“Get Out of Jail Free” Cards

In the movies I’ve seen people who try to get out of a traffic ticket by telling the police officer they made a donation to the policeman’s ball, but those were comedies. I had no idea that not only does this exist there are official cards. In fact, the police in New York are livid that the number of cards is being limited:

The city’s police-officers union is cracking down on the number of “get out of jail free” courtesy cards distributed to cops to give to family and friends.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association boss Pat Lynch slashed the maximum number of cards that could be issued to current cops from 30 to 20, and to retirees from 20 to 10, sources told The Post.

The cards are often used to wiggle out of minor trouble such as speeding tickets, the theory being that presenting one suggests you know someone in the NYPD.

The rank and file is livid.

“They are treating active members like s–t, and retired members even worse than s–t,” griped an NYPD cop who retired on disability. “All the cops I spoke to were . . . very disappointed they couldn’t hand them out as Christmas gifts.”

A Christmas gift of institutionalized corruption.

Here’s another article on these cards which just gets all the more stunning.

First, there are tiers of cards. Silver cards are the highest honor given to citizens. It’s almost universally honored by officers, and can also help save money on insurance. Gold PBA cards are only given to police officers and their families. You’d be hard-pressed finding a cop who won’t honor a gold card.

Gold and silver cards! It gets better. You can buy these cards on eBay. Here’s a gold New Jersey card on sale for $114. A silver “family member” shield goes for $299. Some of these are probably fake. The gold and silver are rare but remember, cops get 20 to 30 regular cards so you can see why they might be upset at losing them.

The regular cards have become more common as NYC hires more police. The union may in fact be trying to bump up its monopoly profit by restricting supply.

The cards don’t just go to family members. The rot is deep:

Union officials say the cards are also public relations tools and tokens of appreciation handed out to politicians, judges, lawyers, businessmen, civil service workers and members of the news media.

A retired police officer on Quora explains how the privilege is enforced:

The officer who is presented with one of these cards will normally tell the violator to be more careful, give the card back, and send them on their way.

…The other option is potentially more perilous. The enforcement officer can issue the ticket or make the arrest in spite of the courtesy card. This is called “writing over the card.” There is a chance that the officer who issued the card will understand why the enforcement officer did what he did, and nothing will come of it. However, it is equally possible that the enforcement officer’s zeal will not be appreciated, and the enforcement officer will come to work one day to find his locker has been moved to the parking lot and filled with dog excrement.

He’s not kidding. Here is what seems like a real police officer on a cop chat room (from Mimesis law)

It’s important for me to get in touch with shield [omitted] and ask him why he felt it necessary to say “I’m not even going to look at that” to my PBA card and proceed [sic] to write a speeding ticket on the Bronx River Parkway yesterday afternoon to my fukking WIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ll show him the courtesy he so sorely lacks by not posting his name on a public forum.

Any help would be appreciated.  Please inbox me.

I will find you.

I find these cards especially odious as more and more police are funding themselves through fines and forfeitures. Discriminatory taxation increases the tax rate. It’s one rule for the ruler and another for the ruled.

The cards are not a secret but I agree with my colleague Mark Koyama who remarked:

Sometimes you find out something about the country you live in that makes it appear little better than a corrupt, tinpot, banana republic.


I can tell this was an Alex post rather than a Tyler post because it didn't at the end come to the conclusion that this was optimal and indeed socially desirable for bizarre bank-shot reasons (probably related to price discrimination), and that without this system civilization would collapse into authoritarian anarchy or some such.

Exactly! I started reading the piece without looking at the byline and half way through I knew it had to be Alex.

Also, no dig at Trump, no extraneous plug for transgender rights, etc. In fact, no virtue-signalling at all.

I'll give it a try: The US has lots and lots and lots of laws. Only a small fraction of laws are even attempted to be enforced universally. The average person commits three felonies a day without even realizing it. It's a really bad look if 50%+ of murders go unsolved. But 99%+ of marijuana possession or bike theft is unpunished, and everyone just kind of accepts that this isn't a big deal. And maybe, even kind of how it's suppose to be. This isn't necessarily a libertarian argument either. Singapore has lots of anti-libertarian laws, but the expectation in Singapore is that if a law exists then the state's **must** make a best effort to enforce that law. Both Singapore and the US have laws against cocaine, but only in the US can you find a cocaine dealer in any major city within 30 minutes.

The question is why do we have laws like this? Basically because for better or worse, criminal due process is really strong in the US. A motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable suspect can escape punishment for any major crime, as long as he's not caught red-handed. See OJ Simpson for this effect in action. So we create a large array of ancillary crimes, the point of which is to make it easy to catch the subject red-handed. Maybe we can't get the mafia hitman for murder, but we can catch him red-handed with an unlicensed firearm. Maybe there's not evidence to prove that Martha Stewart actually traded on inside information, but we can catch her red-handed making false statements. Maybe Pablo Escobar's lieutenant isn't going to directly touch drugs himself, but we can catch him red-handed on tax evasion.

In short, the point of these laws, is to directly target "assholes". Criminals, who any right-thinking person can plainly see are criminals. We don't really care about non assholes committing these crimes, so we ignore the vast majority of the cases. The statute officially reads "don't do X", but the unwritten postfix is "don't do X - if you're an asshole". We just can't officially put that in the law, because it wouldn't be back to step 1 hitting our heads up against constitutional due process. Occasionally non assholes get caught up, because of some overly ambitious DA or cop who woke up on the wrong side of the bed. But generally it doesn't happen too often, and we as a society accept the collateral damage to avoid living in cities infested with Latin-American levels of crime and chaos.

The point of the PBA cards is to add one more tool to helping differentiate if someone's an asshole or not. If another cop has vouched for his character and good behavior, then so be it. We're not going to let him off for murder, but maybe don't arrest him for having an ounce of pot. Very likely on net this process leads to the protection of more innocent people. It helps cops avoid making mistakes, and therefore reduces the non-asshole collateral damage mentioned above.

You might say this whole system sounds incredibly screwed up and poorly designed. And I actually agree with you. If we could re-design it from the ground up, we definitely should. But that's not the option. We can only push for political change on the margin. In this case reducing PBA card usage without accompanying reforms to other parts of the criminal justice system, would very likely produce worse outcomes.

