Municipal Madness

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Only a government employee could point to a 99.5% failure rate and declare it a success.

Look no farther than my local newspaper this morning: the city of Menlo Park (which is an affluent superb like Palo Alto, but even whiter and more sheltered) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment to read the license plates of all the cars passing by certain intersections. (We’ll set aside the creepiness of the surveillance and just focus on the economics here.)

The latest quarterly report came out, and out of 198,286 license plates read, 204 of them were brought to the attention of authorities as “wanted” vehicles. OK, cool. Looks like we’re getting some hits here and and go grab some criminals, right, boys?

The problem is that 203 of the 204 weren’t “wanted” at all. The plates were all misread. There was one – count ’em, one – license plate out of the 198,286 which was indeed a plate from a stolen car, and the police captain (which, around here, is a quarter-million dollar year salary) assures the public that the license plate readers are “working properly” since, after all, they did button down one vehicle (which, if I may speculate, was probably worth, oh, about ten thousand bucks or so).

Suffice it to say that the hundreds of thousands spent on the equipment – – to say nothing of the time and effort involved from the police force (each member of which enjoys a six-figure salary) probably is a substantially greater sum than the value of the single vehicle retrieved. Here ya go: