Everyone is a law-enforcement agent these days -- a designation that not only unlocks vast privileges for individual employees (huge pensions, better protections for misbehavior, early retirement ages), but leads to endless "public safety" grants that bolster department budgets. In California, milk inspectors, billboard inspectors, code enforcers, university security guards and even alcohol-control agents are officially considered "public safety officials." The Sacramento Bee last week published this story that speaks volumes about this type of category inflation and what it means for public dollars: "The agency that regulates California's alcohol sales through undercover stings at bars, restaurants and retailers has spent more than $70,000 outfitting its agents with gas masks and bulletproof helmets."
I personally love the justification offered, per the official quoted in the Bee story: "We want to make sure that our agents have the protective equipment they need so they can go home at night." Note the absurdly exaggerated sense of danger. Yet local law enforcement officials -- the real ones you find in the sheriff's department -- noted that these ABC regulators are supposed to call in cops and deputies when there's a need for it. I often see new proposals to expand the authority to arrest and detain citizens to new categories. It's about time the public insists that these police privileges and big budgets for fancy new law-enforcement toys be better scrutinized.