Valiant attempt, but my opinion it fails. Reasons:

1) Discretionary enforcement is bad, because it undermines rule of law and places a huge amount of power in the hands of law enforcement.

2) Corruption, both real and perceived, in law enforcement is bad and prevents the "important" laws from getting enforced (because people don't trust police, won't give them information, etc.). These programs contribute to both.

3) Even given your premise, I see little reason to assume that holding one of these cards is a marker of a person who is less desirable to prosecute.

4) It doesn't actually give law enforcement a new tool to selectively enforce the law (they already have the discretion to look the other way, let people off with a warning, etc). What it does is put external pressure on them to not enforce the law.

I mostly agree with what you're saying. But all those problems you mention, PBA cards are a drop in the ocean. It's like your house is on fire, but you're worried about changing the batteries in the smoke detector.

Discretionary enforcement is bad. Police corruption is bad. But this is the system we have. It's the system that voters overwhelmingly demand. "Tough on Crime" is a perennially popular campaign slogan. When nice white people get arrested for draconian laws, almost everyone supports looking the other way or letting them off with a slap on the wrist. It's why criminal justice diversion programs are universally popular.

The idea that poor people don't talk to the police, because they're outraged about PBA cards is pretty far-fetched. There's a lot of corrupt and unjust treatment marginalized people get at the hand of law enforcement. Not getting a PBA card for Christmas probably doesn't register: "Cops wives now get speeding tickets. It's now okay to start snitchin' "

I'm sure there's the occasional cop who tries to sell the card, but as the story alludes there's really strong cop culture norms against abusing the cards. If a PBA card didn't carry some statistical power to differentiate people then it seems unlikely that insurance companies would offer better rates to holders. Even among family, I'd be pretty surprised if individual cops are exercising discretion about who they hand it to. The article doesn't get into it, but virtually all PBA cards have the officer's name on it and/or it's convention to ask the perp who issued it. The more well-respected the cop, the more weight the card carries. And vice versa a cop who's lending his name is putting his own reputation on the line.

To a certain extent all these arguments are empirical. But I think anyone would have to admit that we should probably consult the data before making strong judgements one way or another. Maybe PBA cards only net increase the total amount of cop discrimination and corruption. And that would be bad. But it's also plausible that PBA cards are mostly supplementing other existing forms of cop discrimination and corruption. In which case it's most likely good. Personal vouchers for character certainly aren't infallible, but on the margin they're a big improvement over judging based on race and class.

Yawn at AlexT. He disses Third World banana republics such as where I live now (in the Philippines, I'm an American). And he is outraged at minor stuff like this, while he ignores the broken patent system and disses patents.

but as the story alludes there’s really strong cop culture norms against abusing the cards.

Given that using the cards in the first place is an awful abuse that should probably be a crime, no.

"PBA cards are a drop in the ocean."

Perhaps they are a minor portion of overall police corruption. However, to me it is still exceptional to have an officially sanctioned program with no purpose other than aiding police corruption. The message that sends is a big deal,.

"there's really strong cop culture norms against abusing the cards."

We are supposed to be a nation of laws, not a nation of really strong cop culture norms. And can you give an example of a non-abuse use of the cards?

"I think anyone would have to admit that we should probably consult the data before making strong judgements one way or another."

No, not anyone. I believe that equal treatment under the law is a first principle, and these cards clearly exist for no purpose other than to undermine that principle. Therefore no cost-benefit analysis is needed to determine that they are a bad idea.

There also seems to be a really strong cop cultural norm of killing black men at disproportionately high rates.

When I was growing up in the 80s there seemed to be a lot of "grey area" aka officer discretion. A cop who caught you underage with a case of beer would make you pour it all out, tell you he better not see you out again tonight, or if you were mildly intoxicated behind the wheel, they would let you call someone to come and drive you home, or maybe even follow you home personally and have a little talk with your parent. Problem solved, arrest record avoided, lesson learned.
But in the late 90s-early 21st century there was this move toward making LEOs more revenue enhancement agents than peace keepers and the grey area went away. It seems like things were much less complicated and peaceful before it all became about the intake of fines fees and federal money for housed inmates. No surprise the federal government made things worse and money was the prime motivator.

Let me guess, you probably grew up in a white suburb. This is now how we were treated in the inner city.

Another argument is that these cards offer a valuable "perk" to officers, allowing them to spread largess and influence to friends and family, while costing nothing from the public treasury. The cards make becoming a police officer more attractive while presenting little direct cost on society.

The downside is the promotion of a culture of favoritism and selective enforcement that may bleed into matters of more consequence than speeding tickets. I'm not sure how you'd quantify the benefits of a "perk" vs the downside of "moral rot".

One argument against the largesse hypothesis is that cops usually show similar leniency to firefighters. If it was about monetizing the surplus value of their corrupt position, we wouldn't expect this to be the case. There'd be no reason to extend the same benefits to a separate group, when they really have no way of receiving any benefit in kind.

Having their union support your union is a good way to manage PR so people do not think the cops are just being greedy and risking public safety. Likewise, there is a certain amount of bonus if your kids want to join the other branch and get a stable, good paying job. There are major overlapping interests for cops and firefighters we should all sorts of informal mechanisms to encourage and reinforce that cooperation. It is very myopic to demand that favors be similar in nature and not more fungible.

I have relatives in the military who report similarly favorable treatment when they flash their military ID.

I think leniency toward other service members is more about self image. You view yourself as a noble risk taker, making a sacrifice for the good of society. You therefore feel naturally inclined to extend courtesy to other service members purely as a gesture of solitary, understanding, and good-will. It makes them feel good. This is a different mechanism than handing out "get-out-of-jail-free-cards" for Christmas, which are more about demonstrating power and influence.

The consideration shown to firefighters is also often shown to healthcare professionals. I know lots of nurses who escape traffic tickets by showing hospital ID's. There are other types of value beside money. Cops risk getting shot, and if that happens, they will then depend upon firefighters/EMT's and ER staff in order to ever go home again.

The cards make becoming a police officer more attractive while presenting little direct cost on society.

Yes, creating cards that allows people to commit crimes with impunity while involving police in their crimes can't possibly impose significant costs

Relax. These cards don't allow " people to commit crimes with impunity". They let them get out of traffic tickets.

