From the October 2003 Idaho Observer:

From the Editor's Desk:

Barney Fife to Darth Vader in one generation

When was the last time you saw a cop in your rearview mirror and felt safer for his presence? How many years has it been since a call to the police did not result in a fine, a trip to jail, charges filed by the state, jail time, prison time or all of the above? If our fellow Americans weren't some 290 million slowly boiled frogs they would remember back to a time not so long ago when the role of the police in America was keeping the peace and apprehending criminals who injured people or were caught damaging or stealing property.

In just one generation, the role of the police has changed dramatically here in the land of the free. “Serve and Protect” may have been the peace officer motto while Opie was growing up in Mayberry, but today the modern American law enforcement officer is under orders to “harass and extort.”

This is no exaggeration. Legions of traffic police are out on the streets with quotas to issue as many as three citations per hour. To help police meet their quotas, most states allow them to pull us over for not wearing seatbelts.

A day in most any court in the land will show that law enforcement handles even the most simple disputes by forcing thousands of people each day to appear in court where they summarily plead guilty to misdemeanor charges -- possession, DUI, disturbing the peace and other victimless crimes.

The manner of dress of today's law enforcement officer is further indication of how far they have gone astray from the “serve and protect” mentality. When I was a kid growing up in the Seattle area during the 60s, police officers were friendly, even in routine traffic stops, and they were dressed in traditional dark blue or tan shirts, slacks and a belt with a service revolver, handcuffs and a few other items; he used his own judgment in response to calls. Today's law enforcement officer is aloof and not friendly; he is dresses in jumpsuits, wears kevlar vests, combat boots and carries a semi-auto handgun, pepper spray, tonfa stick, handcuffs and is in constant radio communication with dispatch.

To truly appreciate the pall hanging over the land of the free due to the unfriendly police omnipresence, I had to travel to Europe. While in Austria and Switzerland I was an extremely observant passenger (the scenery was awesome) for approximately 400 miles. During those trips through villages, towns and cities I never saw one police car in traffic (also, there were no accidents and traffic flowed just fine). While in northern Italy, we saw two police cars on the autostrada (freeway) but they were going someplace in particular. No other police cars were seen anywhere else after about 450 miles of accident and injury-free travel.

We did, however, see police on foot and riding vespas (larger mopeds), but only in places frequented by tourists. These officers were friendly and had no interest in busting people for speeding, for J-walking or any of the hundreds of other “violations” for which those in the land of the free are found guilty of violating every day.

While in Firenza among the throngs of tourists and millions (it seemed) of locals, we laughed at the thought of a frenzied American policemen handing out citations to the thousands of “violators” who would be within his line of vision at any given moment; we thought how the people would tear the citations up and walk away, laughing. Or, if the law enforcement officer decided to press his authority, how he would have been stripped naked by a mirthful mob and left naked on the street with nothing but his little citation book.

It was noted that there are cameras in places to catch speeders, but for the most part it's a driver and pedestrian free-for-all. In the absence of police, I saw no accidents and not one person who had been hit by a reckless motorist.

It was really nice going peaceably about my business without police cruising around looking to ticket or imprison some aspect of my well-intended human behavior.

If American police would resume serving and protecting and abstain from harassing and extorting; if they would return to representing the interests of the people and stop emphasizing revenue generation for the state, perhaps we could all begin to relax and enjoy life a little bit more. (DWH)

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Hari Heath

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