Here’s an actual incident from the Lincoln, Massachusetts police log: “Caller reported seeing a car driving down Goose Pond Road the previous night.” That is what it takes to have the police called on you in a well off town. Just being there. Harassing nonresidents is law enforcement’s raison d’être.
That driver got away because the call came too late. Another, visiting a friend, did not. She was pulled just because somebody didn’t recognize her car and called the cops. Asked about this incident, police said they will question anybody they want to question. Chief Kennedy strikes me as a man with a firm grasp of who does and does not have to obey the law. The police department does not. The important people of the town do not. You do. And the voters wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lincoln residents ban the right things, say the right slogans. Some of them organized a socially distant caravan of support during the George Floyd protests. A statement was put out in the chief’s name assuring residents nothing like that would happen here. The town seems genuinely happy to have black students bused in from Boston during the daytime.
But if residents look in the mirror they will see people who call the cops on anybody who looks out of place, especially outside of the 8 AM to 3 PM weekday diversity hours. They will see people who want police out ticketing commuters because roads should be for residents only. Residents don’t want heads busted but they do want drivers harassed.
Facially neutral traffic laws are an excuse for discrimination, and not just the technically illegal racial kind. The right of police to choose victims based on factors unrelated to traffic safety is enshrined in a long series of court decisions.
I watched a police officer in Newton watch people roll through a stop sign. How did he decide who to pull over, I asked. “Officer discretion.” In other words, anybody who looks like he deserves a ticket gets a ticket. If a resident calls the cops on you quickly enough, you may find your license plate is a little dirty. Just like everybody else’s, but police are allowed to pick you out of the crowd. They are allowed to pick you out of a crowd because they got a call from somebody who thought your skin was the wrong color, or you wore a funny hat just like those terrorists.
I said harassment was law enforcement’s rasion d’être. I didn’t say the police department’s. Most of the job of a police officer is not law enforcement. Officers do well being checks. They look after the very young and very old. Another Lincoln police log entry reads “Officers checked the area but were unable to locate the turtle.”
I’d be happy to have my town pay somebody to rescue turtles from busy roads, but if there’s a definition of over-policing it should include any department where officers have that much free time. Community caretaking jobs should be assigned to non-uniformed employees. When you look at what’s left of the department’s job, real police work, it can be handled by the State Police barracks in the next town.
I’m a fan of defunding the police. Get rid of specialized traffic cops and patrols. Shift community caretaking to another agency. And most of all, make a society where police are there when you really need them in an emergency, and out of sight when you don’t.
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