As I mentioned in my comment, this may very well impose costs in the form of normalizing corruption, but that's more of an indirect cost than a cost of the cards themselves.

Perhaps card holders are more likely to commit traffic violations at the risk of their fellow citizens.

Did you read the article? These cards are clearly meant to protect the biggest assholes of all so they don't have to pretend not to be assholes like the rest of us plebes.

Your theory:
Since practically everyone commits crime, unlimited discretion allows police to only arrest the "bad" people, the "assholes".

What really happens:
Since practically everyone commits crime, unlimited discretion allows police to primarily arrest black people, other minorities, and poor people.

This is pretty telling right here: "Criminals, who any right-thinking person can plainly see are criminals"

Well now, we all know what a "criminal" looks like, don't we?

i see. so the police get 30 chances a year to avoid being 'collateral damage' in a system that criminalizes everything because they are bad at their jobs. must be nice. i now see that the society will surely collapse if they do not get these 30 chances to be allowed to break the law!
the fact that these exist is disgusting. if the police wonder why some people have no respect for them, look no further. would you respect somebody who harasses, arrests and/or fines someone for a 'crime' they believe does not apply to them? any man or woman who would do such a thing, or even support it, lacks integrity. then again, we all know it is no secret that the police are not known for that particular character trait.

The real problem IMHO is the fines and forfeitures. It creates a conflict of interest and a reason to focus police on those "crimes" that can result in money into the public coffers. There are better and more effective punishments than fines and forfeitures as commonly used today are undoubtedly unconstitutional.

Well for argument's sake, I'll try to defend your hypothetical Tyler here and just say that he might raise Gordon Tullock's arguments on corruption: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1465-7287.1996.tb00619.x/full which are very similar to how he recently argued in favor of loose immigration enforcement. This may not be fair, as Tyler, I seem to recall slammed Tullock, on several occasions. If that be the case, then. let this be in appreciation of Tullock, a giant, whose willingness to question received wisdom set him apart from the mainstream of US academic economists. Tullock, recogiizing that we cannot legislate how we want people to be but rather must legislate with people as they are, knew that the optimal level of corruption is not zero since reducing corruption e entails expenditures. Tulloch suggests that if corruption is inevitable at least take that into account when calculating compensation. Presumably, the get-out-of-jail cards are an element of compensation and the employers limiting their use will either be unable to attract as good a candidate for police officer position or make up for their loss with pay raises. Similarly, border patrol agents have had a long history of accepting cash from illegals to cross: .http://reason.com/archives/2017/11/30/trump-wants-more-money-for-corrupt-borde This substitutes one form of government violence for another but at least lets the illegals shoulder a share of paying for the agents. Trump, to his credit, (contra Reason) appears to recognize that walls do not accept bribes. Eventually the cost of the wall will be offset by a reduced need for border patrol agents.

+1. It's a fact border police in the USA are corrupt, from what I've heard. And the USA never was Denmark. I think back in LBJ's time they even stuffed ballot boxes in Texas. The real outrage IMO is public funds being used to overfund Social Security / Medicare, making them non-means-based, and people accepting government being 40% to 50% of GDP. Yet AlexT wants even more state involvement in the way of extra police (in one of his earlier posts). Seems this righteous indignation post by AlexT is yet another example of how out of touch academics are with reality. The US has been 'corrupt' for several generations now, due to Big Government, and only now does AlexT notice.

Bonus trivia: a person I know says they got out of a traffic ticket in the Deep South by mentioning they were affiliated with a major university down there; the cop 'tore up the ticket'. Routine.

Anyone who still believes the USA is some honorable polity where corruption is some rare or isolated "bad apple" is naive. The institutions of our country have lost (assuming they ever really had but I'd like to believe it once was true) all sense of honor, self-discipline, respect for both law and Constitution or public server.

The reality is the institutions, all of them, that form the basis of a free society have deteriorated and for all the self-proclamations we get from mouths for these institutions we have no soap box to stand on any longer. We simply no better than the "shit holes" and these cards are no different than the blue lights of Moscow.

Couldn't agree less. IMHO, corruption is as normal as sex for our species. The question, to my mind, isn't whether or not significant corruption exists in any given society, but how it is channeled. I think, although I have no way to prove it, that things are mostly better today that in the past. If you think people still aren't being silenced by "the system" then I invite you to research Trump's lawyers or the Church of Scientology (or even Of the Latter Day Saints) and especially Weinstein - these are part of a system of power and can only be effective by contributions from many many people.

This is totally cynical and wrong. I've worked with people in the federal government and that's a job people take because they believe in the mission. At least in the scientific agencies, where people are mostly PhDs and are interested in research. I can't speak for the killing agencies, that our congress can't throw enough money at to drop bombs on hospitals or whatnot.

But there are good people out there. They just don't want to live in the shithole states in the south and west.

Wait until Prof. Tabarrok discovers what having valid police ID in any jurisdiction is worth when interacting with police..

Though who knows? He might approve, as no union is involved in that case.

...well, finding routine instances of police/government corruption is about as difficult as finding rats at a garbage dump.

The prime question for a senior economist should immediately be "Why" this is happening and why it is so readily accepted by the rest of people in government, including mayors, governors, legislators, judges, police chiefs.

The NYPD is notoriously corrupt, forever. Same almost everywhere in U.S.
Why is this little traffic-ticket stuff surprising?

What is the underlying cause? (the answer is well known, but rejected instantly by most Americans because it upsets their comfortable world view)

I'm a little confused by this. The fact that government officials would become corrupt is the most natural conclusion any libertarian could come to. I agree that most Americans are naive about power and the likelihood that it will be abused.

confused by what specifically?

Only a tiny percentage of Americans are libertarian.
Americans are not just naive about police, they are police enthusiasts.
According to Gallop polling 2017, Americans' confidence in the police far exceeded the average for all other American institutions by at least 10 points every year since the question was first asked in 1993.

Confused by either (a) why Alex Tabarrok would have an idealistic view of local governance, or (b) why someone would think that Alex Tabarrok has an idealistic view of local governance, or (b) why someone would find it ironic that he would note corruption in local governance. Depending on whatever Serpico meant, which is itself confusing. Basically the whole comment is confusing on multiple levels.

I believe you badly misjudge Professor Tabarrok. His reactions to this kind of thing are perfectly conventional and idealistic. I am confident he is equally opposed to the corrupt use of a valid police ID. Tyler I am not so sure about.

