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An Evolving Police/Surveillance State?

It appears that our police forces in America are changing and that we are developing into a Police State/Surveillance Society. What is the traditional model for police forces in America? Are they in the process of being militarized? If so, for what reason? How can we reconstruct the American concept of police?

  • Tom Rose,
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A “concerned reader” who has been observing the “signs of the times” makes a thoughtful comment and poses some pertinent questions:

It appears that our police forces in America are changing and that we are developing into a Police State/Surveillance Society. What is the traditional model for police forces in America?  Are they in the process of being militarized?  If so, for what reason?  How can we reconstruct the American concept of police?

The answer is yes.  The orientation and underlying concept of police enforcement in America have been changing.  The change has been progressing so quietly as to be hardly noticeable.  Throughout Americas’ history, the traditional orientation of police enforcement has been local rather than national.  It was the sheriff, the highest police official in the county, and his deputies who were without question in control of maintaining peace and apprehending law breakers. Incorporated cities and municipalities have had the same local orientation, but the titles change to chief of police and policemen on the beat.

The traditional American concept of law enforcement was that it was applied by the sheriff’s deputy or policeman, who were regarded as friends, right where problems occurred.  But this historic view has changed gradually over the past half-century because of certain political pressures and monetary influences coming from the national level of government. The sheriff, as the highest-ranking police officer in the county, still has authority to tell federal agencies and their SWAT teams (FBI, BATF, DEA, IRS, and federal marshals) how they must conduct themselves in his county.  But sadly, very few sheriffs have the intestinal fortitude to buck the evolving police-state system because doing so might threaten their careers or their standing with various federal agencies on which they have become financially dependent. 

Pressures to Militarize Local Law Enforcement

One sheriff who did have the intestinal fortitude – along with a good understanding of the U. S. Constitution – to buck pressures from Washington, D. C., was Richard I. Mack, who served as sheriff of Graham County, Arizona.  In January, 1994, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) mailed all law enforcement administrators in the country a copy of its own  interpretation of local law enforcement’s duties regarding the new “Brady Law,” which required a five-day waiting period to purchase firearms.  Sheriff Mack correctly reasoned along this line: 

First, the law is completely contrary to the U.S. Constitution,…. The Brady Bill also violates the Constitution of Arizona, which states, “…the rights of the individual citizen to keep and bear arms in his own defense or in defense of the state, shall not be impaired. … Second, the Federal Government has no jurisdictional authority to order or command me (or any other sheriff in this country) to enforce federal law…. I am not a federal agent; I work for Graham County and was hired by the people of the county to do their bidding.1 

Note that Sheriff Mack’s concern about jurisdictional authority was perfectly in accord with what is known as the principle of governmental interposition.2 This is God’s method of unseating tyrants and restoring republican government for the benefit of the common people through the process of raising up intermediate magistrates who interpose themselves between the offending tyrants and the people (1 Kin.12).

This is just one example of the attempt to federalize local law enforcement.  Other pressures come from the vast monetary resources of various federal agencies that share money taken from citizens through government seizures of money and property for distribution to local judges and law enforcement agencies.  When these local agencies are “bought off,” justice is perverted (Is. 59:14).  It takes a local or county-level official with an iron will and high sense of integrity to resist the lure of federal funds that can be used to buy new guns and equipment, training, or other forms of assistance, because needed funds at the local level always seem to fall short of ever-pressing needs. 

The push for continued federalization of local police enforcement comes from various sources:

First, the technology to accomplish this has been in existence for some years and has been widely accepted by the public.  Think: computers, RFIDs (radio-frequency identification devices) used by merchants and other firms for inventory control, and the “black boxes” that now come with new automobiles.  If these can be used for business and personal purposes, it is only a short step for them to be used by civil authorities.  For example, the National Motorists Association reports every month on how computer technology, linked with “red light cameras” and electronic chips, is increasingly being used as a “revenue generator” by cities and local governments all across our nation, over and above the legitimate task of catching law-breakers.3 

This same technology can be used by the federal government to build a dossier on every American citizen in our country, which is what some authorities are claiming has been happening for quite some time now.  These dossiers may contain the most personal information: sources of income and expenditures, health history, employment history, the kind of books borrowed from public libraries, contributions to churches and organizations, bank and savings accounts, etc.  There is no limit to the amount of control that unbiblical rulers will impose on citizens!  Read 1 Samuel, chapter 8. 

