Friday, February 08, 2008

Pressure Tactics

Over the last two weeks, we have received at least a dozen calls from a particular phone number. Most of the time, we are not here. The number is listed on our caller ID, but no message has been left. Three or four times, I have answered only to have no one answer on the other end. A computer solicitation, I thought. Once I stayed on the line for 30 seconds, and nothing.

I went online and searched on the number. I appears to be the number for a basement waterproofing company a couple of towns away. As we are supposedly on the state's do-not-call list, I was annoyed, and considered calling the attorney general's office.

Several days ago, I answered, hoping to get a person and tell them to stop calling already, and low-and-behold, there was a person on the other end. And it turns out it was our local police union calling for a biannual donation. I politely told the officer I couldn't do it right now and hung up.

Then on Tuesday the phone rang just after dinner. The caller ID showed the same number. I felt annoyed, but answered.

Me: Hello?

A couple seconds pass.

Male voice: Oh, hey.

Me:Who is this?

Male voice: It's Joe.

Silence. Do I know a Joe? Am I supposed to know a Joe? It's probably a mistake, I think, since I already asked them to stop calling.

Male voice: You know, from the Police Department. Our annual fundraising.

At this point I was irritated. Obviously I was expected to just say, Oh yeah, sure, whatever you want, Officer.

Me: I've already said I can't donate this year. And I have received so many calls from this number, that I really have to question you methods. Several times I've answered and there has been no one on the other end.

Male voice: Yeah, we're using a new computer system this year. It was taking so much time to call people manually. Sometimes it takes a moment or two for us to get on the line after you have answered,

Me: It's taking more time than that, and it's really annoying. Even if I was able to give this year, I wouldn't want to anymore after this experience.

Male voice: Uhhhh.

Me: Look, you really need to stop calling. You're alienating your donation base. Goodbye.

The exchange got me thinking about the pressure tactics the police and fire departments use in this town. It's not pretty.

First of all, there are these two or three times a year calls for "annual" fundraising of one sort or another. They say it's for their recreation program for kids, but I've never heard of such a program actually existing. They say it's tickets for the "Policeman's Ball," but again, I've never heard of an event actually taking place. It's for DARE (a program that doesn't work, run by an officer with an interesting history in that area), or something, or something else. When they call, ask, and you comply, they say they will be over the next day to pick it up in person. If you stupidly ask if they know where to go, they say, no, no need, we know where you live. I see.

At town meeting or any sort of meeting addressing budget issued for police or fire, there is a contingent of officers and firemen present to "observe." They don't come to vote because many of them don't live in town (why is another issue for another day). They don't sit; they stand in back, arms folded across their chests. They watch the proceedings. Closely.

The implication is clear, I think. They are watching who is voting "for" them and who is voting "against" them. Do they choose whom to protect and serve in accordance with the vote? They are not supposed to, and I sure hope not...but I would not be surprised if it were a factor.

(My husband tells me it's not so bad here. In his hometown, he says, the entire police force would show up in uniform for town meetings and stand in back in a long blue line while the police budget was voted. That town was smaller than this, and each officer really did know every person in town.)

Almost needless to say, every budget request for police and fire pass without question. Meanwhile, our schools have been at level services for five years now, and every line item in that budget is argued and scrutinized. I've mentioned this before.

And this from a police department rocked with scandal for the last ten years. Sexual harassment suits, accusations of racial discrimination, officers writing bad checks all over town - and an officer (currently on suspension) recently indicted for assault with intent to murder on his girlfriend.

The fire department? A couple of years ago when a tree fell on my house, I had to call them. They couldn't find my house. They drove past twice, sirens blaring, before turning in. Once they actually convinced the town they needed a tripped-out Hummer for "beach rescues." Except that the Harbormaster and Coast Guard are responsible for and respond to beach emergencies, not the fire department. I think they only brought that ridiculous vehicle out for the annual Fourth of July parade (and it was finally sold off a year or so ago).

I would not say that this is a group that has inspired confidence and trust from me.

Recently the police and fire departments are trying to convince the town that they need a new, ultra-modern fire and police complex, at a cost of millions and millions of dollars. I will grant that the police station needs to be replaced. But the main fire station? No.

I'm not the only one who thinks this apparently, as in the most recent town newspaper, a fireman was quoted as saying in response to citizen comments that even though the outside looks fine the inside is "cramped and outdated." Sorry, I'm not convinced. "Cramped and outdated" does not equal "let's tear it down and start from scratch."

Meanwhile, of course, schools are getting shafted. The high school and them middle school are both older than the fire station, and are also "cramped and outdated." Where is the support to replace those buildings? Non-existent. Where is the money to pay our teachers? Get supplies? Where?

Sadly, the police and fire department pressure tactics will work, with nary a flinch. We'll probably have a property tax override to pay for the complex - with officers out in force around the voting booths.


Pantheist Mom said...

I'm shocked! Seriously. I guess I'm really more naive than I even thought, but ... wow. What an awful situation. I wonder if the same sort of tactics go on here? Probably.

If most of them don't even live in town, then their kids are going to different schools. How sad. They've got you between a rock and a hard place, don't they?

Ruthie said...

Ugh, J-- I'm sorry. That is so icky.

So who speaks for the kids in the schools, then? Should an entire kindergarten class line up along the back wall during budget meetings for the schools?

J said...

Ruthie - you may have something there.

I'm going to a meeting this afternoon for a woman running for school committee. Maybe I'll bring it up.