This is worse than that, however, because you can't buy a "valid police ID" on e-bay or get one from a friend or family member. That a nominally private organization is allowed to openly "sell" the ability to violate the law ought to be an issue for everyone (even if there are other issues).

"His reactions to this kind of thing are perfectly conventional and idealistic."

....precisely the problem, cognitive dissonance.

The personal idealized world view conflicts with obvious reality; thus, the idealist finds common reality to be merely an isolated anomaly -- relieving the mental conflict/stress. Idealized world view remains intact.

If you are not joking, this is a gross misapplication of the term cognitive dissonance. If you are joking, keep your day job.

'he is equally opposed to the corrupt use of a valid police ID'

What misuse? The person a police officer stops merely shows his ID, and if as by magic, the police officer uses his discretion. No money changes hands, no union involved - it is just the way things work.

Having a valid photo ID (i.e. a driver's license) is required to be allowed to drive. You can't be arrested for not having a photo ID on you while walking down the street.
And you can get a driver's license without having connections to a union.

Well, maybe you cannot be arrested. I believe the failure to properly identify yourself to a police officer with some formal ID with image can legally result in a detention, which is what I took from your statement but maybe you're thinking that is okay as long as you're not arrested for not having the ID while walking.

I mean, you can't be arrested just for not having an ID.
If a cop stops you and asks you your name, and you refuse to respond or get hostile, the cop might eventually arrest you for something or other (especially if you're black). But he'll have to come up with some other excuse. Just not carrying ID doesn't count.

more than two dozen U.S. states have "identify" laws, requiring residents to identify themselves to police officers who stop them and ask for identification, as pedestrians. Paper ID not required, but people must provide their legal name and usually address of residence.

How does that "Right to Remain Silent" rule work? Cops don't need any reason to arrest/jail you-- that only applies if they want to convict you of something later in court.

In California, I believe you can be arrested for not showing a valid photo ID to a cop who requests it.

I guess it would have been better to use the word 'badge' instead of ID, but I'm pretty sure that the FBI does not have badges as such.

Corruption in the USA; who would have thought it.

And someone tries to make themselves feel better about it by saying, "Sometimes you find out something about the country you live in that makes it appear little better than a corrupt, tinpot, banana republic." There is nothing wrong with growing bananas or being a republic, its corruption that should not be tolerated.

As for tinpot, i looked up a definition "(especially of a country or its leader) having or showing poor leadership or organization." The USA has currently managed to shutdown its government because elected officials have lost sight of their role of serving the people ... draw your own conclusions

Unfortunately, today's shutdown days end up costing more than the average day in terms of government spending, back in the nineties, it was my impression that the shutdown did result in net savings.

The government behavior during the last shutdown really pissed me off: they cancelled transactions that were honestly paid for in advance, some group that had paid thousands for a rafting permit through the Grand Canyon and thousands for travel from Australia, and thousands in opportunity cost were kept out. (How could government keep them out if government is shut down?) Other transactions that were not paid for by recipient, and thus largess, were continued. This is the ultimate dishonest interpretation of what it means to shut down the government.

The lock out of national parks in the last shutdown was truly despicable. They spent money to keep people out. Reason 4832 Obama was a bigger asshole than Trump.

This is evidence that they don't really mean it when handing out a brochure that says something to the effect of: "Welcome to the national park that we all own!"

In 1979, my sister cave me some (plastic wrapped) cards she'd bought at a head shop. Each one had a cartoon drawing of a man with a horrified look on his face and the following inscription: "You have just insulted me. This card is chemically treated. In 30 seconds, your prick will fall off". It never occurred to me at the time that there might be someone in this world obtuse enough to take that literally. I should have shlepped up to Toronto to locate the young Alex Tabarrok and give him a scare just for kicks.

"In 1979, my sister cave me some (plastic wrapped) cards she’d bought at a head shop."
Why do they sell heads?

Because the market clearing price is greater than zero.


So that is. Moral aspects don't count, just money.

If the cards are jokes why is the police union so livid that they are going to stop members from handing out as many of them?

That's not what he's saying.

poster above me is clearly an imposter. If I found out my sister ever went to a headshop in 1979 I would first have her excommunicated, then I would burn her house down.

My late grandfather was a car dealer in southern California. He used to run promotions like 'buy a car get a fur coat' and whenever he had prizes some of those prizes went to a local police chief (my main memory of him was taking me onto the set of CHiPs in 1981. My grandmother used to carry his business card in her wallet, for over 20 years she never even bothered to get *a drivers license*.

If you'd come to me in friendship, this scum who ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by some chance an honest man like yourself made enemies they would become my enemies. And then, they would fear you.

"Anyone who still believes the USA is some honorable polity where corruption is some rare or isolated “bad apple” is naive. "

The U.S. isn't much more of a uniform polity than the EU (less so in some ways -- the death penalty particularly). Your choice of the term 'bad apple' is apt. It's New York, Jake. I wouldn't be surprised to find the same thing happening in New Jersey (or Rhode Island, or Illinois). But I'd be much more surprised to find the same thing happening in, say, Utah, Minnesota, or Indiana. And when you look on eBay, the only other state that comes up with PBA cards for sale is....yep, you guessed it....New Jersey.

Which is not to say that police corruption doesn't exist elsewhere (asset forfeiture abuses are widespread). But this kind of open, unashamed corruption as standard operating procedure seems very specific to certain urbanized states where so much of life depends on 'pull' and who you know. And New York seems the prime example -- a place where people lean on every connection to get their 4-year-old into the right effing pre-school.

I'd bet the cards are in most states. I've had one for 20 years, in Ohio, only used it once for a traffic violation. They are good for stuff where there is police discretion and if the infraction is not too serious. The cops usually only give them to people who they won't be embarrassed by.

Because the police can predict who will and who won't commit felonies. Riiiiight.

You cite Minnesota in a positive way. Minnesota elected Jesse Ventura governor and sent Al Franken to the U.S. Senate. Nuff said?

Ventura first ran because his local govt wouldn’t issue him a concealed carry permit because he wasn’t connected enough. His first few months in office was basically all about abolishing a lot of regulations that gave insiders power over ordinary citizens in everything from hunting and fishing to snow mobiles and jet-skis. He won because he promised reform, and he won because Skip Humphrey was looking very skeezy in Minnesotan eyes, and those same Minnesotans thought Norm Coleman was unprincipled.

