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Taken by Force

Opinion: We don’t need our police forces treating the citizenry like domestic terrorist threats. Why a "no-overkill rule" is necessary.



Recently I stepped out of my house in Henrico County to find 10 police cars parked on a side street. What, might you ask, was the incident that necessitated such a massive police presence? Was it a raid on a meth lab? A madman taking shots from his attack window? A shootout between rival gangs?

Nope. These Henrico police officers were responding to a domestic violence event. I watched from my window while they used a battering ram to break down the back door of the house next to me. One of them had a Taser at the ready, and four or five of them had their guns drawn and held up.

Domestic violence, to be sure, is a terrible thing that often demands a police response. But it's difficult to understand how subduing a single man would take at least 10 cops. The police, to say the least, overreacted.

This is kind of becoming a thing — not merely in the Richmond area, but everywhere. We saw the insane police response to the Ferguson situation — whole platoons of officers decked out in riot gear, resembling not a small-town police force but an invading army. You can see it in many cities or counties, where a simple traffic stop often can attract at least one extra police cruiser. I recently watched three Henrico police cars pull up behind a car, leading me to wonder what on Earth these police officers do most of the time. Is their schedule free enough that they can hang around with other cops seemingly with nothing to do? What do they do the rest of the time? What is it we pay them for?

Regardless of whether or not most police forces are wasting a great deal of taxpayer money — and I wouldn't need much convincing to believe that's the case — the philosophical aspect of the matter is much more troubling. When 10 police cars respond to a single perpetrator, you aren't really witnessing the behavior of a simple, accountable law-enforcement agency. This kind of swarming behavior is seen most readily and frequently in street gangs: Thugs and gangbangers are protective of each other to such a degree that they usually respond to any perceived threat en masse in order to aggressively snuff out the people they view as enemies.

Police, ideally speaking, are meant to be different. Unless they're getting shot at by some murderous lunatic, they're supposed to view the public — even domestic abusers — not as combatants, but as people to whom they ultimately are subordinate. The function of a police officer is to act as a ground-level mediator between those obeying the law and those who are breaking it. When necessary, officers must enforce the law, sometimes with violence but usually without it. Occasionally this requires a large number of police officers, but usually it shouldn't. And yet police officers frequently resort to such bombastic reactions, as in the case of three police officers pulling over one vehicle, or 10 cops responding to one abusive spouse.

We don't need our police forces treating the citizenry like domestic terrorist threats. It's offensive to our civil autonomy and an indignity visited upon us by those who are supposed to be serving us.

I have a challenge for all police forces in the area: Institute a no-overkill rule within your departments. If a police officer cannot actively contribute to a situation, he or she must move on — to a crime-ridden area where his or her presence is badly needed, say, instead of hanging around talking with other officers. If a crime involves a single person who isn't known to be armed and dangerous, don't send an entire squadron of police cars to crowd our streets and give the impression of an occupying force. If this results in too many police officers with too much time on their hands, you might be ready to consider some downsizing. This will mean fewer tax dollars taken from your constituents, whom you serve, a leaner and more effective police force, and the proper acclimation of your department within the society of which it is merely a part. You aren't soldiers amongst us. Stop acting like it. S

Daniel Payne is a senior contributor for the online magazine the Federalist. He also maintains a blog at trialofthecentury.net.

Opinions on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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