In a powerful op-ed in USA TODAY, law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds argues that authorities who fail to stop massacres should face consequences, that “incompetence should be penalized.” Makes sense, right? Evil triumphs when good men do nothing, as Ed Burke would remind us.
To make his case, Reynolds recounts just some of the blunders and oversights law enforcement has made in recent years:
Despite receiving a warning directly from the Russian government, the FBI failed to stop the Tsarnaev brothers from staging the Boston Marathon bombing. Despite having plenty of resources, the Charlottesville police failed to stop a car attack that left a woman dead. The FBI interviewed Omar Mateen, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter, and considered criminally investigating him. They didn’t — possibly because his father was an FBI informant.
The FBI also missed numerous “red flags” before the San Bernardino shooting. And despite having lots of warning, the FBI, the Broward County schools and the Broward Sheriff’s Department under Sheriff Scott Israel all failed to stop Nikolas Cruz from shooting up a high school.
The Parkland incident is particularly egregious because not only did the on-campus deputy run and hide when the going got rough, three other deputies who arrived on scene shortly thereafter and opted not to engage the shooter bucking the department’s protocol. Instead, they set up a permitter and waited outside.
Children died, one can posit, because well-paid public servants responsible for doing something to prevent a tragedy, did nothing. For Reynolds, everyone should face the fire. Not just the student resource officer who, days after the shooting, resigned in disgrace.
“This is why calls for more gun control ring hollow,” wrote Reynolds “When the laws that would have prevented Nikolas Cruz from getting a gun failed because those in charge of executing them chose — chose — not to enforce them, because doing so would have made the school’s crime reports look bad, then it’s hard to believe that more laws will make a difference.”
“You know what might make a difference, though? Consequences,” he continued.
While I agree with Reynolds to an extent, I have to caution. Be careful what you wish for. For starters, we have to recognize what we’re asking here. We are asking the police to do a better job of policing themselves. As Reynolds pointed out, we have a hard time getting them to do their primary job of stopping bad guys. Now we’re going to demand that they call each other to the carpet every time one of them makes a mistake or fails to follow up on a tip?
Don’t think so. Giving incompetent people more responsibility is a recipe for gross incompetence.
That’s not even my biggest concern, though. What really worries me is the consequences of creating a culture of policing that errs on the side of doing something out of fear of prosecution for doing nothing. Doing something doesn’t always translate into doing the right thing. Sometimes something is the wrong thing. We see this all the time when politicians call for gun control following a tragedy, impelled to “do something” to placate the aggrieved.
What Reynolds fails to consider is that an overly aggressive police force can be every bit as deadly as a feckless one. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to see Sheriff Scott Israel held accountable for Parkland. Dude should be fired immediately! It’s just that, fundamentally, trying to make government competent or even hold it accountable is a fool’s errand. Irrespective of the method used.
(A great story about government accountability: Remember when former Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress for stonewalling the House investigation to the fatally flawed gunrunning probe known as Fast and Furious? Was he held accountable? What ever happened to that guy? Oh yeah, nothing. In fact, Holder’s considering a presidential bid for 2020.)
Look, I’m not railing against the rank-and-file officer. We need them. Many of my friends are cops. Good ones at that. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t put any faith in our bloated, Orwellian-sized federal security apparatus to do the right thing. The only reason why they’re semi-transparent about their mistakes now is because they know their jobs aren’t at risk. Take away their job security and we’ll never get to the truth.
What we really need is (a) a smaller government and (b) a change in our culture as it relates to self-defense. Instead of completely outsourcing the vanquishing of evil to the boys in blue and the feds, I’d love to see more citizens take responsibility for their safety. I’d love to see more of us exercise our 2A rights, more of us carry concealed for self-defense, more of us engage in neighborhood watch programs. Because when Burke talked about “good men” he wasn’t just referring to law enforcement.