Those who choose law enforcement as a career are given a grave responsibility.
“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force! Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master”. – George Washington
Those who choose law enforcement as a career are given a grave responsibility. They are the force that George Washington spoke of in the above quote. They are charged with enforcing the laws that our elected officials have enacted. There are as many different ways to enforce laws as there are individual officers. Officers of the law are given discretion in many instances and different officers will handle the same situation in different ways.
Most officers, especially those with some experience, handle non-violent criminals and situations with tact and finesse. There are a few cops, a very few, thankfully, who could start a fight at a pacifist prayer meeting. Before I started the Long Beach Police Academy in 1974, my father, who had been on the Los Angeles Police Department for 27 years, gave me this sage advice that I will paraphrase: Start off treating everyone with respect. Sociopaths and bullies will always mistake kindness for weakness and try to exploit it. Once you recognize them for what they are, you can respond appropriately. I believe most law enforcement officers enter into contacts with the people they police in the same way.
Also, most officers want to handle situations in the most efficient and fair manner. This begs the question: what do officers do when they are tasked to enforce laws, rules or edicts that are, on their face, not just, not logical or blatantly illogical? What are they to do when they are ordered by their superiors to enforce orders that they know were not legally enacted or are violations of our US or state Constitutions?
These questions are so timely during the current pandemic hysteria, the panic enhancing media coverage and the despotic quarantine regulations laid down by some tyrannical governors. All of the Covid-19 restrictions that the governors have decreed, are more than likely misdemeanors since none of them include incarceration of more than a year. In most jurisdictions, for misdemeanor offenses, officers are given the options of arresting, issuing misdemeanor citations, or advising the offender.
So, the answer to the first question is that officers can advise the violators that they have violated the governor's edicts. (These are “edicts”, not laws. Laws are enacted by legislatures, and signed into laws by the governors). The officer could advise the offender that although he, the officer, may believe that this edict is not legal and is unconstitutional, (because it was not passed by the legislature and/or violates one or more of the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution), the officer has the job of enforcing it.
Second, if the officer has been ordered to enforce the edict by citing or arresting the violator, he or she is subject to termination for insubordination if they refuse. While these terminations would most likely be overturned in court later, since this order to enforce an illegal or unconstitutional edict, it is still a crap shoot for the cop. Few officers with families, can afford the months or years without a paycheck. What the officer should do if circumstances require him to cite or make an arrest, is to advise the violator to fight the citation or arrest in court and the officer will testify that he was only citing or making the arrest because he was ordered to. The officer would testify that it was his or her opinion that the edict was illegal and/or unconstitutional.
As it is now, these officers are put in the unenviable dilemma of looking like Gestapo agents or facing firing for not enforcing these edicts. With nearly everyone having a camera app on their phones, the media has shown several officers, looking terrible to the general public by enforcing these illogical, unlawful edicts. When sheriff deputies arrest a lone paddle boarder, most people wonder what harm he was doing, how he was endangering himself or others by paddling on the ocean by himself.
When a male and a female police officers, officiously and condescendingly, chastise a woman for letting her child meet another child for a play date, it looks verbally abusive and disrespectful, even to those of us who are pro-law enforcement.
Last week, I drove to California and while I was there I attended a breakfast with retired Long Beach cops. It was held on the patio of one of the officer's condo on the water in Huntington Harbor. There was eight or ten of us. We didn't social distance or wear masks. A couple of the retirees who have had health problems, wisely, did not attend. When the subject was broached about the enforcement of the Corona virus edicts, all of those in attendance gave their opinions. To a man they said that they would not enforce those edicts that they all felt were not legal. They would look the other way, they would advise and would refuse to cite or arrest otherwise law abiding citizens exercising their Constitutional rights, unless their supervisor was present and gave them a direct order. Even then, most of them would refuse. One retired detective spoke for all us, when he said, “We became cops to arrest crooks and bad guys, not decent people.”