the snow gestapo.

In Boston, you can be fined for not clearing the snow off your sidewalk after a storm.  You can also be fined for not clearing the public sidewalk in front of your property. To ensure compliance, the city’s Code Enforcement Police drives around and tickets people for not clearing snow, not clearing the snow in the right manner, or not clearing it to approved city measurements.

Now, regardless of my thoughts on the ordinance in question and the enforcement thereof, what rankled me most about that article was the attitude of the enforcer featured, one Sergeant Steven Tankle.  He’s a perfect example of what happens when a powerful bureaucracy gives a little man a badge, a ticket book, and legal authority to lord it over his fellow citizens.  He doesn’t just do his job impartially; he relishes the power he holds, and he looks forward to using that power as often as he can.

In Germany, they have a derogatory name for people with such a mentality: Blockwart.  The blockwart was the Nazi party member politically responsible for the city block, and usually also the local Gestapo denouncer, ratting out the people in his neighborhood if they were overheard talking critically about the regime.  A Blockwart is the type of unpleasant fellow who will call the cops on neighbors whose hedges are untrimmed, or who park their car half an inch too far away from the curb.

Sergeant Tankle doesn’t care about snow, or how and when you clear it.  People like him are drawn to jobs where you can legally throw your weight around and bark orders at people, because it makes him feel bigger and more important at the end of the day.  If someone told him tomorrow that instead of snow code enforcement, he’d have to bully people over wearing a crucifix (or not wearing one), or drinking coffee left-handed, or walking out of step with your group, or wearing white socks with jeans, he’d cheerfully get out the ticket book, shine his badge, and go to work with a song on his lips.

The next time you wonder how a nation of fastidious, orderly people could turn into the butchers of ten million Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and other “undesirables”, think about what would happen if you gave the good Sergeant a machine gun instead of a ticket book, and you told him that an easy-to-identify segment of the population in his city has no human rights, and can be shot without legal penalty for not following orders instantly…


30 thoughts on “the snow gestapo.

  1. mac says:

    When I lived in the Cleveland suburbs, one ‘burb, University Heights not only had ordinances requiring sidewalk clearing and forbidding residents from throwing snow in the street (especially from your driveway), but they also had one for which direction you should shovel. Residents should shovel moving from the street to the house, clearing from one side of the driveway only. That is, shovel across the driveway (I forget which side was designated, but it was), walk back to the other side, then shovel across again. Also, you should start at the street and move back toward the house. That way, when the plows come, they’ll destroy all your hard work. Residences were reminded of the requirements by pamphlet, distributed at the onset of the snow season.

  2. Darren S says:

    I know in Cincinnati (it may be state-wide, I’m not positive), if you clear the public sidewalk in front of your house and somebody slips and injures themselves, you can be held liable in a civil suit. If you don’t clear the sidewalk, you can’t be held liable. This makes me wonder if Boston has the same type of legal ruling, thus screwing you if you do and screwing you if you don’t.

  3. eli says:

    …or not sweeping the sidewalk in front of your business or abode, or splashing a pedestrian on the sidewalk whilst driving your car, not leaving approved parking lights on while parked alongside the street…your old home land is a most litigious society, in the name of getting along. Of course.
    Pissing in public? No problem! A rack of bier to go along with the lunch pail, what are you lookin at? Odd country, nice to visit, glad to be out of it.

  4. Jason says:

    Hey, not all enforcement people are like him. I have bylaw authority, and I rarely enforce any bylaw where the situation isn’t creating a public nuisance or a hazard. Plus, I don’t clear my sidewalks often enough, and I hesitate to write a ticket on any law that I have problems following myself.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Didn’t say all enforcement people are like him. Said people like him are drawn to enforcement jobs. From the quotes in the article, he doesn’t sound like he’d ever hesitate to write a ticket for any reason whatsoever.

  5. perlhaqr says:

    Some of the comments were encouraging, but even the better ones seemed to imply that someone had to clear the snow and otherwise it was someone’s fault if another person slipped and fell.

    It’s fucking SNOW. Sue God if you fall down, you clumsy fuck.

  6. Heath J says:

    Well stated

    Agree with Perlhaqr. lol

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  8. Tom Weber says:

    One wonders if Sgt. Tankle got this job before the TSA hiring surge. I’m certain if you told him he could have a job where he got to wield power over his fellow man AND fondle them, he’d jump at the chance.

    If the city of Boston wants the public sidewalk cleared off, maybe they can enlist the aid of some trustee inmates or other volunteers.

  9. Al Terego says:

    “…people like him are drawn to enforcement jobs.”

    Yes. And worse, the enforcement hierarchy, its criteria, and its psych evals, are drawn to and slanted towards, people like him.


  10. Tam says:

    Indy has sidewalk-clearing ordinances, although I’ve never heard of them being enforced.

    I know I shovel our walk (and our neighbor’s) just for the smug sense of superiority it gives me to be one of the first people on the block to have a tidy, well-shoveled sidewalk. (I shovel the neighbor’s because it’s no big deal while I’ve got the shovel out. And she mows our front yard while she’s doing hers.)

