Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cool Professionalism By Local Police

I was contacted by a reader who wanted to share a story of one terrible morning, but who wants to remain anonymous. The reason the person contacted me and allowed me to conduct the interview, was that they believe incidents like this should be talked about more openly, for better mental health care in our society. They also wanted to express their appreciation of how the situation was handled by 3 officers of the Town of Hyde Park police department. Too often it is only the bad news gets reported, yet when officers act with decency and keen professionalism, it goes unnoticed by the community at large. These officers might just say that the incident was "another day at the office" so to speak, but it is still important to take the time, from time to time, to show that the police can and do get it right, even when the media isn't looking and would rather seek out worse news.

So now, to the incident at hand. Police got an early morning call of domestic violence. I don't know how it was actually dispatched, but 3 officers were on the scene. Domestic disturbance calls can be the most dangerous situation a police officer can ever walk into. Emotions are never higher, and egos are never bolder, than in a confrontation in a home where someone lives. Hyde Park police have dealt with several fatal domestic situations, and the Hudson Valley has been rocked by this class of violence for the past several years.

Police entered the home to find some contents thrown about. The complainant reported that the subject was intoxicated, emotionally disturbed and possibly armed. With weapons drawn, police made entry to the bedroom where the subject was found asleep with a tactical pocket knife open and in hand. A rookie cop, or a jumpy cop, or even just a frustrated cop who has been doing the job too long may have wasted no time in either shooting the subject, or deploying the taser. These officers did not do that. That is not to say that they were weak, or forgiving in any way. They clearly and directly established their command presence. They didn't talk over eachother, there was no screaming and yelling, despite the wailing in the background by the complainant, fearing that the subject might be harmed by the police. The officers simply made their orders clearly, with commanding tone, and warned of the immediate consequences for failure to comply.

After a pause, the subject released the weapon and the scene was secured. The now handcuffed subject was treated with dignity and a certain level of compassion.

When all was said and done, the person was taken to the police car. Rather than being hauled off to jail though, police let the person get the treatment they needed to address their issues, and made transport to the local Saint Francis Hospital where psychiatric care is available on an emergency basis.

All in all, it was a situation that could have gone very badly, very quickly. But everyone did the right thing.

The subjsect would also like to express thanks to those men of the Hyde Park Police Department, as well as to the staff of Saint Francis who treated the patient with dignity.

My personal interest in the story as a journalist is to highlight just a glimpse of actual routine police work, as well as to draw attention to the mental health concerns that our society faces today.

Don't let perceived stigmas stop you from getting the help you need folks. There are resources out there. Even if you think you don't really need help now, don't let things get to a boiling point. Here is one resource you might look into, even if you are just not especially happy, a little blue, or too, if you have things that have been bothering you for a long time. Go get the help you need.

Mental Health America of Dutchess County, NY

And of course, follow this page to get the latest public information by this small but dedicated group of hometown professionals:

Town of Hyde Park Police

Monday, January 27, 2014

Should EBT Cards Be Banned at Locations Such as Liquor Stores and Casinos?

The following opinion is provided by Station.6.Underground:

Should EBT Card Be Banned at Liquor Stores, Casinos?

NY Governor Cuomo says yes, they should be. Sounds like a no-brainer at first glance, but let's really take a look at what is going on here. Is this really meant to save taxpayers money, or is it just another government scheme to snag more revenue?

The Poughkeepsie Journal reports:

Cuomo: Ban public-aid cards at casinos, liquor stores

ALBANY — Want to hit the blackjack table, a strip club or the local liquor store? You can, but taxpayers won’t be footing the bill under a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The proposal would ban Electronic Benefits Transfer cards, or EBT, from being used at the prohibited venues, with a punishment system both for welfare recipients and the establishments that allow them to be used. It would put the state in compliance with the federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which extended certain federally funded benefits but required the state to clamp down on fraud.

“These reforms will help ensure that public assistance is used as intended: to ensure the least fortunate among us are able to access food, shelter and heat while limiting potential abuse and conforming with upcoming federal standards,” Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said. The welfare program delivers cash and food-stamp benefits provided to recipients in debit-card-like form. The money, in some cases, can be accessed at ATMs.

