“Don’t use a hammer when a screwdriver will do”- Unknown.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines enforcement as “Making sure a rule or standard or court order or policy is properly followed”.
The purpose of law enforcement is to entice the citizenry to comply with the law. Police officers have a number of tools at our disposal to achieve that goal. Let’s start with the premise that most people are good and want to do the right thing most of the time. Granted there is a relatively small portion of the population that are truly evil and must be dealt with swiftly and stringently to protect the community from them, but they are the exception, not the rule.
There is a somewhat larger, and arguably growing, segment of the population that is narcissistic, sociopathic, and/ or apathetic that simply don’t care about societal norms, expectations or mores. Similarly, to the truly evil population, they must be policed differently, more strictly with less flexibility.
The Port Aransas Police Department recruits and trains a specific type of officer. We want officers that are problem fixers and able to evaluate every situation they are involved with, make an assessment of what is needed to address that particular call, and then execute an enforcement action appropriate for that specific situation. We have a saying within the department that we will “enforce the spirit of the law when we can and the letter of the law when we have to.”
Our officers are vested with a number of enforcement options to achieve our mission. We start with our presence. We wear a distinctive uniform and drive marked police vehicles with large colorful graphics to “advertise” who we are and where we are, knowing that most people will be more conscience of their actions if the cops are in the area.
Second, if appropriate, we will try to mediate the situation. A large percentage of our calls involve disputes that may not require a formal enforcement action, even if it is technically illegal (letter of the law). These often involve complaints about parking, pets, noise and other quality of life issues. As I stated earlier, most people are law abiding and when they recognize that their activities are annoying their neighbors, they will gladly comply voluntarily.
We also use public education as one of our primary enforcement techniques. When we observe a minor infraction, we may stop the violator and inform or remind them of the law with either a verbal or written warning. If, in the officer’s opinion, compliance is not likely to be achieved with a warning, or the situation is egregious enough that a warning is not appropriate, the officer will issue a citation or make an arrest.
In most cases we will use the least intrusive means to achieve compliance. However, there are some violations that we ask our officers to use less discretion and stronger enforcement. For example, if a person commits a felony or high-level misdemeanor, officers have few options other than arrest
Violations that cause actual harm to a third party such as theft, assault or vandalism almost always result in an arrest. If someone engages in illegal activity that potentially puts other people at risk, they are also less likely to get a warning.
Our mission is to make sure rules, standards, court orders and policies are properly followed. Sometimes that requires a screwdriver, sometimes it requires a hammer, but hopefully we will never use a hammer when a screwdriver will do.