    This is a splendid example of the joys of government, which will always turn a “you should” into a “you must”.

    • og says:

      Being a good neighbor and doing someone else’s walk used to be common. Mandating behavior is driving that sort of decency out of our lives.

  11. John R says:

    I refer you to the Stanford Prison Experiment. Tests have shown that if you give one segment of society power over another segment of society that the group in power will use their authority to abuse the other group. And so now we have the TSA, which is only one letter added to SA – if you get my drift. (no pun intended)

  12. aczarnowski says:

    Doesn’t every “city” in the snow belt have clearing ordinances?

    Officer Blockwart fits a profile I’ve seen around my parts too often though. Good term. Thanks for that.

  13. LittleRed1 says:

    When I lived up in so-northwest-it’s-almost-South-Dakota Iowa, you had to have the snow off your sidewalk by 0800 or face an up to $100 per hour fine, plus the cost of the town removing the snow. Your driveway was your own problem. A lot of people were snowbirds, so the local college students contracted to clear their walks for the winter for X$ per month or per incident. I don’t recall who went around taking names and addresses of the offenders. I commented to my boss (who lived outside of he town limits) that it was a bit silly, and he just shrugged and said “That’s the rule.”

  14. Fred2 says:

    Yeah, I don’t mind “sidewalk clearing ordinances” so long as they are enforced lethargically – that is if people make a good faith effort to remove the worst of it within 24hours, I’m pleased. ( downtown, maybe before noon after the storm.)

    As to throwing snow back in the road… that’s just RUDE.

  15. So basically, in snow states, I would have to clear the government’s property, at my own expense, or face a fine and Officer Blockwart breathing down my neck?

    • perlhaqr says:

      It’s not just snow states. I have to keep the government’s sidewalk free of weeds here in NM.

    • mac says:

      This brings to mind the term Devil’s Strip (or Devilstrip). Peculiar to Akron, OH, it’s what they call the patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street. Typically, I’ve heard this referred to as the tree lawn (a lot of cities had trees planted on each patch in front of a house).

      According to legend, there was a legal suit between the city of Akron and a property owner over who was responsible for cutting the grass and maintaining this strip. During the suit, the question of who owned the strip came up. It was determined that neither the property owner, nor the city owned the land. A local paper covering the case commented that therefore it must be the devil’s strip.

  16. Silverevilchao says:

    I don’t see how someone can trip and fall in snow. Maybe it’s because I’m used to having several inches of it, but the snow always kept my feet in place (because my foot would sink in) – it was the ice resulting from the plows plowing the snow and salting the sidewalk that make me slide and slip everywhere.

  17. Joanna says:

    “I don’t see how someone can trip and fall in snow.”

    If one’s feet have neither the strength nor the will to land flat and steady at every step, straight-up snow can be a real pain. This goes double if there’s enough that the little bumps and dips on the ground are smoothed over and rendered invisible.

  18. bluntobject says:

    A lot of post-war suburban neighbourhoods in the Milwaukee area simply don’t have sidewalks; I’m told this is a property-tax issue. I hadn’t considered it to be a feature until now.

  19. G3Ken says:

    Perhaps “Sgt” (lmfao) Tankle will end up under the wheels of a passing vehicle one day in the not too distant future. In a truly free society, we don’t need government lackey’s out there getting another pound of flesh from the American people. In a not too distant America, folks like Tankle will begin finding early demises by some intrepid souls. The cessation of this type of nonsense will end rather quickly.

  20. Jon says:

    Milgram experiment.

  21. ganet says:

    As one get old we wonder where these new Gestpo come from. I remember WWII very well. They are back in new form-TSA-blockwatchers-wallmart rat etc. In the old days people like this ended up beat to sh-t in some alley and told to back off or end up in the East river with cement shoes.

  22. HSDadPhD says:

    Here in Suburban Twin Cities MN, we had our blacktop paths taken out (which the city used to plow in winter) and nice, wide sidewalks put in… then they raised our taxes (for the new sidewalks) and THEN told us on the corners, WE had to shovel th walks. Hey, what a deal. Raise our taxes, AND take away a service! I’m talking almost 1/2 mile of sidewalk, with 4-6″ snowfalls common.

    OK, so I bought a snowblower two winters ago, and often did my neighbor’s strip as well in the ‘back forty’ as I call it. Well, last snowfall was a doozy, and the CITY snow plows PLOWED THE SNOW from the street UP over the ‘Devil’s Strip’ Bank, onto my freshly snow-blowed sidewalk. At least 12 inches of that heavy, clumpy, turn to ice, weigh a ton snow. I tried (Lord knows I tried) to get the snow blower into that wall of ice. NO WAY. So far, they haven’t ‘cited us’ for ‘not plowing,’ and when they do, I’m telling them what I think of their cockamamie ways of doing snow plowing. It doesn’t make me feel good to hear other towns are just as ‘meshuggene’ in the arena of public services.

  23. […] I was IGNORING the snow I clicked over to The Munchkin Wrangler. His post The Snow Gestapo caught my eye. Go read […]

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