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Thursday, May 15, 2008


Police Power

A theory of power within society allows one to examine the mundane coercive forces of life with a clear mind free of emotional attachment. It is my hope to expound on such a theory. I start, ironically, with an observation.

I found myself in a parking lot at approximately 11:00 pm. The parking lot was empty except for my friend's car beside my own and a hidden police car. The police car remained hidden until I was saying my goodbyes to my friend. The police stopped me and my friend. After that scripted interrogation the policeman concluded that I was a criminal because I had alcohol within my car and I was not yet the age the state had considered that to be acceptable. The police officer then gave me a tacit ultimatum, he would either act upon my criminality or I would give him permission to search my car. The stakeout and subsequent ultimatum imply a forward thinking tactic designed to entrap a greater (or lesser if you care for irony) criminal. This is by no means a fluke, it is not even the most striking example within my experience. However, this event lead me to ponder the reasons of the criminalization of everyone.

It is unimaginable to find someone who has not violated at least one traffic law. Such edicts create a society where everyone is a criminal. Is this a coincidence? A waste product of a vast bureaucratic bumbling? Or a deliberate process on the part of a minority group within the state? I will answer these questions in the second part of this writing. It is important to understand by conscious action or not, the American system of government has created a system in which every person commits a crime in the process of living. If we have abundance of criminals we will have an abundance of their antitheses, the police.

The police are the sacred cows of American society. Linguistically, the police are raised above the average man with designations like “officer.” More importantly, police forces are also above the same laws that brand most men as criminals. For example, the policeman going above the speed limit is “doing his duty.” In such a manner the police are the only “clean” or “pure” class of citizens. If many crimes are crimes by fiat and not by the aggression upon property, it would also hold true that police are not criminals by fiat. It is a decree that that allows police to function in the super-legal fashion. This unequal application of the law creates a privileged class of individuals.

The privileged legal position is police power. In my example it was the leveraging of this power that allowed the policeman to issue the ultimatum.

The further criminalization of everyday life expands the gulf of power between the police and the common man. The gulf is represented in my example by the ultimatum. An expansion of police powers might mean I could be facing a prison sentence instead of a fine or court date, thereby raising the opportunity cost of resistance. Put simply, if the opportunity cost of resistance increases, the amount of resistance from a society will decrease. As the opportunity cost of resistance increases there is another important shift; the opportunity cost of coercion decreases. The lower amount of resistance will be met with a higher rate of coercion. A coerced transaction is unproductive. Unlike a voluntary transaction, the forceful nature of an involuntary transaction means that one party is losing. However, the other side of this truism is often ignored; one party is benefiting. In my example, it is possible the ultimatum was issued in the hope of finding drugs or cash that could be used personally by the policeman or maybe a satiation of the puerile detective thrill. From the perspective of a legislature the benefits of such transactions is the lower opportunity cost of further coercion.

The criminalization of everyday life creates a privileged caste within society, the police. The extent of this disparity in law is the gauge of police power. The exercise of police coercion lowers the opportunity cost of further coercion in “street” transactions and, on a larger scale, legislative coercion. The decrease in opportunity cost will lead to an increase in aggressive actions of individuals. And an increase in aggressive action is why “____ the police” isn't just an NWA verse.

by Alex Devore

Wow, you got caught by a policeman doing something you shouldn’t have been doing, and you’ve turned it into this anti-cop ramble? Amazing! And yet so typical of a young man in the grip of higher education. It’s a shame really.

Your absolutely correct when you state that it’s unimaginable to find someone who has not violated at least one traffic law. This doesn’t make the individual a criminal at all. Going to court and being convicted by a jury of your peers makes you a criminal. You do remember innocent until proven guilty. As far as your example of police being above the laws and speeding because it’s their duty, you’re again flawed. You’re comparing apples to oranges. This is a RIGHT that has been extended to them because they are in a position which you and I are not. To serve and too protect. Police don’t speed just because they want to get to work, or school, or daycare on time like you or I would. They speed because many situations and lives depend on their speed. Would you want a cop taking his sweet time getting to you when you’ve been mugged, stalked, raped, stabbed, shot, or carjacked? I somehow don’t think you’d find their excessive speed an abuse of power then.

What happened to you in the parking lot had nothing to do with this police officer having too much power, or being on a power trip, or a forward thinking tactic to entrap a criminal. It had everything to do with you being underage and in possession of a controlled substance. Because of this, the officer had probable cause which gave him the right to search your vehicle for other violations. Be thankful you didn’t get booked.

A couple of questions are in order now. What branch of the government do police belong to? If you answered Executive then you’d be correct! What branch of the government grants police their power? If you answered Legislative, you’d be correct! You see, the police only have the power to enforce the laws the legislative branch has passed and the judiciary has deemed constitutional. So the big question is, who gives the legislative branch it’s power? You and I do, by voting in each and every election cycle.

You say the police are the sacred cow of American society. I say they are the glue that binds us! Without them, we would not have a chance at Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness!

In closing, Mr. Devore, perhaps next time you’ll put the booze in the trunk instead of leaving it out in the open, and then blaming police enforcement for your own stupidity.
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