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Sunday, August 14, 2011

An Anatomy of Law Enforcement Impotence

The modern law enforcement apparatus is an impressive thing. It's no longer about men with clubs standing on street corners and cracking heads. Law enforcement is a scientific endeavor encompassing everything from high end forensic sciences to sociology and psychology. It's a field of ideas now, and it suffers from the same malfeasance of ideas that every other aspect of Western culture does.

The modern police force does not enforce laws out of some abstract sense of justice, its only goal is the social good. And the social good calls for not enforcing laws, as often as it calls for enforcing them. Law enforcement does not exist for the sake of law, but for social stability, and how to achieve that social stability is still a matter of debate.

Law enforcement guidelines often call for forbearance in situations where enforcement would aggravate the violence. These situations almost invariably involve violence originating from a racial or ethnic group. During race riots, police officers may be told to stand by and observe the situation, because their intervention would only worsen the problem. The Crown Heights Pogrom and the London riots are both examples of this philosophy at work.

If you want to understand why the same police who have no trouble cracking heads at left wing and right wing protests-- will occasionally turn into pussycats when a racial group takes to the streets, this is why. The doctrine they are operating under says that cracking down on racial violence will only lead to a bigger explosion. So will talking about it.

The same guidelines are in place for Islamic terrorism and the latest counter-terrorism strategy out of the White House applies the absurdities of community policing, with its emphasis on partnerships with the community responsible for the violence, to the Jihad. Again there are numerous warnings about the dangers of radicalizing Muslims through overly strong law enforcement.

In the name of social stability laws go unenforced and two systems of justice take hold. One for groups that are notorious for perpetrating violence-- and the other for everyone else. And the violence only increases.

The United States has been going through this wringer for half a century. Calls for tough on crime laws warring with social appeasement strategies. Tough on crime is the official approach after the public made it clear that politicians who took the "Blame Society" line would pay a price at the ballot box. But social appeasement hasn't gone away, it's just less open.

Community Policing

There are two defining roles for modern law enforcement. The social worker and the obsessive tyrant. And the modern law enforcement apparatus usually combines both of these. The two roles emerge out of two approaches.

The first approach is Community Policing with a strong emphasis on empowering community groups to deal with the social issues, and once the social issues are taken care of, crime will go down. Law enforcement works with community leaders, which allows those leaders to delineate the areas where police and federal law enforcement will go, and the types of crimes they will address.

Government money funds social programs run by community leaders, bribing them to tackle those social problems. Law enforcement officials spend a lot of time meeting with community leaders, listening to their concerns and trying to convince them to help the police do their jobs.

This is really what the domestic War on Terror looks like. A giant community policing operation that panders to Islamists. But it predates it, and is used for everything from drug enforcement to violence prevention.

In the event of a riot or a terrorist attack-- law enforcement officials meet with community leaders. The community leaders urge law enforcement to avoid an overreaction that will only make things worse. Law enforcement officials promise to use a light touch as much as possible, but ask for a pledge in return that the leaders will calm tensions and inform them of any planned violence.

If you want to understand why so much of modern law enforcement is incapable of coping with violence originating from specific groups, read the above paragraph again.

Zero Tolerance

The second approach is Zero Tolerance. If you've ever been in an airport, then you already know what that is. If you have a child in public school, you probably do too. If you've ever been stopped by a police officer for some pointless technical thing, only to be given the third degree-- then you have already experienced Zero Tolerance.

Zero Tolerance is in some ways the opposite of Community Policing. It's a philosophy that treats serious crime as emerging out of even the smallest social ills. If you want to clean up the hood, go after the graffiti, the noise violations and the litterbugs. Send out police squads after the jaywalkers and prosecute the squeegee men.

Zero Tolerance does work to some degree. Targeting Quality of Life offenses results in noticeable improvements in bad neighborhoods. But the trade off is living in a totalitarian state. When things are bad enough, the trade off seems acceptable. Then as they improve, enforcement loosens and the underlying problems return. And a new tough on crime politician sweeps into office on a platform of zero tolerance for crime.

But the problem with Zero Tolerance is not just the totalitarian aspects of it, but that it easily turns into a brutally senseless bureaucracy.

The TSA's version of Zero Tolerance aims to prevent terrorism through tight regulations and strict enforcement no matter how miserable the results are. But aside from the ugliness of humiliating the disabled or browbeating commuters, it's also completely misapplied.

Zero Tolerance was supposed to deal with social decay. Airline terrorism is not a social problem and there's no trickle up effect from strip searching the elderly. Similarly school shootings are not a social problem, they are a psychological one. Expelling students who accidentally bring a pocket knife to school will not prevent a school shooting.

But the appeal of Zero Tolerance is its absolutism and bureaucracies love absolute enforcement of regulations. And they actually believe that tightly regulating everything people do with penalties for non-compliance will tear out entire problems by the root. And it just doesn't work that way.

Worse yet Zero Tolerance enforcement blurs the line between minor and serious offenses. It may seem a world away from Community Policing, but it's actually just its steroid abusing older cousin. Both rely on a holistic community model playing sociologist and tinkering with a community, instead of enforcing the law..


Community Policing and Zero Tolerance are often entangled in the way that liberal and conservative policies are. Conservative answers to liberal policies are often just a conservative take on a liberal idea. And a mix of both exists in most modern law enforcement.

A Zero Tolerance commissioner still practices Community Policing. And even Community Policing advocates will react to a crime wave with a temporary Zero Tolerance approach.

The core of the problem is still in the progressive sociological obsession with the community. Crimes do emerge out of certain communities, groups and classes. But does that mean that crime should be fought at a community level?

