The Police Problem

It seems like every day now there’s another video of a cop going ape-shit on someone. Nobody’s really sure why this is a sudden trend. Some people think it’s just the fact that everyone now has a video recorder in their pocket, and I’m sure that’s a factor but that’s been largely true for years now.  Everyone got a flip-phone that could take video a decade ago, and a smartphone at least five years ago.

Maybe it’s that cops are becoming more violent. The lack of reporting around that is shocking. We don’t know and never will. I can’t imagine they’re too terribly much more vicious than they were a decade ago, but I guess you never know. They have effectively no oversight.

Maybe it’s a combination of the two. Regardless of reason, I think the current trend is a great thing and we need more of it. We Americans have accepted too long our slide toward a police state. We have too many police, who are too well-armed, enforcing far too many laws. We have them because like any large bureaucratic organization, the police state constantly seeks to increase its size and influence. Politicians, who don’t want to look soft on crime, go along with it.

Over a million people are employed by state and local law enforcement agencies. That’s a big business. Only one American corporation, Wal-Mart, employs more than that. The second largest employer, Yum Brands! (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut) employs half that.

I’ve written before about how local law enforcement uses unreasonable means like excessively low speed limits to fund itself. This is at least not directly, physically harmful. Cops don’t shoot people for speeding. But it does cause accidents and loads of economic damage.

In a year, cops make about 11 millions arrests in the US. (See link below to FBI Data.) But they write about 41 million speeding tickets. Seriously, they’re about 4 times as likely to annoy a motorist for revenue as they are to do anything of actual use. And that’s implying that the arrests are of use, which many aren’t, but I’ll get to that in a second.

Cops no longer serve the public, they oppress. Their unstated purposes are to incarcerate the poor and raise revenue so they can justify their existence. They’re of little utility beyond that. If someone broke into your house, how quickly do you think they’d get there? (In my case I know the answer because I once accidentally tripped my alarm while leaving the house and didn’t know it. They showed up 40 minutes later. When they got there, they talked to the girl I was dating at the time, who said “I’m his girlfriend.” They didn’t ask any questions, not even whose girlfriend she was, and just left. Had it been a strange woman who broke into my house, she could have looted it for over a half hour, told the cops she was my girlfriend, then kept on looting.)

Ask yourself this: when was the last time a cop did anything good for you? Now when was the last time they cost you time, money, or worse when you were doing nothing that was of any harm to anyone else?

As for things other than speeding tickets, by far the largest group of arrests are drug-related ones. The most frequent is possession of marijuana. Does it make you feel safer to know that cops are arresting hundreds of thousands of pot heads every year for holding dime bags? Me neither.

Drug laws in particular give police forces an excuse to buy military-grade weapons and vehicles. They don’t restrain themselves to using them against meth labs though. I wasn’t there for it, but a a low-stakes poker game I used to frequent, full of little old ladies gambling for amounts in the low three digits, was raided by a SWAT team with machine guns and flashbangs. These weren’t hardened criminals packing heat. There weren’t hundreds of thousands of dollars to be protected. The cops even knew that because an undercover agent had played in the game and filmed it with a hidden camera three times. And yet they brought an armored van and put a bunch of harmless old retirees’ heads to the ground with machine guns pointed at them. Luckily nobody was injured, but it’s easy to see how a slight accident, like a nearby car backfiring, could have turned that scene really ugly, when all they had to do was walk in the front door.

Drug laws don’t reduce drug use. Our country should have learned that by 1933, when we repealed prohibition. Making alcohol illegal didn’t stop people form drinking, it just empowered violent, organized crime. Despite incredibly strong penalties, Americans do more drugs than anyone else. We use four times as much cocaine as the next country. Suck it New Zealand!

For awhile we were lucky. We have actual law and order (often too much) so it’d be hard to get away with a giant poppy farm in the states. So most of the violent organized crime was restricted to areas south of us. Our drug prohibition became Central and South Americas’ problems. Violent cartels grow the drugs in Columbia and ship them up through Mexico, destabilizing the entire region. We ship hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cash and weapons to their governments in an attempt to counter it, but it’s nowhere near enough when the drug lords are making hundreds of billions. We didn’t care because they kept their violence out of our country, but in the post 9/11 world, having a large group of paramilitary organizations who are very good at the logistics of smuggling things across our border has gotten scary.

As far as I’m concerned, pretty much the only good things cop do at any scale is bust drunk drivers. I’m glad they’re out there giving DUIs. I’m glad DUIs are extremely expensive. And they’re about 10% of arrests. Driverless cars will solve that problem for us entirely in a decade or two, but until then this is really the only thing cops are doing that benefits us law-abiding Americans.

The solution to our cop problem is obvious.

1. Decriminalize drugs. All of them. You should be able to walk into a CVS and buy cocaine or heroin. I know that might sound scary, but remember, pretty much every real bit of data we have says that making them illegal doesn’t reduce use. Instead regulate drugs so that users can easily access clean needles and services and know what they’re buying, and tax it so we can pay for treatment.

2. End the practice of local governments using speeding ticket revenues to pay for services. All fees from speeding tickets must go to charity (and not the local F.O.P. chapter.) Between #1 and #2 here we’ve just reduced our police force staffing needs by 75% so we’ll save a lot of money anyway.

3. Enact effective oversight of police by third parties. We can’t trust internal investigators and local prosecutors to be fair when it comes to their colleagues. Cleveland made national news for agreeing to a federal oversight program in the wake of the Michael Brelo verdict. This is a great program and every police department should be subject to it.

These things are starting to happen, bit by bit, around our country. I’m not optimistic about legalizing all drugs anytime soon, but perhaps marijuana will be a gateway legalizer. Demonstrations and riots will force police departments to agree to oversight. Perhaps more importantly, they’ll make fewer people want to become cops, and reduced police forces will (hopefully) have to prioritize better.

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