Category Archives: Public safety & health

Dueling Crises: Unaffordable Housing vs. Flammable Housing

by James A. Bacon

Citing housing affordability as the key issue, the Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development has voted down an update to the state building code that would have mandated the installation of sprinklers in all new single-family homes and townhouses.

Virginia home builders have said that the sprinkler requirement would add between $15,000 and $25,000 to the construction cost of a new residence, according to reporting by WAMU, American University Radio. Keith Brower, a former Loudoun County fire chief has countered that the cost would be significantly less, about $5,000 for a 2,000-square-foot house. Whatever the case, there is no debate that the mandate would have added thousands of dollars to the cost of a dwelling unit.

WAMU summarized the home builders’ arguments this way:

Home-builders hailed the 10-4 vote taken Monday, saying that requiring sprinklers would only throw another obstacle in the way of the new housing construction that is needed to help close what officials say is a 75,000-home gap between what’s currently expected to be built across the region and what’s actually needed to keep pace with estimated job growth.

Continue reading

A Cautionary Note to the Drive to Legalize Pot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In response to some of the comments to my recent post on crime and drug data, as well as to a running theme on this blog, I want to share a thought-provoking article that I recently encountered.

I have long felt that the use of marijuana should not be a criminal offense.  However, a recent New Yorker article caused me to have second thoughts.  The author does not take a stand on whether pot should be legal or not.  He is questioning one of the basic premises behind the drive to legalize it: that it is safe.  He points out that we really don’t know how safe it is because relatively little research had been done in this field.

The point that stood out for me is that there is some evidence linking the heavy use of pot to mental illness, particularly schizophrenia.  Also, some researchers have shown links between the use of pot and increases in violence.

All of this research is preliminary and much more needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be reached.  In any event, it is important to keep in mind that THC is a potent chemical and that the human brain chemistry is a delicate balance that can be affected, in good and bad ways, by the introductionof “foreign” substances.

Philip Morris: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Peter Galuszka

It’s been a very long goodbye. Faced with billions of dollars in health-related lawsuits and huge public relations problems in 2008, cigarette giant Philip Morris split itself in two very different companies.

It reminds me of the scene in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliantly sarcastic war move, “Full Metal Jacket.” A colonel stops Private Joker and demands to know why he has born-to-kill and peace symbols on his helmet at the same time. “What does it MEAN?” growls the Colonel. “I dunno, Sir,” replies Private Joker, “I guess it’s the Jungian thing, you know, the duality of man.”

Duality of cigarette making is more like it. Back in 2008, Philip Morris split itself into a Swiss-based international firm while Richmond got Philip Morris USA and its holding company, The Altria Group. The latter is still a potent force with 3,750 local workers and a big honey pot of largess.

Philip Morris International boosted sales by creating such nicotine laden smokes as “Marlboro Wides” and Marlboro Max 9,” which sold in Third World countries that didn’t have the bucks or the court systems to challenge cancer causing products. Continue reading

Best Gun Violence Idea Not Proposed in VA?

Grandstanding with guns on the House of Delegates floor. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

by Steve Haner

The most effective gun violence prevention idea presented to the Virginia State Crime Commission Monday was one seldom discussed in the state:  Add violent misdemeanors to the list of convictions that prevent gun purchases from a licensed dealer.

Four states, including Maryland, have that provision and a Boston University study found it has lowered the firearms homicide rate better than 25 percent in those states. Right now, extending the ban from felons to violent misdemeanants is not among the scores of bills pending at Virginia’s special session on gun violence.

One of the least effective proposals, but one always at the top of many lists?  Prohibiting the sale of so-called assault or assault-style rifles.  The research on that is clear, Boston University research fellow Claire Boine said in one of the most useful evidence-based presentations from the long day. You can see her slides here and the full study hereContinue reading

Gun Issues Return to Capitol Monday, Tuesday

by Steve Haner

Proposed firearms regulations will pack a General Assembly meeting room Monday and Tuesday, and for that portion of the population not already locked into an ideological position either way, it could be useful to pay attention.

