I was watching an interesting political talk show featuring, among others, a Republican candidate for Baltimore’s 1st city council district, Liz Copeland. The topic was whether Baltimore needed to change law enforcement policy in the aftermath of the Freddie Gray riots. There were good points on all sides and certainly brain food for me.
The idea of “broken windows policing” is that the police should rigorously enforce even the slightest infractions of the law, rather than limit their resources to investigating serious crimes, i.e. they should arrest people for breaking windows, not just for murder. The interesting question for me is more theoretical than practical: is this an idea a libertarian-leaning conservative can support?
I suppose it depends on what the law is that’s being broken. Since I believe in the right to freedom from aggression against one’s life, liberty and property, I do in fact agree that window breaking and similar property crimes should be punished. The problem arises when the same zeal is directed towards infractions of laws that I don’t believe have intrinsic merit.
One such case was referenced in the discussion: the death of Eric Garner in New York. He was arrested for selling illegal cigarettes and died after suffering a chokehold by an officer. The discussion participants seemed to agree that he was committing a crime and only disagreed on whether the police should have bothered to arrest him, but I don’t see his actions as intrinsically immoral at all. It’s the state’s fault for jacking up cigarette prices that creates this black market; on the same grounds I oppose all drug criminalization.
I welcome zero tolerance policing, but only against actual crimes.