MINOT, N.D. -- America’s vast military might resides under civilian control. The commander-in-chief of our armed forces is the President of the United States, and for good reason.
Law enforcement, too, is under civilian control. Or it’s supposed to be anyway. Given the deference shown toward cops it can seem like the tail is wagging the dog.
Take, as a case in point, the recent failure of HB1442 before the state Senate in Bismarck. This bill would have outlawed the use of DUI checkpoints as a law enforcement tactic. The stop and search of every motorist along a given stretch of road has, through an astounding feat of legal gymnastics, been upheld by the courts as constitutional.
But we needn’t go to the Constitution in arguing against the tactic. The checkpoints don’t seem to accomplish much of anything outside of running up overtime for the cops.
“Data from North Dakota law enforcement agencies shows that only a fraction of DUI arrests result from checkpoints,” Forum News Service reporter Raju Chaduvula wrote recently.
Still, the Senate killed the bill on a 10 to 36 vote after a heavy lobbying effort by law enforcement.
The Senate also defeated a bill which would have disclosed details about the cost of security for the governor. These sort of costs are routinely disclosed by government elsewhere. The news media frequently publish or broadcast stories about the costs of security our president.
Yet law enforcement here in North Dakota -- the Highway Patrol, specifically, as they provide security for the governor -- have consistently refused to release cost details to myself and others.
They claim this is to protect the security of the governor, which is bunk. If we can know how much it costs to protect the president without risking security we can now how much it costs to secure Doug Burgum.
But it’s not just state lawmakers who bow and scrape when the uniforms show up to throw their political weight around.
Recently the Stark County Sheriff’s Department, in the process of serving a search warrant, broke down the door to an apartment, arrested the occupant, and then left the domicile open to the North Dakota winter.
The landlord had to figure this out for himself.
To be fair Stark County has agreed to pay for the damages, but according to comments from Sheriff Corey Lee it’s not because they have to. "It's not a common practice for them to pay for damages as they are typically acting in their official capacity in regards to a criminal matter," he told the Dickinson Press.
That statement isn’t actually true -- cops can be liable for property damage even when they’re acting in an official capacity -- but the fact that a sheriff can make such an assertion without any real pushback from anyone is an illustration of just how much latitude we give law enforcement.
Which is too much latitude.
All reasonable people are thankful for the job cops do for us, but it’s worth remembering they are a necessary evil, and that a police state is not a pleasant place to live.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.