If you ask people what is the greatest power a police officer has at his disposal most would probably answer, his gun, or the ability to use force up to and including lethal. After all the power to use physical force against another person is a significant one indeed. However, in the majority of instances when an officer must use force, especially lethal force, it’s a circumstance in which any person would be able to take the same actions. Officers use force for two primary reasons: to protect themselves or to protect others. We all enjoy this right.
These powers, though significant and necessary, become almost incidental to the true power of the police officer in a free country such as the United States of America. That true power is the authority to take away a free person’s liberty. Even if only for a short time, such as during a traffic stop or when detained for something minor like littering, the power to stop a person in the midst of conducting his daily work or leisure, is an awesome power indeed.
Think about it. If you’re walking down the street and some person told you to stop, you’d probably gesture creatively indicating what he could do with that command. But as a society we give a limited number of people the authority to detain and arrest people for investigation of an infraction, misdemeanor crime, or felony crime. When the police detain people to investigate a crime we tend to give the officer more of a benefit of the doubt. But when it comes to simple infractions, civil violations that don’t rise to the level of a crime, such as jaywalking or speeding, the power to deprive a person of their liberty takes on a higher significance. I always took this authority seriously and would have considered it an abuse of power if I had wielded it frivolously.
It is for this reason I oppose the proliferation of socialist-tinged laws, which are those laws that are designed to protect Peter from Peter, rather than, correctly, Peter from Paul. For example, do I think wearing a seatbelt is a good idea? No. I think wearing a seatbelt is a great idea. I use mine all the time and I encourage my family to use them because it is a great idea. I also encourage them to wear rain gear in inclement weather and to take their vitamins every day. These are also great ideas, but should the law enforce these great ideas? Of course not.
A law that gives me the authority to stop you when you’re not engaged in an activity that harms another is a bad law. If you’re driving down the street and a police officer sees you driving your car without a seat belt, harming no one, and putting no one at risk other than, potentially, yourself, he or she can stop you, deprive you of your liberty, and sanction you with a monetary penalty. Put simply, I think that’s just plain wrong.