Second, Americans – who used to regard themselves as tough, independent, freedom-minded, rugged individuals – are no longer so!  Civil rulers, who are supposed to provide law and order so that we may live our lives in peace and responsibility to our Creator (1 Tim. 2:1-5), have systematically intimidated the American people.  We have accepted ever-increasing invasion of our personal, family, and business privacy at every level of civil government.  Like the cattle I raise on my ranch, Americans now acquiesce in being fed, cared for (and manipulated) by their overseers.  Thus, power-seeking, ungodly civil rulers are helped by a Bible-ignorant populace that focuses more on the promise of economic security than on man’s individual freedom and responsibility to God and His law.

As one critic of the “Surveillance State” writes,

[F]ear is an effective way to get people to give up independence, privacy, and freedom.  It is being used, and it is working.  Tell people that they are in danger, that they are being attacked or about to be attacked…. Tell them that the government needs to watch every detail of their lives to protect them…. America frightens easily.  We are afraid of second-hand smoke, terrorists, plastic guns, and little boys who point their fingers and say “bang.”4

Third, over the last 20-30 years — with the combining in the 1970s of the “War on Drugs,” the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) Act, and the new legal twist which allowed the courts to regard property, rather than the owner or user of property as the accused party — things changed.  This opened the door to the widespread use of masked SWAT Teams to forcibly invade citizens’ homes and businesses in search of alleged drug-related and other alleged crimes.5

Multi-millions of dollars worth of confiscated property and money then started flowing into the coffers of our legal system through so-called “Joint Task Forces” which are made up of federal, state, and local police (but usually under control of the federal agents).  Even though the “guilty parties” might never be formally charged or convicted by a court of law, their seized property could still be disposed of, and money from sale of the booty be dispersed among corrupt judges and their cooperating cohorts. 

The majority of American people — innocently accepting the government’s claim that they were being protected from evil elements in society — readily acquiesced in the growing totalitarian phenomena of SWAT teams in action.

Thus, the Military/Surveillance State grew in America.  It was later capped by the misnamed “Patriot Act,” which hundreds of local municipalities and some states have gone on record to oppose.  This widespread action of local governments and states is a perfect example of governmental interposition in action!  Under the Patriot Act6 federal agents can obtain citizens’ financial, health, education, and library records while preventing municipal employees from advising citizens that their records have been seized by the government.  Federal officials can now monitor people who have not even been identified as suspects of wrongdoing; they can also secretly search citizens’ homes and offices without prior notice.  The new Patriot Act has, in effect, sabotaged the Fourth Amendment without going through the necessary constitutional amendment process.  The result is that our historic American philosophy of republican government has been stood on its head: That citizens’ lives should be private, and government actions be public! 

Some years ago, Congress passed a bill that allows federal authorities to collect and record samples of DNA from persons convicted of crimes.  The data are stored at a national registry maintained by the FBI.  Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved another bill, supported by the White House, which would allow federal authorities to collect and keep DNA information on suspects arrested or detained by federal authorities.  If not convicted of a crime, an innocent citizen would then have to go through the process of petitioning the government to remove his or her personal DNA information from the central data base.  This step-by-step process shows how the Police/Surveillance State grows over time and how the loss of citizens’ privacy occurs. 


So why are the local police forces becoming more like the federal military?  Here we leave the area of fact and make suppositions instead.  

