By Jack Hays
It is very easy for law enforcement officers to lose sight of their purpose; With 6 years of experience as a police officer I know this to be true. We often get caught in the vicious trap of trying to do all we can to get the bad guys off of the streets while at the same time trying to protect the good guys in a politically correct manner.
it is nearly impossible, but somehow we must get the job done, and we do.
It is not easy enforcing laws in a free society. It would be much easier enforcing laws in a society where the citizens have, what some would call a healthy, fearful respect, of men with badges on their chests. A society where the citizens know that you don’t dare step out of line or the police will show up and make an example of you for all to see. And, if you want to work in that type of society you only need to move to China, Cuba, or any one of several Eastern European countries where law enforcement officers are feared and the citizens step aside when they approach.
In those societies police officers are looked upon as keepers making sure no one steps outside of the boxes their government masters have drawn for them and making sure that citizens who express displeasure with those same government masters are taken away for re-education before they corrupt their neighbors with crazy notions of freedom of speech and assembly.
However, thank God we do not live in such a country; at least not yet, and a key determining factor in whether or not we ever will, falls on the shoulders of us, the law enforcers.
We are the individuals that are on the street, among the people, our neighbors & families, applying the rules of civil society as laid down by our fellow employees of the people, legislators. And it is us that decides whether or not to write the ticket or make the arrest for whatever violation of law we observe or discover; It is our discretion (The reasonable exercise of a power or right to act in an official capacity; involves the idea of choice, of an exercise of the will, 94 N.W. 2d 810, 811).
Our #1 job while serving our fellow citizens is to live up to our Oath of Office to “Support, Obey and Defend the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same… and I do further solemnly swear that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of law enforcement officer with fidelity”. We have all taken this oath, or something very similar to it, before we ever pinned that precious badge on our chests. But, how many of us ever really thought about and realized the significance of that oath we so willingly took? I fear not enough of us have.
When we take the oath of office we swear before God that we will, above all else, support, obey, & defend our Constitutions. We do not swear to get the bad guy at all costs. We do not swear to be creative, without technically telling a lie, in our report writing to get the warrant. We do not swear to tell the Chief that the guy swung at us to justify cracking the guy with our flashlights, although those things do understandably sometimes happen. We swear an oath to uphold our Constitutions and the protections therein.
The Constitutions we have all sworn to uphold are the very foundation of our uniquely American lives. Our Constitutions are the only thing standing between our way of life and the subservient lives of Cubans or the Chinese. Every time our Constitutions are violated our American way of life suffers. It especially suffers when it is violated by those of us that have sworn to uphold it.
Our purpose as law enforcement officers, every time we put that badge on is to go out and preserve our uniquely American way of life by enforcing, or not enforcing, our laws in accord with our oaths to the Constitutions.
We, I say we because those of us who are charged with enforcing the laws are subject to those same laws, as Americans, have a right to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” and when those rights are violated by someone who murders, steals, assaults, or kidnaps one of our fellow citizens we show up taking action to live up to our oaths by arresting the individual, depriving them of their liberty, pursuit of happiness, and possibly their life, for violating the rights of the victim(s), not technically killing the victim, but for violating the victim’s right to life.
We also, as a result of our oaths to support, obey, & defend the Constitutions have a responsibility to not enforce, by exercising our prosecutorial discretion (defined as “The wide range of alternatives available to a prosecutor in criminal cases, including the decision to prosecute, the particular charges to be brought, etc… or not to prosecute (see Lafave, Arrest 72 (1965)), laws passed by the legislatures that violate our Constitutions. Consider this: “The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, whether federal or state, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose, since unconstitutionally dates from the time of its enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it” (16th American Jurisprudence, 256, 2nd edition).
For example, say the town council adopts an ordinance, which our courts have defined as “A local law that applies to persons and things subject to the local jurisdiction” (see 90 F. 2d 175, 177) that says no one in the town is allowed to possess a gun for any reason and that law is put on the books in the town. We as law enforcement officers can rightly refuse to enforce the law because it is in violation of the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, “…The right of the people to keep & bear arms shall not be infringed” and Article 1 Section 21 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of PA “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the state shall not be questioned” that we took an oath to obey.
Our purpose in our free society is to insure that we, as citizens and law enforcers, remain free not just from molestation of our lives by the “bad guys”, but from those who would destroy our American way of life under the guise of lawmaking in our legislatures.