“Minneapolis is not the only city asking the question. Across the country, calls to defund, downsize or abolish police departments are gaining new traction after national unrest…”
I have already talked at length on George Floyd but think the second part of the above paragraph is worth a quick note as it relates to the topic of defunding the police. It concludes, “…following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes on a busy Minneapolis street.” That makes it seem as if this is not really about police as a general concept but rather a focus on race and a single event. I realize that many will argue that it isn’t a single event, just the latest. However, as we have examined most of those previous instances they also fall into this same line of thinking.
When we take an objective look at the events, and the interactions with police and citizens we find that a massive majority of contacts are uneventful. That is not to say that I do not think police reform could be useful – I do. But where I disagree with the defunding line of thought is in just what that reform should look like.
Before we discuss that though, let us spend some time on the police as a concept.
A law is meaningless without enforcement of that law. I believe that laws don’t really prevent crime. I have said many times that they just codify what is done when the law is broken. Someone who has murder in his heart isn’t going to pause and not murder because it is illegal. However, the punishment associated with the law may (may) give the criminal pause. But even if it doesn’t (probably doesn’t) without that aspect of the law and the enforcement of laws we can do nothing with the criminal.
Without this there can also be no justice and conversely no mercy shown. Without laws, including those cultural laws we label “morality”, human behavior is animalistic. Laws are the byproduct of human intellect and reasoning. They developed over tens of thousands of years slowly but surely.
Enforcement of the law was something that, at one time, was only available to the wealthy and powerful.
Pharaoh would hire bodyguards and they would protect him and his interests. Others were left to their own devices. Around 2100 BC there was a standing army in Egypt and Pharaoh would hire men who had been in the army to guard temples, shrines, and market places. These early police officers even trained animals to assist them in their police work. One depiction of an officer capturing a thief int he market shows a trained monkey slowing the thief down by holding onto his leg so the officer can catch him. No longer just to protect the rich the police now existed, at the expense of pharaoh, to assist the common Egyptian.
Eventually Egypt began to decline. This decline meant that police officers were not as well taken care of financially as they once were. They began to take bribes. A robber could turn over the goods and be let go. Being poorly taken care of in ones profession is no excuse for abusing power. Still, we must wonder if there is a connection in our modern world to the treatment of officers and officers treatment of others. Though much later, the Greeks and Spartans also had their own police that helped the common citizen and not just the elite. In the middle ages disputes were handled by fighting, feuds, and payouts to avoid all of that. Eventually the idea of a Parish Constable came about. They served for a year, were not paid, and had little actual power to fight crime. The Lord of the manner had their protection though, paid, armed, and ready.
The wealthy and the powerful will always have their “police”. Just like the city council member in LA who called to defund the police while having a personal police guard at her house for months. These people can feel comfortable calling for defunding the police while at the same time calling for strict gun control laws because they will always have their protection. They have, since ancient times, had their protection.
The police are for you.
If it seems the police are not for you then it is legitimate to ask why you feel that way. It is legitimate for the people to control the actions of the police. The people delegate their power to the police. Though we hear the motto so often we can think of it as trite – To Protect and Serve – should be the function of the police. Within that can be a thousand ways to serve and a thousand ways to protect but by stating it this way it puts a focus on people, not the police. Privatizing the police is not the answer. Of course we see what happens when prisons work as private businesses. They lobby for stricter sentences and more laws. If you get paid only when people are in prison then you work to get people in prison. If police only get paid for catching bad guys they are going to find their bad guy, even if it isn’t really the right guy. That happens sometimes even now. Imagine how much more frequently it would occur if there was a monetary incentive! It is best if the police are public servants getting their power from the public.
If we privatize policing what happens?
If they aren’t paid by the person then do police just watch the crime occur just like we’ve read about with private fire departments watching a building burn? If a person can’t afford police protection what do they do? If the government pays for it, like they do with private prisons, what happens? In prisons we get lobbying for harsher penalties and more laws. If tax money is going to pay for it anyway keep it in the hands of local municipalities who can actually make the changes needed.
Making policing about how much money a private business can bring in turns crime into a commodity.
That said, the people should also understand just what they are asking the police to do and perhaps more importantly, who they are asking the police to become.
Police are asked to see the worst things of humanity and to face them without flinching. An officer cannot break down in the face of bloodshed. They cannot retch at the sight of bits of skull and brain matter, missing limbs, raped children, and weeping mothers told by the officer their child has just been killed. They are expected to suspend their personal emotion and anger and if they don’t they are fired. If someone dies as a result towns burn and they get charged with murder. Or, even if they do, but make a mistake that happens. One bad cop is seen as the entire basket of apples being rotten. Police contact citizens at least 375 million times a year in the United States. Almost all of those contacts are uneventful and not at all newsworthy.
