Back in March I wrote about the importance of taking care of the little things, and allowing the big things to take care of themselves. I was talking about law enforcement, and the emerging scandal now widely known as Operation Fast and Furious, or, less commonly but more accurately, The US Government Assistance Program to Mexican Drug Cartels.
My point was that law enforcement does its job - keeping people and their property safe – best by doing the small, unglamorous tasks like ensuring people stop at stop signs and drive at speeds that do not endanger their neighbors. Doing these thankless little things makes their jurisdictions less comfortable for criminals, who seek greener pastures elsewhere. It also makes those areas better places to live for law-abiding citizens.
As I mentioned in that post though, the trend in law enforcement seems to be away from those mundane tasks, and toward more exciting missions to nab higher-profile criminals – to worry less about the small, simple stuff, and to focus more on complex operations that require special tactics and training. Door-breaking is spectacular, you know, while walking a beat is not.
I suspect that a large part of this is due, not to shortcomings on the part of police, but to political pressure from politicians. It's easy for politicians to hassle cops, and they generally get a free ride for doing it. When some city councilman accuses the PD of being too hard on vagrants, for example, he comes out smelling like a rose because he's standing up for the little guy. Nobody cares much what happens to the cop, and people care even less for the person whose porch or garage the homeless person was camping in. It's a small price for that property owner to pay, after all, as long as it’s not you or me - even if that vagrant was using said private property as a combination urinal, opium den, and brothel.
Now, however, we are beginning to see the longer-term effects of this trend. The Occupy Whatever crowd has exploited the law and order gap. Cities in which politicians have made it difficult for cops to enforce vagrancy and loitering laws that they themselves voted into effect, are seeing some very ugly chickens coming home to roost in their parks and on their street corners. What used to be a handful of homeless people here and there has now, with the help of some radical organizers, devolved into the howling mobs that shut down the Port of Oakland, block traffic in DC, and fling blood and feces at businesspeople who refuse to give them free food.
At some point, the people who work and pay taxes will make it known to the politicians that this is not satisfactory, and those politicians will turn to the very police whose jobs they made so difficult, and insist that they reestablish order.
The response will play right into the hands of the radicals, who will drive the situation to violence. Shields and helmets, teargas, and truncheons will be the order of the day, and the leftists will be sure to make the most of it. Every instance of physical force, no matter the necessity, and no matter the prelude, will be presented to the public as an example of police brutality. The images will be shown over and over by mainstream media, grateful for any evidence, no matter how artificial, that enforces their agenda.
The pity is that this was all preventable. It started small, and that’s when it should have been addressed. Those little laws directed at minor infractions like vagrancy, loitering, and blocking public by-ways exist for a very important reason – to protect the safety of individuals and to provide for the security of their property. When police don’t enforce them – either by choice, or because politicians make it impossible to do so, the consequences are disproportionately large.
Unfortunately, the lesson likely to be taken from this mess is that police forces need more specialized training and more paramilitary equipment or, worse yet, more intervention by federal agencies. This is the opposite of what should happen. Law enforcement must, instead, be allowed to return to what it should always be in a republic – small, local, and focused on the little things. Then the big things will take care of themselves.