In the long scope of criminal justice, we need to look at history more and more as look at where we are going in the future.
Laws used to be simple; their punishments were equally simple. With the eesadvent of the U. S. Constitution, law became different. Before that it was against the law because a king had said so. And punishment really took upon three forms: shame and humiliation, imprisonment, or death. After the constitution, law was more about a violation of the people. And punishments abandoned shame and humiliation, while keeping punishment and death– with the death penalty taking a HUGE priority.
As a result, people took the law into their own hands– especially on the frontier. And we had sheriffs, marshals, and militia forces. But people often had to still take the law in to their own hands for the simple fact that law enforcement simply was not around.
And then we created police forces. The idea was to center law enforcement in a centralized force, a\nd hopefully take it out of the hands of citizens, thus making enforcement, of obedience to the law easier and its application more consistent.
This worked. This is not to say that some laws themselves were wrong and needed change—especially laws that were unjust, like racial laws. This only to say in most cases, the law was applied and enforced consistently.
There was a time when the job of police officer was a trusted one. We looked at police officers as the holders of truth, honor, and justice. We ran to them when we were in trouble, and they ran to us to protect us. We looked at their uniform and knew that they stood for all of us.
But then came drugs. And with it it the vast sums of money and power that drug sales, addiction, and abuse brings. Police work became coarser. Police became coarser. Police work started to corrupt some police. Law enforcement became more powerful, and as it does, that power corrupted and it grew. It grew to point where we started to take away the options that both police and judges had.
And it grew to a point where recruitment changed. We started to recruit more ex-military looking for jobs, instead of people looking for a calling. And the police became more militarized and less about “the law”. What Vietnam did to the U. S. military, drugs did to U. S. police forces.
In the last twenty years, we have ended up with a younger, less experienced police force through the country. But we have also demanded MORE of them, while defining LESS of the law for them. We have expected them to make too many “judgement calls”. And we are unhappy with the calls that have been made.
To put it bluntly, we have become a nation of second-guessers. We only pay lip-service to delegation. Truly delegating means delegating both authority AND responsibility. Yet we only give responsibility. We hold back authority. And for that, we suffer. Large city or small, county or state, we all suffer.
We no longer respect the police. We throw all manner of things at them—water, concrete, fireworks. We start fires, tear down fences, and riot! We hide behind the law, we don’t stand for it.
Instead of changing how judgements are made, we attack those we force into making judgement calls.
We get the police we deserve.