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ken_bw.jpg     Ethicalego Speaks

Ethicalego (Kenneth Brooks) discusses current events from a critical thinking perspective rarely expressed elsewhere

Community policing is more of a threat to civil liberties than a cure for crime


By Kenneth Brooks

April 13 , 2009


We transfer limited authority to government over our personal freedoms so it can serve us. However, we must protect our civil liberties from governments’ tendency to abuse them. They constantly seek more authority to operate with minimum opposition from the public. Criminal justice agencies rely on an authoritarian approach to problem solving that threatens civil liberties. Therefore, community-policing policy that projects police authority into noncriminal problem solving areas threatens our civil liberties.


A general description for community policing is community problem-solving projects organized by the police department. More accurately, it describes the criminal justice system’s mission to project police authority into all phases of community life. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 created the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in the US Department of Justice. This Act assigned and financed COPS’ mission to transform the role of law enforcement throughout the nation from using a reactive to a proactive approach against crime. Reactive law enforcement strategy addresses crime after it happens. Proactive law enforcement policy sets goals to control and change noncriminal personal conduct and social conditions that may contribute to or evolve into criminal behavior.


Initially, community policing appears unthreatening and seemingly produces positive results not achievable otherwise. Those are delusions. Any crime fighting strategy that extends police authority over noncriminal behavior threatens civil liberties. Other city departments, commissions or elected officials already have responsibility for most problem areas proposed for community policing solutions. In addition, nothing in police training makes them experts in social planning. Even so, the COPS Office encourages local police departments to project their influence into areas like code violations, school bullying, school safety, and nuisance businesses. The public should resist this effort and pressure government employees and elected officials to take charge of problems in their area of responsibility.

The COPS office invites local police departments to apply for a funding available from $16 in the COPS Secure Our Schools (SOS) 2009 grant program. The federal government grants this money to pay half of schools’ expenses for security related items like metal detectors, locks, lighting, and coordinated security training with the police department for its personnel and students. Notice how COPS funnels this money to schools through the police department and not directly to school officials responsible for school safety. The people who control the money have power over those who need it.


The Top-the-Cop program is another police program that projects police authority and influence while supposedly addressing a noncriminal problem. Off-duty police officers supposedly teach teenagers responsible driving standards by drag racing with them. Those off-duty police officers participate in this off-duty event wearing their full uniform including badge and gun. They race down the track in their official police cruisers with emergency lights flashing. They had a choice of how to interact with teenagers and teach safe driving. That they chose a method that centered on their police authority shows how much the projection of authority and dominance influences their problem-solving methods even in noncriminal dealings with the public.


Police departments use roadside sobriety checks to find intoxicated drivers. This inefficient tool finds only one percent of drivers intoxicated according to court evidence. In addition, it violates sober drivers’ Fourth Amendment constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. Supreme Court justices acknowledged both problems with sobriety checks, but the majority ruled them constitutional based on a government need. This chilling court decision shows how much community policing threatens all civil liberties. From this decision, police departments can argue they have a need to violate any civil liberty to complete their community-policing duty to fight crime proactively by changing personal conduct that is not yet criminal.


Shifting to district elections offers the public a better alternative for community problem solving than community policing does. Residents with district elected council members have someone responsible to them for correcting quality of life issues in their area. This councilperson can do more to solve community problems with less threat to civil liberties than police officers can in community policing programs. This method provides voters’ the power to force government to use the authority and powers already granted it and not increase the threat to civil liberties by shifting more authority to it under community policing methods.


Dissenters could counter that what I propose will not work with community members who already have those options, but lack the interest to enforce them. Probably they are right, given the circumstances. However, community policing unsupervised by this same uninterested public creates a bigger potential hazard of a police state.