Police departments all across America help towns and cities to stay safe and be protected from crime. However, despite the fact that police are often authorized to use force, including deadly force in some situations, police departments impose limitations on what they can do. Here's a closer look at the extent, rules and restrictions of police power.
The Scope of Police Power
According to the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, states and local governments have the right to create measures to protect the safety, health, welfare and morals of their communities. This is where police power is derived from; police departments enforce these laws.
There are a number of areas that police power applies to. Naturally, it applies to the formation of police departments. However, it also applies to zoning, fire and building codes, the licensing of professionals, liquor, motor vehicles, nuisances, bicycles, land use, sanitation, schooling and a number of other things.
So, essentially, the rights of police power extend from the formation of police departments to the creation of other laws that affect the safety of a given community. Often, the laws that are formed under police power are limited to the local town, city or community in which they are formed. However, police departments often help to enforce federal laws too.
The Rules & Restrictions of Police Power
There are many rules and restrictions on police power. For example, police power is limited to the voting of the relevant government body. This means that the police can only enforce the rules that are created by the state or local government.
Police power must also advance a public interest, as opposed to advancing a private interest. This means that government officials cannot use law enforcement to operate as private security team for a company's headquarters. However, police officers could be ordered to patrol public high schools periodically.
Another rule for police power is that it must be used to actually promote public welfare, or protect the public. In other words, a police force cannot be used for things that don't promote or protect the interests of the public. So, a police force could not be ordered to do something that goes against the public interests, such as defacing property in an act of revenge by a police captain or a government official.
Perhaps the most important rule and restriction of police power is that it's limited to the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution. This means that whatever a police officer or police department does, it must not violate any terms of the Constitution. Of particular importance is that the police must not take private property without just compensation, must protect equal rights, must protect due process rights and act in accordance with them, and must protect the freedom of speech.
So, for example, a police department cannot ban a local citizen from making speeches about a particular political topic. This is an extremely important point because free speech is the very first freedom and right that's given to American citizens under the Constitution. If large protests or assemblies of other kinds are being staged, then a permit may be required in some cases. For example, a permit may be required for a parade so that streets can be safely closed, etc. But Americans are still allowed to speak and assemble under the terms of the First Amendment, and police departments cannot interfere with this.
Why is police power important?
Police power is necessary in a free and open democratic society like that of the United States. This is because not everyone always follows the laws, and because power is sometimes needed to enforce non-criminal rules such as zoning.
Without police power, it would be impossible to enforce the law. Criminals would be able to get away with any crime that they choose because there would be no one trying to stop them, or chasing them down after they committed a crime.
Many people feel that police departments have too much power and do not use this power appropriately. While it's true that some individuals from the police force don't use their powers correctly, without police power and police departments working to enforce the law, things would certainly be far worse.