Monday, January 26, 2009

Goldwater Institute: New Pinal County Sheriff has refreshing perspective

When initiative petitions were circulated last week to repeal the use of speed-enforcement cameras on the state's highways, among the first to sign was Paul Babeu, the newly elected Pinal County Sheriff.

Paul BabeuBabeu thinks the cameras dumb-down law-enforcement. "I've never yet seen a photo-radar camera arrest a drunk driver or arrest a person with a warrant, see if somebody has insurance or just simply give directions to somebody," he explains.

But there is another, and more important, reason why Babeu opposes the cameras: the introduction of a profit incentive in law-enforcement. The cameras' "main purpose," he says, "is to create money for the government." He worries that such a relationship creates a corrupting influence, where revenue rather than safety or law-enforcement is the overriding priority.

Speed-enforcement cameras are not the only such influence. The widespread practice of civil asset forfeiture likewise creates perverse incentives for law-enforcement officials where police agencies get to keep the proceeds from property supposedly involved in crimes. Abuses of that power in such circumstances are legion.

Enforcing the rule of law is the central function of government. That power is given to government in order to ensure that law-enforcement is objective and neutral. The temptation to concentrate limited police resources on activities that generate revenues is a natural one that ought to be avoided. Separating law-enforcement from the profit motive is central to the rule of law.

Babeu calls himself a "strict constitutionalist." It's a nice perspective to have in a law-enforcement official-and for those of us committed to the rule of law, an essential one.
Clint Bolick is the director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

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