Friday, July 29, 2011

Does fitness matter for police?

HARBESON: Is this a stronger union?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Note to readers: I’m about to discuss the Jeffersonville Police Union’s contract battle with the city concerning minimum physical standard requirements. I know I’m going to be tempted to mention doughnuts but I want to meet a higher standard for this job. That’s why I’ve imposed the following physical requirement: When I’m tempted to mention doughnuts, I’ll stop writing and run laps around my yard until the feeling goes away.

Why are Jeffersonville police officers so uptight about minimum physical standard requirements in their union contract? Prior to following this controversy, I thought that meeting physical standards on a periodic basis was just a logical part of a police officer’s job.

As I understand the main disagreement, the police union does not want failure to meet these minimum physical standards to be grounds for termination. They think this requirement is punitive and they apparently don’t believe punitive measures work well to motivate and direct human behavior, or at least police officer behavior. They obviously have no problem with punitive measures as an effective means of controlling and directing behavior for the rest of society.

At one point in the negotiations, it was agreed that police officers would not immediately be let go if they failed to meet the minimum physical requirements. Instead, union members would be given three chances to pass and meet the age-graded standards.

In other words, police officers were going to be held to a three strikes and you’re out standard and they didn’t like that at all.

So even though various changes have been proposed about meeting fitness standards, the union has remained firm in its position and it wants any physical standard requirement to be incentive-based. Union members would like a specific reward, such as a monetary bonus, for meeting the minimum standards.

But the purpose of incentives is to spur action and motivate someone to perform at a level significantly above and beyond minimum standards; not for maintaining the basic minimum for the job.

It seems so odd to me that the police union members would balk at demonstrating a minimum standard of physical ability. Where is the sense of pride in themselves and respect for the community that pays their salaries?

I know police officers don’t necessarily think this way because they are used to dealing with those who pay them from a monopoly-based standpoint. I can imagine how different this all might be if they actually had to persuade people to purchase their services in the voluntary market.

Think about it. Instead of being coerced to fund city police, what if you had the freedom to choose from a variety of protection services? (Assuming you wanted to hire one at all.)

Do you think minimum physical standards would be on your list of criteria to consider as you made your decision?

Even when we only consider activities where police officers actually assist peaceful citizens who may be in need, and ignore possible dealings with dangerous (and fit) criminals, it still seems wise to make sure that police maintain minimum physical condition. No one wants to see police officers become part of the story because they let themselves go so much that they were physically incapable of performing the job.

Rather than fighting minimum physical fitness standards as a contractual job requirement, what if the police officers had spent their time and energy for the past two years working to ensure that they and their fellow union members reached their minimum age-graded physical standards? Would any of them really need to worry about holding on to their jobs? If so, then I guess that’s all anyone needs to know.

Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson ran around her yard about 500 times while composing this column. Which means she now deserves a doughnut.

Friday, July 22, 2011

ISTEP Testing Reports Make Me Yawn

HARBESON: Is this a test?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Every year when Indiana’s ISTEP testing scores are released, many people who support government schooling feel a rush of energy. They become excited and nervous, and expend that energy cheering for any data that can be defined as “success,” “improvement” or “progress.”

I usually feel a rush of energy too but it comes out in the form of a stretch and prolonged yawn. I can’t cheer because I don’t care about ISTEP test “success.” I care about education and learning.

I don’t cheer when success is defined by a government authorized and an approved standardized testing system. Pride at the state, district and individual school level over test scores only tells me one thing really: that those in the system are merely getting better and better at teaching to the test.

This measure of success is not something I would ever cheer about because I don’t cheer when I see young developing minds forced to suppress their natural curiosity to comply with arbitrary and subjective government mandates detailing exactly what they should be learning and when they should be learning it.

I don’t cheer when teachers feel they must teach to these specific standardized guidelines measured on the tests because I know it leaves very little, if any, time left to explore and learn about anything else.

A lot of energy is wasted on these misguided attempts to standardize a one size fits all education process while ignoring individual differences. The latest proof of this was in a recent story reporting on local results where a government school administrator pointed out how important it is to motivate kids to score higher and “learn what’s being taught.” He said it requires lots of energy to accomplish this.

But it’s not necessary to spend all that time and energy working to motivate kids to “learn what’s being taught.” All they need to do is stop thinking in terms of forced learning and flip the administrator’s comment. Instead of trying to motivate kids to “learn what is being taught,” turn this concept around and “teach them what they want to learn.”

Students are naturally self-motivated when they are already interested. Doesn’t it make much more sense for teachers and administrators to work with that natural energy rather than spending most of their days fighting against it?

If schools focused on individual student’s natural interests and real-life reasons to learn, there would be little need for elaborate standardized testing systems. People would realize that there are many ways to evaluate learning and the best ones focus on the student.

Imagine how different education would be and how much more everyone would learn if teachers and administrators actually collaborated with students to help them self-evaluate and assess for themselves whether they learned what they wanted to learn.

Since I don’t believe it actually accomplishes the goal, I’m not going to waste my energy cheering for standardized testing as a major method of forcing school accountability either. However, I do understand that this was bound to happen in a system based on compulsory funding, where individuals are not free to opt out.

As a result of government involvement in education, we have created institutions that are now almost completely focused on the continual testing and standardizing of students. This is producing young people whose main method of determining whether they should bother learning something or not is to robotically ask a single standardized question of their own: “Will this be on the test?”

And to me, this is nothing to cheer about.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is recuperating from injuries suffered during a recent prolonged yawn.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Another Illogical Government "Solution" in Jeffersonville Indiana

HARBESON: Shutting the door on business

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — At first, I really sympathized with Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan last month when he was quoted in this newspaper as saying: “I don’t want somebody knocking on my door trying to sell me something.”

