A group of homeschool families in Simpsonville, S.C., was surprised last week when a plainclothes policeman, armed but unannounced, rushed into their routine Wednesday gathering at the park, accosted a student, knocked down a mother with baby in arms, and arrested mom and teen for assault and carrying a concealed weapon.

The outcry was immediate and justified — after a rapid internal affairs review, the charges were dropped and the policeman was dismissed — but beyond the issue of police protocol is another story — the collision of public and private worlds.

The reason for the startling constabulary response is that students from a nearby elementary school, their own playground disrupted by construction, had been brought to the park by their teachers. When the children in the care of the public moved out of their compound and into the community, their security perimeter expanded to cover their new location. Members of the public became unwitting players in the drama; a phoned-in report that an unknown party with unknown intentions had a knife near school children is cause for alarm. The fact that it was a public park, a pacific teenager with a small knife on a belt loop, and more adult supervision that most school children receive, made the situation much less than it appeared to be, and the policeman’s response excessive.

That, I think, is the reminder to us — when we dabble with the idea of expanding public involvement into private, non-governmental affairs, the private and individual side of that exchange is going to suffer a reduction in liberty, if not more. Although those families weren’t on school grounds, and neither were the school children, their proximity resulted in the innocent homeschool gathering being subjected to vigorous intervention by the authorities … even though no laws were even bent.

It is the nature and mandate of the government and its agents to monitor, direct, and interdict, in order to fulfill their assigned duties. Whether trading liberty for security, or delegating private duties to the public trust, Caveat is the operative word.