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Police Powers Where Are We Headed

I have seen a couple of news stories this past week which bear on issues I have brought to your attention in these blogs. These have to do with the arrest, which is the legal Constitutional concept of seizure as defined by the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The troubling part of the stories I saw were the arrestees were both small children. Six years old in one case, a child having a bad day and acting out, kicked a school staff member after being grabbed by that member. Inappropriate conduct to be sure and requiring correction and discipline. But to call the police and have a six-year-old arrested and booked, complete with mugshot photograph and fingerprinting is unconscionable.

My daily life is full of law enforcement contact. Sometimes it is regular police officers that you would likely encounter on your daily routines. More often, my encounters are with the alphabets, i.e., FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives), USSS (Secret Service), ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or HSI (Homeland Security Investigations). While I see discussion-worthy issues across that spectrum, today I want to focus on the local police department and its officers.

When I was a young lawyer there was a distinct line between the local police and the military. I served a military career before becoming a lawyer and understood that role and its limitations. Over the last almost 20 years there has been an evolutionary shift in the police self-perception which has taken on a decidedly militaristic tone. Some people are fond of trotting out the “new normal” mantra. There is no new normal, there is abnormal trying to find a place in our society. Unfortunately, many are far too willing to grant acceptance to this misbelief. The Constitution today says exactly the same thing today as it said in 1791 when the 4th Amendment became part of that document.

Arresting a six-year-old suggests a lessening of both legal and common sense. But it is indicative of the above-referenced abnormal which places a facade of security in the place of rights. This “security” mentality drives the local police to acquire such military equipment as battlefield helicopters and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) tactical vehicles. The military is precluded by federal law from engaging in civilian law enforcement, outside of the declaration of martial law, so the local police department is being militarily equipped.

It seems that there is a militarization that defeats the purpose of law enforcement, which is to serve the public interest. They are law enforcement officers, not soldiers. I have had younger law enforcement officers openly tell me of their disdain for the legal system which they are employed to serve. They seem eager for the battlefield and approach law enforcement as an extension of combat.

Dehumanizing nominations of citizens encountered or arrested, such as skells, perps scum or worse devalue the individual and make arresting six-year-olds seem reasonable. While the officer involved in this six-year old’s arrest was terminated, it speaks to a larger problem which a simple firing does not address. How does someone get to the point that this arrest would seem to be permissible? Once citizens awaken to the fact that they are not on the same team as law enforcement they will then realize their need to take better stock of what is happening.

Our rights are constantly in jeopardy, it is a truism that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. But this vigilance cannot be limited to looking for offshore threats. Be civically active. Participate in your local community to ensure it is being operated legally and ethically and humanely.

These are your rights — use them or Lose them.