Note 1: This post is in response to the article “Why Americans Should Reconsider Their Contempt for Today’s Police“, previously published at Return of Kings on July 3d, 2014.
Note 2: The image above was taken by Jeff Robertson in Ferguson, Missouri, site of several days of rioting and protests over a fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer on August 9, 2014.
Recently, guest poster “Anonymous Cop” opined that Americans should reconsider their contempt for the police, arguing that
(1) LEOs aren’t trained to be bullies, that most are good guys doing a difficult job, bad apples give the profession a bad name and, besides, citizens just don’t understand what it’s like to be on the other end of a citizen-LEO encounter,
(2) Shielding from liability for mistakes, such as kicking in the wrong door or shooting an unarmed man reaching for a cell phone, is necessary to get anyone to sign up to be LEOs in the first place,
(3) The recent trend of shaming, challenging, or embarrassing LEOs and posting the videos on the internet only serves to make LEOs more cautious, less aggressive, and less likely to intervene in gray-area situations. The author cites another LEO third-hand, who reportedly said: “If life and death situations could land me in a coffin or prison, I will avoid life and death situations.” The result is more crime, not less,
(4) Higher-quality LEOs are leaving the force due to the rise in street violence and lack of public support for LEOs, leaving lower-quality officers behind. Moreover, the aforementioned working conditions will likely attract a different sort of LEO candidate, one better adapted to higher levels of violence and less concerned with the lack of public rapport, support, or appreciation for their work.
Not a bad start as an apologia for the police, as apologias go. I can empathize with the author’s sense of bewilderment as he observes a low level of support for law enforcement amongst the citizenry:
We used to enjoy the support of the educated, hard-working people of the community, but not so much anymore. The bad guys used to know that the cops were the extension of the values of the community and if you violated those values, you were on your own—and good luck with that. But those communities that upheld the values of the Ten Commandments for everyone now seem to only uphold the values of the Ten Amendments, and only selectively when it protects them or their group’s politics.
I myself wrestle with the tension created by my own natural empathies for police officers and my discomfort with media reports of LEO misbehavior and my own (mixed, some good, some bad) observations of LEOs in action. Thus, while I have been at times been both critical and supportive of police over the last few years, I do so out of a sense of love of country, of patriotism, and a hope that the citizenry will help the system right itself. As I wrote a couple of years ago, the American justice system
…has gradually morphed over time from one that protected liberty to one that erodes it. Indeed, as individual LEOs became “professionalized”, American law enforcement ceased being a system in which citizens secured justice for themselves, on a level playing field, facilitated by law enforcement and the courts, to a literal “us” versus “them” arrangement on a steeply tilted playing field where the massive resources of government are brought to bear against presumably innocent individual citizens. In other words, ownership of the laws and the law enforcement process shifted from individual citizens to an amorphous “the people”, thus divesting individual citizens from the justice process except as a collective (when enforcing the law), or as an isolated defendant (when targeted by law enforcement). This divestiture is so complete that jury nullification, that foundational right whose pedigree extends back as far as the Magna Carta, is viewed with contempt and hostility by those in the justice system and those who publicly profess this right are persecuted, pilloried, and/or proscribed from jury service. It is in this context which LEOs, people just like any of us, find themselves at odds with the interests of their neighbors while simultaneously being exposed to the worst pathologies of their neighbors.
Clearly, few are happy with the present system, except perhaps the criminal class which happily exploits the widening gulf between police and the citizenry to its advantage. With that in mind, the remainder of this post will explore some proposals intended to restore some of the lost liberties of the American people, narrow the gap between the interests of the LEO with the citizen, and maybe do away with some of that contempt for police that Anonymous Cop complains about.
Image source: New York Times
Decriminalization / Re-Legalization
First up: Far too many things are illegal, making full compliance with the law difficult or impossible. Mayhaps this is by design. Ayn Rand once wrote:
The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.
While liberty is secured by a little bit of law, too much law threatens liberty. Of course, those who fancy themselves our masters, those who seek to grow government (and thus erode liberty), know this and write laws with the express purpose of controlling the lives of others (for example, Federal crimes are up nearly 1,500% since our nation’s founding) and increasing their power and influence. If one is successful at reducing the quantity of laws, at making fewer things illegal, it follows that not only will there be more freedom and more responsibility but there will also be fewer criminals…and fewer opportunities for adverse interactions between LEOs and citizens.
Broaden The LEO Base
Second, we should reduce the number of full-time LEOs, particularly at the local level where the bulk of law enforcement activities occur, and increase the quantities of part-timers, reserve deputies, and volunteers. The aim here is to shorten the psychological distance between citizen and LEO in a way analogous to the “citizen soldier” model of the National Guard, with an eye toward stemming a budding “us vs. them” culture and mindset by making “them” more like “us.”
Less Diversity Is More
Similarly, police should be hired from, and serve in, the communities in which they live. This may better invest the citizenry in the security of their neighborhoods, and transform their views of law enforcement away from alienated enforcers to neighbors assisting in maintaining law and order. Additionally, this would have the added benefit of reducing inter-cultural conflict (of the sort that the liberalist Left thrives upon and uses as a pretext to enact more “helpful” laws) and therefore increases the sort of interpersonal trust needed to effectively enforce laws.
Re-assert the Right of the People to Judge for Themselves
Fourth, jury nullification needs to be re-legitimized as a check on government power and the arbitrary application of law by LEOs and attorneys general. It is right and proper for the citizens of the community to decide for themselves whether or not a particular law should apply to an accused offender, or even if a law is valid at all—not a judge or LEO or any other officer of the Court. Assuming a citizen is literate, they can judge the law for themselves, as well they should: After all, it is they who suffer the depredations of offenders, and not well-paid government officials safely ensconced in gated communities.
Defenestrate the Warrior Cop Mindset
Fifth, the police need to resist the temptation toward militarization. They are not “blue infantry,” they are not in a combat zone. They should be discouraged from thinking that they are in a combat zone, should not dress as if they were in a combat zone, need not possess equipment meant for a combat zone, and should not frequently employ small-unit tactics as if they were in a combat zone. They are not, and more importantly should not think themselves as, to use Radley Balko’s characterization, warrior cops. Moreover, the Founders considered a large standing army to be hazardous to liberty; I submit that LEAs would do well to avoid becoming what our Founders feared, if for no other reason than self-interest: Not only was Tsarnayev, the Boston Bomber, located by a citizen and not LEOs after the city-wide security lockdown was lifted, but life is very dangerous indeed for government forces of dubious legitimacy working in and around a disaffected populace. Just ask the US military about their experiences in Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc.
These are but a few modest proposals. Perhaps it is too late to reverse the decades-long trend of alienation between the citizen and LEO. It is possible forced diversity and cultural Marxism has degraded the culture so much that rebuilding the trust necessary for citizenry-based policing will be impossible. Maybe Americans have become so infantilized, so comfortable in the outsourcing of law enforcement to paid professionals, that taking ownership for the enforcement of their own laws is fantasy. I hope not.