Last May police in Portland, Oregon, arrested a 9-year-old girl for getting into a fight with another girl after the other girl’s mother called police later that day. A few days later cops came to question the 9-year-old on suspicion of fourth-degree assault, and then arrested her and took her downtown for fingerprinting. The girl was never charged with any crime. At The Washington Post, Radley Balko has a great point-by-point breakdown of the whole series events, and how the girl is only 9 years old and common sense should dictate a cop knows better.

Cops often don’t know better, of course, and hide behind what the policies say to avoid having to think critically on the job or use their better judgment. The Portland arrest wasn’t originally reported widely by the press. A police review found cops did nothing wrong during the arrest: procedures were followed. The story got more publicity last month, when the girl’s mother told the story to the Citizen Review Committee. And unlike in many other outrageous police cases, this time it may lead to substantive policy changes. Via The Oregonian:

[Executive director of a legal non-profit focusing on children Mark] McKechnie and Joseph Hagedorn, chief supervising attorney for the Metropolitan Public Defender’s juvenile unit, said they’ve talked in the last week about two potential changes to city ordinances and police directives that would:

— Prevent police from taking a child under 10 years old into custody without an order from a juvenile court judge.

— Allow police to take children ages 10 and 11 into custody only on Class A or B felonies. For less serious offenses, a court order would be needed.

Both said they were concerned about why police made the arrest almost a week after the fight, and particularly, when the girl was at home with a parent.

"It was way over the top for them to do that,” Hagedorn said.

If the policy actually passes, this is good news. On another level, it’s pretty bad news, insofar as it means you can’t trust police to be appropriate with young children unless there’s a fucking policy to tell them to do so. It increasingly makes the police appear to be a serious public safety threat. We should expect those people the government arms to be able to act appropriately and above reproach because of their qualifications and the high standards that should be applied to a duty like that. Instead, the proliferation of police unions and deals with police unions have dumbed down the requirements of being a police officer while creating more protections for a class of employee that ought to be held to stricter standards than your typical private sector employee, not looser ones.

So great, now in Portland cops may have a policy that governs how they arrest 9 year olds. They shouldn’t need one. And if the police unions have helped to create this kind of a dangerous situation, perhaps it’s time for local governments to deal with the public safety threat they represent. Those governments can start by reclaiming the power to fire cops not just when they’ve been convicted of crimes in a court of law or condemned by some administrative judge but when the police chief or other city bureaucrats have made the decision to fire someone. Cops should serve at the pleasure of the people, not the other way around.