Thursday, June 09, 2005

Stop the war on the poor.

From an entry in Lorika's blog:

This Star Tribune story on aluminum can "poachers"appeared on the front page of Friday's paper. It took up a large portion of the page and warned readers to call 911 when they see the poachers.

So, let me get this strait, you want us to use an emergency number when we see a homeless person "stealing" our garbage? Don't the 911 operators have oh let's say EMERGENCIES to deal with? They also listed the losses to the city, but it doesn't appear in the linked article for some reason. I believe it was somewhere around $100,000-$200,000 annually. Not very much when you look at the big picture of the whole budget, and how do they know how much people are actually recycling anyway? How do they know the actual losses? The number is just a guess.

Here are my problems with this:

1. As far as I can tell, most people who "steal" cans are homeless and/or desperate enough to be digging through other people's garbage. Yet we want to fine them:

Stealing up to $250 in cans is a misdemeanor, $250 to $500 a gross misdemeanor, and more than $500 a felony, he said.

A FELONY. Also, there is jail time involved.

This whole thing is completely ludicrous, but what I really don't understand is the felony charge for "Stealing" $500 worth of cans. Let's think about this carefully:

I couldn't locate the redemption value for cans in MN, but 5 cents seems like a high-estimate. $500 is equal to 10,000 cans. If someone were to be apprehended "stealing" cans, any decent lawyer could demonstrate that they did not necessarily "steal" whatever other cans they had in possession at the time of arrest. Of course, these people can't afford an attorney or they wouldn't be out collecting cans.

So, that said, this means that they'd actually have to be caught stealing in excess of 10,000 cans in order to be charged with a felony. It'd take one hell of a private party to leave behind 10,000 empty cans. This means that the only possible places someone might encounter 10,000 aluminum cans would already be locked up and breaking and entering is most likely already a felony.

The article suggests that if you see a poacher you should call 911. Let's just say that on average it takes a cop 30 minutes worth of work to cite and process a "poacher." If the police in MN make $30 an hour, that's a minimum of $15 lost city revenue going after each "poacher," and probably a hell of a lot more than $15. Unless they stop the "theft" of at least 300 cans on each call then they are actually costing the city more money to enforce this so-called law.


At 9:08 AM, Blogger Lorika said...

Hey, thanks for quoting from my post! I didn't realize it until I followed your link in my comments and then scrolled down a bit.

I'll say again like I did in my comments, great analysis!

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not allowing homeless people to take cans out of garbage so they can get a little money, (if I am reading this correctly) seems criminal in itself. First of all, garbage doesn't get recycled. We should thank the people who are willing to do this yucky job and appreciate their efforts.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Insurgent said...

Thanks Lorika,

In fairness to most municipal governments, I've heard that most city landfills do have people employed to sift through the trash and take out recylcable materials, so it is possible that the cans that get thrown into trash cans do, in the end, get recycled. But I do agree with you that forbidding homeless people to take cans out of the garbage should be criminal.

At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had cans stolen off of my back porch not long ago, and I called the police. Why? Because a stumbling drunk man was on my back porch rummaging through my stuff, and it freaked me out. Also, my cans were in a separate bag that I was going to recycle. That's about $12 stolen from my property. Not all homeless people are the "innocent poor", and they don't have the right to just take what they want because they need it more than I do. It turned out that the man who stole my cans had also stolen an engagement ring from a family member.

At 8:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Oregon, where a can is worth five cents. When you buy something in a can, you pay a deposit, then you get it back when you recycle. Cans are personal property that you basically bought, and can be worth a lot of money.


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