Law Enforcement Responds to Behavior

Eden Prairie News Commentary, 1/18/06
By Dan Carlson

If you have read the paper at all in the last few months you know that two of the hottest topics for politicians and the media these days are gun control and immigration. Both topics involve the role of law enforcement. As Police Chief, my concern surrounding the public discussion on these issues is that amidst the political banter and media soundbites, we are losing sight of the real problem: the illegal behavior of an individual or individuals.

In law enforcement it is our job is to deal with behavior, specifically behavior which has a negative impact on public safety. People’s behavior is the foundation of the who, what, where, when, why and how behind our enforcement efforts. When there is illegal behavior, or behavior that jeopardizes public safety or the rights of others, our duty is to intervene.

We try to manage behavior both proactively and reactively. We try to stop it, minimize it, modify it and prevent it. For example, when it comes to Driving Under the Influence (DUI), we work to prevent drinking and driving by educating the community through public education campaigns. At the same time, we aggressively pursue drunk drivers who are already on the road through enforcements efforts.

When it comes to gun control, those of us in law enforcement also look at behavior. How gun permits are regulated isn’t the issue that impacts public safety (history has established that), it is people behaving negatively with guns that threatens public safety. The loud debates from the extreme ends of the gun issue resulted in a lot of time and money spent with one side trying to convince the other side to change their beliefs. The result was that there was no impact on the real issue: the negligent behavior leading to gun violence.

The latest political hot topic that has become a media favorite is being labeled as an immigration issue. New initiatives have been proposed to deal with enforcement problems involving our immigrant population, specifically identification issues. The inability to adequately identify individuals who behave illegally has a significant impact on public safety. However this problem is not unique to immigrants. Every segment of the population has people who break the law. Every segment of the population also has people who abuse our country’s freedoms to avoid being accurately identified so they can continue to behave illegally. We need to keep a focus that this is not an immigration issue but an issue of identifying the small percentage of immigrants who are criminals.

We are not a society which accepts the idea that randomly checking an individual’s identification papers is acceptable as a routine practice. However accurate identification of those whose behavior is unacceptable is a critical tool of effective law enforcement. As you listen to what the media has to say about the current immigration situation, try and keep the perspective that this is about identification and processing of individuals who behave illegally rather than identifying a specific segment of our population. Immigration may be in the spotlight now, but the illegal behavior of individuals still needs to be the primary focus.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for debate and discussion of the peripheral issues that surround subjects like gun control and immigration. Political polar opposites need to have discussions in order to find places of common ground and possibly points of compromise. But we need to remember that in law enforcement it is a person’s negative behavior that impacts others and society, and which motivates law enforcement to intervene. As a society, we need to put discussion of behavior first when looking for ways to improve our public safety operations.