asset forfeiture

Editorial
unreasonable search and seizure

The Police: Protectors and Predators

by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor

The fairy-tale story of government tells children that the purpose of government is to protect people's rights to life, liberty, and property, and to provide needed social services which folks otherwise would not have. Many adults grow up believing this fable long after they have stopped believing in Santa Claus.

The reality is that government is much more of a predator than a protector. Many more people have been murdered by governments in wars and mass slaughters than by non-government killers. Much more property has been destroyed, confiscated, and otherwise stolen by government, whether as taxes or as forfeiture, than by outlaws.

A recent example of murder by the police was reported in the Los Angeles Times on August 28, 1999. The article, "No Drug Link to Family in Fatal Raid, Police Say" by Anne-Marie O'Connor states that Mario Paz, a 65-year-old man, was fatally shot in the back, in full view of his wife, by an El Monte officer during a search of his home on August 9. There is no evidence that Paz or anyone in his family was involved in drug trafficking.

The Paz house is in the city of Compton, but the El Monte police commonly get search warrants to enter homes in other cities as part of their aggressive anti-drug strategy when it is related to drug activity in El Monte. This shows how even if the police in your own town are not predators, the police of other towns who are more aggressive can invade your house to kill you and steal your goods.

A SWAT team of up to 20 officers shot the front and back doors open as the family slept. El Monte police had asked for a warrant to search the Paz home after some mail bearing the family's address was found among a the possessions of a drug suspect who lived next door during the 1980s. The neighbor had asked Paz to receive his mail at the Paz home.

The police found three pistols and a rifle in the house, which were seized as evidence, since the officer claimed that Paz had reached for a gun, a claim denied by the family. The family said Mario Paz kept firearms safely stored away in a dresser drawer to protect the family in the high-crime neighborhood.

The report states that "El Monte police also seized $10,000 in cash at the Paz home, which the sheriff's investigators say was taken as evidence... The family has described the money as their life savings." Since the police typically get to keep the loot they confiscate using civil asset forfeiture and don't have to account for it, it provides a powerful motive for predation. They also have a motive in murdering the owner, since that destroys a witness and prevents him from trying to get back his property.

So there we have a documented example of the police acting as predators, committing murder and theft. Waco is a prime example of an attack by the federal police, now being investigated again. But even if folks realize that the police are often predators, most would be reluctant to eliminate the police, since they want to have their services as protectors. The policemen's role as protectors helps them keep their role as predators.

One way to eliminate this dangerous dual role of the police would be to split the police into two separate organizations. A town or city could create an entirely new Department of Protection. Its officers would wear uniforms recognizably different from that of the police, and their charter would confine them to only act to protect life and property. They would be prohibited from using civil asset forfeiture or otherwise confiscating property other than weapons that are a present danger. The traffic police would belong to the predatory force, since too often, high traffic fines on unrealistic speed limits, and hidden traffic signs, serve as revenue sources rather than being there for safety.

With this separate Protection squad, someone could welcome the protective police into his home to report a robbery without fearing that the police would become even worse robbers, snooping around to look for cash or guns. The Department of Protection would be prohibited from enforcing crimes without victims, leaving that to the predatory police. The protective officers could even help protect people from the predatory police, or at least be witnesses to any killings or theft.

Splitting police departments into two separate groups, the predators and the protectors, would resolve the schizophrenic nature of the police today. The predatory police could eventually become independent of the government, since they could make their living entirely from confiscations and fines. Taxes would then support only the protective police.

There is probably something in human nature that wants us to be in an environment in which there is predation. Why else do we put up with predators who roam the highways randomly stopping motorists and inflicting penalties? If humans insist on having predators, at least we can put labels on them so we can tell them apart from the good officers who want to protect human life and property.

-- Fred Foldvary      


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Copyright 1999 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.