The Republican majorities have taken some political bashing for failing to act on the flood of proposals, many previously seen and rejected, that showed up when Governor Ralph Northam sought to railroad them through a hasty special session after the Virginia Beach shooting.  But the ideas are going to get a better hearing at the Crime Commission next week than they would have when introduced.  Continue reading

Exercising Your Second Amendment Right

Interesting scenario:  You are doing some shopping in Walmart. Alarmed by the recent nationwide shootings, you are carrying your recently legally authorized concealed handgun. A man walks in, carrying an assault-style rifle and a handgun strapped to his side, along with several magazines of ammunition. This also is legal in Virginia. What do you do?

  1. Say hello to your fellow gun-carrying customer
  2. Ignore him
  3. Pull out your handgun and confront him
  4. Shoot him because he is obviously a threat

Here are the laws governing this situation, which you may or may not know as you are trying to decide what to do: Continue reading

Recidivism Revisited

Sussex I State Prison

As has been noted in previous posts on this blog (here and here), the latest three-year recidivism rate of offenders released from the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) was the lowest in the nation. In fact, DOC had the lowest rate in the nation for the last three reporting periods.  DOC can justly be proud of this record.

Nevertheless, a closer look at the data reveals some troubling trends.  Before delving into this data, in order to understand the data and ensuing discussion, there are some terms that need defining and clarifying: Continue reading

Police Antisocial Behavior, Not Addictions

It’s one thing to be intoxicated — another to pass out on a public park bench.

In an 8-7 vote, a federal appeals court has struck down a Virginia law punishing “habitual” drunks. The law targeted homeless people struggling with alcoholism, thus “criminalizing an illness,” reports the Washington Post. Further, the court found the law to be unconstitutionally vague.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue. Alcohol addiction is an illness, and money might well be better spent providing treatment to homeless drunks rather than incarcerating them. On the other hand, the law provided local police a tool for maintaining public order. Eliminating the law invites drunks and derelicts to occupy public spaces where they might infringe upon the rights of others.

To my mind, it is crucial to distinguish between the illness and the behavior — and this applies to intoxication with marijuana and other drugs as well as alcohol. While addiction should not be a crime, police should address public intoxication when a person’s behavior becomes threatening or disruptive.

In perusing the Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia 2018” report, I note the following numbers (combining figures for adults and juvenile): Continue reading

Yes, Mental Illness is Key, Says U.S. Secret Service

The United States Secret Service, probably not a tool of the gun-loving American right, has just issued a report on 2018 mass shootings with a strong focus on the mental health problems displayed by the shooters. Clearly it didn’t get the same memo received by our friends at Blue Virginia, who think any such discussion unfairly stigmatizes the mentally ill and distracts from the real villains: guns themselves.

Let me get this right: Democrats don’t want to stigmatize the mentally ill, but are all too happy to blame the millions of law-abiding gun owners and subject them all to new regulations or restrictions, up to and including search, seizure and confiscation?  Continue reading

Firearms Theater: Boring, Tiresome, Repetitive

It is easy to dismiss next week’s special session of the General Assembly on proposed gun control as meaningless political theater, because that it what it will likely amount to.  It is also boring, tiresome and repetitive.

Following the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech, a group of well-intended and well-informed experts formed a non-partisan task force looking for insight, information and common ground.  There were state-level (here) and national (here) reports produced.  Continue reading

Virginia’s Ten-Year Pedestrian Death Toll: 865

Unsafe roads are ubiquitous in sprawling, low-density settlement patterns

Smart Growth America’s 2019 “Dangerous By Design” report compiles a Pedestrian Danger Index based on annual pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people between 2008 and 2017. Among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, the safest metro in the country for pedestrians is Provo, Utah. The most dangerous is Orlando, Fla.

Washington-Arlington ranked 24th safest in the country. The region’s 764 pedestrian fatalities over the decade amounted to a rate of 1.25 death per 100,000 residents.

Virginia Beach-Norfolk was close behind, ranking 26th safest. The region’s 213 pedestrian fatalities amount to a rate of 1.24 deaths per 100,000. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Hydroponics, Seawalls, and Emotional Support Critters

The future of Virginia agriculture? Shenandoah Growers, an indoor agriculture company, is undertaking a $100 million expansion of its three locations in Virginia over the next year. The facilities not only grow vegetables and spices in greenhouses, they package and ship the produce, reports the Daily News-RecordLocating the greenhouses next door to the packaging facilities speeds the movement of produce from farm to market, preserving freshness. The website of the Rockingham County-based company describes its grand ambitious: “We are leveraging our indoor bioponic growing technology, national customer network, and distribution channels to be the world’s leading consumer brand of affordable, organic fresh produce.” 