Community level law enforcement echoes the same fallacy as nation building wars. They treat an existential threat as a social problem. And social problems are notoriously difficult to address and there is no definitive proof that they can be addressed.

The erosion of law enforcement effectiveness is entangled with the defective doctrines it operates under.

Treating crime as a social problem, rather than a law enforcement problem, turns law enforcement into armed sociologists who are there to provide social and economic justice, and some sensitivity. And this approach has dramatically reduced respect for the institution of law.

The riot fits neatly into this model. Protesters expect to be rewarded for their criminality with social funding. So does the terrorist attack and the war. Want your country to be rebuilt at a cost of trillions? Just a start a war with America.

In modern cities, law enforcement has become part of the municipal system of managing the rage of some communities. It's the same thing on a global and a national scale when it comes to the Jihad. And when the goal is no longer to deal with an existential problem or to enforce the law-- but to promote social stability, then law enforcement becomes an arm of the same dysfunctional state.

Warping the mission of law enforcement has made it almost as useless as the rest of the modern state. It is still capable of violence, but no longer for the right reasons, because it is no longer enforcing laws but struggling to solve the social problems of the people trying to kill them and us.


  1. Law enforcement in American has gone nuts. They arrest children for lemonade stands and women for vegetable gardens in their front yards while real criminals are supported and winked at.
    They enforce the strictest letter of the law while trampling on its heart and soul.
    Thngs are ugly today on so many fronts.

  2. It is so much safer and financially rewarding for the police budget to fully man a speed trap and fine law abiding citizens for 2km/h exceeding the speed limit than to run risks fighting dangerous hoodlums or criminals who, even when caught, shall be released again onto the street a day later by the justice system.

  3. In short, treating crime as a social problem stems from a gross misunderstanding of human nature.
    There's no hope of those who treat it in this way ever recovering from their mistakes, because they have an equal, or greater, misunderstanding of their own nature.

  4. Anonymous15/8/11

    Zero tolerance doesn't mean necessarily a totalitarian system. If it's applied in a democratic regime where the laws represent the society values then most of the people behave according the law and are not bothered by the police. Those that break the law are aware of doing something wrong. If they feel part of that sociaty they just trying to take advantage. otherwise they are outsiders, anarchists or what ever kind of people with different values or no values at all.
    In such a place the general population will not feel oppressed by a tyrannic regime.
    I remember a long time ago I meet a swiss friend in Amsterdam. We were young and made a lot of crazy things. Then we went to Switzerland and when I behaved the same way she told me "NOOO.... YOU CANNOT DO THIS IN SWITZERLAND!!" ... and she was a wild young rebel those days!!!. Of course she didn't feel as living in a tyrany and didnt feel anything wrong when a policemen did his job. For example when we cross the border the guards there caused a lot of troubles for me to enter the country as a foreigner. Non of us, me, her or the guards, felt that was cruel, not humane etc.
    I wonder if Switzerland had change since then, but anyway that's how it was on those days.'


  5. I don't know if you read the last statement by this man who killed himself recently because he got "trapped" into the system of law enforcement, but he said some interesting things about law enforcement.

    something like they go by a second set of books. book 1 is like you said the actual law. and book 2 -the "second set of books" was more about upkeeping policies not law.

    After reading such an organized dessertation, I actually felt sad that he died. second set of books

  6. A policeman from one of the US cities was on Fox this morning. He was asked about "why" this violence was happening. His answer was priceless. He said "it's not my job to find out 'why', it's my job to enforce the law."

    Right Truth

  7. Earlier this month we witnessed the biggest fraud in law enforcement--National Night Out, which has become nothing more than a meet and greet with cops on a cake beat or politicians claiming to be "tough" on crime while campaigning. Water balloon and bounce houses. That'll really fight crime.

    (I could really go on a rant about National Night Out.)

    Never ceases to amaze me. Politicians say they're tough on crime and vow to fight it. Yet on the other hand speaak to the media and say idiotic things such as "there's some car poppings in the district."

    Then there's a need to crack down on people walking in the street. I should plan on getting a lot of those! They need to appear tough on crime but not so much that it looks like they're not doing their jobs.

    Then there's the ever popular road checks looking for everything from drunk drivers and speeders and people not wearing seatbelts.

    Increase the number of tags, impressive thing to show cops are fighting crime. No police agency will ever admit to profiling but they do. Me and my sister were going to my brother's house and ran into a large Trooper checkpoint. We got waved right through--white, non-sports car, valid inspection sticker.

    OT on National Night Out. I never did understand the whole "take back the night" concepti and sitting outside with the porch light on.

    This runs contrary to what I was taught as a child--come in when the porch lights go on! Sadly, most TV stations have abandoned the "It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where your children are?"

    OT2--There are still some head cracking genuinely tough cops at least in my district. One word--Obed.

  8. I liked the fact that you are attempting to address both the issue of community policing fixation and zero tolerance madness. With respect I think you misunderstand the real culprits behind these policies.

    Zero Tolerance is a response to excessive responsibility for bad happenings. It is an avoidance of criticism and calumny that will follow when human judgements inevitably fail. Until the public understands and accepts that police aren't clairvoyant zero tolerance will be used.

    Community policing is a result of the bad bargain that police made after the 60's. In short the police decided to trade respect for admiration and in the bargain lost both. Police administrators have decided that they want to be liked and have extensive power rather than be feared and have very limited power. Beat cops know better but cannot do anything about it.

    As my blessed late Grandfather said more than once "Look, the police are SUPPOSED to be bad news"

  9. The modern police force does not enforce laws out of some abstract sense of justice, its only goal is the social good.



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