An empty wagon can’t sell its own snake oil

I've been noticing a lot of state police “scarecrows” along the interstate lately. Some senior member of the North Carolina Highway Patrol has apparently deemed it a good strategy to park unattended police cruisers along the highway in order to make citizens think they're being monitored by law enforcement. This is wrong on so many levels; it should infuriate the whole tax-paying North Carolina public.

Regardless of the flashy paint job, an unmanned car on the median or shoulder is nothing but an abandoned automobile. This is one of the things we task the Highway Patrol with removing from (not placing upon) our roadways.

More important is the underlying assumption that we are to be intimidated by these empty shells. Why are we supposed to feel monitored when we see a police car? Is this the adversarial dynamic that we really want to have between law enforcement and citizen? Wouldn't we rather cultivate a sense of peace, cooperation and security instead? How far has our democracy devolved when we (the presumed bosses of government) have an apprehensive response to even seeing a uniformed law enforcement agent? It's creepy and Gestapo-esque.

Most bothersome to me is that this tactic is a big fat lie. I don't think we want professional law enforcement resorting to misdirection and gags in an attempt to tame the wild-eyed public, if that's how they see us. I know that law enforcement is done mostly by impression. Anytime there is a riot or natural disaster of any scale, emergency responders demonstrate the real impossibility of their supposed role in society. Cops can't prevent robberies or rapes. They can't keep a criminal from doing crime. They can't prevent us from speeding either. They can only attempt to pester us into forgetting that the highway system was conceived to move cars (and people) from place to place quickly.

Finally, what would it be like to really need a cop, and stumble bleeding and frightened up to one of these empty squad cars? I mean that day when you actually see a police car when you want to?

I suggest to N.C. Highway Patrol leadership that if you're going to make a vocation of the service-and-protection illusion, do us the minor courtesy of at least showing up to pitch your product. An empty wagon can't sell its own snake oil.

— Mary Quinn
Arden

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