OPINION –My friend Bryan is one of the most nonthreatening, law-abiding, intelligent, diplomatic, and down to earth people I’ve ever known. Which is why his experience this past weekend is so troubling to me.
He was held at gunpoint. Ordered from his car and handcuffed. Threatened with lethal violence. And then he was let go with a ticket for a broken taillight. If something like this could happen to my mild-mannered friend, it could happen to any one of us.
Last week my friend was pulled over by a Unified Salt Lake City police officer. During the stop, the officer spotted Bryan’s legally stored 1911 pistol and unleashed his inner chimp. He ordered my friend from his vehicle at gunpoint, handcuffed him, and told him he was lucky that the officer didn’t “blow a hole” in his head.
He questioned my friend about whether his pistol “was registered” despite the fact that no such requirement exists in Utah law. Why would he feel the need to do all this to a peaceful, compliant, and noncombative individual?
Before going any further, I must emphasize that this officer does not represent all police officers everywhere. The officers to whom I’ve related this story all shook their heads in disbelief and disgust. But this hyperaggression toward a person who was peacefully obeying his commands provides a disturbing glimpse into how peace officers are being replaced by law enforcers.
Eric Peters offers a refreshingly direct assessment of the difference between these two terms:
Not a buzz-cut, black sunglasses-wearing steroid-jacked thug itching to exert his limitless authority under color of ‘the law.’ Rather, a person hired for the sole purpose of intervening when a harm is committed. An actual harm or injury to a real person or persons – as opposed to a violation of ‘the law.’ Nothing more – and nothing less.
Keeping the peace involves a lot less coercion than aggressively enforcing innumerable laws. A peace officer wouldn’t needlessly escalate a peaceful traffic stop into a life-threatening situation, but a law enforcer will.
The problem doesn’t originate with the officers themselves, it stems from the way their superiors are using them.
Police are being trained to view the public as potential opponents rather than a citizenry to serve and protect. They are taught that an inflated atmosphere of “officer safety” justifies putting the interests of the state above the rights of the people. Many officers are being ordered to be more “proactive” and to write more citations and make more arrests. Officer discretion is being removed and replaced with bureaucratic mandates.
This means that police are being pressured into finding reasons to cite or arrest rather than simply keeping the peace. Their job performance is evaluated based on how many people they bring into the system. Given the incomprehensible number of laws, statutes, and ordinances on the books, even the most law-abiding citizen can be written up for some offense.
How does that square with keeping the peace?
Police, in many jurisdictions, are becoming indistinguishable from soldiers in the way they are training, the way they’re equipped and the way they operate.
Examples of criminally abusive official behavior, like my friend experienced, also demonstrate an increasing distance between the state and the people.
This should be of particular concern for students of history who can draw from the examples of other societies that saw this rift appear and widen.
Milton Mayer spelled out the danger signs in his book “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945”. Mayer writes:
This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes.
Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow.
But Mayers goes on to note that the unifying shock never arrives and widespread recognition of what has actually been taking place always comes too late.
We need police officers that understand the vital difference between being a peacekeeper and being a militarized code enforcer. There are many who do understand this, but they face increasing pressure from their bureaucratic superiors to be order-takers and heel-clickers.
This doesn’t bode well for them or us.
- ON Kilter: When mitigating goes martial, liberty dies
- Perspectives: Turning the corner on an American police state
- ON Kilter: The litmus test for laws and government
- Perspectives: Keeping peace, keeping tabs, burdening officers
- Washington City police subject to monthly point system; quota?
- Letter to the Editor: ‘Red Dawn’ St. George
- Are we “prepared” for President Obama’s new Executive Order?
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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