Police brutality is a reality. But the abuse is only present because government-backed law enforcement is always going to be filled with perverse incentives.
In March, the propensity for abuse and entitlement that often thrives among police officers was on full display in California. That’s when an off-duty cop drew his gun at a man trying to pay for Mentos.
The man’s crime? Nobody knows.
Jose Arreola was at the counter at a Chevron gas station in mid-March buying a pack of Mentos. All of a sudden, an off-duty officer pulled a gun.
Arreola had put the Mentos in his pockets when the officer yelled, “Hey, give that back. I’m a police officer.”
When talking to reporters, Arreola recalled the incident and how incredible it seemed that the officer had pulled out his gun over a candy.
“How can you do that, you know? Pull a gun over a candy,” Arreola said. “He looked at me and right away he thought I was a thief (that) I’m stealing it and nothing I said convinced him.”
After the officer overreacted, Arreola explained repeatedly that he had paid for the pack of Mentos. Still, the officer wouldn’t let go. He told the man to put the candy back, take his change, and leave.
While Arreola eventually complied — even though he had, literally, paid for the candy — the incident only came to an end after the clerk repeated twice that the man had paid.
“All I could think about was my wife,” the distressed Arreola said. “For a moment (I) was (thinking) this guy’s going to shoot me because even in the video you see that he cocked the gun,” he said.
After he left the store, he was visibly angry.
“He didn’t have a right to speak. He didn’t have a right to move because if he did the wrong thing I’d be a widow today,” Jackie Arreola, his wife, said.
After being put under this stress, the man wants an apology. But the police department’s failure to address this issue forced him to hire an attorney. In the meantime, the Buena Park Police Department confirmed that an internal investigation is underway.
While one can argue that the life of the police officer is a stressful one and that not all members of the force succumb to the temptation of abusing their power, the truth is that we hear too many cases like this.
We also hear about officers who are reprimanded for not using lethal force. When in fact, officers usually rely heavily on their weapons instead of on their problem-solving skills. And that is not an opinion, but a fact. And one that can be confirmed when you look at how these officers are trained.
According to the most recent data available, new recruits get eight hours of training on how to deal with conflicts and community policing strategies while they are required to get 60 hours of training in firearm skills and 51 hours in self-defense. In a free market environment where security would be treated as a service, competing firms would have to prove they are not going to resort to lethal violence as a means to deal with a problem. Otherwise, they would lose customers and go out of business.
When security is in the hands of the state, they have no incentives to be good. As a matter of fact, they only have incentives to remain irresponsible. The problem, it seems, is that in a setting where individuals are given blanket authority, they are also given immunity.