maybe the police municipality

Tomorrow a new law goes into effect in Austin. It will be illegal to use a cell phone, as well as a variety of other devices, while driving or cycling, unless the device is being used in a hands-free fashion. A question this raises in my mind: will the police abide by this law? In Austin, as in probably just about every jurisdiction in the U.S., police have laptops mounted in their vehicles. More than once I have observed a police officer looking at his laptop screen or tapping on the keys while his vehicle is in motion. (The law seems to prohibit touching the device while in motion, so I guess simply looking at a screen of any kind would be within the letter of the law, as would touching the device when the vehicle is at a full stop.) I seem to remember hearing a story or two about this kind of behavior on the part of the police causing an accident, although I don't have a reference.

So I wonder, will police officers be expected to refrain from touching any of their electronic devices while driving? And even if the official policy is that they must, will they actually do so? I doubt there would be any reprisal against an officer for breaking this law in any instance where it did not lead to an accident. It's hard to imagine one officer writing a fellow officer a ticket for laptop use while driving.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Here's a hypothetical:

Let's say that the police have a man in custody who has kidnapped a child and hidden the child in a location that he refuses to disclose. Let's also assume that inflicting physical pain on this man is the only way to get him to disclose the location, that there would be no permanent damage caused by this infliction of pain, and that there is no other way that the police will be able to find the child. Is it then okay to torture the man for the sake of the child?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Good questions to ask about the chokehold

I'll say up front that I do not have the answers to these questions, that I am not supporting or opposing the use of the chokehold by law enforcement, and that I am not expressing any opinion about any specific incident. This post is, however, inspired by discussion of specific incidents, in which I find that people often focus on one issue to the exclusion of others. That is one of my primary objections to debate about all sorts of issues.