nookchargerPerhaps the headline is a little sensationalistic, as the arrest was over a man plugging in his Nissan Leaf electric car for twenty minutes. That’s a couple of orders of magnitude more power than an e-reader, tablet, or smartphone uses. But given that the amount of electricity he “stole” only came out to a few pennies at most, the arrest is pretty clearly a matter of principle in any case—as the arresting officer said, “a theft is a theft” no matter how little it is.

The implication should not be too hard to suss out. In today’s gadget-driven culture, many of us carry chargers with us, and will plug our devices in wherever we end up stopping a moment—not just restaurants or libraries with free Wi-Fi that invite gadget use (and therefore charging), but any business or other place where we can find an empty power socket. We’re only “stealing” a fraction of a cent of electricity, but if we don’t have permission, it’s still “theft.” A plugged-in car is a lot more visible than a plugged-in tablet, which is probably what led to the arrest, but a plug-in is a plug-in in any event. And if a cop is going to arrest someone over a few cents, he might just do it over a fraction of a cent, too.

(Of course, there is actually a little more to the story than that. A more detailed article from local Channel 11 News carries the police officer’s side of things, in which the man was argumentative, and he had been previously instructed not to return to the school without permission from the school. Also, he was not waiting for his son, as some reports had it; he was taking tennis lessons there himself. Those factors are probably more responsible for the arrest than the actual fact of taking the electricity.)

Regardless, the man is going to fight the, ahem, charges.

"There’s no record of anyone being arrested for drinking water out of a tap," he told 11 News. "People charge laptops or cell phones at public outlets all the time, and no one’s ever been arrested for that."

Based on the amount of public exposure it’s getting already, I’d say there’s a pretty fair chance the charges will be dropped before too long. It doesn’t exactly look good for a police officer to commit the justice system to hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal expenses over a few pennies. Everyone just ends up looking foolish all around. But still, it’s worth remembering to take a little care (and always be polite to police officers). After all, it could (theoretically) happen to you, too!