Monday, January 09, 2006

In the January 9th issue of the New Yorker, there's an illuminating article called Deluged about the New Orleans Police Department and their reaction to Katrina and its aftermath. There's lots about Katrina to make one angry but it was this passage in Dan Baum's piece that really got under my skin:
The N.O.P.D. was notorious long before Katrina for failures of leadership, professionalism, and discipline. The department was one of the most poorly paid in the country—even the highest-ranking patrolmen earned less than eight hundred dollars a week before taxes. Officers had to buy their own uniforms, gun belts, raincoats, and handcuffs—everything except a badge, a gun, a radio, and a nightstick. They were required to live within the city limits, and many sent their children to New Orleans’ notoriously underfunded public schools. Nearly all patrolmen worked private security details to make ends meet. For instance, Sabrina Richardson, the single mother of an eight-year-old boy, worked eight-hour shifts for the department and then a midnight-to-six shift in a Wal-Mart parking lot. On weekends, she patrolled the stands of the Superdome. “My son didn’t like it,” she said. “I’d tell him, ‘You gotta suck it up. Put on your tough skin, and man up!’ ”?
I'm still gobsmacked when I re-read the paragraph. A full-time policewoman has to work two extra jobs just to get by? How can that be?

Why couldn't New Orleans pay their police officers a decent wage?

Now I've been mulling it over and this is my working hypothesis on what is going on: poor neighbourhoods in US cities have poor schools because schools are funded by property taxes in that neighbourhood. And as for the police, some cities - like Detroit, for example - fund them poorly because the city itself is poor because all the industry and prosperity have all moved outside of city limits (where, incidently the schools are better). I'm not sure why New Orleans is so poor.

Which leads to this question: is there no tax system at all in the United States that can redestribute nearby wealth into poor neighbourhoods? (other than the money raised by the State Lottery.)

Its funny - the more I search for answers when reading about city, social and environmental issues, the more I have been thinking "man, this could be fixed with some tax reform". Except, no one ever seems to mention tax reform as a solution to these sorts of things.

Can any one recommend a good book on this topic?


jodi said...

One of the first phone calls I received after having my new phone line installed here in Athens GA was one from someone who identified himself as a police officer, asking for a donation. Not for Children to go see the Shriners' Circus or any other charitable cause, but to purchase equipment "such as bullet-proof vests" for officers. Not only do they have to beg the public to pay for what surely should be provided as part of their job, but they have to make those phone calls themselves.

Mita said...

I am so naive as this shocks me immensely. Cops asking for donations for their equiptment? I thought that happened in third-world countries (where - incidentally - police corruption is also high). I thought the US was all "law and order" but I guess each citizen is supposed to by themselves a gun rather than collectively pay someone to protect them.

Anonymous said...

Actually, people talk about tax reform all the time, although nothing much happens. In the early 90s the Ohio Supreme Court declared the state's property-tax-based school funding system in violation of the State constitution. I don't think the state has yet to come up with a replacement system though. I remember once reading about a sales tax, but I don't recall. In a liberal state in the northeast that also grappled with the issue (I think Vermont, not sure), political liberals at the grass-roots level opposed a plan to redistribute wealth to poorer schools, because the money was coming straight from their own kids' schools. Hypocritical, but not surprising.

Anonymous said...

If you spot a cop-car with its light flashing at a U.S. construction site, it's most likely cops "moonlighting" for extra dough. We've seen it everywhere on our travels. Those NOLA cops, even though I was disgusted at the video they shot of the teacher getting beat up in the Quarter, I really can't blame them too much (on a human level). It's a helluva situation to be in, and with no help coming, I'd be the first to take off and get my family out. All those folks that were stranded for weeks, the seniors that drowned in the nursing homes!

PS I forgot to mention to Thomasina and Danny that their little neighbour was pretty excited on Saturday because his family had just adopted a Katrina-rescued doggie. What's that group again? Pita?