Law enforcement is currently suffering from an image problem. When stories are printed regarding warrantless searches – especially during the search for the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, safety checkpoints, forced blood draws at some of those safety checkpoints, gun confiscations in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, and revenue generation, police officers are perceived as the beginning of a police state which is ruled by the philosophy that suspicion establishes guilt, and every action by any citizen is a taxable offense.
As someone who had spent his high school and college years with police officers, I had learned that the number of “good cops” vastly outnumber the ones who hold their jobs for reasons other than to help people.
In contrast, many of my friends had first-hand stories that were the exact opposite of mine. Even though I wasn’t a witness to their run-ins with un-professional cops, the exposure that I had with the narcissistic, power-hungry types who hide behind a badge instead of representing it, was enough to convince me why there is distrust between many citizens and the police.
Most people will not interact with a large number of police officers, mechanics, plumbers, teachers – except during their school years, etc. Therefore, one bad interaction with an individual who is acting in an official capacity within their career field has the potential to create a blanket effect that covers everyone else in that career field – especially law enforcement.
In the game of Junior Police State that we are now forced to play, it is easy to blame the people who are staging the mandatory checkpoints and unconstitutional searches and seizures. However, government agencies that have direct contact with American citizens, such as police departments, usually do not act with autonomy; politicians and bureaucrats make the intrusive decisions for others to follow.
There are government leaders – especially those who had participated in leftist, anti-establishment activities during the Vietnam War years – who either make no secret, or poorly hide their contempt for individuals who have a sense of duty, such as clergy, the police, and military members. Therefore, those elected and appointed leaders must find some feelings of revenge, social justice, and/or a perverse pleasure in ordering those who embrace strong convictions to act counter to their beliefs.
It is also safe to conclude that those same politicians choose to live vicariously through the people whom they oversee – especially when it comes to implementing their leftist philosophies, such as wealth redistribution and control over citizens.
As politicians either look for new sources of revenue, or want to create a perception as being “tough on crime”, their new definition of crime is now:
1. Any act that public opinion believes should warrant a fine, such as not wearing seat belts, and smoking in privately-owned public facilities.
2. Any act where the seizure of private goods or land is justifiable in the name of safety.
Keep in mind that police officers, while ordered to perform potentially unconstitutional acts by their bureaucratic overlords, are subject to the repercussions of the political ideologies that those politicians and bureaucrats embrace.
In addition to their role as revenue generators, law enforcement personnel must address life-threatening scenarios under the rules of political correctness.
When law enforcement officers respond to any incident, their most valuable tool is the power of their discretion. Yes, just like any other humans, police officers make mistakes; even years of on-the-job experience is no guarantee that an error in judgment is not possible. Unfortunately, the current philosophy in higher education is to discourage discretion-based decisions; that every possible real-life scenario has a textbook answer. Politicians, bureaucrats, and many business leaders are the products of a discretion-free education.
When a private sector workplace environment is created that prohibits free thought, the first casualty is creativity; look no further than a classic rock radio station that plays the same five-hundred songs that most classic rock stations have been playing for over thirty years. When free thought is restricted in law enforcement, the first casualty is safety.
The same discretion-free mandate that law enforcement is forced to incorporate creates a breeding ground for potentially fatal consequences not only for police officers, but also for the citizens whom they are supposed to protect.
The conflict between the textbook mentality and the need for personal discretion leaves police officers in an unenviable position: either follow a one-size-fits-all course of action, thereby creating a possibly fatal vulnerability in a dangerous situation, or follow his or her instincts which could create legal and criminal consequences after the fact.
Although the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Connor that the actions of a police officer must be judged on what he or she had known at the time of an incident, not hindsight, the present nature of the people who dictate the course of politics has deemed laws and court rulings guidelines, instead of what they really are.
For many people, the thought of making contact with a police officer is distasteful. However, those same people probably don’t realize that police officers probably have the same feeling when a politician or bureaucrat with no law enforcement – and in many cases, little real-world experience – decides how that police officer is supposed to do his or her job. Police have an image problem; a problem with roots in the image problem earned by their – and our – self-serving political overlords.