Thirty-one billion bucks for seawalls? Protecting Virginia coastal communities from sea-level rise by building sea walls would cost $31.2 billion to build 4,063 miles of hardened infrastructure, according to a study by the Center for Climate Integrity. That price tag is exceeded only by the cost for Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina. Don’t take it too seriously. This is more environmental doom mongering, which the Virginian-Pilot of course accepts uncritically. The calculations are based on the unrealistic assumption that adaptation to rising sea levels takes the form of building sea walls. For example, the study tabulates the cost of building 645 miles of seawall in Accomack County, 299 miles in Gloucester, 231 miles in Mathews, and 218 miles in Northumberland — an economically idiotic approach to dealing with rising tides and flooding in sparsely populated areas. For the seven densely populated cities of Hampton Roads the cost would run $4.6 billion — a large number but doable, if spread over many years.

Tide turning against “emotional support animal” scam. Virginia landlords have long been frustrated by tenants who skirt lease restrictions by faking disability certifications to qualify their pets as emotional support animals. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Two Reasons to Be Worried, and One Reason Not

Be afraid, very afraid. How frequent is cell phone use? According to a team of Old Dominion University researchers tallying seat belt use, some 4% of drivers they spot are on the phone or texting. So reports the Daily Press. Clearly, cell phone use is a problem. But I would argue that texting (which I never do) is far worse than yakking on the phone (which I do do… occasionally). Both may be a distraction, but the one requires drivers to take their eyes off the road, while the other doesn’t. If distractions are the issue, then the General Assembly should ban husbands and wives driving in the same car together. There’s nothing like a side-seat driver to grab one’s attention and increase the risk of accidents!

Virginia lost a big one. I have long hoped that the Wallops Space Flight facility might engender the rise of a space industry in Virginia. But the odds of the Old Dominion developing a critical mass in this industry of the future suffered a significant setback yesterday when Boeing announced that it would relocate the headquarters of its Space and Launch division from Arlington to Titusville, on Florida’s Space Coast. States the aerospace giant: “Looking to the future, this storied Florida space community will be the center of gravity for Boeing’s space programs as we continue to build our company’s leadership beyond gravity.”

Scary ignorance about coal ash. Coal ash is a potential hazard to human health, but the risks it poses are extremely low level. Unfortunately, an article in the Prince William Times, describing how Governor Ralph Northam signed a coal ash regulation bill into law, incorporates some of the hysterical rhetoric that has infiltrated our discourse. The article refers to the coal combustion residue as “toxic coal ash” and describes it as “composed of lead, mercury, cobalt, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and other heavy metals, many of which are carcinogens.” In truth, coal ash is comprised mainly of rock mixed with coal that is not removed in the coal cleaning process and does not combust in boilers used for electric generation. The ash does contain trace amounts of all the aforesaid metals, which can leach in minute quantities into ground water, but is toxic only when it rises above certain levels. If the ash itself were toxic, then the new law requiring utilities to recycle at least 25 percent of it into cinderblocks and pavers would the greatest folly indeed.

A Horrible Abuse Case. The Daily Reality Behind It.

Click for larger view. Source: Families Forward

The news today is horrifying – the death, possibly from sexual abuse, of a 17-month-old. Our distracted minds are focused, for a while, and we all go into a collective shudder and wonder what monster could do such a thing.

The daily reality is worse and doesn’t get enough attention. In the fiscal year ending last June, Virginia child abuse and neglect investigations resulted in 6,485 “founded” reports. The standard for a founded report, out of the 37,000 complaints involving more than 55,000 children, is that a preponderance of the evidence supported the claim.  Continue reading

Courts Authorizing “Reverse Location” Warrants in Virginia

FBI “reverse location” warrant in Henrico County…. Photo credit: Forbes

Big brother Google is watching you. Back in October, 2018,  Forbes reported that a Virginia court had authorized the FBI to use a “reverse location” warrant to try to solve a series of crimes in Henrico County, Va. This warrant, also known as a geofence warrant, allows police to compel Google to provide all cellphone activity for all people in a general area over a specified period of time. The resulting handover of data includes locations and other information on potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of people. While Google has complied with the warrants in the past, it is unclear whether the company complied in the Henrico case. Continue reading