State and local cops run a protection racket for their “federal partners.”

In fact, I can’t think of a single bill OffNow has supported that wasn’t opposed by some law enforcement organization.

Whether the legislation deals with placing limits on drone use, requiring warrants for data collection and location tracking, or prohibiting state cooperation with federal agencies engaging in warrantless surveillance or indefinite detention, law enforcement lobbyists always crawl out of the woodwork in opposition.

In Tennessee, the Knoxville police chief claimed a bill to require warrants for electronic data collection would prevent his department from catching pedophiles. In Arizona, law enforcement organizations opposed a bill prohibiting material support to federal agencies like the NSA spying on Americans without a warrant, claiming it would keep them from prosecuting gun crimes. Insiders in California tell us that the California State Sheriffs’ Association lobbied aggressively behind to scenes to render a similar bill virtually impotent. And in Pennsylvania, law enforcement organizations oppose a bill that would prohibit the state from cooperating with federal indefinite detention without charges or due process under the 2012 NDAA.

Most of the arguments these law enforcement lobbyists publicly trot out as reasons for opposing the legislation seem pretty dubious and chart pretty high on the hyperbole scale. I find it unlikely that adhering to warrant requirements would result in pedophiles running loose through the streets of Knoxville, or refusing to help the NSA spy on Americans would keep state and local law enforcement from prosecuting gun crimes in Phoenix.

Of course, it comes as no surprise that law enforcement organizations oppose these kinds of bills. If passed into law, they would place limits on their activity, and no institutions wants that. Police crave the greatest leeway possible to “do their jobs.” Having to deal with warrants and probable cause requirements makes their job harder. They want to retain the ability to act without restraint.

That, in and of itself, indicates we should place limits on the actions of law enforcement. It explains why we have written bills of rights in both state and national constitutions. Institutions with power will exercise that power to its very outer limits. The less constrained the power, the greater the likelihood of abuse and violations of individual rights.

But this doesn’t completely explain law enforcement opposition to legislation like the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, designed primarily to hinder unconstitutional federal activities by agencies like the NSA. Ending state and local cooperation with out of control federal agencies spying on Americans wouldn’t seem to hinder the work of state and local police, at least not on the surface.

So, why?

Why does state and local law enforcement consistently, adamantly oppose efforts to rein in federal agencies operating outside the rule of law?

The answer lies in the quickly vanishing lines between state and local law enforcement agencies and their federal “partners.”

Historically, policing at the state and local level was almost exclusively a state and local function. The federal government rarely inserted itself into policing at all. Outside of crimes like kidnapping, bank robbery, counterfeiting and a few others, the feds generally stayed out of the policing.

Enter the War on Drugs.

The drug war not only ushered in the era of state-federal task forces, it also turned on the funding spigot. Suddenly, state and local law enforcement agencies found themselves flush with cash flowing from federal grants to fight the War on Drugs. It also flung open the door to militarizing state and local police, as the feds began arming Mayberry with tanks, body armor and automatic weapons.

The advent of the War on Terror accelerated this process, further blurring the lines between state, local and federal law enforcement functions. In many cases, those lines seem to have disappeared altogether.

A recent San Francisco Examiner article provides just one example, detailing the deputization of San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department Deputies as U.S. Marshals.

U.S. Marshals working with local agencies is nothing new, but such cooperation has increased in the past decade or so after the service was given a mandate by Congress. Specifically, U.S. Marshals lead a collection of nationwide regional task forces, which have been given the power to deputize municipal law enforcement agents.

These regional task forces essentially expand the power and jurisdictional reach of local law enforcement agencies. As a Columbia Daily Tribune article points out, the partnership provide local cops with federal resources.

Federal databases and surveillance equipment will be available to the detectives in addition to a more direct partnership with the service.

That clearly incentivizes these kinds of relationships.

And these partnerships work both ways.

In Arizona, county sheriff’s departments have deputized federal law enforcement agents to help with local policing. Pinal County Sheriff Babeu deputized some 30 Border Patrol and ICE agents last year. More than 100 federal agents were reportedly also deputized in Cochise County. That means these specialized federal agents now possess broad, general policing powers within these counties. You could conceivably find yourself receiving a speeding ticket from an immigration agent.

According to the Examiner article, these partnerships often operate relatively free from public scrutiny.

These efforts may be advantageous to local police and the like, but civil libertarians have raised red flags about such increased cooperation. The ACLU has voiced worries that it’s harder to get public records on these joint operations.

In some cases, state transparency laws have been useless since local law enforcement has said all documents related to these operations are federal because they are overseen by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Within this context, state and local law enforcement lobby opposition to bills that seek to stop federal overreach becomes crystal clear.

They don’t want to threaten their partnerships and all the perks that go along with them.

It stands to reason that state and local law enforcement institutions fear any reform efforts that seek to stop unconstitutional practices might damage the cozy relationships they’ve developed with their federal partners. It could not only mean an end to the increased power that comes from playing with the feds, but could also shut off the flow of funds pouring into coffers from federal grants and asset forfeiture money, not to mention all of the nifty military toys the feds shower on local police departments.

Simply put, state and local law enforcement cares more about expanding its own power and protecting its funding sources more than it cares about the Constitution or protecting your rights.

Keep that in mind next time you hear some police chief pontificating about how he won’t be able to do his job if the state declines to cooperate with warrantless spying and other violations of your civil liberties.

Mike Maharrey

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