A few days ago, I discussed Glenn Reynolds’ ideas about controlling police militarization and improving interactions between local police and their communities. An additional concern is the federal funding that ultimately makes the local acquisition of military hardware possible. This funding is provided through various grants and programs, with Homeland Security playing a major role. And while no one has done a full accounting, it is some very serious scratch, certainly running into billions of dollars each year. When the federal government controls major flows of funding, it also buys great potential influence on the policies and procedures of local police.
I am certain that Reynolds did not intend to suggest that requiring officers to wear cameras should be a federal initiative, with the feds wielding potential reductions in funding as a cudgel. Yet that is exactly what Claire McCaskill and others are now suggesting. Where could this lead? Local police may have exposed themselves to the risk of federalization. Do we want local policing to be held under the purview of federal overlords? I think not. Developments like this lie at the heart of the decay of federalism. Local authorities should always view funding from the central government suspiciously. Autonomy over local policing should be guarded carefully by responsive local communities.