You don’t hear much about “de-policing” lately. It refers to a police officer’s reticence to take on any proactive police work, only going to calls as directed, and doing the bare minimum in whatever they do. The mantra is “no contact, no complaint”.
Critics may decry this attitude but it is one they have created and, in many ways, required. For example, the city of Denver, Colorado recently joined Kansas City and the states of Virginia and California in eliminating jay-walking laws. With the goal of reducing police contacts – alleging, of course, that police are harassing the homeless and minorities – crosswalks are still the recommended place to cross a street, but playing chicken with traffic is now perfectly fine.
Another de-policing mandate is keeping police from making traffic stops. In the words of Berkely, California activist Darrell Owens, prohibiting police from traffic enforcement is a way to “make sure nobody does anything that justifies this cop pumping 4 rounds of lead into me”. An associated rule, also popular on the west coast, is to prohibit police from chasing anyone if they do attempt to stop them for a traffic violation (or for that matter, any number of offenses).
Critics who hear of an offender eluding and resisting police, resulting in a forceful arrest, use of a Taser, or a shooting will seldom point out that the law requires yielding to a police officer’s signal to stop. Also ignored is that fleeing from an officer is often because the driver is engaged in current or recent dangerous criminal activity, is wanted on a warrant, is under the influence of an intoxicating substance, or has other reasons to resist violently. The narrative is not the violence of the offender, but that it all started because the officer tried to stop them for a malfunctioning taillight or expired license plate.
Another area of effort to help police stay low and out of touch with citizens is increasing the legalization of drugs. Psychedelic mushrooms and high THC content candy are thought to be safely used in the basements of those treating themselves for various maladies, to be punished only if purchased without paying the lucrative taxes on them.
As a bit of a libertarian, I think it’s a good thing for society to consider whether we are over-regulated and how frequently we want armed government agents to check up on us. History teaches us that society must establish some standards for our mutual benefit, and we have defaulted to our police whenever we make a new rule to be enforced in ways that we later find distressing. Our experiment in democracy and freedom is, admittedly, a work in progress.
The problem with that is society still expects its police officers to interact with people in need and people who pose a threat to them. They still call 911 when a homeless person is in their yard, or a suspicious person wanders onto their residential street. Police officers used to be expected to do what the courts have called “community care-taking”, and officers have traditionally taken that responsibility to heart. That means checking on a person who seems to be disoriented or ill or responding to a relative’s request to check on an elderly person that doesn’t answer their phone calls.
Now an officer has to consider that every contact could go sour. The person who is resistive might be in the throes of a medical emergency. Should the officer simply let them walk away to their own fate, or can they use restraint to care for the person and call for medical help? If an officer is attacked while checking on someone’s well-being must they simply leave? What if someone else is at risk? What happens to the neighbors if the police decide it isn’t worth the risk or trouble to make contact with someone? Officers have been criminally charged for defending themselves after being attacked with an edged weapon because the other person was mentally ill or deemed to have been too weak or elderly to do much damage.
Most police officers keep doing what they know is best for their community. But if they decided to stay at the station or keep their blinders on when in the patrol car, who could blame them?