Bottom Trawling

The fishing industry has a wide variety of techniques available for catching their prey. Some are specific to the species sought, like line fishing or crab
cages. Others though, sweep in everything in the vicinity. The worst of these are the bottom trawlers that sweep up everything on the sea floor, killing much more than the commercial fish species. The bottom nets stir up sediment and pollutants on the sea floor, blinding sea creatures and trapping them. They also impact coral, destroying reefs and their diverse dependent creatures.

In law enforcement and politics, we have in America today a trend toward bottom trawling.  There's a sense that if there's a potential violator somewhere, we should trawl for them, regardless of the numbers of innocents caught up in the trawl nets. 

Voter Fraud
"Out of the 197 million votes cast for federal candidates between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters were indicted for voter fraud. Only 26 of those cases, or about .00000013 percent of the votes cast, resulted in convictions or guilty pleas." (Voter Fraud Facts)
12% of voters -- 23 million -- do not have ID sufficient to participate under state voter ID laws. To catch the 26, we shut out the 23 million. A very dangerous form of political bottom trawling.

Stop and Frisk

In New York City, police have had the right to stop and frisk citizens without evidence of crimes, a practice that disproportionately targets blacks and
other minorities. Police reports from 2002-2013 on the practice (likely not all-inclusive) show that 88% yielded no evidence of any criminal activity.  Mayor DeBlasio has asked for an investigation of the practice but it persists. In the UK, there has been exhaustive annual review of police stop-and-frisk activity but in the US we have only the self-reporting of officers. Living in a poor neighborhood, being an ethnic minority and being male subjects you to a high likelihood of being caught in this NYPD bottom trawling.

Surveillance Cameras

On a recent trip to New York City, I was mindful of the tens of thousands of
video cameras recording my every move -- whether I crossed the street here or there, what I picked up in the grocery store, who I was with, what time I returned to our rented apartment, who I was with.  While there are no available tallies of the numbers of CCTV cameras deployed in the United States, the UK has kept better track and counts nearly two million of them.  Police, schools, stores, even YMCAs have invested heavily -- well into the billions -- in watching everyone who comes and goes. 

So how effective are they?  Meta-analyses of crime prevention in the US and the UK show negligible to zero effect on crime. Crimes are not deterred in any of the cities studied. But the erosion of 4th Amendment privacy protections are not negligible, with an over-aggressive state's eyes on our each and every move.  I've written elsewhere about video surveillance in schools and how it actually can worsen both student behavior and adult supervision.

Drug-testing Pregnant Women and Welfare Recipients

A wave of legislation in the states pushed mandatory drug testing for TANF
(welfare) recipients. One by one, the courts have struck down the laws as discriminatory and unconstitutionally invasive. Yet their popular appeal persists. During the four months Florida imposed the drug tests, just 2.7% of those tested showed traces of illegal drugs, in nearly all cases marijuana. 97% of recipents had their bodily fluids taken and subjected to scrutiny in this modern form of bottom trawling, all to catch a few marijuana smokers.

In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the pervasive use of mandatory drug testing for pregnant women, finding that it was disproportionately enforced in hospitals serving poor communities. While maternal drug use can be devastating to a child, the data shows that the vast majority of pregnant women cease taking drugs, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes during pregnancy. A government study showed that 97% of pregnant women refrain from drug and alcohol use during pregnancy. Again, we saw bottom trawling for the 3% of women, sometimes taking their children from them or committing the women to incarceration, at the expense of all others. 

There are dozens of other examples of the state overreaching to catch a few offenders by compromising the rights of the rest of us. Think NSA surveillance of your emails, phone tracking and scanning your postal mail. We need to fight crime by reverting back to the tactics that work without treating all Americans as criminals.