A controversial new bill from one of the most conservative states in the country has people worried about the future of the American police state. The Alabama Senate has allowed a church to form a police department on Wednesday, which is totally unprecedented in the nation's history. The concept of small, essentially private police forces doesn't sit well with many, and for good reason — it could be extremely dangerous for communities and individuals.
According to Fox affiliate station WBRC, the Alabama Senate approved bill SB193, allowing Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham to form a police force to oversee its 4,000-member congregation and attached school. The bill's language stipulates that any officers the church hires "shall be charged with all of the duties and invested with all of the powers of law enforcement officers in this state." That means they have to comply with the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, but also means they may have the authority to use deadly force.
This legislation creates a legal precedent for other churches and small private organizations to potentially form police departments, which could get logistically messy and really dangerous. The more segmented and privatized police departments become, the more difficult it will be to keep track of how their actions are impacting their communities.
Municipal police departments have authorities to whom they are supposed to be held accountable, but it's unclear who will be supervising these small communities' police departments. Disputes over jurisdiction and protocol could become common as these new police departments establish their own standard operating procedures. Just in terms of preventing crime, dividing resources and creating more overhead costs doesn't seem to be the most effective solution.
It's also unclear what exactly these relatively small churches in Alabama have to fear so much that they need additional police forces just for their congregation. It may be American citizens' right to organize a militia, but ultimately, living in a world in which you think you need some extraordinary protection is detrimental to yourself. If there really is some kind of unique danger in this church, the local police department should be bolstered and supported in solving the problem, not undermined by a community that thinks they can do it better.
The bill has to be passed through the Alabama House of Representatives and signed by the governor before it goes into law, so it might not come to fruition in the end. However, if it does, it could put a lot of people in danger in a variety of ways.
The formation of new police departments may still not cover the gap, or perceived gap, present in the current system, and a lot more information is needed on this situation before it would seem like a good idea.