And here I thought I was a cynic about commercialized calendar entries such as Valentine’s Day. At least I’d expect those commercialized messages to pay some lip service to romance. At the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, their Valentine’s Day campaign has a lot less to do with Cupid and a lot more to do with betrayals and revenge.

That’s the ATF’s idea of “fun,” apparently:

Nothing says “miss me, lover” like having the feds bust down your door, I guess. Note well that this isn’t just a tossed-out quip by a social-media flunky at the ATF. Someone put together a graphic for a PR campaign on the theme of snitching on former lovers — or current ones, just in case that sounds like fun too.

Some will shrug at this and note that law-enforcement agencies have used tips lines for decades, which is true enough but misses the point. Tips lines are offered and advertised as a way to participate in civic order for its own sake. This is the first time in my recollection that the government is advertising itself as a revenge service, and explicitly so.

As Scott Shackford points out at Reason, encouraging angry ex-lovers to seek revenge via the ATF is practically promising some sort of violence. An ATF visit is not a hearts-and-flowers event, after all:

To be completely clear here: The ATF doesn’t respond to illegal gun sales with a polite knock on the door and questions. In January, for example, ATF agents swooped into Wilkes-Barre Township at the crack of dawn to raid a home, scaring the neighbors.

The ATF’s irresponsible message today encourages people to try to get their ex-lovers hit with SWAT raids, as when “pranksters” call police and falsely claim a violent crime is taking place at their target’s address, prompting officers to show up in force, weapons ready. In such cases, innocent people are terrorized—or worse.

Unfortunately, the ATF isn’t the only agency to offer its revenge services:

The ATF is not alone. The Rockmart Police Department in Georgia also turned to social media to encourage jilted lovers to use them for revenge. “Do you have an ex-Valentine and know they have outstanding warrants? Do you have information that they are driving with drugs in their car? Give us a call with their location and we’ll take care of the rest,” the department posted on Facebook and Instagram. They got the idea from the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department in North Carolina. The same thing happened in North Carolina last year.

This isn’t harmless. The potential for a vengeful former lover to target a completely innocent person should have given law enforcement agencies pause before posting these messages. The fact that it didn’t speaks to an unpleasant mindset that has taken hold among some cops—the idea that their authority is an acceptable tool not just to stop crimes but to punish those who have done you wrong.

That kind of messaging might generate some chuckles, but in the long run, it lowers our impulse to check government power. We want people to report crimes, but as part of a self-governing society that keeps expressions of power limited and accountable. Using government agencies to get revenge on people conditions us to greater and less-accountable exercises of power. This kind of motive can put police in more danger as well, as mistakes can often turn deadly for both sides in otherwise needless confrontations.

This old skit from SNL is as much cynicism as I need for the holiday. We’re all better off with this than we are with law-enforcement agencies promoting themselves as revenge services. Although the men here could probably a little nonviolent revenge.

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