Warehouse A
Law Enforcers
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Why Did We Ever Think We Needed

More Police?

By James Donahue

If there is anything to be gained about the fact that governments are going broke it has to be the looming loss of all those police officers in our midst.

This is not to say that our police officers are not an important part of our society. Everybody probably agrees that the men and women trained to maintain law and order is a key ingredient to maintaining peace and security on the home front. Our concern is that we appear to have too many police officers. There seem to be so many that they are getting into mischief for the sheer lack of having anything important to be doing.

Consequently we read stories about officers turning tazers, their new electronic stinging toys, on citizens that refuse to jump as quickly as the police think they should. And we frequently hear of deaths by heart failure from the shock of being struck by these devices.

There has been video evidence of unwarranted police beatings, sometimes in public places.

Now that local and state governments are struggling to generate enough money to balance their budgets, the police appear to be busy doling out traffic tickets for every possible infraction. And court fines are steep. Thus leery drivers are forced to keep one eye on the road and the other on their rear view mirrors. A friend recently paid a fine of $400 after receiving a citation for driving ten miles per hour over the limit.

We appear to have more police and police cars around than we have streetlights. They are so plentiful that the general public no longer feels protected by them. Instead we are feeling threatened.

There is good reason for us to feel threatened. Many of us watched in horror while armed and armored police officers kick, club and gas their way through crowds of peaceful protesters demonstrating in various government protests occurring around the country.

We occasionally hear of police drug raids that go wrong. The officers use battering rams to smash their way into private homes then enter with guns drawn, only to find out that they bashed their way into the wrong house.

Emily Good, of Rochester, New York, was arrested and jailed because she stood in her yard and used a video camera to film a police traffic arrest occurring in the street. The officers said they felt “threatened” by her camera.

Our jails are so crowded we are constantly building more of them. A recent report said we have 5.9 million people under some form of incarceration, either in prison, in jail or on probation for various "criminal" offenses. That breaks down to one out of every 34 adults. The prison population alone is approaching 2 million people, and they are costing the American taxpayer nearly $40 billion a year to house. Yet annual FBI reports indicate that crime in this country is on the decline.

On any "average" evening, it is common to drive along one of the major US highways like the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I-40 or I-75 and see flashing red lights over every hill. There are so many police I suspect they are stopping drivers on whims, sometimes making up reasons, to make drug searches, check for alcoholism, and keep personal records to justify their jobs.

The situation is getting so bad that most drivers instantly expect to be stopped and issued a summons to appear in court for something, God only knows what, the moment a police car appears in their rear view mirror.

Because they are such a nuisance in our daily lives, we have created cultural myths about how to protect ourselves from police harassment while we are traveling. One of the reasons white cars got so popular is that the story was circulating that police don't stop them as often. Flashy red cars and bright yellow sports vehicles are among the most frequently stopped. Also older people driving stripped-down, tan, green or pale blue four-door sedans are less frequently stopped than younger drivers in vans, four-wheel-drive trucks and sporty vehicles covered with chrome.

The time of day that we travel also makes a difference.

About two years ago I was stopped by a city police officer while driving through a well-known speed trap in Payson, Arizona. I had my wife and son with me. We had been visiting our daughter, who was attending school in Phoenix, and we left quite late that night for a four-hour trip back to Show Low, where we lived. It was about 2 a.m. and there wasn't a car on the road. Nevertheless, because I knew the reputation of the police in Payson, I was checking my speed. I made sure I was driving within the limit. In spite of my precautions, a police car began following me. And sure enough, the officer turned on those flashing red, white and blue lights, flipped on those alternating flashing headlights that confuse the mind, turned on his intensive white spot lights that leave you totally blinded, and stopped me.

If you haven't been stopped by the police while driving at night, let me say that it is a frightening experience. The glaring lights that silhouette armed uniformed officers dressed in black and leather when they appear at your window, is carefully designed to make even the most daring soul turn into a submissive mouse.

The officer said he saw my car "weave a little" and suspected that I had been drinking. He found me quite sober. Yet he held me there for some time, obviously using his radio to check my driver's license number and auto registration plate number. I am sure he was hoping that I might be a fugitive who failed to pay a traffic ticket somewhere and that a judge had written a bench warrant for my arrest. Or, better yet, that the car might be stolen. Or that I was carrying improper plates. I live a relatively clean life and he could not find anything out of order. My only crime was that I dared to drive through Payson at two o'clock in the morning. He ended up writing me a speeding ticket. It said I was driving ten miles over the limit.

What does one do about something like that? It was the middle of the night and the municipal judge wouldn't be in his office for hours. If I argued with the officer he probably would have arrested me for resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, or even assaulting a police officer. He had the badge. He had the gun. He owned that stretch of the road. We lived about two long hours of mountain driving away. If I chose to plead innocent and return for a trial, it would have cost me a day of work and lost pay, just to try to beat a $100 speeding ticket. Then it would have been my word against that of the police officer. I was sure the dice would have been loaded in that game. I paid the fine and wrote it off as a bad experience after having encountered a crooked cop.

There was a time, early in my career as a newspaper reporter, when I had nothing but respect for the police. I worked in Michigan, where the Michigan State Police were among the finest, best trained, and brightest officers in the nation. I had many friends not only in the State Police, but among the deputies for the many different Sheriff's Departments and City Police departments whom I worked with over the years.

The police didn't seem to start "going bad" until recently, after the federal government began pumping millions of dollars into local coffers to beef up the nation's police protection and wage the country's fake "war on drugs." Now the police departments all seem to be mixed with thugs and bullies who enjoy using the authority of their badges and guns to make life miserable for the common folk. I don't want to think that all police are bad. I think we just have a few rotten apples who are giving all police departments a black eye.

It does appear, however, that the old police motto: To serve and protect, has been forgotten. Police now exist as enforcers of law.

I think it may be a good thing that local governments are forced to start laying off excess police officers. The ones left on staff might just be busy enough and smart enough to remember why they chose their profession.