PART ONE: SOLUTIONS
There has been talk of late of “Disbanding” or at minimum de-funding the police in many municipalities throughout the United States in the reactions to the apparent death by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis MN. Although there are already numbers of voices making themselves heard though the cacophony of the Internet, I thought that I would add a few words, perhaps of wisdom, to the discussion in the hopes of making people think these ideas through.
First and foremost, I have been a critic of police overreach for decades. Police have been violating their oaths of office for years, and the transformation from “peace officer” to “law enforcement officer” has not led to any improvements in the actual policing of municipalities.
For a bit of history as to why police forces use violence as a method of dealing with miscreants, let me make note of a few things. To begin with, modern police forces are indeed “modern”, and have their origins in the 19th Century. On one hand you have Sir Robert Peel’s “Peelers”, aka “Bobbies”, who were meant to police Metropolitan London to keep a handle on the rougher crowd, and to protect citizens and businesses from those crowds’ excesses. Peel had hard and fast rules of engagement, and polite interactions with citizens was one of the hallmarks of the operation (see addendum). On the other hand, you have, in the United States, the mid-19th Century slave patrols, which were organized for the purpose exposed in their name: to catch slaves who were quite literally “off the plantation”. From these origins come our modern police with both the good and bad intermixed.
Since the argument is all about how to solve the problem of police abuse of power, under which I would place the term “Police Brutality” along with a host of other equally problematic issues, I will begin with suggestions as to how to actually solve the problems. Here they are, in what I believe to be the order of importance:
1. Remove the “Qualified Immunity” which police enjoy from their positions. Let them be subject on all matters to the exact same laws and regulations which govern every other citizen. If they shoot someone, they must not only go before a police review board (after having had several days to ponder their answers) but go through the exact same process that a normal citizen must go through if he has fired a weapon at someone. Immediate questioning by police (other than their own department, and persons unknown to him), questioning by the prosecutor, and a Grand Jury investigation if warranted. No more “He was in fear of his life, and wanted to go home safely at the end of his shift”. That’s right up there with “I was only following orders”. Heck, everyone wants to go home safe, and if they are threatened, deal with the problem in any way they see fit. But if I’m not allowed to do it as an average citizen, neither should be the cop.
2. Make the superiors, up to and including the Mayor, responsible for the actions of their employees. If a cop shoots someone under unreasonable circumstances (or, say, strangles them), it is due to poor leadership, poor hiring practices, and poor training. All of these things are the direct responsibility of the Chief of Police and the Mayor. If massive injustice is done, then the Chief should be cashiered (without pension) and the Mayor forced to resign. Responsibility must be imposed where it belongs, at the top. A related concept is that responsibility flows downward, while loyalty flows upward. This is something Medieval kings understood, but that has been lost in our modern society. Take responsibility for the actions of your people, and you’ll get loyalty from them. Avoid it, and you get none. Sort of like what is happening in New York City right now (Spring of 2020).
3. Demilitarize the police. Right now, enormous amounts of military hardware is flowing to the armories of state and local police departments, making them de-facto military occupational forces. Dressing your police in military uniforms (black, just like the SS) rather than in more subdued clothing and colors, only intensifies the differences between “Police and Civilian”. In fact, the very terminology is designed to create a gulf where none ought to exist: Police ARE Civilians! (See Peel’s 9 Rules for Policing, in the notes below.) Unless they are actually military forces, they ARE civilian, and if they are not, then they are military occupational forces, and must be dealt with in that way. Be forwarned, though: Military justice is a bit more straightforward than civilian. Remove the “Qualified Immunity” from cops, and make them subject to the UCMJ and things will also change, for better or worse. But they will become more clear.
4. Stop recruiting directly from the military. Military veterans make up a large number of modern police, and if society wants them to be different, society must change the way police are hired. The lesson of Empire is that the lessons learned in governing one’s conquered lands are always brought home and practiced on the home population, with the predictable results of the population looking at their heretofore “protectors” as an occupying force. If you want Detroit to be Fallujah, this is the way to accomplish it. I’m not saying that veterans are more likely to be “brutal cops”, I’m saying that they bring with them the lessons learned on occupation duty. If you don’t want that, then hire straight from the civilian market.
