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The Impact of 21st Century Culture on Law Enforcement

Aug 17, 2007
Not since the 1960's have so many commonly held assumptions about society been so scattered in such a short time. The past decade has seen shake-ups on virtually every front, leaving many law enforcement professionals feeling just a tad nervous. Where should your sympathies and allegiances lie? Which way are the public's attitudes going?

The rise of big corporations and their heavy-handed influence on the laws of the States have had a dramatic impact. People are more likely to go along with a law when it expresses a social policy that makes sense; so-called non-consensual crimes or crimes with victims. The public, as a rule, has less sympathy for a law imposed purely for financial or religious reasons. It's a controversial subject that many fear to address in its whole scope.

One thing you might have heard batted around in one of your police science classes is that, technically, everybody's guilty of something. True, many of them are old, so-called "goofy" laws which haven't been enforced in a century, but still, there they are: on the books, taking up space, and diluting the real laws. In fact, the sheer, massive volume of applicable laws in any one place and time are almost too voluminous for one person to learn in a lifetime.

Alternative lifestyle laws are under attack. The states have persisted in playing a kind of bingo with these laws lately, with one place in one corner pocket of the US legalizing gay marriage and then changing their mind, then another state doing the same. Same-sex couples end up scurrying from one place to another to try to get hitched. The conversation that is taking place in the public is pointing out that these laws against same-sex marriage exist solely because of a religious agenda. The case here isn't whether it's legal or not, or moral or not; the factor is merely that these patchwork law practices undermine the public's respect for the law.

The lawsuit factory has continued unabated. When people hear a story in the media about some highly frivolous lawsuit going down against all common sense, they feel cheated. Their tax dollars went to fund this, and well it may be that some of it was justified, but public opinion isn't always so lenient - or even so careful to deliberate before it makes up its mind.

Prohibition of narcotics is another political hot button. This one gets us both ways: there are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, dangerous drugs that should not be allowed on the streets. But then there is the medical marijuana issue. A recent headline ran in a major news source, claiming that marijuana is no more harmful than aspirin. Again, the issue is not whether marijuana is or is not harmful; the point is that these stories go out every day and make people wonder. If a patient's lying in bed in pain and a doctor's prescribing it and the state has legalized it and the Federal government is still saying you can't legally have it, that's a large black eye for the law in the public's mind.

Sociologists have shown that increasing the number of laws makes people more willing to be criminals. If 'breaking the law' is something you can do while proving that you have hurt no one in any physical or financial way and indeed, in secret in your own home, people tend to think less of breaking the law. Speaking of marijuana, a recent statistic has it that we now have more people in jail for pot than for all other crimes in total. Point, and point.

The world of medicine is also wracked by debates over stem cell research and the even scarier idea of cloning just around the corner. Here again, the public is questioning the double standard; how come stem cells are "tampering with the Divinity's creation" and yet it's fine to serve us genetically modified food made from gene-spliced crops? Or the opposing ideas of saving one life with stem cells, which are too close to being the fetus of another life, in point of fact. The controversy raging over this issue is out of our hands, but the consequences of the political unrest are felt on the street every day.

The national policy is one final concern. There will never be agreement between the opposed political parties, and experts on both sides have commented on how polarized the political camps have been lately. No matter our national policy, it seems both sides want revolution for their championed causes. The cries currently going out to impeach the president are something we'd better get used to, because they'll be just as loud after we elect the next one.

In past decades in the United States, political and social issues have created a state of unrest that lead to massive protests and riots. These demonstrations continue today in somewhat similar form, but the part that law enforcers worry about is how much more intense they're going to get. Today's mobs can coordinate their actions through the various telecommunications methods and spread information through the Internet. True, we always had things to be upset about before; the difference is that the "bad news" gets around the world in minutes and retaliatory actions can be planned and executed within hours. We do not know when the breaking point will be, but we can be sure of one thing - if it does come, it will be swift.

It is important for law enforcers to present to the public a more understanding face. Be sure you are not the target of unfocused disfavor with the United States government. That's the tougher aspect of wearing a badge for society - you're often mistaken for the complaint department!
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