What Happened to Society’s Obligation to its Police Agencies?

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

The past year has seen major efforts to tear up the agreements that make for an orderly society. The idea of a social contract arose during the Enlightenment and had influence on the founding principles of the United States. The social contract is defined as an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection. The essential civics lesson about our nation’s founding is that government arises from the consent of the governed. People decide collectively what is in the best interests of the majority to accomplish together what would not be possible individually. In return, the people agree to abide by those laws. In return for compliance, the government established by the people create systems that guarantee individual rights and processes to honor and enforce them against government overreach.

Another important aspect of consenting to be governed is that individuals agree to give up resolving most serious disputes on their own and let a system of courts accomplish justice. This necessarily means giving the government the right to exercise force in accomplishing that. Thus, we give rise to enforcers of the law. Armed agents of the government, operating with the authorization to use reasonable force, expect that citizens will submit to that authorized force as part of their social contract with their fellow citizens.

The American spirit of individualism and rebellion was not lost at the last battle of the American Revolution in 1781. As the number of law enforcement agencies grew, so too did the laws that regulated them. Many states recognized a right of citizens to resist unlawful arrests. With the advance of multiple civil remedies and greater training of police, most laws allowing resistance to arrest were removed in favor of other remedies. Every state requires compliance with lawful orders, and every governmental body is subject to the vote of the people. If laws and lawmakers are inadequate, there are means of circumventing the legislature through petition.

Not accepted as a natural right was violence against private property, violent resistance to government actors, and attacks on the systems in place to govern. Implicit in the early writings of the American Revolution era is the expectation that if the government fails in providing essential services and protecting individual liberties, then the government may be reconstituted. Within the bounds of philosophy are those extremists who believe we have reached that point and deserve another revolution, and those who believe in either anarchy or extreme government control.

With tyranny fresh on the minds of the founders, the right of citizens to possess firearms was ensured among other rights, including the right against torture as expressed in the right to remain silent, and the right to reasonableness when subject to search and seizure. As any student of history knows, these rights in the U.S. Constitution as amended with the Bill of Rights, were rights that existed by nature and were not derived from laws passed by men. The documents simply articulate those rights as those which were not to be infringed by the government, including state and local entities.

Witnessing the violence and destruction of this year’s riots must call us to remember the good work of the founders, and those who have worked selflessly to keep our republic functioning. Despite the critics, our nation has made important strides toward increasing access to success and removing impediments to the quest for fair treatment for all. Ignoring that progress, as faulty or slow it may be, has resulted in the chaos we see daily. Especially in regions where the law has been disregarded, where criminals are encouraged, where the legitimacy of governance has been eroded by its own weakness, the deconstruction of our republic is being approved by political leaders too afraid to believe in their own system.

By attacking the criminal justice system, because it is the most visible of all government functions, the real objective is to attack our Constitutional government, taking a shortcut from due process and civil discourse as agents of change.

Piece by piece, legislators are caving to the demands of deconstructionists to dismantle the effectiveness of enforcing the law. Police officers are banned from enforcing some existing laws, prosecutors are declining to hold violent offenders accountable, and lawmakers are removing necessary tactical and legal protections from law enforcement officers. The lawbreakers among us have taken this as license to disregard police authority which has resulted in almost all of the dramatic uses of force to take custody of violent offenders. Offenders are not blamed for fighting and fleeing from officers, and officers are blamed for doing what they must do. The only hope for restoring the protection of the citizenry within the framework of justice is to allow our existing resources to work, return to educating the public about the philosophy and structure of our democracy, and restraining ill-advised and radical decisions by removing foolish leaders from office.

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