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A Practical Solution: Run Police Departments Like Fire Departments

By Tom Mullen | Huffington Post | July 27, 2015

Do you lie awake at night in constant fear a fire will break out and nothing will be done to put it out?

For the 99% of the population not suffering from pyrophobia or a similar neurosis, the answer to that question is “no,” even though firefighters aren’t patrolling the streets in their big red trucks. They still manage to arrive at the scene of a fire within minutes of an emergency call.

Why can’t police departments be run the same way?

If they were, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and Sandra Bland would be alive today. All three encountered police doing what would be considered outlandish for any other institution charged with public safety: roaming the streets, looking for trouble.

No one had called 911 asking for protection from Scott, Gray or Bland. No judges had issued warrants for their arrests. All three were, at least at the time of their arrests, just walking or driving down the street, minding their own business. They were detained in what are generally considered “routine” but are in reality wholly unnecessary encounters with police.

There has been a lot of digital ink and warm air expended on whether these victims of tragedy were treated differently because of their race. There are compelling arguments on both sides of that question, but no practical solutions offered by anyone. At the end of these discussions there is invariably some vague reference to “more training” or bland platitudes. Everyone knows nothing will change.

I’m going to suggest a solution that will sound radical, even in a country that styles itself “the land of free.” Let’s get cops off the streets, unless responding to a 911 call or serving a warrant issued by a judge. Everyone would be freer and safer, including the police officers themselves.

This is by no means an anti-cop argument. The problem isn’t how they do their jobs; it’s the job we ask them to do. A free society shouldn’t be asking armed agents of the state to patrol the streets, keeping its citizens under 24/7 surveillance.

I haven’t seen any surveys, but I have a feeling that if you asked cops at random why they joined the force, very few would say it was to protect the public from broken tail lights or untaxed cigarettes. The men and women we want on this job join to protect the public from real crimes, like murder, assault, rape and robbery.

Here’s the catch: you can’t have a free society where this “protection” occurs in advance. The federal and every state constitution assumes the government can’t and shouldn’t do anything to prevent a crime. The Fourth and Fifth amendments were written to keep the government from even trying. They assume the government is powerless until a crime has already occurred, the Fourth in particular providing further restraint on how the government investigates after the fact.

Defending oneself while a crime is occurring is left to the citizen. It’s not a responsibility of the police. Even the Supreme Court agrees. Protecting oneself is what the Second Amendment is all about.

The job we ask police to do today annihilates the principle of the Fourth Amendment. Regardless of statutes and Supreme Court rulings, police surveilling all of society all of the time is as unreasonable a search as there ever was. Only decades of becoming accustomed to the idea allows us to see it any other way.

It hasn’t always been this way. The modern police department as we know it is a product of the 20th century. Prior to that, peace officers were generally dispatched in response to a complaint by the victim of a real crime, usually with a warrant. Contrary to legend, this did not lead to chaos, even in the inappropriately named “Wild West.”

We don’t need police officers out patrolling the streets. Fire Departments have proven we can achieve emergency response in minutes without that. There is no reason police departments can’t operate the same way.

Would life under these circumstances be significantly less safe? No. The laws that might go unenforced are largely those that shouldn’t exist anyway. Yes, more people might “get away with” driving 66 mph in a 55, but people would be free to call the police if a reckless driver were truly threatening public safety. The same goes for thousands of other victimless “crimes” currently enforced by police.

Black lives matter. All lives matter. Freedom matters, too. It’s the founding principle of our nation. We need to get back to organizing society around it. Redefining the role of the police would be a great place to start. Let’s restrict their interactions with the public to serving warrants and answering emergency calls. We’d all be freer and safer and cops could do the job they joined the force to do.

Follow Tom Mullen on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ThomasMullen

June 25, 2017 - Posted by | Civil Liberties | ,

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