As a Norwegian born person, I will claim that Wisconsin has a slightly higher German/Norwegian ratio than Minnesote, thus are slightly less both naive and egalitarian, relatively. So Minnesota, being naive, would vote for HRC, and being egalitarian, would entertain Ventura, but not Trump.

very specific to certain urbanized states where

... there are entrenched public sector unions and Democratic "machine" politics.

Well while on the subject of police behavior and looking for other examples, how about the who asset seizure bit and the Tenn. police bias to stopping the west bound traffic to take the money rather than the east bound traffic with the drugs that money was supposed to have come from.

If their justification is true then what that are doing is enabling the sale of drugs in the big cities on the east costs for their cut in the money.

>Sometimes you find out something about the country you live in that makes it appear little better than a corrupt, tinpot, banana republic.

The Secretary of State ran all her email communications through a private server for the sole purpose of making them immune to FOIA requests and destroyable at her will. She did this while simultaneously running a foundation that accepted unrecorded donations from foreign nations. For four years.

Perhaps that should have been a clue.

+1. Where's the "thumbs up" button?

The Clintons made careers out of doing sketchy-looking things for cloudy purposes that in hindsight always seemed practically designed to give their enemies ammunition. But it's always small "c" corruption that gets wildly overplayed and makes their opponents look unhinged. The only argument I've heard that Hillary was overtly selling influence is the Uranium One deal, and none of the conspiracy theories about that have held up to a moment's scrutiny.

To Alex's point, what's shocking is what's perfectly legal. In the Clinton Foundation context, Occam's Razor suggests that it absolutely was an influence-peddling operation, but of the ordinary, perfectly legal, donors-taking-care-of-politicians sense. Bill Clinton's voice in the Democratic party ear was worth just as much as anything Hillary would do in her official role. From his point of view, I'm fairly sure, Bill Clinton just saw it as a matter of doing well by doing good.

One has to give the Clinton's some credit for innovation; with the Clinton Foundation they essentially industrialized political influence peddling on the national level. One might argue whether this is actual corruption, but I tend to think yes, that's rather the point.

Tricky Dick is just shaking his head, saying 'I'm not a crook' over and over again.

Rape is "small" corruption???? Nice.

You should start a radio program where you just repeat your paragraph about the emails 3,000 times per day. You'd get rich off the hundreds of thousands of slappies who'd just listen to your drone on repeat. Shame, self-awareness not required!

A similar thing are the specialty number plates in Florida to Support Law Enforcement:

The money goes to the officers' union Florida Police Benevolent Association. I don't know how much cops make in Miami, but I find it likely that at least some of those plates on luxury vehicles were purchased by people who are not members of the union but hoping that having the support plate they could get off easier from minor traffic offenses.

Similar to your license plates, I'm familiar with affiliated organizations giving out stickers (to put on your car) for a donation. Any implication of a benefit (however weak) is of course not intended. At least they don't put a sticker that says "I didn't give" on your car if you don't make a contribution...

Given that most of those entities have not relationship with the police departments, (at least in Fairfax County) and a call to the PD will confirm that, the entire scam is about the implied benefit both personally and to actual police officers in general.

If you guys drive into NYC and see a yellow traffic light, do not hit the gas peddle.

Calm down, people. Tell Mayor DiBlasio.

Someday, you may come to the realization that 90% of traffic stops are about raising money for the government entity employing the police officer. There are unofficial/unspoken quotas.

Worse than confiscatory/tax traffic stops are red-light cameras (and short-timing yellow lights), which are solely motivated by revenue generation and cause rear-end collisions.

If you think that the right response to seeing a yellow light is ever to "hit the gas", then I'm glad I'm 3000 miles away on the other side of the Atlantic. If you don't have time to get through the light without flooring it, then just stop and wait.

Slamming the breaks is by far the worst option and results in far more people getting injured and coming to see me. The scientific evidence about MVCs and traffic lights is that the safest course is to have a long yellow so people have time to process the inputs and not have to make hasty judgment calls.

Which is of course the exact opposite of red-light cameras. It is routine for jurisdictions with red-light cameras to shorten their yellow light duration - which makes it harder for elderly drivers with slow reflexes or those with poor color discrimination (particularly on glaring sunny days) to safely navigate the intersection. They slam on their brakes then because they have no room for error. The driver behind who correctly believes that they both could make it through safely (as the traffic engineers intend). This is so bad that municipalities routinely get dinged for shortening their yellows below federal guidelines.

For the knuckleheads who do accelerate heavily to "beat the red" this means they are going to be accelerating at greater rates. This reduces their steering control and makes it harder for drivers with the green to gage if a person is going to stop in time (we are terrible at doing that integral calculus type of problem in our heads).

Given that I have never heard of a single jurisdiction that installed red light cameras while lengthening their yellow duration, but I have heard of innumerable ones that have shortened it, I can reasonably conclude that this all about money and not in the slightest about safety.

And then there's civil asset forfeiture, which has gone from involving million dollar assets of drug king pins, to involving the cell phones of people cause with an old roach under the seat.

Also check out the 11-99 Foundation in California. Make a donation to the CHP, get a license plate frame to let them know to leave you alone on the freeway. They're even color-coded by donation amount.

It sounds like when you donate to the CHP, you just pay for your future tickets upfront, but there's less hassle and paperwork for everyone involved.

I'm curious as to whether the cards are good for one use or multiple uses. The latter is obviously considerably worse. A "get out of jail free" card in monopoly can only be used one time. If it was good for multiple uses it would effectively be immunity from prosecution for any civil traffic offense.

Minor infraction you get to keep it; middling it's taken away and given back to the officer that gave it to you so he knows what you're up to; and anything worse, it's not accepted.

In China, you can pay to have someone else do your gaol time.

Perhaps the best line in the entire set of comments.

My husband overheard a conversation the other day at a barber shop. The conversation was between the barber and a contractor working on some sort of commercial construction project. He was going on about how he was told that at his construction site, if he wanted the inspectors for something or other (some permitting process or code inspection) to do their job, he would have to pay them each a five dollar bribe. That the guys would show up and wait in their car and not get out until they got paid. Apparently the process is well established enough that there are customary procedures involved.

