In response to President Barack Obama’s decision to regulate the military freebies that once flowed freely to constabulary forces, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones released a lengthy statement Monday condemning the news.
This latest missive from the President underscores a continuing attitude from him and the Attorney General’s Office that local police and sheriff’s departments across this country are incapable of effectively and fairly providing public safety services to their respective communities, no matter where situated. The President knows as much about policing as I know about being President, yet he has convinced himself that his intervention is essential and necessary for healthy community policing, despite the law enforcement executives across this country that have dedicated their lives to this purpose. This is evidenced by the imposition of his own requirements and guidelines on as many as 25 different policing agencies, and his intention to impose them on many more. From the moment President Obama uttered, “Cambridge Police acted stupidly,” he has injected himself into local policing and has substituted his judgment for that of law enforcement professionals. He has used the full force of his office and the entire Executive Branch—including the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Justice, and DHS—for this purpose. Policing in this country was decentralized at its inception purposefully to avoid this very concentration of policing power and judgment, and to relegate the accountability of policing agencies to the constituencies they serve.
I attended the Law Enforcement Memorial activities in Washington DC last week where I personally heard both Attorney General Loretta Lynch and President Obama commit to supporting law enforcement and getting them the resources and equipment they need. I find it hypocritical to see that the very next business day, their actions scream so loudly that their words can no longer be heard. While I can certainly say I am disappointed, there is likely no law enforcement executive—including myself—that can say they are surprised.
For a guy whose job it is to enforce the rules, Jones sure doesn’t like it when they’re made for him (and by someone who criticized the dubious arrest of a black college professor six years ago.
As the county’s top elected lawman, Jones has every right to render an opinion. Some might even call it an expert opinion. But it would have been nice to see (read) him acknowledge that this new “imposition,” as he puts it, didn’t spring from nowhere.
The fact that all I have to say is “Ferguson” or “Baltimore”—or that there are websites dedicated to “botched paramilitary police raids”—illustrates the darkening trust of the nation’s people in its protectors.
And while every law enforcement agency–and, indeed, every cop–is different, I don’t see what’s wrong with putting in place universal guidelines that ask agencies to explain why they actually need the military equipment they inherit. Whether it’s an armory full of grenade launchers, a fleet of unmanned drones or enough snowshoes to take over Tahoe, shouldn’t acquiring this stuff require slightly more paperwork than applying for a job at Applebee’s?
Oh, and for those counting, this is the second public presidential lashing from Jones in six months, though he chose a different medium this time. Fingers crossed that he expresses his next critique through interpretive dance.