I don’t like it when politicians come knocking on my door either.

But then I realized he wasn’t talking about politicians, he was referring to hard-working business people and the city of Jeffersonville’s idea to stifle economic growth by interfering in their attempts to reach and interact with potential customers.

Galligan was supporting a moratorium on door-to-door sales and Jeffersonville’s City Council agreed with him. They even suspended the usual three readings so they could quickly and unanimously pass the moratorium.

I’m sure the mayor was quite pleased he didn’t have to knock on their door more than once to get them to buy.

The moratorium is supposedly temporary as they try to figure out how they will handle the activity going forward. I wonder how this will end up. I don’t necessarily care for door-to-door sales either, but it never occurred to me to use government to forcibly ban other people from engaging in the action.

But then again, I’m not a politician.

To be fair, the nuisance factor isn’t the only reason the city decided to declare this moratorium. Officials also said they were concerned about safety due to a “rash” of burglaries where suspects posed as salespeople and then robbed the place if no one was home.

I don’t really understand the reasoning applied here. Isn’t this like banning pedestrians due to a “rash” of carjackings at city road intersections?

And if the main purpose of this government action is to protect residents, then the moratorium as written is still a useless government interference because, as usual, the elected officials have allowed exceptions. In this instance the favored groups getting a pass are all tax-exempt organizations.

Criminals can just as easily pose as someone from one of these tax exempt organizations as they can from a for-profit business, so obviously a government decree would make no difference at all. It only has the potential to harm innocent business people working hard to support their families.

As a matter of fact, again based on the government’s own reasoning, a good case can be made that it’s the nonprofits that should be banned because people may let their guard down even more when they think the person canvassing their neighborhood is working for a charitable cause or promoting a specific church’s way to eternal salvation.

Not to mention the fact that plenty of people consider tax-exempt solicitations at their front door just as much of a nuisance as those coming from a business.

I just don’t understand the thought process that goes through elected officials’ heads when they support these illogical actions. Does it really make any sense to say that one individual can knock on your door and sell you popcorn so a kid can go on a camping trip, but another individual can’t knock on your door and ask you to buy ice cream so he can support his family?

The government will allow one person to sell nutritionally questionable cookies but another person can’t sell plain unbreaded frozen fish fillets?

Mayor Galligan says there are other ways for people to sell their goods and services, and this is true. Of course, the same reasoning applies to the tax-exempt organizations that solicit door-to-door as well.

Even though I don’t care for it, soliciting door-to-door is a method that some businesses and tax-exempt organizations choose to use and government should not interfere. If the mayor or anyone else is annoyed at solicitors of any kind, then all they have to do is shut the door.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson has found a simple, quiet, fail-safe method to get solicitors to leave and never return: She answers the door naked.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Public Intoxication Is Not A Crime

HARBESON: Designate PI law for repeal

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Let’s say you — or someone you care about — had a few drinks one night and, knowing it would not be a good idea to drive, decided to let a sober person take the wheel.

Did you realize you can still be charged with a criminal offense? It’s true. The Indiana Supreme Court just affirmed this in Moore v. State.

Here’s some background on the case. A woman had a couple of beers at a relative’s home. While she was there, another person asked her for a ride. Since she had been drinking, she told him she could not drive so he drove while she rode in the passenger seat and fell asleep.

A police officer pulled them over because a license plate light was out and then discovered that the driver did not have a valid license. When the officer determined that the passenger was too impaired to drive, he arrested her for public intoxication.

There are several issues and concerns surrounding this ruling, one being the implications with regard to society’s strong push to prevent drunken driving by promoting the idea of designated drivers.

It’s not difficult to see possible problems when someone who is responsible enough to use a designated driver can still be charged with criminal behavior. As a matter of fact, as a result of this ruling, when the good folks at New Albany’s Irish Exit give rides to their patrons who have been drinking, it’s now theoretically possible for a police officer to pull their vans over for a minor offense and arrest their customers.

This ruling clearly illustrates problems with laws such as Indiana’s public intoxication law. It’s a good example of unintended consequences, a peril that all written law is susceptible to and is one reason why the less laws we have, the better.

Indiana’s public intoxication law is horrendously vague and depends upon the arbitrary discretion of law enforcement, which means it is open to possible abuse.

Worst of all, this law makes criminals of peaceful people who are not harming others. Lysander Spooner made an excellent case way back in the 1870s when he said “vices are not crimes.” He writes, “Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.”

When a law exists that can rightly be interpreted to say that one can commit a criminal offense even while sleeping in the passenger seat of a car, clearly we have a problem.

Indiana State Sen. Michael Young agrees that Indiana’s public intoxication law is much too vague and in the most recent legislative session, he authored Senate Bill 156. This bill added language to the law in an attempt to clarify the necessity of additional behaviors above and beyond merely being intoxicated.

It passed in the Senate, with local Sen. Ron Grooms voting for and Sen. Jim Smith voting against. The bill died in the House and Young says he will try again next year.

While it’s good to know some legislators seem to understand that criminal behavior should involve harm to person or property, I highly encourage Young to go further and push for the repeal of Indiana’s public intoxication law.

Adding language to bad laws merely complicates the issue even further and increases the likelihood of even more negative unintended consequences. Surely, Indiana has enough laws on the books for actual criminal behavior that law enforcement can use if necessary.

Other states have no specific laws against public intoxication and some specifically note that an intoxicated person is not committing a crime. To protect innocent individuals who have caused no harm to others, Indiana should do the same and repeal this law.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson grudgingly admits that selecting a “designated driver” is a better idea than her suggestion of selecting the “designated intoxicated.”