So yeah, anyone who thinks there's not a lot of corruption in local governance isn't paying attention.

Precisely, and this is true in the rest of the world too. We beat corruption through consequences, and there's only consequences in areas where there are many eyes on said corruption. Today local news are almost dead, and even more so in the balkanized midwest, where instead of one city, you have metro areas with over a hundred tiny municipalities: No eye will ever look at them, and they have steady streams of non-voters that they can tax.

As if the local news would cover this stuff even if it existed.
The thing is that most journalists lean left and so if it involves a union they are going to look the other way or confabulate some other reason why it's no big deal. See prior upthread: "Let's change the subject and bitch about how everyone's against unions because they're big meanies".
Progressives are suckers for any sort of excuse for why something done by a public sector entity is good for you, especially if a union is involved.

Hazel, you might find this article of interest: https://www.topic.com/the-story-behind-the-chicago-newspaper-that-bought-a-bar

Yeah, here's another tidbit:
In the neighborhood we used to live in, there was a local coffee shop that had been open in an old building (you can see where this is going already right?). It was really cool, they had an old vinyl record collection and a record player so anyone could put on a record. They had open mic nights and game nights. They had a small selection of food, which was prepared in a kitchen in the basement.

Then one day, they decided to renovate and put in a proper kitchen upstairs. A sign went up saying they would be closed for the month of may. And they never reopened.

What do you think happened?

Five dollars? Where do you live? Chad?

I'm ashamed to say. Pittsburgh.

Police (including retirees) also have guaranteed 50-state concealed carry for life; like the samurai of old Japan, they are permitted to carry their weapons when the rabble are not.


There's also the whole reduced-criteria-for-use-of-deadly-force thing but I don't think that's unique to America.

NYC is a corrupt place alright, especially the relationship between public officials and public sector employees. The NYT had an excellent article on the corruption and incompetence in extending the subway system with costs I think it was 10X higher than elsewhere in the world. See 12/28/17. Featherbedding. No show contracts. The usual. But there hasn't been any reaction from the City or State prosecutors. Instead they have decided to sue the oil companies because the oil companies they say have caused "global warming" and therefore Hurricane Sandy and therefore the damage that NYC suffered from that Hurricane. And the two clowns running NY government, Cuomo and DIBlasio want to take their show national. Go figure.

Scott Sumner has written about that here:

and here:


Here is the Times piece:

I especially liked the part where a construction manager from Paris reacts to NYC officials claiming their costs are higher because New York is so old.

Great comment, Jack.

I was familiar with this, and this is what came to mind when I heard the phrase "New York values" in 2016. (Same applies to New Jersey, though people within and without are more likely to admit it about New Jersey.)

I am sure that a variation happens other places, but New York and New Jersey to my knowledge have it the most formally institutionalized. Strong public employee unions mixed with low standards.

Also Peduto in Pittsburgh, in response to Uber not coughing up free rides and matching funds.
"Pittsburgh has a certain way of doing business."

It's pretty much anywhere in the northeast where unions have their claws in the body politic.
The city inspectors are basically enforcement arms for occupational licensing boards.

Something also happens in california and highway patrol plates. It is why many fancy sports cars have the CHP plates

Does it actually work, or do people think it will get them sympathy?

(The internet doesn't tell me that anyone but the Government can get Exempt CHP plates - do you mean the "CHP 11-99 Foundation" plate frames?

Searches suggest claims in both directions - but since frames are so easily copied, one cop is quoted at Pricenomics saying that unless the ($2,500) donor ID is in your hand, you get "no love" for it.)

He might be talking about the KA4993 frames.

From personal experience I would say that Northeastern states are noticably more corrupt than The West or the South (or the Southwest). Having lived recently in Arizona, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania blows the other two away in terms of the numbers of layers of bullshit you have to go through to register a car. I'm sure there's corruption in Arizona and Virginia as well, but it's the sort of stuff that goes on behind closed doors, they don't wave it in the face of the general public. In Pennsylvania it's more like the Post Office, the DMV, and the Health Inspectors are all run by the mob and you have to pay them protection money.

San Francisco had a get out of jail free card that worked like this. 1. ONLY USE IN CITY LIMITS!!! 2. Hand card to cop and get out of jail free. 3. Cop sends card to originator who provides a nice bottle of scotch or the like in return.

"Courtesy cards" were a thing in Chicago and LA through the 1950s. It's all down to the history of a city and its police department.

It is pleasantly surprising that nobody in the comments seems to defending this practice as Good and Just.

Your estimation of us disappoints me. Why would libertarians and quasi libertarians and assorted centrists — for that describes the majority of regular posters here — be in favour of corruption, even if it's relatively low level?

He might be referring to the thread on Uber in Pittsburgh, where there were a number of people going "hey why shouldn't Pittsburgh's government extort money from Uber? They're a corporation, and they suck, so it's totally cool to try to pull their business license unless they couch up some goodies." and so forth.

For one thing, the libertarian/quasilibertatian/centrist majority is just that, i.e. there is a minority which does not share those principles. For another, some of the self-identified libertarians seem to have an extraordinarily flexible definition of libertarianism.

Yes, you know who else didn't like police corruption?\

Teddy Roosevelt. A real hardcore libertarian.

See, there is room for both libertarians and progressives to be outraged here. For libertarians, it reveals what a pitiful menace the State is and how fleeting its justice truly is. For Progressives, it violates the sanctity of the State, it reveals it to be a farce. In other words, it's bad PR for the mission.

The contrarian libertarian position would be to rejoice that there are now property rights emerging in the price chaos of the public administration of justice. And the contrarian progressive position would to hand-wave this away as just some bad apples, nothing to see here folks.

It's worth remembering the history of big city police and fire departments as sources of stable jobs and institutionalized power for communities that (say, around 1900) were still subject to prejudice and marginalization: the stereotype of the Irish- or Polish-American NYC cop comes from a real place. It doesn't apply so much in smaller cities or in other parts of the US, where you're expected to tell the cop who your daddy knows. (Hi Matt Gaetz!) The cards exist for efficiency purposes in bigger cities.

