Recent news coverage is full of stories of abuse by local police (including my own blog), militarization of police, and federal efforts to control our police. Even our dogs are not safe from police over-aggressive tactics. We are at a dangerous crossroads on this issue. Many police departments (local, state, and federal) are violating the Bill of Rights and/or using excessive force. The federal government has been flooding departments with military grade equipment, and using that and other forms of aid as leverage to control how the police operate. There are even pressures to federalize the police entirely as the “solution” to local police abuses.
There can be many reasons for a person to go into police work. The primary desire of some is to protect people from those who would violate their rights to life and property. At the opposite end of the spectrum are bullies who need the authority of their office to feed their desire to push people around. Most are undoubtedly public spirited people who like the work and the stable employment. The bullies would be the source of most of the problems we have with local police.
The progressive, collectivist approach to so many problems is to set up the conditions to make the problem intolerable, then propose “solutions” that involve a federal takeover of the area of our society where the problem occurs. We’ve seen this in the healthcare arena, where costs have been driven to a ridiculous level by federal regulations, justifying the proposal of federal health insurance. In the area of law enforcement, the federal government tempts police forces with “free” military equipment, then sends rabble rousers from the Justice Department to fan the flames of riot. Naturally, the police use their new equipment for riot control. The federal response is to step up attempts at federal control of the police.
One law enforcement officer who seems to understand this game is the Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, David Clarke. Testifying before a congressional committee investigating police militarization, Clarke heard congressmen crowing about the need to regulate local law enforcement. He responded that “Let’s leave that conduct for the public to engage in, not … elected officials who can’t resist the opportunity to exploit the emotions of an uninformed or misinformed public simply for political gain.”
There is no power granted by the Constitution for any federal involvement in local law enforcement. A return to Constitutional principles would be a good start: stop all federal aid to police departments, currently implemented through the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance and other agencies. Naturally, this should include any transfer of equipment to police departments. Along with this, federal regulation of local police should be terminated.
Regarding militarization of police departments, removal of Washington from the picture would be a good start. Before proceeding further, each local government that operates a police department needs to assess its own needs. Some cities may decide that a return to traditional civilian style policing serves their needs. Others, which may have to deal with gang problems, for example, may need a police department that can respond more on a combat basis. If so, they need to acquire whatever equipment they decide using local tax resources.
The abuses of bullies with badges and guns also need to be dealt with locally. The outrages that appear so often in the news usually involve police departments that “investigate” their own actions, coupled with prosecutors who believe that the police can do no wrong. The blame for this can be laid squarely on those who elect the city administration, prosecutors, and judges. Citizens who don’t get up in arms about such official misbehavior are perpetuating the problem. When we see police abuse in our towns, we should not go crying to Washington for help. The only real solution is to make use of the ballot box.