Joseph S. Fulda
Joseph Fulda is a freelance writer living in New York City. He is the author of Eight Steps Towards Libertarianism. Joseph Fulda is a contributing editor of The St. Croix Review.
The reader, seeing the title, is likely to wonder whether he is really reading this corner and this author. Ah, but there are all kinds of laws; let me elaborate.
Most police officers, it must be said, do their often-thankless jobs with courage, integrity, and under circumstances that are, to say the very least, trying. But there is an ample literature suggesting that a sizable, if small percentage-wise, minority do otherwise. (See, for example, the symposium entitled "Police Misconduct" edited by James Frank in Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 8, Number 4, 2009.) Aside from the scholarly literature, there is also a sizable record of court judgments, lots of anecdotal evidence of varying credibility, and numerous widely available videos, not all of which are other than veridical.
For those who perform their duties with honor, one can hardly give enough kudos. But this piece focuses on a problem that simply must be fixed because of those who act otherwise. There is a widespread practice among New York City merchants to give discounted goods and services to officers of the law, sometimes as high as twenty percent. Like almost everything we human beings do, this practice stems from mixed motives - including, but not limited to, fear of not buying already paid-for protection (sometimes almost to the breaking point), true gratitude and respect, and matching the competition. Now, were this discount applied across-the-board to all government employees, it would be no more than a marketing strategy and no different from any other form of volume discount. But this I have not observed; it seems to be limited to those with the power to arrest or, and much more subtly, withhold protection, by simply turning a blind eye.
Given this, matching the competition along this dimension should hardly be necessary; there should be no fear of not paying for services already paid for, and as for the gratitude and respect, a simple "thank you" and otherwise completely equal and ordinary treatment fully suffice.
But there are many ways to write a law banning all such discounts. The wrong way is to punish entrepreneurs simply trying their darnedest to survive in a harsh and highly over-regulated environment. A much better way is to write a provision into the civil service laws mandating a short, but not insignificant, suspension for any police officer accepting such a discount - with termination for repeated offenders - entrapment excluded, sting operations excluded, officers with preexisting relationships excluded, and only taking effect after a phase-in period in which notice of the ban is very widely disseminated.
Over time, such a ban may actually serve to reinforce good behavior on the part of those charged with enforcing the good behavior of others. Because of the unique powers accorded to police officers, the current system is a form of very gentle, very quiet, very soft, but very real coercion. I say it should end. Yet it cannot end without such a law, because coercive or not, as the discounts are not expressly asked for, I do not see any way to challenge the practice in court for lack of standing. It is for this reason that the legislature must be proactive. *