Outside the box: Bad boys, bad boys

It seems the police were out in full force on New Year’s Eve. I was in Las Vegas with my friends, and at first I was happy to see the line of police cars parked bumper-to-bumper from the beginning to the end of the Las Vegas Strip.

I thought it meant I could enjoy my strawberry margarita in relative safety and that later, my friends and I could stumble to a taxi without being flattened by a driver who had also enjoyed one. Or three.

Upon closer inspection, however, I realized the police were merely pawns doing Las Vegas’ dirty work: selling itself to tourists. Cars were not, of course, allowed on the street because of the massive crowd. But ironically, neither were pedestrians.

The police had placed barricades to confine people to a very narrow space on either side of the strip. The walkway was so narrow people were forced to enter the casinos and lured into spending their money.

Police were so serious about the walkways that when one person in our group jumped the barricade and tried to run across to the other side of the strip, they tackled him, handcuffed him and took him to jail. According to the next morning’s paper, more than 90 people spent the night in jail for doing the same thing.

OK, OK. So I realize they probably used the barricades to provide access for emergency vehicles. I wasn’t even upset about it until, while walking with my friends to the taxi, a drunk driver smashed into the car in front of him and sent it careening off the road onto the sidewalk 10 feet from us. We were close enough to see the smoke from the car’s airbags. Not one cop was in sight. No one came to handcuff the driver and take him to jail. We were only one block from the Strip.

Friends who didn’t come to Las Vegas told me the situation wasn’t very different at home. Utah cops were forced to sell Utah as assertively as those who were selling Las Vegas. But whereas Las Vegas police were selling slot machines and Blackjack tables, Utah police were selling something on the opposite side of the spectrum: “values.”

For those of you who need to be reminded, Utah’s values fall on the extreme side of the scale. “Alcohol” and “bar” are words that should be used with caution. We’ve basically eliminated them from mainstream Utah dialect by incorporating them into the phrase “private club for members.” That way, only “members” are implicated in the activities that take place inside the private clubs.

In order to sell these values, police constantly remind “members” of Utah’s laws. Although officers undertake the important task of patrolling for drunk drivers, much of New Year’s Eve is nothing more than an opportunity to pretend Utah’s cherished commodity.

For example, the driver of my friend’s car was forced to take numerous, time-consuming tests, even after coherently explaining to the officer that she was the designated driver. Nearly an hour after she had demonstrated her sobriety, the officer taught her the invaluable lesson that “small women have a hard time holding alcohol,” so she should avoid “even a sip.” His time could have been better spent elsewhere.

Another friend had her house searched on suspicion of underage drinking. The bad part is it took police two hours to search the house, during which time one person who had “asked too many questions” had to sit with his arms handcuffed behind him. My friend will think twice before ever hosting a party from now on. Again, the officer could have been more productive elsewhere.

I don’t blame the police officers for their actions-they are just doing what Utah asks of them. But it raises the question: Is it right to spend so much time and effort pursuing what began as a suspicion into lengthy ordeals?

So while we came close to getting killed in Las Vegas while police were otherwise occupied, I wonder what aspects of crime are forgotten while Utah’s police harass designated drivers and responsible party-goers. We’re forced to drink watered-down beer and strictly measured shots, and we have a curfew. Maybe these laws exist for good reason, but enforcing them too relentlessly means focus is taken away from real threats.

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