Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Law enforcement philosophy

Increasingly, law enforcement is more about prevention than punishment. On the face of it, that sounds like a swell idea. Except for criminals, who's opposed to crime prevention? Is it not better to stop a crime before it happens than deal with the messy aftermath?

To some extent, crime prevention measures are prudent. Locking your doors. Taking precautions against identity theft. Not going for a midnight jog in the park. 

However, those are things private citizens can do. I'm referring to government intervention. Problem is, shifting resources to prevention treats all law-abiding citizens as suspects. It's not about breaking the law, but monitoring your every move. I understand why that's appealing to police and politicians, but it's antithetical to a free society. It's a Minority Report philosophy.

Do we want to live in a free society or a police state? There are tradeoffs to living in a free society. That isn't risk-free. 

Keep in mind that a police state isn't a safe place to live. A police state exists to protect the ruling class, not the general public. A police state is corrupt. Bribed judges. Protection money for police. Look at the security forces cross-eyed, and you land in jail.

So often the power elite simply decides a certain policy is a good idea, and that becomes the norm–without public advice and consent. That needs to be challenged at every turn:

Leovy offers a provocative argument: controversial police tactics like stop, question, and frisk reflect “a law enforcement model in which prevention is everything and vigorous response is an afterthought.” Arrest sweeps are fundamentally less challenging than the kind of detailed, labor-intensive investigation it takes to actually solve crimes, and so a huge share of homicides in violent neighborhoods go unsolved:
From 1988 to 2002, the number of unsolved homicides in the L.A. Police Department’s South Bureau was 41 per square mile. Even as many white neighborhoods remained untouched by killings during this period, some predominately black ones had three unsolved cases per block—seven at the especially violent intersection of South San Pedro and East 84th streets. 
Meanwhile, police focused, as they had in the past, on nuisance and vice – the cheap and easy, low-hanging fruit of the trade. As early as 1956, Los Angeles police arrested more than 200,000 people a year for “drunkenness” and municipal code violations – a number that is nearly a tenth of the city’s population. The “broken windows” theory of policing echoes these old paddy-wagon tactics. 
The result has been a doubling down on distrust. When violent crimes go unpunished while nonviolent ones get hammered, many conclude that the state seeks control, not justice. Police don’t benefit either: Devoted cops would much rather chase serious offenders. We should let them.

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