The Bible tells us that man’s heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9).  Thus, it is natural for men to seek power and coercive influence over others.  This is certainly true for unregenerate, evil individuals who seek power to fulfill their own lust for wealth, political influence, and the heady satisfaction of wielding dictatorial authority over others.  But it also holds true for regenerate, good men who might want to impose their will on others to accomplish in a hurry what they deem to be a worthwhile end.  This arrogation of power necessarily entails the dissolution of local power, as found in biblically oriented republics.  Think of the evil kings in Old Testament Israel; think also of good King David, who sinned by numbering the people (1 Chr. 21), and think of good King Solomon who over-taxed the people.

Forcing others to do one’s will is usually quicker and more efficient, in the short run, than having to go through the slow and sometimes laborious process of peaceful persuasion.  Political power achieved or abused through force is always tyrannical.  That is why God’s plan for the benefit of society calls for a republican form of civil government that will protect man’s right to personal property and freedom to go about his personal and business affairs in peace, privacy, and safety.

What Can We Do?

There is not the slightest doubt that power is being systematically concentrated in our country and that local law enforcement is being brought under the control of the federal government.  The evidence is just too obvious to escape the attention of anyone who will take the time and effort to investigate.  So, what can we do?

First, there is a dire need for every American to have a good working knowledge of the Constitution of the United States and a good understanding of how the Constitution and Bill of Rights severely limit the powers of the federal government, which is a creation of the states.  Today much of the power wielded by the federal government is clearly unconstitutional.  This centralization of political power has occurred as a result of the dumbing down of the American populace, coupled with the government encouraging citizens to go on the dole by accepting all sorts of government aid.  This invariably seduces recipients of government funds to be subservient and fearful of offending the distributors of federal largesse.  One method of correcting the state of constitutional ignorance is through home-based constitutional study groups.  Such needed education can’t be achieved through tax-supported schools, because they are part of the problem!

Second, in this essay I have mentioned the principle of “governmental interposition” a number of times, which is God’s method of protecting society by allowing a local magistrate to stand between the people and ungodly authority. The people are called to rally behind the intermediate magistrates to either depose the offending tyrant and/or to reconstruct the government along biblical/constitutional lines.  One hopes all of this can be accomplished peacefully.  Christians, especially, should study this biblical concept and decide whether or not the time has come to apply it.  I, obviously, believe that the time has come to follow God’s workable plan of dismantling and reconstructing our overgrown and burdensome federal government.  Let us pray that God will enlighten His people and empower them to bring about a peaceful process of reconstruction in America.

1.Richard I. Mack and Timothy Robert Walters, From My Cold Dead Fingers (Safford, Arizona: Rawhide Western Publishing, 1996), 15-16.

2.Tom Rose, Reclaiming the American Dream by Reconstructing the American Republic (Mercer, Pennsylvania: American Enterprise Publications, 1996). 

3., Heidi Katchkey, “Davenport RLC Results Are Lackluster,” National Motorists Association Foundation News, September/October 2005, 11.

4.Fred Reed, “The Surveillance State: Reflections on Probable Technological Inevitability,”, 14 July 2003.

5.For information about the “supply side” of America’s drug problem, See Daniel Hopsicker,  Barry & ‘The Boys’ – The CIA, The MOB and America’s Secret History (Eugene, Oregon: Mad Cow Press, 2001.

6.The original Patriot Act was passed by Congress in October, 2001, only 45 days after 9/11.  It is noteworthy that the bill was passed before members of Congress were able to read it! 

  • Tom Rose

Tom is a retired professor of economics, Grove City College, Pennsylvania. He is author of seven books and hundreds of articles dealing with economic and political issues. His articles have regularly appeared in The Christian Statesman, published by the National Reform Association, Pittsburgh, PA, and in many other publications. He and his wife, Ruth, raise registered Barzona cattle on a farm near Mercer, PA, where they also write and publish economic textbooks for use by Christian colleges, high schools, and home educators. Rose’s latest books are: Free Enterprise Economics in America and God, Gold and Civil Government.

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