The police 'protect and serve' the state, not you

by Wendy McElroy
Jan. 27, 2011

Take your chances with criminals rather than with the police. For one thing, criminals usually want your property, not control over your life.

Gun opponents who argue "the police will protect you" are a menace to your safety. They are also flat wrong. I am not referring to the overwhelming inability of police to combat crime. Why state the obvious? I am referring to the fact that the police have no duty whatsoever to protect you against criminals. That's not in the job description of 'police officer.' The courts have recognized this fact for over a century.

In 1856, the U.S. Supreme Court (South v. Maryland) found that law enforcement officers had no duty to protect any individual. Their duty is to enforce the law in general. More recently, in 1982 (Bowers v. DeVito), the Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit held, "...there is no Constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen. It is monstrous if the state fails to protect its residents... but it does not violate... the Constitution."  Later court decisions concurred: the police have no duty to protect you.

Police vehicles routinely sport decals proclaiming sentiments such as 'Proud to Serve!' If they aren't there to protect you, the question becomes, "Who are they serving?" The answer is clear: the police department exists to enforce the law. Policemen serve the government, not the people. And uphold the law with total disregard for whether their actions create or prevent violence. For example, if government decides that certain forms of adult consensual crimes must not be tolerated, then the police will draw their guns and barge into otherwise peaceful bedrooms. To uphold an unjust law, they will create violence and victims.

Those who blithely reassure you about police protection are doubly wrong. Not only is protection not the officers' job, they may well be the ones who victimize you. Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership, correctly observes that the American legal system is based on the English Common Law. The modern American policeman dates back centuries to the role of the English Sheriff, who was paid by and accountable to the government, not the community. As the JPFO states, the main purpose of the Sheriff was the "enforcement of government decisions," such as seizing property. "Maintenance of public order" was of secondary concern. Indeed, if the two concerns collided - as in the enforcement of victimless crime laws - the government invariably won.

Americans revere the romantic Western notion of Marshall Dillon defending the schoolmarm against the Bang-'em-Up gang who swoop down like wolves on the prairie town. But, often, these particular sheriffs were hired by the communities and were responsible to the people there, not to the government. Moreover, the townsfolk themselves routinely owned guns. What Americans are actually revering is an example of a quasi-private police force functioning within an armed society. Unfortunately, this image still benefits the modern state policeman who is routinely glorified by television programs like Cops! Yet these state-employees are the antithesis of the Western sheriff. They are modeled after the British Sheriff - they are responsible only to enforce government policy and they often are the wolves.

If policy makers want to prevent violence, they should disarm the police and encourage gun ownership within the citizenry. There is historical precedent. In his book Frontier Justice, Wayne Gard describes the rampant corruption of politics and police in 1850's San Francisco. Violence soared until the SF vigilante committee revived (1856). Within three months, Gard explains, "San Francisco had only two murders, compared with more than a hundred in the six months before the committee was formed."

At least until erring policemen acknowledge a duty to protect the life and property of individuals, 'the people' en masse ought to say 'no more donuts for you!'

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