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Is Pro-Liberty Really Anti-Police?

| May 31, 2019

The Texas Public Policy Foundation worked hard this legislative session to limit the practice of making a custodial arrest (handcuffs and ride in a squad car) for offenses that are punishable by a fine alone. These are the offenses for which our legislature felt that even a conviction for such a crime would not warrant incarceration. The SCOTUS decision in Atwater v Lago Vista created some ambiguity with what should otherwise be seen as legislative intent by deciding that an arrest for any offense would survive 4th Amendment scrutiny.  This left the practice up to the states.  If the states do not weigh in, it leaves it up to the police.

This session, as in the last session, several bills were filed and amendments added to other bills that would have reigned in the practice of making arrests on fines-only offenses, codifying the concept that a citation alone would suffice for these offenses.  The concept made it to both party platforms.  This was a bipartisan issue, one of the very few we seem to have left.  The argument made by TPPF, the same argument we make for all of our positions, is one of limited government and liberty; where the government acts as guarantor of freedom and not its sole issuer and arbiter.  When the initial arrest itself is more punitive than the legislatively prescribed punishment after a conviction, there is an imbalance in the proper tension between legitimate government interests in security and the public’s interest in freedom.

The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) released a statement celebrating its success in defeating all of the attempts to limit arrests for Class C misdemeanors, those punishable by fine alone.  Claiming to represent law enforcement, CLEAT is a union and looks out for union interests.  Where those interests intersect with their membership (benefits, pay, disciplinary legislation, etc.) and where they do not is not easily discerned. 

CLEAT could clear up any confusion by perhaps sharing with the public how its membership voted on each of its policy positions.  Have strong majorities of the police officers they represent agreed that allowing unlimited authority to arrest someone for a seatbelt violation should be the issue on which the union spends so much time and resources?  After all, the friends and family of those officers could also be subject to this overly intrusive practice. 

The truth is the union has very little idea where their members stand on such an issue.  Unions don’t work that way.  The union determines the policy and, wittingly or unwittingly, the membership provides legitimacy for their position.

This is why the statement from CLEAT attacked Texas Public Policy Foundation directly.  We questioned the legitimacy of their claim to speak for all of law enforcement on any and all issues.  Even if we gave them the strongest benefit of the doubt and agreed that they were somehow the voice of every Texas police officer, should Texans be content with one part of government lobbying another part of government to determine exactly how much liberty the citizens should enjoy?  Are the scare tactics, including claims that the police will be attacked if they can no longer arrest someone for not using their turn signal acceptable forms of debate on this topic?

Our mention in CLEAT’s statement needs to be addressed, and I will quote their statement directly where we are specifically named in order to avoid taking the allegation out of context:

“The Republican Party of Texas and the powerful Texas Public Policy Foundation with its Right on Crime Initiative joined with anti-police groups “Just Liberty,” “Austin Justice Coalition” and other “Black Lives Matter” groups to attack front line officers and their rarely used discretion to arrest for Class C offenses.”

Because I personally handle TPPF’s policing policy research, I am going to address this last part personally.  I am a retired police officer who served for 21 years and the son of a retired police chief.  For many years, I was a member of a police union.  I was the director of a police academy here in Texas where one of the walls in our lobby was dedicated to those police officers who made the ultimate sacrifice after graduating from our academy. 

If TPPF were an “anti-police group,” you would not find me here.  If I felt that any policy endangered the lives of our police officers or threatened public safety, I would not support it and I would not sit on the sidelines, I would oppose it.  My love for the profession and those in it is as strong as it ever was, surpassed only by love for ordered liberty.  Because of all of these things, I never confuse the police union with the front line police officer, not for one second, and neither should you.

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Randy Petersen spent 21 years as a police officer working in the patrol, investigations, training, and administrative divisions.  He retired as a patrol watch commander in 2014 and became the director of a police academy here in Texas.  He is currently the Senior Researcher for the policing initiative at Texas Public Policy Foundation.

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