Of course, that marginalization goes away when you take over the department and doesn't apply today, but big city PDs still operate on one level like White Catholic Mutual Aid Societies. Just ask "Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association boss Pat Lynch" who I'm sure will be out celebrating St Pat's in March. This isn't about unions, it's about "white ethnic" solidarity. Does an African-American or Hispanic friend of Officer O'Malley or Officer Kowalski expect that a "friend of the cops" card will save the day?

Wouldn't be surprised if they did expect that.

"Cop" is the highest-level category in play here, not "white" - a sixth of the force is black, after all, not an easily-ignored fraction.

(If race was the highest-level category, white cops wouldn't care about getting their friends and family cards, because they'd get a pass for being white [for the majority of the force], right?

The cards matter because "copfriend" is what gets you out of a ticket.)

I wouldn't be surprised if white cops did not honor the cards handed out by black officers.

Because you're an idiot.

You are disgusting human being.

Mouthbreather 2/10 virtue signalling.

You wouldn't? So you think the cards identify the race of the giver? Wow.

"So you think the cards identify the race of the giver?"

If it's signed by Officer McClusky or Officer Martinelli, it probably does.

And "Sigivald" appears to be conflating "white ethnic" with "race", when the two are significantly different concepts.

If it’s signed by Officer McClusky or Officer Martinelli, it probably does.

Speaking as a Mc, at my wife's college graduation there were two people with my surname. Neither was white.

"it’s about “white ethnic” solidarity. Does an African-American or Hispanic friend of Officer O’Malley or Officer Kowalski expect that a “friend of the cops” card will save the day?"

I'd guess it would. The favor is being granted to the officer issuing the card to his friend, not the friend, indirectly. BTW, all the Hispanic and Black cops get the exact same cards.

Come to think of it, it's not really a favor to the other cop either. It's what you do to get other cops to respect the cards you gave to your friends.

Take it as you will, but an anecdote from 2012:


"Someone I know got out of a ticket by an out of state cop. though the cop did ask why it was an Asian name on the PBA card, he responded, my sister is married to a Chinese guy, is that wrong? Thought that was pretty funny."

"A Christmas gift of institutionalized corruption." Well said. I once made a comparably rude remark about some behaviour by British doctors. A pompous prat replied that it wasn't corrupt, it was merely "professional courtesy".

"Sometimes you find out something about the country you live in that makes it appear little better than a corrupt, tinpot, banana republic."

And that's long before we expose the pedophilia networks endemic to the system.

If you still think that's a joke, prepare yourself to discover the horrors that come next. It'll make get out of jail free cards feel trivial. In fact, there are recognizable tokens for that network, too.

It’s an urban East coast thing. Who knew that our thin skinned narcissistic President—still better than Hillary though—would turn out to be less corrupt than a minority of NYC cops?

No one's commented on the fact that these are also 'Save yourself the paperwork, officer' cards. Where I grew up, the police were legendary for not really wanting to spend an extra hour at the station filling in the paperwork, after the shift finished.

Really? On television, cops hate filling out paperwork. In real life, cops love an extra hour at the station filling in the paperwork, because that's a time-and-a-half overtime hour.

Alex - just to clarify... you really didn't know about this? I'm just surprised. I mean, the Fraternal Order of Police gives you a little sticker for your bumper if you make a... "donation"... to their organization. These cards are a natural extension of that. I thought that this was more or less known to occur...

On a side note, I had one of these cards from a friend's father on the day I got my license. The one time I used it, before I had made it home, he had called my parents. Then he called me and read me the riot act.

I did not get the card back.

This sounds a lot like indulgences. Not to sound anti-Catholic, but I have a sense this wouldn't work in a heavily Protestant city. I wonder it the Irish and Italians have a different view of it.

It's tied to the history of urban police departments and white Catholic communities, and to the idea that policing those communities balanced out powers vested by the state with some degree of self-policing. (See Jared's comment above: you might get let off by the cop if you flash the card, but you'll get "policed" by your family when you get home. At least, that's the tacit understanding.)

I'm not entirely opposed to that model of policing, and it works well in small communities where everybody knows everybody and there's sufficient trust and/or social pressure to deal with minor infractions without revving up the engine of the state. But in practice it creates obvious disparities in treatment, especially at scale.

Common in Long Island, NY. Most people who are good friends with a cop (which is nearly everyone on Long Island) will have one of these cards.

John, you are correct. My brother in law in Levittown just got his son out of ticket for driving without a license by showing one of these. Not a big deal some say. How about the next kid whose parent doesn't have a card who gets pulled over and gets a ticket, a fine and possibly higher car insurance rates? Is this a fair and equal application of a law? This should stop immediately.

In discussions of regulation, I try to bring up that enforcement is at least as important as the regulation itself. Imagine every car had a black box that automatically issued you a speeding ticket the moment you hit 66 mph (assuming the speed limit is 65 mph). 100% perfect enforcement. On the other hand, the way it is today the speed limit is technically 65 mph but it would be almost impossible to get a ticket for 66mph. You're probably not going to get a ticket for 70 mph unless you combine it with other infractions to make yourself stand out like an asshole (i.e. erratic lane changing, riding with expired plates, no insurance, etc.).

Enforcement is not 0% but it isn't 100%, it's a function that varies between there that combines a bit of luck with how much you are standing out as blowing past the speed limit. Say for our purposes around 85 mph you are functionally approaching a near 100% chance of a ticket. BUT THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS AN 85MPH LIMIT! Because at 85mph, you are getting a ticket for being 20 mph over the limit. This reality means 85mph will not be your norm but your exceptional speed, when you do it it will be for limited time and you'll be extra careful about how you do it. In conclusion a 65mph speed limit *combined* with less than perfect enforcement creates an environment where people do break the 65 mph limit but undertake a set of risk minimizing behaviors. This is more optimal than setting the limit at 85 mph and enforce 100% of the time (because people will go 80 mph and assume they are safe from any ticket) or setting enforcement at 65 mph near 100% (because sometimes we just can't go 65!).

My suggestion then:
1. Recognize that less than 100% enforcement in most traffic laws are optimal. Police officers are not just enforcing laws but are professionals in making judgement calls on how to enforce them.

2. Issue *more* rather than less PBA 'get out of jail free' cards. But here's the flip side. Formalize the system. When cops take a card they should scan them and a database should track the officer who issued the card and the driver who used it. Officers and supervisors should have access to this database to see how often they get used.

