Thursday, December 04, 2014

How The Government Can Get It Wrong Even When It Is Right

In the wake of the Ferguson decision to not indict a police officer for killing an unarmed black man who apparently was attacking the officer there has been a call for more police body cameras. The incident in Ferguson took a very long time to resolve in part because the grand jury had to sift through the varied and often conflicting witness testimony, including testimony that was clearly made up and outright false statements to the police. Some of these false witnesses, who should face prosecution, made statements that helped inflame the violent unrest in Ferguson, Missourri. Certainly there would still have been outrage had the officer in question been wearing a body camera but perhaps we wouldn't get the ridiculous "hands up, don't shoot" stuff or the level of lawlessness and violence. 

The President has subsequently called for $75 million to help buy 50,000 cameras for local cops. That seems like a good idea, right? Well no, not really.

I am actually in favor of body cameras for police for a lot of reasons. It helps in incidents where there is a question of the extent of force used by police. It keeps an eye on the people we pay and that we arm, perhaps giving them pause before acting in the heat of the moment, and that is always a good idea. It can serve as credible evidence at trial. It can also help to establish the innocence of those wrongly arrested. All of that aside what I don't like about this is that it is the Federal government getting involved.

Policing is supposed to be almost exclusively a local issue. Local cops who live in their community, hired locally by local leaders. The more we have Federalized policing, the worse it has become. The arming of local cops with military weapons is the result of a Federal program. The raids on peaceful farmers for selling raw milk are Federal. The zillions of Federal drug laws designed to let national politicians look "tough on crime" are an overreach and encroachment on local autonomy. When the Feds come in and decide to spend money we don't have as a gesture when that spending should be decided and allocated at the local level, it simply reinforces the top down Federal dominance that is completely at odds with the intent of the Constitution.

This is the same mindset that we will see in Federal "civil rights" investigations that will surely follow the failure to indict in Ferguson and in the Eric Garner case in New York. Very different cases by the way. The message is that Uncle Sam will pat local governments on the head and let them pretend to have a say in law enforcement but as soon as the Feds don't agree with a decision they can step in and reverse course, functionally creating a double jeopardy situation where citizens apparently can be tried for the same crime as many times as needed until a politically palatable decision is reached.

Sure it is "only" $75,000,000. That is a pittance and less than $.50 per person in America. Sure it is probably a good idea for more cops to wear body cameras. What makes it a bad idea is that it reinforces the notion that every decision has to come from Washington D.C. and that we are no longer governed by our consent but by decree from D.C. Maybe if the Feds stopped sucking up a huge percentage of GDP and the lion's share of tax revenue local police departments could make procurement decisions for themselves. 

So President Obama, thanks but no thanks. I appreciate your attempts to pander to the crowd by appearing to "do something" but if you really want to do something how about staying out of local law enforcement, stop offering to buy them goodies and stop giving local cops tanks and machine guns. Thanks in advance. 

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