Tuesday, February 19, 2013

To protect and to serve... rare, medium or well done?

To protect and to serve... rare, medium or well done?
If you grew up watching "Dragnet" & "Adam-12", or even today's "Southland", the motto you probably associate with the police department, is "To protect and to serve" That's not every police dept's motto, but it turns up, in one form or another, in the motto's of most law enforcement agencies, and many other govt agencies, across the land. But what does it mean? Or more to the point, what doesn't it mean?

The reason I ask is because officials of the law, both law makers and law enforcers, from across the country, are interpreting how "to protect and to serve" their communities in some strikingly different ways.

Sheriff John Cottle. of Lincoln County MO, believes that protecting and serving the people of his jurisdiction, means that his motto and his oath require that he uphold the constitution and the rights secured under its amendments, without excluding the 2nd amendment, no matter who might wish to infringe upon them - and he is by no means alone amongst Sheriffs in his views. As he explained,
"...As your Sheriff, I want you to know that it is my sworn duty, responsibility and privilege to protect your individual rights and liberties afforded and guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of Missouri. Neither my deputies, nor I will stand by and allow federal encroachment upon rights and liberties, which are afforded and guaranteed to every citizen by our constitutions...."
For some reason, that is seen as controversial. Can anyone tell me why?

The Police Chief of Emeryville CA, Ken James, who is also the chairman of the Police Chief Association’s Firearms Committee, is by no means alone amongst police chiefs in seeing a very different role for themselves, and for rights and firearms themselves, in protecting and serving their community:
"One issue that always boggles my mind is that the idea that a gun is a defensive weapon,” he said. “That is a myth. A gun is not a defensive weapon.” “A gun is an offensive weapon used to intimidate and show power,” James added. “Police officers don’t carry a gun as a defensive weapon to defend themselves or their other officers. They carry a gun to be able to do their job in a safe and effective manner and face any oppositions we may come upon.”
For some reason, that is seen as mostly uncontroversial, drawing nary a mention in the popular press. Can anyone tell me why?

I ask because this chief believes that his officer's job requires them to carry a gun, not for defense, but as an offensive weapon of power and intimidation, and so it seems sensible to ask just what it is that he sees the police are to be protecting, and what it is that they see themselves as serving.

Does protecting and serving the people justify saving the people from themselves? In whose judgment will such measures be determined as being reasonable? It's worth asking that question in light of the proposals which Chief James has endorsed as being 'reasonable':
  • Requiring all handgun owners to obtain an annual safety certificate akin to that required for obtaining a concealed weapons permit, which requires holders to take hours-long courses in gun use and safety.
  • Barring the loaning or sale of a firearm between people who know each other personally.
  • Requiring gun owners to purchase insurance to cover the cost of any damage that could result from use of a firearm.
  • A 5-cent tax on each bullet purchased, with the money to be spent on either policing in high-crime areas or mental-illness screening and treatment for children.
  • Requirements for ammunition sellers to be registered and sales reported to state officials.
Is it reasonable to trust those with the weapons of power and intimidation, with the power to say what is reasonable for you to have and do - or not? What will determine which measures are reasonable? Whatever those in government say is reasonable?

Who chooses what to protect and what to serve?
Who has the right to make these choices about who can defend themselves, and with what? Who has the right to say yes, and who has the right to say no? It seems pretty clear, that Chief James and those of like mind, believe that they - the ones with the guns - have the right to make those decisions for you.

Sheriff Cottle, the controversial one, believes that the United States Constitution preserves your right to make that choice for yourself.


How do such different points of view arise within the same profession of upholding the law? Without taking my usual ten or twenty page digression on what lays behind our ideas of law and justice, lets take a look ahead at what those, such as the Emeryville's Police Dept. website says, is their purpose for enforcing it:
"The vision of the Emeryville Police Department is to be an organization of professionals respected by our law enforcement peers and fully responsive to the public safety needs of our community. We are dedicated to making the City of Emeryville a safe environment in which to live and work."
So in Chief James own words, those who carry firearms in order to intimidate and show power (his words, not mine),  seeks the respect of their fellow wielders of power and intimidation (his belief, not mine), in order to keep the environment safe to live and work in... what couldn't go wrong? If you are depending upon their being calm and rational, while they see the purpose of their job differently than you do, you'd better be thinking about what they might try to rationalize, and why. Chief James, speaking of the above proposals,
"...called the proposals "reasonable" and said they would benefit police officers.

When officers encounter guns, he said, "that is a high-stress, high-intensity situation for us. It takes it out of us. It scares us."
The safety of the police officer should be a high priority, but it is not the purpose of their job.

No one doubts that being a police officer is a dangerous job, but it is the nature of the job, and if you wish to change the purpose of the job to make it safer to perform it... maybe it's time for a new job.

The safety of the public should be a high priority for the police as well, but is their safety the only thing, or even the highest thing, they are employed to protect and to serve?