The real question is though, how will it actually ensure that public assistance is used as intended? Or for that matter, how do we actually decide how the money is really intended to be spent? It all seems rather arbitrary.

The article continues:

Cuomo’s proposal calls for suspending benefits to recipients who use the card at unauthorized locations, ranging from one month for a first offense to six months for the fourth offense and each one after that. For a recipient with a family, only the guilty party would lose benefits; the other family members still would receive benefits.

Liquor stores, gambling venues and strip clubs would face a small fine for a first violation. From there, the punishment would vary, with casinos and liquor stores potentially losing their licenses after a second offense and strip club owners facing a misdemeanor charge after a third offense.

How exactly would they determine who used the card at an unauthorized location? If the entire family uses the same account, it seems impossible to determine exactly who should lose benefits. Besides, if it was actually a case of fraud, shouldn't they lose their benefits permanently? The proposal doesn't actually try to root out fraud though, it would only serve to restrict and punish the weakest and most vulnerable segment of our society based on arbitrary standards. If a person doesn't actually need the benefits, then they should not get them at all. But for the person who does actually need them, a month, or six months without assistance could be devastating.

The SNAP benefit, also known as food-stamps, can only be used to purchase non-prepared food items. They can't be used to buy household essentials like soap or light bulbs, they can't be used to purchase prepared foods at restaurants, and they certainly can't be used for gambling, liquor or lap-dances. That system is already in place, and has been since long before benefits were even paid electronically.

The EBT system does also provide access to cash benefits accounts as well though, for those who qualify. Normally this would be how a person would access funds for other necessities like those non-food household goods, a cab ride to a job interview or doctor appointment, or whatever one might normally need cash for. To assume that a person is committing fraud simply based on the location of the machine from which they made a withdrawal is downright discriminatory.

What if the beneficiary happens to work at a dance-club, casino, or liquor store and needs to withdraw some cash for a cab ride home from work? Does that mean they are committing fraud? The same goes for a person that simply might access an ATM machine in a business of that nature, simply because the machine is in a convenient location that doesn't require a separate cab fare just to withdraw the cash benefit when needed. It doesn't mean they are spending the money on anything they "shouldn't."

There again too though, we see the arbitrary nature of this proposal. What purchases are actually illegal, and constitute fraud? Under this proposal there will be no penalty for the drunk who stops off at the grocery store ATM and then uses that cash to buy his bottle of Crystal Palace at the liquor store. Meanwhile, the single mother working for minimum wage at the liquor store will wind up starving for a month or more because she used the ATM machine at work to get cash for cab-fare to get home. 

The fact that someone can simply make a cash withdrawal from another "approved" location and then go spend the cash as they please, only highlights the futility of the measure. It might also be noted here, that half of all welfare recipients actually have jobs. So what is to stop them from using their own bank cards at casinos or liquor stores? The result of the governor's proposal will not be any reduction in fraud at all, but instead will wind up costing the taxpayers even more money. How you ask? Because the measure will require even more red tape and social workers to keep tabs on these reports. Someone will have to be sitting there reviewing the records of ATM machines, on the taxpayer's clock. Worse, the new restrictions could lead to all sorts of errors that would block innocent people from getting the benefits they need and deserve. Computer glitches, human error, even intentional badgering of low-income people.

Then we have the question of how exactly they intend to regulate exactly what businesses will or will not be approved for purchases or ATM machine locations. In New York State, we have both liquor stores, and beverage centers that specialize in selling discount beer. The beer stores also usually serve as a small local grocery, as well as a locations for check-cashing, Western Union, money-order purchases, and utility bill payment. Does NY State really intend to bar people from using a benefit card at any store that sells alcohol, or lottery tickets? That would even exclude regular supermarkets. Should a person be penalized with no money for food for a month, simply because they bought a bag of chips and a bottle of water at the smoke-shop next to the firehouse where they volunteer? Should a person be forced to starve for a month, because they paid their electric bill at a beer discount center?

Now we also have to look at the responsibility of the businesses themselves to enforce this. ATM machines are, after all, not manned by an actual worker, but usually serviced by an outside vendor. How would a strip-club owner, or casino operator manage exactly who did or did not use their cash machines? Would you submit to the demands of a store manager demanding to see your bank card and a photo ID before you made a withdrawal from an ATM machine?

