When Cops and Robbers Are the Same People

If you want to move stolen goods or sell them in Gaston County, North Carolina, you may not be able to procure a police escort or armed “law enforcement” security for your trucks of looted merchandise. The qualified providers of such services have been relocated and are unable to offer their skills at the moment.

According to reports, the FBI stormed the Police Department and Town Hall of Cherryville, North Carolina, Wednesday, arresting four police officers and two others for transporting stolen goods, receiving bribes, and extorting money. The Feds allege that these renegade cops raked in three quarters of a million dollars.

The police chief and captain were not indicted, but have been suspended with pay while being investigated internally. Cherryville now has a greatly diminished police force and is struggling to meet real needs. Meanwhile, the Gaston County District Attorney says he is dismissing charges against suspects who were arrested by these officers since they are no longer credible witnesses.

This might be a teachable moment. I can think of at least a couple of lessons to learn

First, in many states there are moves to, or have been moves made to, make it illegal to photograph a police officer “while in the performance of his public duties.” Obviously, there are all sorts of reasons why a cop doing his legitimate job might not want to feel harassed. But how much should those feelings weigh against the fact that he is a public officer with a badge and a gun and is given the benefit of even the weakest doubts? People put in a position where they are confident they can get away with anything suffer an inordinate temptation to do anything. They become an occupying army rather than “peace officers.”

Second, if people get corrupted at such low levels in society, such as small towns, shouldn’t we assume that the temptation toward corruption is much stronger at more powerful levels of government? Anyone who bothers staying informed knows that the record of Federal law enforcement officers being sanctioned for crimes, not to mention mere misfeasance, is awfully small compared to the credible accusations that have been made against them. To name just one recent example, we still see a great deal of whitewashing and cover-ups in response to the wrongdoing in the BATFE’s Operation Fast and Furious.

Having a badge and a gun doesn’t make you a hero; it makes you powerful and dangerous. Pretending that there is no need to watch the watchmen at the local, state, or especially federal levels is a road to disaster. While society needs law and order, if the people given responsibility for enforcing and maintaining law and order know they will not be held accountable themselves, their behavior will tend to become criminal. The position will even attract the worst possible candidates for the job.

Law enforcement and organized crime will become the same entity.