Friday, September 12, 2008

A Slow Day in Arlington, Virginia

Today while walking to the market to provision for the weekend your faithful Rainmaker witnessed a fascinating episode. Wilson Blvd. is a one way street passing through the Roslyn neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. Some poor soul had apparently gotten discombobulated and driven the wrong way on that street. Her car headed east on the one way west bound bound Wilson Blvd., was pulled over to side of the road at about the 1600 block of Wilson adjacent to the Red Hot and Blue restaurant. Obviously this was a major infraction for the driver who appeared to be a soccer Mom (sans lipstick) had the attention of two police cars, a fire truck and ten "public safety employees" who parked their vehicles helter skelter across the street slowing rush hour traffic. While one of their number, obviously the one with the least seniority, wrote the hapless soccer Mom a ticket the other nine guardians of public order and fire protection stood around having an obviously grand old time discussing who knows what but probably "life, love and the neon rainbow."

Walking back from the market almost 25 minutes later the situation remained unchanged. The Rainmaker recognizes that in the wake of the 9/11 events it is impossible for local governments to rein in these police and fire fighters, heroic paragons of America's first line of defense in the neverending "War on Terror." Nevertheless the deployment of resources witnessed in the 1600 block of Wilson Blvd. this afternoon gives pause. Obviously there wasn't much going on. If 10 public employees respond and nine spend at least 30 minutes watching the tenth write a ticket then there must be a lot of excees capacity in the system.

The Rainmaker focused on this minor traffic accident for two reasons. First, the dissproportionate resource allocation, sending 10 officers/firefighters to deal with a non injury traffic infraction. It must have been a slow day in Arlington, Virginia. Second, this seemed a perfectly good example of what in part caused the typical small town such as Vallejo, California to declare bankruptcy last year.

It turns out that Vallejo has a police and fire force that can earn (or rather collect) over $300,000 each in a give year for keeping the city safe for democracy, truth, justice and the "American Way." In Vallejo, 74% of the city budget was devoted to providing "fair" compensation to the public safety sector of teh town's budget. A police officer or fire fighter can earn $300,000 annually in Vallejo.

The Rainmaker wonders how much longer these inequities can continue before the system finds itself in a state of collapse.

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