North’s first law of bureaucracy is this: “Some bureaucrat will eventually enforce the letter of the law to the point of insanity.” Here is a recent example.
John Davis, who lives in Cleveland, got a ticket from a local policeman. It seems that he dropped a dollar on the ground.
Now, in my experience, people do not litter with Federal Reserve Notes — not even the Federal Reserve. They litter with candy wrappers, but not Federal Reserve Notes.
Davis saw a man in a wheelchair who holding a sign: “Jesus loves you. Please help.”
As he approached the light at the exit, Davis rolled the money up vertically and stretched his arm out of his window. He says the man touched the cash and one of the dollars fell to the ground. The man then picked up the greenback.
A few moments later, Davis says a Cleveland police officer pulled him over.
“He proceeds to tell me he’s pulling me over for littering,” Davis told the station, as he and his friends were baffled by the exchange.
The ticket specifically cited Section No: 613.06 of Cleveland’s Municipal Codes, which is littering from a motor vehicle. His offense was listed as, “Throw paper out window,” and in parenthesis, “money to panhandler.”
When asked by the local TV station to comment, the official gave the traditional response: “No comment.”
When an agency’s agent gets caught in clear-cut obedience to North’s first law of bureaucracy, the public relations agent says “No comment.” Sometimes he adds “at this time.” The really clever ones add: “We are conducting a full investigation.”
It turns out that it’s illegal to give panhandlers money in Cleveland if the panhandler is close to a highway. But Davis was not ticketed for this, nor was the panhandler arrested.
Davis said the officer told him to “take it up with the courts.”
Davis took it up with the court of public opinion. He contacted a local TV station.
If he loses the case in court, it could cost him $500, plus court costs. I know I would challenge it in court. I would invite the media. The fun would be worth risking $500.
I can almost see the judge, surveying the reporters, knowing he would make it onto TV that night if he handed down a $500 penalty for dropping $1 on the ground. I think he would make a rapid cost-benefit analysis.
I would of course demand that the police officer be there to explain all the facts.
Would that be worth risking a $500 fine? In a Cleveland minute!
The following is what every bureaucracy fears: a prime-time TV news feature on a truly bonehead move by one of its agents.