If there is one maxim of government known to all, it is “Uncle Sam knows best.” In the eyes of federal bureaucrats, there is no problem that cannot be solved by the Feds taking control. Healthcare costs rising? Nationalize the insurance market. Mass murderers among us? Ban guns. Public schools failing? Implement a federal curriculum. Too many obese kids? Create a national lunch menu.
And now Uncle Sam has local police departments in his sights.
To a self-aggrandizing Administration like Barack Obama’s -- in which pious lectures and symbolic actions following traumatic events are substituted for genuine leadership -- the civil unrest following a string of high profile, police-related shootings over the past two years has been a godsend; in particular for its Department of Justice.
To be sure, investigating and prosecuting real cases of alleged civil rights violations by police officers is a legitimate focus for the Department of Justice; especially true for cases in which there is no adequate prosecution by state authorities. This is and should continue to be an appropriate use of federal law and resources. This Administration, however, is employing those federal resources as a bludgeon rather than as a scalpel.
Obama’s Department of Justice has been almost gleefully highjacking situations in which questions of individual police misconduct possibly implicate federal civil rights laws, and turning them into excuses to accelerate the process of nationalizing America’s law enforcement into a one-size-fits-all template controlled by Washington.
Increasingly, we are witnessing the Justice Department inject itself into statistically-isolated incidents of police-involved shootings; almost invariably after articulating allegations of direct or indirect racial discrimination. The racial “wedge” then provides the platform from which federal investigators and Washington-based attorneys at the Department launch expansive probes of one local law enforcement agency after another. The Department’s solution is – of course – enhanced federal involvement with, and control over those local agencies and departments.
While I have yet to encounter a perfect police department anywhere at any level of government, the Holy Grail of policing is not the de facto nationalization of policing standards, methods or organization.
Yes, there are problems in America’s law enforcement – problems in training, in recruitment, in leadership, in use of force scenarios, in public relations, and in funding. However, defining this myriad of problems with a national template and attempting to implement solutions with tools forged in federal bureaucracies, is foolhardy and possibly dangerous. Any meaningful effort to resolve the complex dimensions of these problems must focus on those core cultural and social issues, employing solutions founded on local needs and concerns rather than Beltway dreams.
The Report issued last week by the Department of Justice on the Baltimore Police Department serves as a perfect illustration. While there are kernels of wisdom hidden within the Report’s 163 pages – such as noting shortcomings in Baltimore’s training and crisis management – the primary and overarching focus of the document is the usual refrain of a “pattern or practice” of failure to measure up to the federal government’s vision of proper policing. And the proffered solution is the standard, not so thinly-veiled invitation for Baltimore to “work with” the Justice Department; not highlighted, of course, are the many strings that come attached to such an invitation.
Far more important than any federal study of Baltimore or other city’s law enforcement system and how to homogenize its functions, are efforts by local and state political, law enforcement and civic leaders to address the problems manifesting themselves in their communities. Solutions such as replacing over-reliance on whiz-bang technology with traditional policing methods that includes common sense, community knowledge, ethical training, and so much more -- what retired Baltimore police officer David “Bo” Bolgiano describes in his book of the same name as, “Virtuous Policing” – will pay far more meaningful and lasting rewards than a dozen Department of Justice “Reports.”
The philosophy underlying the approach by this Administration appears to either ignore, or deliberately undermine, this concept of community policing; in pursuit of greater federal control. As much as Washington wants to pretend it knows what is best for our nation’s police departments and the citizens they serve, no amount of armchair policing by Leftist bureaucrats and think-tank Brainiacs will match what can be accomplished by well-trained, and well-lead, police officers in -- and answerable to -- the men, women and children in their own communities.