Defund the police. It might seem like a new and radical idea to those who have only been paying attention since the killing of George Floyd took over the national media. Those who champion individual liberty and a small government, however, have been saying it for years. From Click It or Ticket operations to extreme risk protection orders and many infringements in between, cops are empowered and asked to do too much. Should we cut police funding? Sure, but let’s prune the law and their powers, also.
To Protect and Serve?
“To Protect and Serve” has been the motto for the Los Angeles Police Department’s academy since 1955 and has adorned their patrol cars since 1963. Today, the slogan – mistaken by much of the public for a promise – can be seen on cruisers across the country, but is it an accurate job description for those who bear it? Not quite. The number one argument for more police officers or more authority for the ones we have is that someone has to protect us from criminals. But that isn’t their job, and it’s best we establish that right out of the gate. The police are not required to investigate every crime. Law enforcement officers aren’t responsible for protecting us; we are.
In 1975, a woman in Washington, D.C. was raped by a home invader. When two other women in her rooming house heard the noise, they called the police. Believing the cops were in the house, the two who made the report called out, alerting the rapist to their presence. The rapist held the three women captive, raping and beating them for another 14 hours. In a 4-3 decision in 1981, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court dismissal of this and another police negligence complaint against the District and individual officers of the Metropolitan Police Department. In Warren v. District of Columbia, the court ruled that “the duty to provide public services is owed to the public at large, and, absent a special relationship between the police and an individual, no specific legal duty exists.”
So what constitutes such a relationship? Evidently, not a restraining order. In the 2005 Castle Rock v. Gonzales case, the United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a town and its police could not be sued for failing to enforce a restraining order, even if that results in the murder of three children. Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales was granted a restraining order against her husband, Simon, during their divorce in June of 1999. Simon was not to get within 100 yards of Jessica or her four children, three of whom were also his. Simon took their three daughters later that month, and Jessica went to the police, who took no action. Simon was later killed in a shootout with the police at the Castle Rock police station – the three girls were found dead in his car. The Supreme Court decided that enforcement of the order was not mandatory under Colorado law.
In the spring of 2012, New Yorker Joseph Lozito was stabbed while riding the rails. His attacker was Maksim Gelman, a man who had already killed five and wounded four others before he got on the train. Gelman’s spree was ended when he attacked Lozito, who fought back and, despite nearly dying for his efforts, managed to take his attacker to the ground. Only then did the two NYPD officers who had been hiding in the next compartment – waiting specifically for Gelman in case he took that train – step out from concealment and take over. On July 25, 2013, Judge Margaret Chan dismissed Lozito’s suit, saying that while his account of the attack rang true and appeared highly credible, the police had no special duty to protect him.
Too Much Power and Too Many Laws
We’ve established that each individual, rather than the police, is responsible for his or her protection. Now let’s look at what the police can do. Law enforcement officers can put their own lives in danger to save a person – and many do – but far more often, cops enforce laws that infringe on individual liberty. Officers are empowered and expected to hold sobriety checkpoints from time to time. They are expected to pull you over for not wearing a seatbelt, and departments across the nation hold annual Click It or Ticket drives. There’s a particular irony in a motorcycle officer writing a seatbelt ticket.
Police can ask questions of people and are not required to tell the truth when trying to get information out of folks – even though it’s a crime to lie to them. Officers in many jurisdictions are authorized to carry out some level of search on an individual on the streets, just to make sure folks aren’t walking around up to no good. Consider the notorious stop and frisk policy of the NYPD. In 2019, 13,495 stops were recorded. Of those, 8,867 (66%) were “innocent.” What of the other 4,628? They were guilty of possessing something they shouldn’t have – often, that was a firearm. Yes, you read that right. In New York, just carrying a gun with no proof of nefarious intent is often cause for arrest.
Should it be a crime to be armed and able to defend oneself and others, at any time or place? What about drugs or drug paraphernalia? What business is it of the state what substances an adult puts into his or her own body?
Over the years, a leviathan of legislation has grown in this nation. It has come to the point where nearly everyone, in the course of any given day, breaks some law or other without even realizing it. And like any other unruly beast, this leviathan is hungry. Enforcing those laws takes a lot of people a lot of time. That means money. Massive police forces with all the new tech and toys require a lot of dough. Police departments across the nation deny that they have ticket quotas or that their officers are used primarily as a way to generate revenue for the government. If you believe that, you may also be interested in some beachfront property in Nebraska.
Then there are the new extreme risk protection orders, often called red flag laws, which effectively render police officers enforcers of progressive political will. As Liberty Nation’s Jeff Charles explained: “In their bid to further restrict gun ownership, the progressive party is pushing full steam ahead to pass laws that would empower law enforcement to confiscate weapons from people without due process.” When executing an extreme risk protection order, officers would forcibly disarm an otherwise lawfully armed citizen who has not been convicted of – or even charged with – any crime. No-knock raids have resulted in the deaths of homeowners and police officers when cops burst in like home invaders without announcing themselves first – sometimes even at the wrong address.
During the Coronavirus lockdown, the police in many areas were tasked with shutting down businesses and churches that refused to close or didn’t conform quite perfectly to the social distancing guidelines – even though said officers often didn’t wear masks or social distance themselves.
With every crisis, new laws are passed, and law enforcement officers across the country are asked and empowered to enforce them – and the list is far from exhaustive.
Time for a Cutback
It may seem counterproductive when many of the nation’s cities are ablaze, and rioters are looting stores and smashing windows, but what this country has needed for many years is protection from the police. Unfortunately, this is the case whether it’s a few bad apples like the cops who apprehended and killed Floyd, or a bunch of otherwise honorable guys just doing their jobs. Invading people’s privacy, and putting lives at risk by initiating confrontations between armed people – with no evidence of a crime – has become too familiar.
But having too many cops is only part of the problem. We need to take the scissors to the law books, clipping out anything that doesn’t directly protect life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. This would have two beneficial and synergistic effects: it would legalize activities that are only crimes if you don’t first pay the state for the privilege of legally engaging in them. Additionally, it removes the restrictions that prevent people from defending themselves. That was the original purpose of the government, as you may recall. Let’s have fewer officers on the streets, sure, but let’s remove the need for cop armies, too.
Read more from James Fite.