I read someone lamenting that the police have gone from Norman Rockwell to helmeted military and they wondered how no one noticed the change. I had to shake my head a bit at that one because not only did people notice – they asked for it. All across the nation people voted in favor of different equipment for police and contacted their city council members to get them to support the police. Because all that equipment was coming from the federal government the locals were able to look like they were taking care of their police departments and citizens while actually not spending much of their own money. Police could be well equipped, but underpaid at the same time.
When we talk about wages we talk about value.
Not everyone can be a cop. It’s a hard job and it isn’t for everybody. There are mental requirements, intelligence requirements, physical requirements, emotional requirements, and requirements of behavior from one’s past. Even if someone gets hired as an officer they go through a rigorous police academy, a rigorous field training program, and in most jurisdictions a year of probation. They run, jump, crawl, fight, and must understand the law, its language, how to write about events, to gather evidence, and to testify in court under the probing questions of a defense attorney. They work all night long, stay awake for court, get a little sleep, spend a little time with family, then do it all over again. They do all the things most people no longer will do, like knock on a neighbor’s door and ask them to turn the music down. Over the last 10 years police have not gotten raises and in many jurisdictions have had to take furlough days to as city budgets have dropped. Many police officers (perhaps most) also work off-duty jobs to make extra money. They work long, hard hours. Do they need to be thankless hours as well?
When we gauge what police get paid (an average of $53,885 in the US) compared to the service they provide I think they are underpaid.
If we want to pay them less, or make the job easier, we can do that. We simply have to ask less of them. To expect less of them. That will require a change in the laws and a change in our communities, in our own attitudes toward each other. If the police aren’t going to do the job – we will have to be willing to do it. Maybe you can screw up enough courage to tell that neighbor to keep it down – but can you screw up enough courage when it is 20 drunk men in their front yard? Can you screw up enough courage to bust down your neighbor’s door when he is beating his wife and stop him from doing that? How do you keep the roadways safe? How do you investigate the accident you were in? How do you deal with the fellow who ran the red light and hit you? How do you get your car back when it is stolen?
Some people see the police in riot gear and get angry at the police.
The police are in riot gear, because there are riots.
A retired police officer wrote the following on Facebook and it was shared publicly. One of our Club Platypus members shared it with me. He says it perfectly.
“Go Home Lions. To my brothers and sisters in Law Enforcement…across America…Go Home, take care of your families, your loved ones, yourself. You see, the “Lion” is falling; you are neither needed nor are you wanted. Your leadership is “throwing you under the bus”. There used to be a time in America when, if not respected, at least the police officer was needed; every day you would put on that badge, hit the streets and take pride in knowing that at least once in an 8/10/12 hour shift you would do something good, help make the life of a citizen in your community a little better…then you would go home and sleep well…and then do it all again. You were sworn to protect and serve, and you have done the best that you could. Now, there is no reward for being a police officer unless you do the job just for the paycheck. Is your life worth it? It certainly was before…you were willing to give your life to save others. Today, as you stand the line with your helmets and masks, your shields and tear gas and batons, is your life worth defending an ungrateful community? Your brothers and sisters are being injured and even killed all around you and your community does not care…to many it is a cause to celebrate. Go Home, leave this protection thing to the socialists; not to worry, they will send in the military to do their bidding…to take America to the place they want it to go.
Go Home Lion. Take care of your family, your loved ones, yourself. You have done the best that you could.”
Collectivism is a cancer.
Some officers are not good officers. Some officers are bad officers. Some officers are wicked officers. When we are honest about it that “some” in all three of those categories represents only a few. We can choose to say “some” are bad or we could say “most” are good. That would statistically be true to say most are good. Why don’t we?
We don’t because – ironically – people are lumping one group into a single label. The police officer who helps you, does a good job, tries hard every shift, is NOT the exception. It is probably a good idea to ask why the police have been the focus of so much bad press when objectively they do a good job during almost all of those 375 million annual contacts in America. The answer is found in the above, “…leave this protection thing to the socialists; not to worry, they will send in the military to do their bidding…to take America to the place they want it to go.” The author of that knows and understands that the police in America are an impediment to socialism. Police officers, chiefs, and sheriffs came out against stay at home orders, have come out against oppressive gun laws. The left can’t stand it when the people have a protector that isn’t them, that doesn’t follow their creed, and is also trained and armed.
We do not need to defund the police.
Doing so would be stupid. Doing so would not create an environment that is safe for black people. On the contrary. If you are upset about Trayvon Martin or Ahmaud Arbery do you think you can expect more similar killings or fewer when the police are defunded?