Police Versus People

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Lost among the cacophony of protests and commentary on police conduct is an inherent conflict between the police and the people, caused by crimes without victims. If a crime has no victim, law enforcement makes the violator the victim of police action.

Drug prohibitions especially create conflict between the police and the people. When there is a victim of crime such as theft, the victim calls the police. But where there is no victim, the police have to search for criminals. They rely on informers. The police also run sting operations and use decoys to lure people into crimes. The police have to invade privacy in order to find drugs. They listen to telephone conversations, search cars, and eavesdrop in email messages. There is no point in protesting these tactics. Such action is needed to enforce victimless crimes.

People who do not commit these crimes are affected by the invasive police action, as the police have an incentive to be aggressive, and they make mistakes. They target innocent people and property. The greater problem is the generally hostile relationship the police create.

The government’s tax and regulatory policies impose obstacles to enterprise and employment. Unemployed youth who seek quick money turn to the drug trade. Just as poor areas have a lot of liquor stores, they have a high use of other drugs. The police presence is then seen not as protecting lives and property, but attacking the people of the neighborhood.

Resistance to the police then make the police more aggressive, and some officers become quite antagonistic and engage in rough treatment. Some police have little respect for the dwellers. It’s a negative feedback loop. Some officers do seek to provide beneficial service, but the law requires them to intrude into voluntary but illegal action.

As drug prohibitions drive the trade underground, the tax-free profits stimulate gangs and organized crime, just as alcohol prohibition did. The gangs and cartels become a second government, exerting control over turf. Young men often have little choice but to join a gang for protection. The gangs then induce more police action.

There is much talk of reforming police action, such as using cameras, and prosecuting the excessive use of force. There is talk of changing racial attitudes. But there is little talk of the effect of victimless crime laws.

There is much talk of reforming police action, such as using cameras, and prosecuting the excessive use of force. There is talk of changing racial attitudes. But there is little talk of the effect of victimless crime laws.

Where drug laws have been reformed, society has not run amok. Portugal decriminalized drugs in 2001, and the result has been little change in drug usage, but a big reduction in drug-related illness and deaths. After Colorado decriminalized marijuana, Denver experienced a decrease in violent crime rates.

Of course other reforms are needed to heal the relationship between the people and the police. Education needs to be improved, and low-income areas need economic opportunity. The elimination of victimless-crime laws is not sufficient, but it is necessary.

The police themselves have been a lobby in favour of the war on drug possession, and industries such as alcohol and tobacco would have more competition. Superficial thinking make people believe that the answer to a bad product is to ban it. Drugs do inflict bodily damage, but there are many legal drugs as well as alcohol that cause damage.

Guest Editorial