The Myth Of Fingerprints Redux...

Here's a great article on yet another fingerprint mix up. And for all you public defenders who have seen these sorts of mix up's, I think this will ring frighteningly true especially if you've ever tried to get a 'Do Not Arrest Letters' for a client.


Gone and Mercifully So...

Passing through Times Square recently, I noticed that that awful cop billboard is finally gone. At least I think it is, I might have been too sauced and just missed it as the cab swept through.

If you've wandered through the dizzying array of times square signage, past the glowing super-sized McDonald’s kiosk anytime in the past few months, you've seen it. The 100,000 dollar billboard behemothh that constitutess the latest salvo in the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association’s attempt to negotiate a new contract with the city—a massive billboard replete with it’s own little zipper relentlessly insisting that “NYC cops deserve better pay”.

Perched on the north side of 42nd street, just east of Eighth Avenue, the billboard stridently insists that while New York City’s Cops are “#1 in crime fighting” they are “145 in the nation in salary”. Framed by the empire state building on one side and the torch of lady liberty on the other, the ad lists the 144 police departments that ostensibly pay better than New York’s deserving finest.

As it turns out though, a police officer’s salary is almost as impenetrable as those of some corporate CEO’s. And while cops don’t get stock options, looking at a cop’s base salary can be as misleading as assuming that Louis Gerstner only earned 2 million dollars in 2001. (His actual income from IBM was over 50 times that).

So while it is true that a police officer’s starting salary is just over $39,000. That figure doesn’t include uniform allowances, holiday pay, night shift differentials, pension contributions, travel expenses, unlimited sick leave that averages nearly a month per year, generous vacation and personal time which adds more than another month a year just for rookies, and of course, overtime. And where overtime is concerned, the NYPD is a major consumer. Indeed, a number of officers are able to double their salaries on overtime alone. According to the city’s independent budget office, in the first three months of fiscal year 2004, cops racked up $125 million in overtime alone—a pace that would exceed budgeted overtime by nearly $200 million.

Of course, few of the cities 34,000 cops are rookies. Most are veterans. And, assuming that an officer has failed after 10 years, to make sergeant (base salary of $69,300) lieutenant (79,547) or Captain (103,577), he or she can still look forward to a base salary of well over $60,000--, and (between average sick leave, personal time, vacation time and paid holidays) nearly three full months of vacation each year.

And aside from the interesting question of what makes a police department #1 in “crime fighting”, the relationship between police pay and crime fighting is anything but obvious. For example, in the 2000 Fiscal year, before 9-11 made things even crazier, the city spent 237 million dollars just on police overtime--Much of it attributable to Giuliani quality of life offensives. And what did that mean in terms of crime fighting—plenty of arrests, but paradoxically, a 15 percent drop in major felony arrests, with a skyrocketing arrest rate for misdemeanor marijuana possessions—twice as many as the year before. So it may well be true that for 237 million dollars in police overtime we can crack down on the weed scourge in the city, and it may even be that this makes the NYPD #1 in crime fighting, but what the belligerent times square billboard conspicuously fails ask, is: Is it worth it?

I for one don't think so. I'd gladly trade the 1/4 billion in annual cop overtime pay for some housing for the homless, food for the hungry and books for the kids. But alas, I don't have the 100 grand necessary to post my views on a guady billboard in Times Square.


Having just won a hard fought E-bay auction for an obsolete technology, (a MIVO mailstation 100--the only thing my 90 year old grandmother will use for E-mail) I can now turn my late night concentration to feeling bad about the Slate correction.

Just hours after my little piece on fingerprints ( was posted, I got one of those little queries from the corrections page at Slate... Not surprisingly it came from someone with an .edu suffix. The very nice man pointed out that I had used the term 'modular transfer function' for 'modulation transfer function'. When the correction came in, I didn't initially understand it--I thought it was about a sourcing issue. And it was only after having sent appendix F of the IAIFIS manual off to my editor with a smug note did I realize that the guy was actually talking about a typo which I hadn't noticed before.

He was utterly right of course, and horrified, I quicky ate appropriate crow with my editor. Since it really was a typo, there was some question as to whether a correction was really necessary. Obviously, they decided that a correction had to issue (you can see it at the bottom of the piece) which, of course totally heightened my level of mortification. I also sent the corrector an apologetic note

Not that this is such a big deal, of course, but I was a bit embarrassed at having missed it. It's just not the kind of thing that looks good when you are a fairly new writer. And then just hours after the correction is posted, I get this very nice note from the corrector:

Mr. Feige,

Thank you for your note. I appreciate you writing, though it was quite
unnecessary, as I certainly have been known to miss a thing or two in
my read-overs. I most assuredly did enjoy the piece, and thank you
again for taking the time to write.

P.S. A quick google search for "modular transfer function" found 291
hits which makes me wonder if they might both be acceptable,
though "modulation transfer function" had several thousand hits.

Hmmm. I just wish he'd googled first and written to the corrections page later...


Looks like my blog is finally up and running. Of course, I got around to it just in time to actually start a homicide trial. So we'll see if I actually wind up writing anything. Don't expect much while I'm on trial...