Saturday, July 6, 2013

Your Daily Pernicious Infusion

Drudge was linking the other day to the latest in a string of articles on preposterous  arrests and charges. Some allege a pattern of outlawing of just about everything, others see in increasingly SWAT-like tactics the militarization of police, and others see plain old brutality. I've always heard a lot about such issues in left and libertarian circles, but even the right, which is fairly quick to pull the anti-cop card, seems to be growing alarmed. There is plenty of literature on the important legal and moral issues but I would  draw two points.

First, police are not aliens: they're fellow citizens who, prudently or not, have been vested with a good deal of authority. I wonder whether police recruiters are doing enough to ensure they hire people with the proper disposition to be officers of the law, and whether they're following up with proper evaluations, for to every job there are both complementary and opposed dispositions. Also, it's quite possible that there are more positions than can be filled by proper candidates and no amount of funds or training is going to fix the problem because you can't give or incentivize character. The pool of ideal candidates for any job will vary from time to time, and employers across professions need to have the liberty to hire the worst and acquire the best as they see fit. Not everyone's good at his job and many jobs are dangerous when poorly filled.

How often, though, do we wonder about that: how well our friends and loved ones perform their jobs? Are they efficient? Respected? The thought that your friend or spouse is ineffective, or worse, at work is a surprisingly potent disappointment. We really ought to consider the needs of  our friends' qua professionals. As we noted above, not everyone is perfectly suited to their job and thus people often force a disposition, a tiring and stressful task. Police come home tired of having to be on alert, teachers tired of quieting children, managers of making endless corrections, and on and on. People need daily help, some complementary others supplementary, to get through their days, and such needs are all too easy to ignore.

Second, the public bears the fruits of its expectations. I've grown to think that, along with political caterwauling about crime rates, the fact that seemingly every night some variation of Law and Order precedes the 10PM news is having a deleterious, disquieting effect on our society. For my part, I've never flipped past either program without being appalled by the relentless fear mongering. I'm not sure whether you can spend two hours, maybe a few times a week, one speculating about fictional crimes and the next confirming them, and not grow a little paranoid. I'm not suggesting anything nefarious or the absence of criminal and dangerous activity, but Ii may simply be that in the absence of grave, imminent danger, man tends to seek some to give his activity purpose and import. Expectations seem to dictate much here.

For example, the NYC City Council recently approved of measures to increase police oversight, over the expected objections. Whether the council's reaction reflects genuine democratic sentiment I can't say, but there is a potentially troubling breakdown of trust here. Citizen's don' trust the police, who again are still their fellow citizens, neighbors, friends, and fellow New Yorkers, to leave the innocent alone, citizen's don't trust the mayor or commissioner to administer the police, the mayor and commissioner don't trust the people to hold them accountable as they see fit, and last but not least the people think a police force of such scale is necessary to protect themselves from criminals, criminals who are nonetheless fellow citizens as well. Troubling for sure, but I wonder whether our negligence and expectations have as much to do with the apparent breakdown as actual crime.

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