All Commentary
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Police Work Has Become a Racket

Somewhere in my bag I have an envelope that contains a bill. It was handed to me by a local policeman after being stopped on an interstate highway in Texas. I was doing a mean 80 miles per hour in a 75 mph zone.

So of course this great servant of the public had to stop me before I endangered the lives of so many others, including the people going 85 and 90 miles per hour who were passing me on the right and left. I got caught because—well, probably because the others were going too fast to catch.

So this guy stops me and informs me of my very bad behavior. He explains that I’m not allowed to do what I was doing and so therefore he has to give me a citation. But he assures me that this citation does not mean that I’m necessarily guilty. This is a government of laws, not of arbitrary dictates by heavily armed people in bulletproof vests, and so therefore I have a constitutional right to a fair trial.

Or so we are constantly told.

I kind of began pressing him on this, which I probably should not have done lest I get arrested yet again. But I couldn’t help myself.

“Let’s just say that I think you are wrong. I mean, you are probably right, but let’s just say that I think you made this whole thing up. I can dispute this in front of the judge?”

“Yes, sir, you may. Just see the court date.”

“And where is this court?”

“Right here in this county.”

Of course I had explain to him that I was headed to the airport and that I live 1,000 miles away. I asked whether I could use Skype or Google Hangout to attend my hearing.

“I’m sorry, sir, you have to attend in person.”

I continued on: “So I have to drive to Atlanta, catch a flight to Dallas, rent a car and drive 100 miles south on some particular date in order to have my rights realized? You do understand that this would cost me probably two days of work and as much as $1,000?”

“Well,” he said, “how you get to the court is up to you.”

“How much is the ticket?” I asked.

He said the cost chart is printed on the citation itself. As best I can tell this will cost me about $135. I asked whether, if he were in my position, he would rather spend $135 or $1,000. He didn’t answer.

So I pressed further. Let’s say that I go through all of this and finally end up at the bench of Mr. Judge and declare my innocence. What happens then?

“At that point, the judge will schedule a trial.”

Now, hold on here just a moment. So I’ve come all this way back and spent $1K and then the judge schedules a trial, so then I have to repeat the whole thing over again, therefore spending $2K?

“Again, how you travel and how you get here is your concern.”

“And, in the end, I still have to pay the ticket because, after all, you are the policeman and I’m just some schmoe who says you are wrong.”

At that point, just slightly annoyed with me, he wished me a good day and left. I was the idiot holding the bill, and I couldn’t help but just laugh.

After all, look at what my rights come down to. I can spend $2,000 and probably four days of my life plus $135, or I can just pay $135. Hmmm, hard decision! Exercising my rights can be pretty darn expensive!

So let’s think about this scenario for a moment. What happened to me? Did I get in trouble for endangering people, meaning that my citation improved the social order by goading us all into safer behavior? Somehow I don’t think so.

I’ll tell you what happened: I was taxed, which is to say I was robbed. This seems to be the major function of police work now, raising money for the government. In fact, it is something that police themselves have suggested as a way of forestalling budget cuts.

As Police Chief Magazine suggested after the 2008 financial crisis, there is a way to “help the survival of a city and maintain or expand police service through generating new revenue streams as a proactive approach to meet the fiscal crisis of today and the uncertain future of tomorrow.”

To gain more details on how this works, I interviewed Justin Hanners, who left police work in protest against these tactics.

Of course they don’t pitch it this way to the public they plan on looting. We are told that it is all about our safety. Lysander Spooner said that at least the highwayman doesn’t claim that he is stealing from me for my good. Police should have at least as much integrity.

Now, let’s take this analysis a bit further. What if I don’t pay? I’ll get a note that says I’d better cough it up and fast, or else I will lose my license.

Let’s say I do lose my license and I drive anyway. Then I get caught and get fined again.

And what if I don’t pay again and still drive? At some point, I’ll be jailed. And what if I try to run away while they are arresting me? I might get tased. I might get shot with real bullets. I might even die.

It all seems quite extreme, doesn’t it? The death penalty for going a few miles an hour over the speed limit. But if you think about it, every law is enforced this way, all the way to the ultimate end point. Even the most seemingly innocuous law is enforced with aggression not only against property but also against life itself. This is why law, legislation, and regulation are so dangerous. In the name of bringing peace and order, they actually bring the threat of violence to bear against us all.

Sorry, officer, I don’t feel helped. 

Find a Portuguese translation of this article here.