The only way to really manage this effectively would be on an electronic level, in a way similar to how food-stamps are credited. If you purchase a basket of items at the supermarket, the SNAP benefit will automatically be applied for approved items, and there will be a balance that must be paid by another method for anything not approved such as toilet paper. So rather than imposing fines and suspensions of essential benefits to the needy, the machines would have to be programmed to either accept or decline a transaction, based on whatever location rules the state decides. Who will pay for that though? Again, the taxpayers will wind up footing the bill for that new infrastructure, in the same way they have with the SNAp food-stamp benefit.

Ah-ha! Now we finally come to the real reason behind all of this. It's not to stop welfare fraud at all, but rather to help the government itself actually defraud the taxpayers, for the ultimate benefit of elitist corporations such as JP Morgan/CHASE bank. This is a racket folks, predicated by the ignorant small-mindedness of people who will go along with anything that makes life more difficult for the poor. Don't fall for propaganda-driven schemes that are really nothing more than corporate welfare.

Ron Deutsch, executive director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, said the regulations are unfair and demonize low-income residents.

“I think it is a distraction from the real problem, which is New York is facing record hunger right now,” Deutsch said. “I say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If you want to prohibit people from using public money at establishments like this, then I think we should be prohibiting lawmakers from using their public money at the same establishments.”

Also see:

Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients Is a Bad Idea

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

EMT Provides Statement to HVWire Amid National Scandal

You may remember the recent story of the Ellenville, NY EMT who was supposedly "fired for saving a little girl's life." In truth, he was not actually fired, but suspended, and chose to resign from the EMS squad with whom he had been serving at the time of the incident in question. The details of the event are hotly debated.

He contacted our page tonight, and we agreed to publish his statement on the matter. This is the PM we received from him tonight:

Stephen Sawyer
  • Dec 28, 2013

    Ok well here is my only input on this entire incident. After this it’s OVER. There is a problem with staffing the END.

    The day of the call, I was provided information which played a major factor of how I made my decisions.

    A call was dispatched, a paramedic was responding to and shortly after a second call which was a critical call as well was dispatched. A total of 3 members were at the station. 1 being a driver and 2 EMTs. I (1 of the EMTs) was advised by a member that another driver was en route to the station to drive. Prior to any units responding, discussion with the members made sense that the first patient was going to receive care at an advanced life support level shortly however, the second critical patient has not been seen yet, so the EMT and driver responded to the second call since from information provided reported that another driver was close by. To me both patients got quick medical care. Unfortunately due to being provide with the wrong information there was actually no driver coming. After exhausting all of my options I did what I do anytime I WORK as an EMT and drove the ambulance. Yes I knew for a fact the second I got in the rig that I was about to break rules. I responded to the call myself (after approximately 15 mins) and transported the patient with the paramedic. The second ambulance was still tied up being within eyes view of the nearest hospital. The paramedic and I did exactly what we do when we work for a commercial agency and transported the patient. The ambulance was returned without any issues and that was the end of the call.

    People may have made different decisions that day however, due to the information provided to me that’s what I did and I don’t really care what you would have done because there is no changing it. BOTH critical patients received immediate medical attention. If the patient from the second call didn’t have an ambulance right away that patient would have suffered just as long.
    Long story short everyone, Ellenville Rescue has members that are properly trained and work as EMTs for commercial services. I am not the only one who works as an EMT that isn’t 21 yet! During the day as many in this area know staffing is an issue. FIX THE ISSUE! No patient should have to suffer longer because of people not preparing for it. There are many ways of fixing the problem.

    1) Pay an EMT during the day to ride in an ambulance with the paramedic. We already pay paramedics which was a start of fixing the problem.
    2) Modify the policy so that people who drive hundreds of miles in an ambulance at their job can drive as a volunteer and help the patient quicker regardless of age.
    3) Contract an agency to provided EMTs 3-5 days a week during the day. This is starting to happen in the county.

    These are just thoughts in fixing the problem. We are all volunteer. Every fire department and rescue squad in this area is run by volunteers who are the real heroes. They put in their own time, use their own fuel, spend their own money in buying extra gear that may keep them safer, and leave their families to respond to calls at all hours of the day and night. I did simply what any person would have done. Both patients got the attention and we all went home safe.