published Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Paying for local underwater robot not a federal job

A new underwater robot will undoubtedly provide valuable service to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office by performing functions such as searching for weapons and missing persons in bodies of water. So there should be no objection in principle to law enforcement having the device.

Neither can we fault the department for making use of a $111,000 federal grant to buy the submersible, which will let authorities recover items weighing as much as 90 pounds, in water as deep as 250 feet.

What's unclear is why the federal government chose in the first place to fund a purchase whose purpose is so obviously local.

Someone might argue that without the federal money, the department couldn't afford the robot. Perhaps, but where did the money originate? It came from taxpayers across the country. If Washington were not collecting high taxes -- and borrowing more -- to begin with, more money would be available at the state and local levels for needed purchases.

We'll be glad to see the benefits of the underwater robot. But we wish it didn't involve a federal middle man.

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Here's why. Economies of scale is one factor.Individual law enforcement agencies on their own would never be able to fund such a thing, but across the nation? Works out much better. Another factor is availability of resources. Believe it or not, the federal government has to deal with incidents across the country. Having local resources in place is often a better idea than flying something in every time you need it.

And by helping to fund it, the feds ensure they have legal access to the resource. Maybe you resent those strings, but I see them as necessary to forestall selfish argument. While in an ideal world, the owners of such a robot would make it available to those in need, the reality is not so pleasant.

January 15, 2012 at 1:44 a.m.
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