BY ADAM PRESTON
Police are viewed as necessary agents in society. The notion that we must have a body of enforcement for laws to be genuinely effective is an idea as old as civilization itself. However, more recently the ability, legitimacy, and actual effectiveness of our current police forces have been under intense scrutiny with outcry coming from as low as the streets of Seattle to the high seats of Congress. This should be of no surprise to anyone, however, as time has gone by more and more cases of police either failing to Protect and Serve or completely ignoring it and getting away with it. With this in mind, these cases present us with some questions: are police officers useful in this modern day and age? Are these enforcers enforcing in the wrong places? I believe it is more than fair to say yes to this question, and there are plenty of reasons why.
First, it should be pointed out that police officers have no actual legal obligation to serve or protect. The Mises Institute, an economic group focused on Austrian Economics and Libertarian policy, reported on a 2018 ruling by a federal judge that stated that, “Neither the Constitution nor state law, impose a general duty upon police officers or other government officials to protect individual persons from harm—even when they know the harm will occur.” This ruling came from a lawsuit citing failures by police officers to protect students within Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during its infamous shooting; a case we are all too familiar with due to the tragedy in Uvalde. But these incidents are not alone in their horror, with cases such as Town of Castle Rock vs Gonzales determining that neither the town nor the police department could be sued for negligence and failure to enforce a warrant which later lead to the murder of a woman’s three children.
There is also DeShaney v. Winnebago which says that “The Fourteenth Amendment does not require the state to intervene in protecting residents from actions of private parties that may infringe on their life, liberty, and property” which says the state, and thusly police officers, have no obligation to protect the interests and safety of citizens from other citizens. Whether it is murder, abuse, or even theft and rioting, police have no legal obligation to give you aid of any kind, and legally speaking do not have to thanks to Warren v. District of Columbia. Warren v. DC says that police have no obligation to protect or defend citizens, the lack thereof leading to the rape, robbery, and abuse of four women for 14 hours.
It is more than clear that, in terms of legal liability, police serve no actual use in saving the average citizen in times of crisis or need. While many of these cases do serve to damage one’s perception of police, there is still more to be said.
Another common issue within the greater context of policing is the use of Civil Asset Forfeiture. Civil Asset Forfeiture (CAF) is a method of obtaining assets and items by police without necessarily detaining or charging anyone with any wrongdoing. CAF primarily works off of suspicion instead of actual evidence of a crime committed, and thus can be down to the individual officer in different cases. In a video posted by Jake Tran, a content creator who focuses on private and state criminal acts, he outlines an incident that took place in February of last year where police confiscated over $80,000 from someone who withdrew it from his bank. The man showcased proof that he withdrew the money, but the officers still took, what the man referred to as, “food from my kid’s mouth.”
The Leadership Council for Civil and Human Rights defines CAF as a form of “legalized theft” and that “Police do not have to file charges or even establish guilt in these cases before seizing and keeping the property and there is no limit to what police can seize.” When we dive a bit deeper and look at their fact sheet we can also see statistics citing the frequency in lower income areas and specific minorities being targeted and making up a majority of cases arguing over CAF. The ACLU also reports that “many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting.” When police confiscate property, effectively skipping due process in a matter of minutes, it is, as the ACLU says, “notoriously difficult and expensive, with costs sometimes exceeding the value of the property.”
Civil Asset Forfeiture is often used to partially fund Police Departments, which in turn directly benefits Officers with anything from better equipment to a higher amount of pay. Cash is often put into Police Budgets, with cars and guns auctioned off to serve the same purpose. When police can, quite literally, steal your property from you, how can we cry out that they are necessary to prevent wrongdoing when police so often commit it themselves?
Now of course some will still argue the case for the police, even in light of this information, and I can understand why. Police often work long hours and deter crime in plenty of instances. However, when we take into account qualified immunity, which is often used to excuse police who commit wrongful acts, and police militarization (such as The Independence Police Department), combined with the lack of legal obligation to protect citizens and their ability to legally steal from you, it should truly be considered if police are truly ethical in their current standing. When people with legal immunity are allowed to pick and choose who they protect while simultaneously being able to steal from everyday citizens, it shouldn’t be expected that everything will remain pure and clean.
At this time, we cannot appeal to enforcement agents to give us safety and protection. There is no certainty that they will help you, me, or anyone you may care about. They may not prevent wrongdoing in your community or home and sometimes may even ignore your cries for help. What could be done to counteract this apparent lack of safety? I believe the answer is more than a simple one: Community Networking.
Communities know each other best. They know what works best for them and what does not, and they know what needs to be done in their community to better it. Police should be balkanized by communities, split up, and brought together only in times of major crisis. It should not only be the police, however. Until reforms have been made, budgets reallocated, and safety concerns addressed, community members should follow through with responsibility for the safety and well-being of their community, not the police. Whether it’s banding together and creating a neighborhood guard, or working to put cameras around the neighborhood, the only people responsible for you and the safety of your loved ones are you and those who are interested in protecting you and your interests.