Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Virtual Platform: Crime

(This post is a part of my platform for my virtual campaign for the Mayor of Houston. You can read my announcement here and my statement of principles here.)

If we are to properly address the issue of crime in Houston, we must begin by identifying the nature of crime and those actions that should be criminal. We cannot make assumptions about such an important matter.The government's sole legitimate purpose is the protection of individual rights--the freedom to act without intervention from others, so long as you respect their mutual rights.

Rights can only be violated through physical force (or the threat of force). For this reason, the police are a legitimate and proper function of government. The purpose of the police is to apprehend those who initiate force against others, that is, violate the rights of other individuals. Only those actions that involve an initiation of force (including fraud, which is a form of force) should be criminal.

Those adults who engage in voluntary actions that do not involve force should not be treated as criminals, and all such actions should be legalized. The city should not be in the business of monitoring and controlling the actions of adults. While state and federal law will not allow Houston to decriminalize all such actions, there are many city ordinances that initiate force against the citizenry, and are therefore immoral and should be repealed.

Regulations on business operations, including occupancy permitting, signage, and health mandates, are an improper use of government power. The operation of a business is an issue to be decided between the business owners, employees, and customers. Government regulations on business operations force the business to operate in a manner prescribed by law, no matter the judgment of the owner and employees, and regardless of the desires of customers. Such regulations involve an initiation of force against the individuals involved.

Land use controls, including building codes, parking regulations, set back requirements, and landscaping dictates, are also improper and immoral. Such regulations and controls force property owners to use their land as dictated by government officials, regardless of the judgment of the owner. Such regulations involve an initiation of force against property owners.

The above ordinances--and many others--involve an initiation of force. Such ordinances compel an individual to act contrary to his own judgment and values. Such ordinances force an individual to act in a particular manner simply because city council has decreed certain actions illegal. Such ordinances should be repealed.

There are voluntary, non-coercive methods for achieving the alleged ends of building codes and land-use regulations. In the yellow pages, there are dozens of companies offering inspection services. Those who desire to have a home or building inspected can hire a private service. Deed restrictions--private, contractual agreements between property owners--can be and are used to provide stability in land-use.

Ordinances that violate individual rights also deprive the police department of valuable resources and turn the police into nannies, rather than protectors of our rights. The police should be dealing with real criminals--robbers, murderers, and rapists--rather than pursuing business owners who erect "illegal" signs or fail to put a "tag" on their taco truck.

Individuals have a moral right to live their lives without intervention from others, including government. Repealing such laws recognizes this right.

Equally important, repealing immoral laws will greatly reduce the city’s enforcement responsibilities--police will have more time and resources to combat true crimes, not monitor adults who are not violating the rights of anyone.

One of my opponents has suggested putting more police on the street, but he has not told us how he will do so. We do not necessarily need more police on the street; if the police are limited to enforcing moral laws, the number of criminal activities will be reduced. This same opponent has suggested mentoring and job training programs as a means for reducing crime. Such programs are not proper functions of government. Training would-be criminals to engage in productive behavior is not a job for government; apprehending and punishing those who engage in criminal acts is.

In regard to crime, my administration will focus two issues: drunk driving and gangs. When officers must no longer enforce laws regarding the conduct in sexually-oriented businesses they will be able to spend more time focusing on actual criminal activity. Rather than monitor conduct that some in our community finds distasteful, the police will be arresting those who violate the rights of other citizens.

This does not mean that we will give carte blanche to individuals and businesses to engage in any conduct they desire. A property owner has a right to use his land as he chooses, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others. However, when his use objectively threatens others--such as conducting target practice in one's back yard or sending noxious fumes over a fence--he has violated the rights of his neighbors to the peaceful enjoyment of their property.

While we will be decriminalizing voluntary interactions between adults, we will simultaneously increase enforcement of those laws that are a violation of the rights of individuals. Those who use force--directly or indirectly--against other citizens are the true criminals and we will provide the police with the resources necessary to apprehend those criminals.

Friday: City Services


Burgess Laughlin said...

Your position statement on fighting crime is clear and comprehensive. It is well suited for becoming a brochure aimed at thinking voters--if you decide some day to turn this virtual campaign into a "real" one.

As an aside, do you know roughly how much of the city budget the Houston Police Department receives?

And of that, how much goes for "crimes" that shouldn't be crimes?

Perhaps 30 years ago, the county government here (Multnomah County, Oregon) commissioned a study of the county sheriff's office and found that approximately half of the sheriff's budget was for "victimless crimes," that is, "crimes" that shouldn't be illegal: for example, adult prostitution, narcotics, gambling, liquor (after hours or any time on the street), and untaxed cigarettes.

Brian Phillips said...

The budget for the police department is about $667 million (FY 2009). In reviewing the budget, I cannot identify how much of that goes to enforcing improper laws, but I suspect it is a significant number.