5. Eliminate or drastically change the civil forfeiture laws. For police to confiscate any property they deem “suspect” in any possible illegal dealings, and then keep the profits for themselves without having to prove any illegal activity is begging for corruption. The confiscated funds or property should either go to a state general fund (such as in New Mexico, where such cases have been reduced considerably), or the laws should be stricken from the books entirely.
I believe that, with these changes, the problems associated with the police that are presently in the news will, for the most part, be solved without tossing out the baby with the bath water. There are plenty of other issues, such as prosecutorial misconduct, judicial misconduct, and massive corruption within the criminal justice system (and I don’t mean just money either, lots of problems come under the heading of “corruption”) that are too all-encompassing for me to address here, but I believe that these would be a good start on the problem.
PART TWO: WHY DISBANDING THE POLICE WOULD BE A BAD IDEA
As for the idea of completely disbanding the police forces throughout the country, though there are several arguments in favor of it, let us look at situations where the system of governmental Monopoly of Violence has been lifted. Before we get into the above, however, let’s take a short look at just what “Monopoly of Violence” actually is, and where it came from.
Western cultures have been fairly content, for the most part, to hand over the use of violence in the keeping of society’s rules to professionals for the past thousand or so years, and with a bit of a break after the fall of the Roman Empire, for several thousand years prior to that. The King, and through his authority the various Dukes, Counts and Lords, as well as the county Sheriffs (“Shire Reeve”) were given the monopoly on the use of violence in order to curb the otherwise excessive uses of violence by means of blood feuds, tribal warfare, and raiding back and forth between groups. With the enforcement of “The King’s Peace”, roads could be made safe for commercial traffic, seas could be made safe from piracy (thus the creation of national navies) and disputes between neighbors could be adjudicated by an outside, more-or-less uninterested third party. Certainly not the optimum answer, but far preferable for the peaceful existence of the vast majority of the population than the alternative.
With the ossification of the “old regime” came corruption, and the response was usually revolution of some sort. Peasant revolts, civil wars, and outright violent overthrows of kingdoms were usually the answer. Wat Tyler’s rebellion, the English Civil War, and the French Revolution are good examples of these. Often the cure is worse than the disease, but the threat of these sorts of “cures” was often enough to keep the upper crust from becoming too corrupt, and at least watching out to some extent for their subjects in a form of “noblesse oblige”. Actual police forces were usually unknown, for if there were problems, the local lord or sheriff would call out the local militia, who were bound to answer the call to assemble and deal with the problem.
Fast forward to the English Colonies, and later the United States of America, and the same problems existed, but without the local lords etc.. Authority to hold the monopoly of violence was generally granted to the local sheriff and state governor, but he still was required to call out the militia to deal with enforcing the law. This was somewhat of a restraint on the local authorities, since they had to have the assent of the local militiamen to enforce their laws. If they felt that the law was asinine, then they would be somewhat reluctant to enforce it. There was no “I was only following orders” sort of excuse. Militia was notoriously ill-disciplined, at least in the eyes of the authorities, for precisely this reason. There had to be a general agreement and support of the people for the laws to be enforced.
The reason that there WAS enforcement of the laws by the local militia, though, was that the alternative was quite unpleasant. There are many cases of lawlessness on the frontier that were handled by means of “rough justice”, and many a blood feud was conducted. The famous Hatfield and McCoy feud is only the last of a long line of blood feuds which peppered the American frontier’s history, and in fact was an ever-present fact of life on most frontiers throughout the world, where law and order is applied in a less-than-orderly fashion.
That said, take a look at the areas today where government’s authority and their monopoly of violence has been removed or drastically reduced. There is an excellent study, “RethinkingMilitias: Recognizing the Potential Role of Militia Groups in Nation-Building” by US Army Majors, Terry L. Hodgson and Glenn R. Thomas, as a part of their work at the Naval War College, on the rise and use of militias in the modern world, where they come from and what they do. In almost all cases they are a response to filling the vacuum of power caused by the removal or simply the absence of government’s monopoly of violence.
The authors define “militia” rather broadly, to include virtually all armed groups who were ostensibly defending their territory/people from outsiders. Within this they included nationalist militias, tribal militias, local “neighborhood protection teams” and ethnicity-based military groups. Taking a brief look at the Tribal Areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, you can see all of these types of militia in action. The rest of the Mid-East, especially in areas where the United States has had a hand in destroying the local infrastructure as a part of “nation building”, has examples as well. Furthermore, the authors define many Latin American drug cartels as being militias under their broad definitions, as they too provide protection and services to the local inhabitants of the areas that they operate in which are not provided for them by the national government, which claims authority over the territory.