Isn't the the liberty of the law abiding members of society the fundamental reason for the laws which our public servants are sworn to uphold and protect? Isn't it perilous to the actual liberty of all, to sacrifice its safeguards for new laws which lawbreakers, by their nature, will disregard? How can you serve liberty or safety by injuring liberty, and restricting the ability of its law abiding members to keep themselves safe?

If any of the individual rights which the 2nd amendment defends, are seen as being obstacles to operating efficiently and safely, what else will be seen as such? What limits are there to the quest for efficiency and safety, if efficiency and safety are made our highest priorities and goals? And when you've done away with the source of limits upon the powers of those in power, what will protect you from what they see as being  more 'reasonable' measures for keeping themselves safe from you?

Does it need to be mentioned that a prison is also intended to be a safe environment to work and to live in?

I'm not trying to be funny here, I'm only trying to point out that if safety is the sole purpose of the laws, what is there that you can count on to keep your environment different from a prison? If safety is the only criterion... why would you stop short of complete safety? What would limit you from furnishing each person with a nice, safe cell, job, diet and other safe essentials, along with wardens & guards to ensure every one's safety?

Liberty requires limitations
It does not seem unreasonable to say that there is, at the very least, a possibility that those who seek to be the sole possessors of all "offensive weapon used to intimidate and show power", already see their purpose, and yours, in these terms. If you disagree with me that that should be a concern... why? What limitations can you point to there being on what govt can do to keep you safe, once you've converted any of our constitutions first amendments from having the force of law, into being mere nice to haves?

Unless you have clear limits against the well intentioned use of power, what makes you think that the use of power won't naturally transform into an abuse of power? If you recognize no limitations upon power... by what standard would you distinguish the use of power, from an abuse of power?

For instance, these Missouri lawmakers are busily calling for laws such as these:
Any person who, prior to the effective date of this law, was legally in possession of an assault weapon or large capacity magazine shall have ninety days from such effective date to do any of the following without being subject to prosecution:
(1) Remove the assault weapon or large capacity magazine from the state of Missouri;
(2) Render the assault weapon permanently inoperable; or 
(3) Surrender the assault weapon or large capacity magazine to the appropriate law enforcement agency for destruction, subject to specific agency regulations. 
5. Unlawful manufacture, import, possession, purchase, sale, or transfer of an assault weapon or a large capacity magazine is a class C felony.
If state or federal laws or executive orders such as these are passed, making guns illegal and gun owners into felons, is it likely that Chief James', or those like him, would let their respect for the 2nd Amendment keep them from collecting them from you?

I'm thinking... nope.

Would there be anything to restrain them from infringing upon any of your other rights? For your own good? If some lawmaker felt that your speaking out against them made for a hostile environment, even an unsafe one, can you point to anything that would limit their response and preserve your right to speak out against them? Without a clear respect for those limits the Bill of Rights lays upon the govt, telling it 'This far and no farther', is there anything that police chiefs like James, or lawmakers like those in Missouri, who don't accept the Constitution as a limitation upon their power, is there anything left to limit them from using their power to limit any or all of your individual rights and actions... for your own good?

Nope, I'm not seeing it. You?

They would no doubt answer that they only proposed 'reasonable laws', but to be reasonable, requires recognizing limits. Reason requires a respect for reality, it requires a respect for the truth, and reasonably exercising power in your relations with other men requires that you respect the nature of being human, respecting that there are certain inalienable rights which laws are instituted to uphold and protect. If the laws you seek the power to uphold, do not recognize the lines they must not cross in the exercising of that power, then they cease to be Law, and become instead simply rules arbitrarily decreed by those in power.

And those in power will require weapons of power and intimidation to enforce them. For your own good... no doubt.

Without recognizing that there are limitations upon what can be considered reasonable, the plans which will follow from them cannot possibly be reasonable.

The small distinction that makes all the difference
Chief James describes his police dept's motto:
"It is through the dedication and caring by our people to the community we serve that has led us to adopt the motto "Our Strength is Our People." We are proud that in a core urban environment we are working with our community to make Emeryville a safe place to live, work, and play. Ken James Chief of Police"
To protect and to serve... medium rare, or well done if necessary... in order to keep you safe. And secure. As they see it.

The Lincoln County Sheriff's page also expresses a concern with preserving the peace and making their environment a less fearful and safe one in which to work... but with one small distinction. It says:
"Our mission is clear. We will strive to enhance the quality of life in Lincoln County through partnerships with the community and in acordance with constitutional rights to enforce laws, preserve the peace, reduce fear, and provide for a safe environment."
And in that seemingly small distinction "...in accordance with constitutional rights to enforce laws..." there lies the difference which I hope we do not live to see become more clear through its absence.

Without there being limitations upon the actions of those in power... there will be nothing to limit the will of law makers, and those who enforce their laws, from keeping you and me just as safe as they would like us to be.

If you disagree... maybe we can meet in New York sometime, over a couple of Big Gulps.
Cross posted at The Bell News


Unknown said...

Oh I disagree, but there is no way I am going to the east coast. EVER!

Van Harvey said...

Lance, I agree with you about the East Coast, but it would be nice to know what it is you disagree with me about in this post,