As an attorney I cannot state how often I listen to neighbors express their frustrations in regard to the amount of police activity seemingly directed at minor traffic violations when nothing appears to be done at curtailing home break ins or other forcible felonies on the rise throughout Indiana.
When my community was annexed, one of the purported selling points marketed to get citizens to vote in favor of the annexation was the increased amount of police attention our increased tax contributions would provide. I recall vividly telling anyone who would listen that what would result was the double whammy of increased taxes combined with an increased amount of minor traffic stops wholly unrelated to a reduction in true criminal activity.
True to form, I have stood by the sides of a quarter of my neighborhood in court for minor traffic violations since the annexation, leaving these individuals to question the nature of their local police activity fueled by the tax dollars they have provided. Such prioritization of impeding the time of productive citizens through minor traffic enforcement converts these hard working tax payers from those inclined to support their local police to individuals who look upon law enforcement with scorn.
Public law enforcement is dependent upon the financial resources of the general public to promote public safety. Customarily, tax dollars have been the bedrock by which respective law enforcement agencies nationwide have been able to function in a manner capable of enforcing public safety.
However, in today’s hotly contested political climate filled with allegations of wasteful spending in all areas of government, state, local and federal political officials have often seemingly been in a competition to demonstrate to the electorate how passionately they can slash tax expenditures earmarked for any public expenditure.
As a result, painful budgetary shortfalls, most notably within small town America, have resulted in harsh spending choices and policy decisions within all areas of public administration, most notably in the area of public safety.
In the area of law enforcement even financial support for local police agencies have not been spared. Such anger and calls for reduced financial expenditures to local police often stems from citizens who believe that their tax dollars have too often been directed toward police activity impeding their day to day driving activities at the expense of allowing true criminal activity to continue unabated.
Under the heading of misdirected public safety tax expenditures, I for one endorse the curtailment of the endless stream of commercials and public service announcements produced by one national traffic safety board after another, but made possible by individual tax dollars; tax dollars that I believe could be far more efficiently used toward the hiring and training of those employed by police agencies throughout America.
I believe, the consequences of such misdirected spending in the area of crime control is two fold, 1.) an increase in the activities of local police agencies that result in the promotion of traffic enforcement geared to increasing public revenue and 2.) a reduction in the community policing effectiveness of on the beat officers capable of engendering trust within their assigned communities.
It is no wonder that the public confidence that police actors have the proper motives in mind when performing their daily police directives have been more and more eroded with each passing year.
The above referenced budgetary implications have resulted in the retention of too many police officers more focused upon the collection of traffic fines through non violent detention activity than gaining the public’s admiration for heroic actions to apprehend and get violent offenders off the streets. Most often such actions are enforced at the direction of police leadership to replace the dwindling tax bases formerly relied upon to manage day to day operations.
Underscoring the perilous state of affairs among local police agencies nationwide, the state of Indiana has once again been the subject of national notoriety in the area of law enforcement practice as the entire Bunker Hill Indiana police department chose to abruptly walk off of their respective law enforcement responsibilities due to policy disagreements with the town council.
Throughout America the depletion of financial resources allocated toward law enforcement has resulted in political battles that have endangered the welfare of the general public. This reality has been highlighted by the actions taking place within Bunker Hill Indiana and no doubt in other communities across America.
Such policy disputes are not uncommon in the least. In fact, I would suggest that healthy and robust debate that can sometimes spurn extreme feelings is actually a positive activity among political leaders accountable for documenting that fiscal expenditures are allocated in the most efficient manner possible.
We presently live in an age where the word, “transparency” has become the new catch word to illustrate that the public wants their elected officials to be held to account for their actions. However, it is not a stretch to assert that what the general public does not want is for public officials supported by their hard earned tax dollars to act in a manner that is directly counter to the public good. In fact, I would submit that police officers or any other public officials who consciously take leave of their responsibilities are culpable for ghost employment allegations in the receipt of public funds for which services have not been performed.
From the perspective of many an attorney familiar with the workings of the criminal justice system in Indiana, the answers to building up public confidence in police actions starts with the proper budgetary priorities. Hiring more officers, properly training such officers and directing such officers to engage in conduct that can be admired instead of scoffed at.
Once the public tax base has witnessed police officers prioritizing the apprehension of violent offenders over accumulating minor traffic tickets, the general public can more readily endorse that their tax dollars are being spent properly.
When police officers are properly trained to interact with citizens within communities that they live in themselves, less consternation will be directed at tax funds supporting police actions that seemingly work counter to the public good and self respect of all members of our communities.
Reductions in violent crime requires sufficient financial support, but more importantly, the proper prioritized activity fueled by such financial support. When police officers are foreign to communities that they serve and look upon citizens as targets for arrest or financial shakedown rather than people they are employed to respect and protect, continued financial shortfalls will further cripple the opportunity to build up mutual respect among the police and citizens in the years to come.