And this is in fact the bottom line of militias: they provide security and other services to their people which are not/cannot be provided by the actual government. There is a void of power, and into that void step the local populace, who therefore form a militia. Sometimes it is under the strict rule of a local strong-man, sometimes it is far more amorphous in its leadership, but they all rise in response to the power vacuum. When the monopoly of violence is removed, other violent players will fill that void. Some are criminals, some are idealists, most are simply practical men who wish to protect their homes, family and neighborhoods from the violence they see surrounding them in the collapse of authority. (The local militias which have risen in the Mexican state of Michoacan to fight the narcotraficantes who were running roughshod over the peasants are good examples of this, as are the local militias which have arisen in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq to deal with the terrorist organizations that afflict them. Sometimes they are incorporated into larger military units, usually not.)
Other organizations, too, become active when the monopoly of violence is removed. As noted above, blood feuds, usually a response to some injustice or another, become endemic and if you have a smaller or less militant family, you, and they, lose. The Hatfields and the McCoys may be the subject of mirth and amusement representing a case of “those benighted people” by today’s intellectuals, but it is a very real phenomenon. Just ask any veteran of our colonial war in Afghanistan, and he’ll set you straight about ethnic and family violence on a huge scale.
Of note as well is that people and organizations which can afford private security, do so. Corporations such as Blackwater/Academi/Whatever-their-name-is-now are more than happy to provide well trained soldiers to protect the interests of their employers. In the absence of government-employed agents of law enforcement, you can bet your life on the fact that large corporations such as Amazon, Google and Chase Bank are going to hire such players to protect themselves and their property...and they probably won’t be nearly as accountable for their actions as the police are now. Not only will the violence NOT be monopolized by the state, any civil actions against them will be defended by very well-paid lawyers in courts far more interested in maintaining the peace by any means than the rights of the citizens who may be affected by their misconduct. Kind of like it is now, but much, much worse. Neal Stephenson explores some of these ideas in his fiction, “Snowcrash” in particular, which are well worth consulting for some insight on this.
The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, in arguing against the removal of police forces in the country, is that they in fact provide as much protection for the miscreants as they do for their victims, in many cases moreso. It is often only the threat of prison and a loss of their life’s savings from the gentle ministrations of the local prosecutor, even if found not guilty, that restrains the citizen from dealing out “rough justice” towards criminals, be they vandals, burglars or rioters. Without the threat of “What will the police and the courts do to me?”, do you think that the business owners and residents of riot-torn areas would resist the strong temptation to simply start shooting the rioters? Or that the residents of the suburbs, in fear of the chaos coming to them, wouldn’t band together and simply shoot rioters on sight? The police provide a great deal of impetus for self-restraint from those with something to lose, a concept which seems to be lost on those who would argue for the abolition of those restraints.
Note: I would like to point out something here that is of historical interest. In the 19th Century, “Race Riots” generally consisted of white people burning down black neighborhoods and businesses. In the 20th Century, they consisted of black people burning down their own neighborhoods and businesses. In our enlightened 21st Century, they seem so far to consist of white AND black people burning down black neighborhoods and businesses. So we’ve at least made some progress there.
In conclusion I would fully agree that the police do in fact require extensive reforms, instituted as noted above. There are myriad reasons for doing this, and doing it soon. However I think that it would be foolish in the extreme to remove them entirely. Government’s Monopoly on Violence, while from time to time a nuisance, is in general a far better system than one of local militias, strongmen and private security dealing out rough justice in any way that they see fit in the heat of the moment. If you think that tarring and feathering, beatings, and lynchings are a great means of ensuring justice, then carry on. If you prefer peaceful commerce with your neighbors, then rule of law enforced by a fairly detached power that, for the most part, enjoys a monopoly on violence is probably a more reasonable alternative.
June 8 2020
1st - To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
2nd - To recocgnise always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
3rd - To recocgnise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
4th - To recocgnise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
5th - To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
6th - To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
7th - To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
8th - To recocgnise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary, of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
9th - To recocgnise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.