Mayor, Police attempt to blow ‘lid’ off crime

Rob Burkett / Washburn Review

On this week’s front page of The Review, an article appears that talks about a proposal of Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten’s, which would start down the path of telling people what they can wear in certain establishments.

It’s an interesting topic that has been a new one to Topekans but an old one throughout time.

Recent crime in the capital city has given the mayor and Ron Miller, Topeka chief-of-police, some traction to think to introduce such a measure.

While I am all for engaging in what Miller refers to as “crime prevention measures,” I can’t help but be struck by how fundamentally bad of an idea this is.

First off, lets just dispense with the idea that somehow people would somehow be deterred by such a rule.

Criminals, many not noted for their observance of signs and city ordinances, would surely feel a civic duty to take off such hats and hoodies of course. This idea, that by simply making it a rule, people will suddenly become law abiding citizens, is just crazy.

The argument that Miller makes is that businesses with closed circuit surveillance systems can’t properly see the faces of people who come in and rob a store, in some cases at gunpoint.

While this is a problem, perhaps the bigger problem of his argument might be the first amendment and how he plans to get around what would surely be a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union alleging that the city has infringed upon the rights of citizens to freedom of expression by telling them what they can and cannot wear in public.

We have certain exceptions to the law when it comes to things like obscene messages on clothing in school and the ubiquitous, “no shirt, no shoes” policy in most public venues.

In the case of minors, who have somewhat less freedom of expression, parents are fundamentally responsible for their childrens’ actions. The restriction of what is and is not appropriate in school is something that is handled by the parents and school boards.

In the case of the no shirt or shoes policy, this is a public health standard. There is plenty of evidence to support such a standard being enforced. One of the easiest ways to spread infection is to have everyone walking around barefoot in well traveled areas.

 While businesses can and in some cases do ask people to remove their hats, that should be a choice made by businesses and complied with on a voluntary basis. Once we start mandating what people will be able to wear, then we start down a slippery slope. Where will it ever end?

Miller also brings up the point that this is not a precedent setting decision. According to Miller, “other cities” have passed such ordinances.

It is true that some communities in places like Studio City, Calif. have passed pilot programs that make it a voluntary measure for those businesses that want to participate.

Mandating that all businesses must participate in such a provision is just one of the silliest things I have seen in a while.

With real issues of crime facing law enforcement, perhaps spending more time thinking up ways that will actually stop people from becoming victims of criminals would be a better undertaking.

Either way, I’m looking forward to my next trip to Lids where the Topeka Police Department should be staging raids anytime now.

I commend Miller for thinking outside the box, but perhaps this is one we should put back in the, “what were we thinking?” bin.