In the wake of the Baltimore riots, Al Sharpton is calling for the federal takeover of local police. Like most ideas from the loathsome Rev. Sharpton, this is a lousy one. But since federalizing local police is actually an Obama administration idea, it’s worth paying a bit more attention.
The idea behind federal supervision of local police forces is that it will make them more accountable. Instead of a bunch of presumptively racist, violent hicks running things on a local level, we’ll see the cool professionalism of the national government in charge.
There are (at least) two problems with this approach. The first is that federal law enforcement, especially in recent years, hasn’t exactly been a haven of cool professionalism. The second is that no law enforcement agency is very good at policing itself, meaning that a national police force is likely to be less accountable, not more. And there’s a third problem, too, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
To believe that a federalized approach to policing would be an improvement over the current system, you’d have to ignore an awful lot of misbehavior by federal law enforcement lately. There’s the scandal with the Secret Service and hookers just before Obama’s trip to Colombia. There’s the entirely separate scandal with the Drug Enforcement Agency and hookers (hookers paid for by Colombia drug lords, no less). There’s the fact that the Secret Service’s hooker-scandal investigator had to resign amid a scandal of his own. There’s the Secret Service’s alleged attempt to use a fraudulent warrant in an effort to search a house illegally. There are the federal agents charged with stealing Bitcoins during a criminal investigation, and, of course, the laughable inability of the entire Homeland Security apparatus to keep a postal worker’s gyrocopter away from the Capitol despite advance notice.