Five months ago, many progressives were calling for defunding the police, and some local governments — including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Kansas City and Portland — did so, to some extent. Four months ago, much of the talk shifted to “reimagining” policing, and many local governments, including Minneapolis and Austin, did.
Now the movement, or much of it anyway, seems to fully embrace of the use of police, but not for the enforcement of properly-enacted laws and ordinances. The use of police is seemingly only acceptable when the left’s preferred policies are the ones being enforced, and we are now faced with the “executive order” police. But using our police officers to enforce orders by individual politicians, under the guise of government authority, is an improper use of governmental force and should never be tolerated in a free society.
Right before Thanksgiving, the Maryland State Police launched a 24/7 Call Center to assist the state’s COVID-19 compliance team to further enforce coronavirus restrictions imposed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham planned to use the state police to enforce COVID-19 restrictions and indicated that people who violate the public health order could actually be charged with a misdemeanor.
In fact, Ms. Grisham plans on using other state agencies to enforce her COVID-19 edicts. This includes game and fish officers, park rangers, livestock inspectors, even the pharmacy board inspectors, who are all certified law enforcement officers in the state.
In Greenville, Mississippi, police officers were dispatched to enforce a mayor’s COVID-19 rules at an April 8 drive-in church service where members of the congregation had gathered in their cars, windows rolled up, to listen to a pre-Easter sermon. Police, according to court documents, responded by “knocking on car windows, demanding drivers’ licenses and writing citations with $500 fines.”
And in New Jersey, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal stated, “We are going to use every lever and tool available to us,” which by April had resulted in the arrest of 1,700 people charged in COVID-19-related infractions that number, officials said, 156 cases rose to felony offenses; the other 1,544 were direct violations of emergency orders that carried a maximum punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
In New York City, the pro-defund mayor redistributed $1 billion from the NYPD budget and announced massive police department cuts and reduced expenses as part of NYPD reform while at the same has ordered the police to shift the focus of their regular police enforcement to COVID-19 related enforcement, especially in the areas of social-distancing rules and breaking up large groups from gathering.
The use of police for COVID-19 enforcement has also resulted in fraudulent behavior. The Honolulu Police Department has suspended the use of special COVID-19 enforcement teams after an internal audit revealed “multiple violations” of the department’s overtime policies.
A group of about 160 police officers offered to work overtime to enforce city and state rules implemented to stop the spread of the coronavirus outbreak in Hawaii. An HPD internal review flagged potential abuse of overtime claims and has prompted investigations within the department, according to an HPD statement.
The enforcement teams were established in early August by Honolulu Chief Susan Ballard as Hawaii was experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases. Money from the federal CARES Act stimulus package has been funding the overtime salaries for the officers on the teams.
Enforcement of these types of orders lead to overcriminalization of the public, and contributes to a negative bias toward police by the community, which makes their already tough jobs even tougher. Additionally, the use of these types of enforcement functions should give us a pause for concern on the expenditures of monies that are occurring by misusing the pandemic for personal wage gains.
These unconstitutional actions are an affront to liberty and simply unsuitable for any state that aspires to have “a government of laws, and not of men.” You’d think the “defund the police” movement would be willing to say that, loud and clear.
• Currie Myers is a senior visiting fellow for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and a member of the criminology faculty at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
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