Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 668, April 29, 2012

"The cops are now the standing army the Founding Fathers feared."

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A Policeman's Lot
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

An individual I know on the Internet—someone I have come to consider a good friend, although I've never met him face-to-face—recently expressed shock and horror upon learning that I was once a cop. Actually, for a time, I was a member of the local auxiliary police.

I have never made a secret of it. It's in almost all of my various biographies floating around. I wanted to write my first book about a cop, and I wanted to make him as authentic as I could. My best friend at the time was a cop. Apparently, my research was successful. The character I created was Detective Lieutenant Edward William "Win" Bear, and everybody who reads The Probability Broach seems to love him.

Eventually, I met the famous libertarian thinker, writer, and lecturer Robert LeFevre at a seminar in Wichita, Kansas, one of the most significant events in my life, On learning that I was a police officer, Bob took me aside privately, "You know, someday you're going to have to destroy somebody's life over an issue you don't believe in."

I did know. I'd been evading it. When I got home, I resigned and told them why. They were unhappy. I'd made the highest score on the written test in the memory of anybody on the force. (These days, of course, they won't hire anyone whose IQ is above some predetermined number.)

But another couple of things were gnawing at me, as well. One was a certain kind of squad room banter, in which my nominal superiors bragged to each other about the dents their heavy aircraft aluminum flashlights had acquired. They were a new thing at the time and were being used as batons. There was also an ongoing debate about whether it was more fun to beat up Mexicans, who fought back, or hippies, who didn't.

Mostly though, Lefevre's point to one side, it was about taking orders and acting on policies generated by people less intelligent than me. For example, there was the matter of weapons and ammunition. I was a ballistician and gunsmith by trade. I knew being forced to carry a .38 Special revolver, and not being allowed to use them newfangled speedloader thingies, was not conducive to health and long life. Nor was the edict against hollowpoint bullets, which was pure public relations garbage meant to mollify ignorant liberal activists. Hollowpoints are superior, not only in stopping-power, but public safety: they won't go right through somebody you're shooting and hurt somebody else. They're far less likely to ricochet off buildings and sidewalks.

I think my best friend was the first officer on the local force to carry an automatic pistol, a matte nickel-plated Colt Combat Commander chambered for .38 Super, a much better cartridge than the .38 Special. He had to go through hell to get the damned thing certified as a duty weapon. Today, about 40 years later, most cops carry autopistols, most of them Glocks, most of them .40 caliber or better. That, and a great many other things about police work, have changed over the past four decades.

The cops are now the standing army the Founding Fathers feared.

How did we get here, to this ugly police state we find ourselves trapped in? Well, look at it this way: every uniformed public employee out there, with his Kevlar vest, his double-stacked autopistol on his hip, his can of Mace, his Taser, his little backup weapon wrapped around his ankle, not to mention the shotgun, scoped rifle, and/or submachinegun in his cruiser trunk, every single one has a salary in at least the middle five figure range that's essentially inflation proof. He has full medical coverage for himself and his family, and good dental insurance, too. He has a pension almost as plush as a Congressman's.

Unlike you and me, these days, he lives in a house that's nicer than his parents' was, possibly in a gated and guarded community, with an unlisted telephone phone number. And it all comes out of our hides, yours and mine, every bloody cent of it cut from our flesh, and the flesh of our children, as surely as if we were beef cattle being butchered.

Forget the President. Forget the Congressman. Well, don't really forget them. But keep your eyes on the guy with the gun, because, in the final analysis, from both ends of the proposition, it's all about him.

He knows who his masters are and he knows who's his meat. He knows what his bosses require of him, and he's been systematically trained—and more importantly, viscerally conditioned—to treat the people who pay his salary (and how he hates to hear that from them—he sees them as his lowly subjects) with more and more contempt and brutality every year, because the system he really works for—call it the New World Order, the United Nations, or Agenda 21—is designed to run on fear.

But here's the humor of it: if only a few—history says three in a hundred—of his comrades, his colleagues, his accomplices in the imposition of state terrorism, the men and women he trusts to watch his back and help keep him alive, if they don't agree with him, if, instead, they determine to keep the solemn promises they made when they signed on, to defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic (there's a list of illegal orders they won't obey, and, implicitly, certain actions on the part of other officers they'll interfere with), then everything that he has sold his soul for is at risk.

He knows this and it fills him with the same fear and dread he's supposed to make others all around him feel. It's why his masters have to protect him whenever, with increasing frequency, he breaks the law. It's why they have to try to comfort him with more—and more deadly and powerful—weapons, bulletproof underwear, armored cars, eyesight destroying lasers, sonic disruptors, agonizing heat-rays, and even tanks. All of it while armed drones circle overhead like mechanical vultures.

He has stopped being a keeper of the peace, a friendly, protecive neighborhood patrolman (to any extent he ever was) and become part of an occupying military force, imposing the will of outsiders on his neighbors. He is as thoroughly miserable and out of place as a Roman legionary, stuck in Britain with the cold, the drizzle, the mud, and with women who don't bathe twice a day like the girls back home. He is miserable and out of place, and his rates of divorce and suicide prove it.

When he was a goodguy, he didn't need a union—or a shrink.

This situation isn't stable. It has to change, to get better or get worse. How do I know this? Because once, to the continuing shock of many libertarians who learn about it (my Internet friend is not the first) a long time ago, I tried being a policeman for a while. Even way back then, they were driven by a siege mentality, a "them vs. us" mentality, deeply embedded in what even then was called a "police culture".

The first time I ever saw the word "asshole" in print was in one of Joseph Wambaugh's books. He was another writer who had been a cop, but much longer and in a rougher town than I was. He explained that the word was reserved for those who are not part of the police culture, and that "civilian" was a word for criminals who hadn't been arrested yet.

But, as always, I digress.

Can we fix this situation before it kills us? Certainly we have a great deal of work to do, even if we successfully jettison Obama next November, and even if we avoid the faux president's nightmare mirror image Romney, who makes up the other half of Batman's mortal enemy Two-Face. Even if we elect Ron Paul, we have a great deal of work to do.

A good start would be legislation forbidding state, county, and municipal governments from accepting money or "gifts" (like armored personnel carriers) from the federal government for purposes of "law enforcement". Another would be banning city police forces altogether, leaving peacekeeping in the hands of an elected offical, the county sheriff.

At the least, there should be a continuous series of compulsory oath-keeping seminars for all police personnel and other civil servants.

Miss a class, flunk a test, violate a right, you're out.

For more ideas, see the chapter "Toward A Police Reform Movement" in my book DOWN WITH POWER: Libertarian Policy In A Time Of Crisis, available in both dead-tree and e-book format at and B&

L. Neil Smith is the Publisher and Senior Columnist of L. Neil Smith's THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE, as well as the author of 33 freedom-oriented books, the most recent of which is DOWN WITH POWER: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis:
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