Selective enforcement is problematic on three levels. The first is when police officers choose to enforce the law's violations from the perspective of race, class, gender, or age. Patterns of discriminatory practices in arrest rates for specific populations are well-documented phenomena by social scientists, criminal justice activists, and law enforcement...
Selective enforcement is problematic on three levels. The first is when police officers choose to enforce the law's violations from the perspective of race, class, gender, or age. Patterns of discriminatory practices in arrest rates for specific populations are well-documented phenomena by social scientists, criminal justice activists, and law enforcement agencies. Unfair and constitutionally questionable practices like stop-and-frisk tactics used in the past have come under a great deal of public and government scrutiny.
The second aspect of problematic behavior by selective enforcement is the message selective enforcement sends to the public. If the public knows there is little danger of a law being enforced, they are very likely to ignore the law. In general, though we may not agree with a particular law, laws are enacted to protect the general public from harm. If citizens choose to ignore the law and enforcement officers selectively enforce or ignore enforcement entirely, they may be endangering other citizens who comply. A current example is that many communities have social distance regulations and restrict the number of people who may gather in one place to prevent the further spread of Covid19. In cities where people ignore the regulation and law enforcement officers do not enforce the rule, the community as a whole is at a severe health risk.
The third aspect is from the perspective of a police officer. Most of the time, police officers act with restraint, compassion, and a sense tying to do what is in the best interest of citizens. By choosing not to enforce a violation, they use common sense and judgment to determine if a person intended to violate the law. How many of us have driven our vehicles over the posted speed limit, jaywalked, or parked somewhere we shouldn't? Those types of decisions are not overly dangerous to society, but they still violate the law. Do we want our police officers handcuffed in enforcing every minor transgression? Our courts would be more overcrowded than they are now, and police officers would be distracted from the more significant issue of protecting citizens from more serious violations.
While a citizen panel to review police officers' decisions is, in theory, another way to root out the less than competent police officer, there are several outlets for the public to vet their complaints about enforcement. Selective enforcement is not easy to demonstrate by its nature of being selective. It's unlikely the person let go will complain. It's equally unlikely there is enough data to compare how many incidents go unenforced compared with those enforced. Unless there is significant evidence to initiate an investigation, we should allow for common sense and sense of right from wrong to guide a police officer's authority in selectively enforcing regulations that pose no real threat to society.