Paging Reality: Rethinking police powers

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Last week a University of Florida linebacker was arrested in a bizarre case. The charges? Barking at a police dog and resisting arrest.

Apparently freedom of speech doesn’t apply when a police dog is involved. More accurately, police officers have found a way to make bothering them a crime. By the way, resisting a frivolous arrest is also a crime.

I wouldn’t write about this if it was a first time thing, but this sort of police action has become so routine that the young man’s football team suspended him, and I’ve yet to hear any outraged reaction.

Here’s mine. Has the whole world gone crazy?

It’s clearly time to rethink the powers that we’re giving to police officers and prosecutors. In the last few years, we have seen a New Jersey 15-year-old arrested and physically assaulted by police officers for the crime of having his camera on, a Maryland man arrested for recording a traffic stop where a police officer waved a gun at him and a police officer fired for disclosing his city was using arrest and ticket quotas, likely as a fundraising mechanism.

Investigations and charges, even if a person is ultimately found not guilty, still carry a very heavy cost in legal fees, time and lost reputation. Just ask George Zimmerman.

We have numerous accounts of prosecutors overcharging individuals and then hoping it will lead to a lesser plea deal or juries settling for “lesser included charges” in order to compromise. The most recent was the Zimmerman trial in which virtually every legal expert admits the prosecution overcharged him when it tried to make a case for murder and later child abuse.

But taking away someone’s liberty is never a compromise, nor should it ever feel that way. It is a great tactic to intimidate defendants into accepting pleas, but it is simply unacceptable for a free society.

Facing a similar tactic in which prosecutors threatened to have him locked away for decades for copyright violations that the rights holders didn’t object to, Reddit Founder Aaron Swartz committed suicide.

These are the makings of a horror story out of the former Soviet Union, not something we should be talking about in the free world.

Following the shenanigans of the IRS, Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas) recently introduced legislation that would expressly make it legal to record a conversation with a member of the US executive branch. I think it’s a good start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Congress should pass legislation that prohibits any federal, state or local entity from criminalizing recording any government officials in the United States in public or in one’s private property. In addition, legislation should prohibit inclusion of “lesser included charges” and instead require prosecutors to only charge individuals with crimes they can prove occurred. One charge per criminal offence alleged. A lesser included charge gives a prosecutor an effective second bite at the apple and violates the spirit, if not the actual letter, of our double jeopardy laws.

Cities and states should prohibit the use of quotas, or any activity that turns police actions into fundraising rather than public safety. In the words of the aforementioned fired police officer, “I got into law enforcement to serve and protect, not be a bully.”

Attempts by government officials to intimidate individuals or prevent recording should come with a lengthy prison sentence.

Recording a government official, including a police officer, is not a crime. It is a patriotic act. Good police officers and government officials will be grateful for citizens who record their actions and verify that they are acting according to the sacred charge they’ve been given.

As for government officials who oppose this suggestion … Well, you can probably guess what they’ve been doing.

Police officers and other government employees serve the public. They are not above the law, nor should they be treated that way by any statutes or policymakers. If anything, they should be held to a higher standard. When we make it a crime to talk back to a police officer, bark at a police dog or record police activities, we run afoul of this core principle.

There is no conceivable reason to accept these tactics in the free world.

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