Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cops and Dogs

Take a moment to read Radley Balko's latest post on Reason, Cop vs. Dog and take the time to watch the Youtube clips.

Sort of like the drug warn in general, the more these stories come up, the fewer responses I see from "law and order" conservatives. Now, some of these "law and order" conservatives aren't really what I would call conservatives at all (I'm thinking in particular of Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff, who for all his public statements never seems to make a point of stressing limited government), but there are conservatives out there who toe the limited government line, but remain reflexively pro-police and pro-military. This is not to go off into any sort of discussion about support for our troops (or support for law enforcement), but only to point out there's a logical gap between reflexive rejection of bureaucracy and big government and reflexive support of the actions of the police and the military. All of the reasons why big government fails should apply as equally to the police and military as it does to the EPA and the public schools.

The real mistake is to take questions about policy as attacks on individuals, and this is equally true when we're talking about cops, teachers, or environmental regulators. There are good ones and bad ones, but the good and bad individuals are besides the point when we're talking about policy. But just as many on the left tend to put on their blinders when it comes to the regulations we must obviously need, many folks on the right put on just as strong blinders in regards to the actions of police. Case-in-point the issue of cops shooting dogs, which goes hand-in-hand with the police militarization and misuse of SWAT-teams issue, both of which have been covered in great detail by Reason's Radley Balko. The response from the law and order types to these sorts of situations are almost universally either 1- tragic mistakes and 2-bad cops. And as I was getting at, these characterizations are completely missing the point. As Balco points out, why do postal workers have training on dealing with dogs in the course of their work, while police officers do not? This sort of question is not about villainizing the police as an institution or villainizing individual police officers. It's about the accountability we demand as citizens from our public servants, which is precisely what the police are.

The police as an institution have grown insular and immune from any outside criticisms and ideas precisely because they have been fetishized to an extent by some on the right. Cops shooting dogs unnecessarily is a problem and Balko has demonstrated time and time again that such incidents happen often enough to be considered more than isolated incidents. Again, the larger, libertarian point is that law enforcement should be as responsive to the public as any other facet of government if not more so.