Don’t Ever Assume I’m (Only) a Nice Guy

Maybe it’s just one of those pre-coffee grumpy mornings, but here’s a story that’s got my back-fur (*) up. It’s about a TSA agent (those uniformed Nazis sweetly smiling public servants in the airport who care about nothing more than the safety of the flying public) who allegedly stole an iPad and took it home.

We have a lot of anti-government rhetoric flying around in the U.S. right now, mainly, it seems, from idiot teabaggers and freakazoid anti-American Republicans using it as a screen for their racist hatred of President Obama.

The line they’ve drawn is so extreme, so viciously nutty, that I have been surprised at times to find myself on the same side of the line as government.

But then a story like this comes up.

ABC News Tracks Missing iPad To Florida Home of TSA Officer

In the latest apparent case of what have been hundreds of thefts by TSA officers of passenger belongings, an iPad left behind at a security checkpoint in the Orlando airport was tracked as it moved 30 miles to the home of the TSA officer last seen handling it.

Confronted two weeks later by ABC News, the TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, at first denied having the missing iPad, but ultimately turned it over after blaming his wife for taking it from the airport.

One of my theories of government – in fact, of all sorts of authority – is that a crime committed by someone in a position of power must be punished MORE harshly than the same act committed by an average citizen.

According to the TSA, 381 TSA officers have been fired for theft between 2003 and 2012.

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired “represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed” by TSA.

Yeah, except “less than one-half of one percent” translates as “no more than 1 in 200.” I wonder: What if you got a guarantee from your local school district that no more than 1 in 200 teachers would molest your kids? Or a solemn vow from Chevy that no more than 1 in 200 of their cars would burst into flames on the highway?

We have some sort of monkey-obeisance to leaders that lets them get away with things with great frequency. We’ve all heard the stories where a prominent businessman accused of insider trading might get off with a few days in jail and a short probation. Because, after all, hasn’t this fine man, this upstanding pillar of the community, suffered enough? Or oxycontin king Rush Limbaugh can stroll back to his multimillion-dollar radio and TV empire after that embarrassing doctor-shopping drug addiction thingie blows over.

We seem particularly forgiving of our “heroes” in uniform. Here where I live, Schenectady’s shitbag former CHIEF OF POLICE got off with an 18 month prison sentence for being involved in a drug ring, where a street dealer might have gotten decades in prison for the same offense. You would assume that someone charged with enforcing the law, a former police chief, no less, would be punished more harshly, right? Because, after all, you and I might arguably be ignorant of certain laws, or driven more by desperation, than a former cop, retired on a cushy pension. But no. Wrist slap, finger wag, happy retirement, sir (he got to keep his pension), and we wish you the best in your post-prison life.

So when I read about TSA agents stealing things like this, or rifling through people’s luggage and helping themselves to particularly juicy items (as also happens), it makes me think “What if there was a 35-year mandatory federal prison term for this?”

I’d support a law like that with all my heart.

( * Yes, at my age, I do have back-fur. Plus, get off my lawn.)

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  • grumpyoldfart

    One of my theories of government – in fact, of all sorts of authority – is that a crime committed by someone in a position of power must be punished MORE harshly than the same act committed by an average citizen.

    In South Australia, we go the other way and impose harsher penalties on the weak and powerless. According to this official government website (link below) imprisonment is a strong possibility in cases of “larceny as a servant” because it annoys the employer (whereas “larceny” usually gets a non-custodial sentence).

  • skeptifem

    it seems like they designed the whole system to look busy and attract amoral authoritarian wankers to their ranks. I know some nice people who work in TSA and they hate their jobs. Being invasive while doing something pointless bothers most people.

  • RW Ahrens

    I’ve been a Federal worker for over thirty five years, and I agree with Hank completely. This kind of thing has bothered me terribly, and I just hate getting painted with the same brush as these criminals.

    Oh, and please include politicians in that law!

  • douglaslm

    Having lived in Spain and traveled thru southern Europe, I have found that the TSA in the U.S. is the most intrusive. Even flying back from vacation in Mexico I didn’t have to take my shoes off. And just who have the TSA managed to catch? I haven’t heard of anyone (and you can be sure they would have shouted it from the roof tops). Even the “underwear bomber” and the “shoe bomber” were stopped by fellow passengers.

  • lorn

    I don’t think equating child molestation, with lifetime consequences for child and family, and a car bursting into flames on the highway with a good chance of bodily harm or death, are the as minor a crime as theft of laptop.

    The laptop is likely over $1000 so it is, as I understand it, grand theft and serious felony. And any felony committed under color of law, while acting as an officer of the law, is both more serious and a separate offense. That sort of thing deserves to be put down harshly but larceny inhabits many hearts and theft of so tempting a target in a situation where the odds of getting caught are apparently so low is not so egregious an offense. Locks keep honest people honest and systems and command structures should be established that do not depend solely upon the honor of any individual. A matrix of an established high standard of individual and group honor, observation and supervision could limit, if not eliminate, the issue.

    People are people. The people in law enforcement are not immune to ethical fatigue or a need to re level the situation after long exposure to a frustrating and abusive situation. Low pay, long hours, and the constant resentment from the public they seek to serve takes a toll on people just trying to do a job and get through the day.

    My observation is that assumptions that certain people are immune to temptation and frustration, and that this immunity means that observation and tight supervision (locks) are unnecessary ends with violations, often more egregious violations, by the people assumed to be above such things.

    This is true of any position of authority. Clergy, doctors, academics, law enforcement are all assumed to be somehow above such things. Or that boosting penalties will somehow prevent failures. And yet there is a steady string of researchers who cheat, cops on the take, and doctors more interested in financial gain than helping patients. Psychology tells us that it is the perceived chances of getting caught that prevents violation. Severe penalties work for a time but peoples natural assumption they they are ‘special’ kicks in and they play the odds.

    The only thing that works is to establish systems that automatically increase the chances that any weakness will be spotted and handled before it becomes an actual violation. If a supervisor had placed a hand on the man’s shoulder when the TSA agent was first tempted and admit that it is both a temptation ,and that any theft would be spotted automatically and handled harshly, would have prevented the problem, better maintained the honor of the service, and saved a career.

  • kennypo65

    In my current employment as a short-order cook in an all-night diner, I see the local cops all the time. They are, for the most part, just like everybody else. They are good and decent men in a tough job. That being said, they have authority over the rest of us and should be held to a higher standard. Having authority puts them in a position to abuse that authority. It may seem unfair, but to quote someone smarter than I, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” If someone with that kind of power doesn’t understand his/her responsibility to the community, then perhaps they should find another line of work.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    When I saw this post, I thought I’d share a link to a great TSA-mocking web comic series I’d seen a while ago, ‘Homeland Security Theater’. But now it’s dead – the domain is expired! :( This is the creator Bill Forster’s Twitter account, last post 4 months ago… some of you people who tweet should try contacting him and say you wish you could see his comics:

    • Anonymous Atheist

      correction: 2, not 4.

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  • Didaktylos

    My personal belief is that any felony committed on duty by an oath-bearing law enforcement officer should be formally regarded as an act of treason.

  • grignon

    Not to diminish the significance of this incident but if you think there is less than one thief among your 200 closest family/friends/acquaintances, you aren’t paying attention.
    I’m not talking about pens from work, either.

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