October 25, 2002
In the end, it was television reports of information that was not released by the police — the type of car and license plate of the sniper suspects — that helped crack the case.After weeks of the police chiding the media and withholding information from the public, these guys were finally caught because the public got hold of information the police didn’t want to release.
As Jim Henley has remarked, one wonders why, in urgent cases like this, the authorities don’t help us be — not a herd, but a pack.
The answer, of course, is that doing so goes against the institutional DNA of most law-enforcement operations and “security” professionals. Success, to their way of thinking, comes from having information that other people don’t. Of course, in the real world, success also often comes from adding your information to other people’s information. But when the chips are down, this idea doesn’t stick in the minds of law enforcemeent types, unless repeatedly administered with a very large bat.
In other words, if the choice is between catching the sniper by empowering the populace, or grasping at secrecy even while the sniper continues to kill people, your basic cop impulse is to run headlong in the direction of secrecy. Are you kidding? Let people have the information they need to protect themselves? What kind of cockamamie idea is that?
Here’s something libertarians know and liberals and conservatives often don’t: The number-one task of most organizations is to preserve itself and its perquisites. Fulfilling their ostensible charter is number two at best. Liberals are clear on this principle when it comes to the military or the cops. The hyper-statists who, these days, pretend to the label “conservative,” tend to discover this same principle when what’s at issue is the behavior of the EPA or the Civil Rights Commission. This is one of many reasons that, despite strong libertarian tendencies, in the context of modern American politics I’m a liberal. [10:45 AM]