3. Kicker, the database is open to the public for drivers who turn in more than 3 cards per year. If a driver is arrested for something serious (like a DUI), the cards they may happen to have on them are likewise taken an scanned into the database.

As long as cards are used for people as a rare occasion, there won't be any public humiliation or harsh judgment. If, however, someone is chronically getting out of tickets because he somehow has a lot of 'cop friends' who keep him supplied with tickets it will be a black market on both the officers giving him the cards and the ones mindlessly accepting them. Likewise if a driver does something really bad and has a lot of cards, even if they weren't used that would still be noted and the officer who gave them to that person would have some accountability for giving a horrible driver cards.

My thinking is that drivers who collect cards would have a strong incentive against using them which means they will try to avoid getting pulled over in the first place. This make it less sensible for them to collect lots of cards and drive thinking they are immune from the law. It means cards would be more democratically distributed *but* both cops and friends of cops would reluctant to let cards easily go to bad drivers.

I appreciate your effort here but this seems needlessly complicated. Also, you focus on probably the worst set of US traffic laws and enforcement norms: speed.

We in the US are encouraged to drive entirely too slow on highways and entirely too fast on local roads. All those cops who are hiding out nabbing people for going 80mph on 65mph interstates shouldn't exist; we should focus enforcement on people going 40mph on residential side streets, which is way, way more dangerous.

Sweden, for example, has lots of speed cameras. The fines are HIGHER when the speed limit is lower. This may seem counterintuitive at first but it actually makes loads of sense; low speed limits occur in environments (dense town centers, cities, narrow winding roads) where speeding is seriously dangerous. They have hardly any speed cameras on their interstate-like highways, at least outside of major cities. Almost everyone speeds on this roads, and it's totally fine. That's why they exist: so you can go fast. They're designed to safely handle it.

Sorry, this is a bit of pet peeve of mine...I never even thought about it until I drove in Europe.

I know a Fairfax County cop who was ticketed by a VA state trooper for driving over 100mph. This *enraged* other Fairfax County cops (although my friend, possessing a healthy/normal moral sense, wasn't too bothered).

A key part of the loss of faith and failure of the Roman Empire was that the rule of law was replaced by a patronage network.

I'm finding Alex Tabarrok's posts very interesting. Yes, even "minor" police corruption is a big deal.

The use of these kinds of perks shows a deep characteristic of human interactions. We make distinctions between crimes, where a harm is produced, and regulations which are more generally about minimizing the possibility of harm. We have legally criminalized drugs and drug use but drugs and drug use are not, when used reasonably or responsibly, harmful. Drugs are no more than drinking is harmful. speeding is not harmful. but these behaviors "may" be harmful. Theft, rape, murder, assault are all crimes which cause harm. An asshole, as argued above, is someone who has little concern of others and thus willing to risk causing others harm.

The purpose of the cards is to allow trusted people to get away with in-fact regulatory infractions that cause no harm. If we had a system of that could distinguish it's consequences and laws relative to actual harm or risk to harm, these kinds of cards would likely be unnecessary. But until we do, mechanisms like this serve as a signal to officers of who to spend time pursuing for their actual danger to society and who not too.

the corruption comes not from the special treatment, but from the arbitrary enforcement of special privilege by fellow cops. but that itself is likely a signaling function. An over zealous police officer likely creates all kinds of other problems. And the police have few effective mechanisms for removing dangerous officers due to the over-reaction response that occurs between governments and unions. An asshole will avail themselves of every mechanism to assert their advantage. whether it's a criminal willing to tarnish a good officer for doing the right thing in arresting them. or an officer willing to break the law to make themselves feel or look good.

The suggestion of making these things recorded and searchable is the best kind of solution. it preserves the power of the indicator and let's us capture more information that cops actually carry around in their heads. Until humans better learn to identify, collect, and analyze good data, we will continue to need half measures like these cards to deal with the complicated interactions that are necessary for our culture to thrive and develop.

Police are america's largest street gang.

I have worked in food and beverage nearly all my life (about 35 years) in NYC. This may seem minor, but the cops always hint that they want either a discount OR something extra for what they pay. They don't come right out and ask for something but their body language and attitude make it clear what they are after. I don't give a shit so I never gave in. At least not when I got older and more experience with them. But they do apply a lot of pressure and lean on you to get something from you.

It's very depressing, I relate it to the attitude that governments don't have to follow their own rules, which happens more and more in the West.

If this really stimulates police to do their job correctly then it might be reasonable. But if instead it leads to “let me get that one because that’s one I should invest one of my scarce ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ cards in”, that surely represents a problem.

By the way, if you are concerned wi,th this should you not also be concerned that some can pass faster a border control by paying signing up to a special program?


It really depends on the police department. Some of them ask the enforcement officer to clip a corner of the card. The next time the person is pulled over the officer knows how many times they were pulled over previously. Abuse is not tolerated. Some will give them to the teen drivers in their families and write on the card "please call me for any police contact." It let's them keep tabs on the teens. I don't think they should be given out to politicians for favors but every job has it's perks. Police put their lives on the line everyday for little pay. This is a small perk.

Police do not put their lives on the line everyday, and they do not get little pay. Other than that, your statement is accurate.

You're right police don't have life and death interactions everyday but everyday there is a possibility of getting injured or killed. Or getting raked over the coals because they were perceived as over reacting. Or getting raked over the coals because they were perceived as under reacting. Or shot in their squad car by someone who hates them. It's a tough job. For a job where any day they could lose their life it isn't a lot of pay. This is a small perk. As long as it isn't used to buy off politicians it's not a big deal.

As always it is a mistake to generalize from the New York City region (or coastal California) to the rest of the nation. I've never heard such a thing where I've lived in the Midwest and Southwest.

If cops knew what a moral principle was, they wouldn't be cops.
"The whole good cop/bad cop question can be disposed of much more decisively. We need not enumerate what proportion of cops appears to be good or listen to someone's anecdote about his Uncle Charlie, an allegedly good cop. We need only consider the following: (1) a cop's job is to enforce the laws, all of them; (2) many of the laws are manifestly unjust, and some are even cruel and wicked; (3) therefore every cop has agreed to act as an enforcer for laws that are manifestly unjust or even cruel and wicked. There are no good cops." ~Robert Higgs

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