by Steven Greenhut | April 22, 2013 7:35 am
April 22, 2013
By Steven Greenhut
SACRAMENTO — The horrific Boston bombings have led to irrational calls for more security cameras and more police officers, with some Democrats absurdly using this tragedy to argue for halting the slight sequester-mandated cuts in federal spending growth.
Never mind that police spending primarily is a local function. The bigger questions that Americans have rarely asked, especially following the 9/11 attacks: Do we really want the government to hire new armies of police officers? Do we really want to pay the price for this?
Knowing my views on the growing public-pension crisis, most readers probably think the “price” I’m worried about is the nation’s multitrillion-dollar unfunded pension liability, driven largely by the “3 percent at 50” retirement deals that cost taxpayers millions of dollars for each “first responder” who retires at or shortly after age 50, with 30 years of service.
That problem clearly is huge — the result in part of Americans’ embrace of the “more police” logic after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. But that’s not the main source of my concern. My larger worry involves our safety and civil liberties, given that police officers, and other groups of public employees, arguably have become a protected class that does not have to follow the same rules as the average citizen.
A few years ago, the Orange County Register reported on California’s special license-plate program that puts the addresses and license information of many public employees and their family members in a restricted database, shielding them from getting tickets when they drive on toll roads without paying the toll. That’s somewhat infuriating.
Now, an investigation by the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Florida found that “professional courtesy” — i.e., police allowing other police officers to speed, drive drunk and violate every manner of traffic law — also has dangerous consequences for the public.
The newspaper series, awarded a Pulitzer Prize the same week as the Boston bombings, details the tragedies of essentially giving one group free rein to drive in any manner its members choose. In one incident documented by the newspaper, an officer — speeding at up to 87 mph to where another officer had pulled over a driver for having a broken taillight — broadsided a car driven by a 21-year-old woman, seriously injuring her and killing her 14-year-old sister, who was thrown from the wreck.
The newspaper found police speeding routinely in excess of 120 mph — not on emergency calls, but simply to get to work or for the fun of it. We’ve all seen it on the highways and there are news stories of tragic accidents across the nation, where civilians die in collisions with police. Off-duty officers sometimes drive in the same dangerous manner knowing that fellow officers will give them a pass at the sight of a badge.
Here’s the Sun Sentinel, which reported that 21 Floridians have been killed or maimed by speeding cops since 2004: “Speeding cops are often spared severe punishment in the criminal justice system. Cops found at fault for fatal wrecks caused by speeding have faced consequences ranging from no criminal charges to a maximum of 60 days in jail. Inside many police agencies, speeding isn’t taken seriously until it results in tragedy. Even then, some cops are disciplined but stay on the job — and the road. The dead include seven police officers.”
On that last point: Police unions often point to the dangers of the job. But about half of on-the-job police fatalities involve traffic accidents, some no doubt the result of reckless driving by the officers themselves.
Recently, the Sacramento County sheriff was pulled over for a speeding ticket and made a big deal of telling the public that the police do get tickets. Maybe on occasion, but the “professional courtesy” problem is real, and it applies not just to speeding but to every sort of police misbehavior.
Meanwhile, in California, in particular, police unions have exempted disciplinary records of misbehaving cops from the state’s public records law so the public never learns about the bad actors in police agencies.
Police unions continue to push for special privileges — not just higher benefit levels, expanded disability pay and other perks, but exemptions from every manner of oversight. Given the power of the police unions among both union-friendly Democrats and law-and-order Republicans, there is no powerful civil-liberties lobby to stand against this endless drive for more “protections” for those who patrol our communities.
The nation’s crime rates are at 40-year lows. Studies have found little connection between more police officers and crime rates. We cannot create a society that is entirely safe — especially from attacks on “soft” targets such as large public gatherings.
And we should not blindly embrace the call for more police without first reading the Sun Sentinel series, detailing a potential downside.
Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Write to him at: [email protected]
Source URL: https://calwatchdog.com/2013/04/22/perks-pose-risk-to-all-of-us/
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