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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

PROPERTY ROOM

I want to work for the Houston Police Department, and not just because they are offering $12,000 for new hires (with 5 years previous experience), but primarily because these guys seem to treat their property room with all the attention to detail of a fat guy attending a salad shooter product demonstration clinic at a donut shop. Specifically the HOPD claims to have misplaced $50,000 in property seized in 2005 from the Adult Video Megaplex-xxx : items with names like “The Emperor” and the “Cyber Wabbit”. Now, honestly, how do you misplace an $89.99 “Cyber Wabbit”?Lost items from property rooms are certainly not unheard of. The Washington, D.C. cops admitted in May that over the last two years they have “lost” from their property rooms $16,453 in cash, seven revolvers, one shotgun, one derringer, one BB gun, and assorted amounts of cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana. And I’m sure we would all rather the police misplaced a dozen “Cyber Wabbits” instead of even one shotgun. And, on the same day as the disappearance of the confiscated items in Houston, the cops in Buffalo Grove, Illinois reported their $150 pair of “beer goggles”, presumably having been bought with funds from the Department of Homeland Security, had gone missing. And we certainly don’t want any police department playing fast and loose with federal funds meant to defend us from another attack by beer addled terrorists. Still, HPD’s inability to locate even a single one of the 564 sex toys seized, locked up and signed into their legal possession just three years ago, is a little disturbing, and raises all sorts of unpleasant questions about the personal integrity of Houston’s finest and their understanding of the words “chain of evidence”.Houston P.D.’s awareness of problems in their property room dates back to August 2004 when it was revealed in a random audit that out of the 18,000 weapons in storage 21, including pistols, a shotgun and an assault rifle, were missing. That may not seem like bad odds, 21 out of 18,000, all things considered, except that at least two of those missing pistols have reappeared, back out on the street. HPD has been forced to admit that, in the words of one fired employee, “Security was terrible”. A CSI technician admitted to having smuggled 57 pounds of cocaine out of the lab. A temporary employee was allowed to continue working unsupervised in the property room while awaiting sentencing on drug charges. But in May, while heralding the start of construction on a $13 million new “property building”, the chief of police dared to proclaim that the problems if missing evidence and property seized was behind the HPD. And now $50,000 in sex toys are missing. Either HPD’s batteries are running low or something else is going on here.The cops raided the “Adult Video Megaplex-xxx, conveniently located on Interstate 45 on June 9, 2005. The store was described in a review as “…a cornucopia of porn – a “pornucopia” if you will…along with a nice little selection of toys…” The HPD not only seized $50,000 worth of those toys, but also arrested the store clerk, and charged him with promoting the use of sex toys. If convicted Jose Escalante faced a year in prison and a $4,000 fine. But a jury found Jose not guilty. And that left the cops holding all those “multi-speed wabbits” with the “…new High Powered motor…(and) equipped with twisting metal beads”.And even though no one else affiliated with the store was charged with any crime, the Travis County D.A. refused to authorize the release of the $50,000 in merchandise held in the known porous confines of the Houston P.D. property room until, in March of this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit finally held that in line with previous U.S. Supreme Court Cases, a “…business can assert the rights of their customers…” and that “…restricting the ability to purchase an item is tantamount to restricting that item’s use…(and infringes upon) not simply the right to engage in the sexual act itself, but (also)…the right to be free from governmental intrusion regarding “the most private human contact, sexual behavior”…Whatever one might think or believe about the use of these devices, government interference with their personal and private use violates the Constitution.” That sounds pretty definitive to me.In May the attorney for Megaplex-xxx wrote to the HPD and asked when and where his clients could pick up their property. At first he says he was told, “…no problem, you can send somebody by to pick them up, and then we get another call and it’s “Whoops, we don’t have them.” A police spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle, “There does need to be a court order authorizing the destruction of any property.” But the Chronicle could find no such court order. And yet the HPD insists they now longer have the items. So I am left to wonder, whatever happened to Mr. Wabbit?I hope the Houston cops have not turned their property room into their own personal grab bag for door prizes and joke anniversary and wedding gifts. But even more I hope that some born again in the prosecutor’s office or within the HPD itself, did not decide that it was better the taxpayers of Houston believed the cops were so religious they were willing to become liars, rather than for the public to believe the Houston cops were unable to resist the temptation of stealing a battery operated dildo. For either the Houston cops are too incompetent to run their own property room, which I don’t believe for a second, or somebody there is making up the law as they go along. The idea is, of course, that we are all suppose to have faith in the cops, no matter what church or mosque we attend. And if you are a Christian and have no problem with the police enforcing moral edicts from the Bible, I suggest you imagine the cops acting on instructions from the Koran. If you are Muslim or Jewish you already understand how fragile it feels living under the forbearance of somebody else’s religious doctrine.

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