Police: To Alter or Abolish?

 

Unknown-1When people ask me, ‘Who will protect us,’ I want to say: Who protects you now? —

Mychal Denzel Smith

 

Is It Time to Abolish Our Nation’s Police?

I first ran into the idea of police abolition when I was a beat cop in Minneapolis. At the time, I was attending graduate school in sociology and reading Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and others. It’s not a new idea. As I recall, it was first proposed by Malcom X, then the Black Panthers. Is it an idea whose time has now come?

As a cop, it was difficult for me to comprehend a world without police. Weren’t we, who were the police, appreciated? “Who will protect you if not us?” we asked people of color. I remember the answer to this day: “You don’t protect us now!”

That caused me to dig deep inside. Of course, the kind of police I argued against were those kind of police — those who don’t protect people of color; who were a danger to black and poor people. For years, I argued against a dominant style of policing which oppressed people of color and the poor; which benefited whites the power structures of our city. And when it became my time to lead police, that became my mission — to create a style of police intended to fairly and respectfully police the poor and communities of color using force to a minimum.

We began calling it community-oriented policing. Over the years, however, “oriented” seemed to have disappeared and we were left with an amorphous “Officer Friendly” idea called that today is called “community policing.”

At the time, those of us who saw ourselves as reformers should have been more definitive; more community-oriented and kept on stressing its about orienting the police function to the community for their benefit — not the sole benefit of police.

If I had to do it over again, I would have proposed that Community Policing was a confusing term – let’s try C.C.P. instead — Community Controlled Police and then discuss  what such a police would be like, what they would do, and how they would be oriented, focussed on helping the community.

Whether you agree with these proposals to abolish police or not, modern police leaders should be able to answer the questions of those proposing this idea and be able to understand and correct the problems in the community which caused this talk of abolition.

To simply “blow off” critics and not be responsive to their concerns will be a tragic mistake. There is usually always some truth in the arguments of our critics.

The following is an example of what some folks mean when they say, “Abolish the police.” It comes from a 2014 article in “Rolling Stone.” The author takes on the concept of police abolition by proposing six “practicable, real-world alternatives to the modern system known as policing.” They are worth considering — and responding to.


Policing is a Dirty Job, But Nobody’s Gotta Do It: Six Ideas for a Cop-Free World

By José Martin

“…The moderates in this debate typically qualify their rhetoric with ‘We all know we need police, but…’ It’s a familiar refrain to those of us who’ve spent years in the streets and the barrios organizing around police violence, only to be confronted by officers who snarl, ‘But who’ll help you if you get robbed?’ We can put a man on the moon, but we’re still lacking creativity down here on Earth.

“But police are not a permanent fixture in society. While law enforcers have existed in one form or another for centuries, the modern police have their roots in the relatively recent rise of modern property relations 200 years ago, and the ‘disorderly conduct’ of the urban poor. Like every structure we’ve known all our lives, it seems that the policing paradigm is inescapable and everlasting, and the only thing keeping us from the precipice of a dystopic Wild West scenario. It’s not. Rather than be scared of our impending Road Warrior future, check out just a few of the practicable, real-world alternatives to the modern system known as policing:

  1. Unarmed mediation and intervention teams

“Unarmed but trained people, often formerly violent offenders themselves, patrolling their neighborhoods to curb violence right where it starts. This is real and it exists in cities from Detroit to Los Angeles. Stop believing that police are heroes because they are the only ones willing to get in the way of knives or guns – so are the members of groups like Cure Violence, who were the subject of the 2012 documentary The Interrupters. There are also feminist models that specifically organize patrols of local women, who reduce everything from cat-calling and partner violence to gang murders in places like Brooklyn. While police forces have benefited from military-grade weapons and equipment, some of the most violent neighborhoods have found success through peace rather than war.

2. The decriminalization of almost every crime

“What is considered criminal is something too often debated only in critical criminology seminars, and too rarely in the mainstream. Violent offenses count for a fraction of the 11 to 14 million arrests every year, and yet there is no real conversation about what constitutes a crime and what permits society to put a person in chains and a cage… To quote investigative journalist Christian Parenti’s remarks on criminal justice reform in his book Lockdown America, what we really need most of all is ‘less.’

3. Restorative Justice

“Also known as reparative or transformative justice, these models represent an alternative to courts and jails. From hippie communes to the IRA and anti-Apartheid South African guerrillas to even some U.S. cities like Philadelphia’s experiment with community courts, spaces are created where accountability is understood as a community issue and the entire community, along with the so-called perpetrator and the victim of a given offense, try to restore and even transform everyone in the process…

4. Direct democracy at the community level

“Reducing crime is not about social control. It’s not about cops, and it’s not a bait-and-switch with another callous institution. It’s giving people a sense of purpose. Communities that have tools to engage with each other about problems and disputes don’t have to consider what to do after anti-social behaviors are exhibited in the first place. A more healthy political culture where people feel more involved is a powerful building block to a less violent world.

5. Community patrols

“This one is a wildcard. Community patrols can have dangerous racial overtones, from pogroms to the KKK to George Zimmerman. But they can also be an option that replaces police with affected community members when police are very obviously the criminals. In Mexico, where one of the world’s most corrupt police forces only has credibility as a criminal syndicate, there have been armed groups of Policia Comunitaria and Autodefensas organized by local residents for self-defense from narcotraffickers, femicide and police. Obviously these could become police themselves and then be subject to the same abuses..

6. Mental health care

“In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed up the last trauma clinics in some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods. In New York, Rikers Island jails as many people with mental illnesses “as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York State combined,” which is reportedly 40% of the people jailed at Rikers. We have created a tremendous amount of mental illness, and in the real debt and austerity dystopia we’re living in, we have refused to treat each other for our physical and mental wounds. Mental health has often been a trapdoor for other forms of institutionalized social control as bad as any prison, but shifting toward preventative, supportive and independent living care can help keep those most impacted from ending up in handcuffs or dead on the street.


Read Martin’s entire December 16, 2014 article HERE. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/policing-is-a-dirty-job-but-nobodys-gotta-do-it-6-ideas-for-a-cop-free-world-20141216

CLICK ON some other recent discussions which propose the abolishment of police:

 

25 Comments

  1. The police have always been a “dumping ground” for local government. When issues arose and local government decided the issue was a problem, they instructed law enforcement to deal with it. Issues like public drunkenness, street prostitution, lower-level drug consumption and others were given to the police to control.

    While I think Martin’s article is mostly tripe, he does bring up some thoughts for consideration. I would like to think that government could decriminalize the aforementioned offenses and others or perhaps make enforcement against them the job of other local-governmental departments such Public Health for enforcement.

    I’ve been a fan of restorative justice for sometime – but like everything else it could become politicized by local politicians and controlled by vigilantes rather than adjudicated by what we hope is an unbiased referee (locally appointed or elected judges).

    Martin’s neighborhood patrols would evolve into a roving band of thugs. When I read his comments my mind immediately flashed to the old Henry Fonda film, “The Oxbow Incident.”

    Policing still needs to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century and beyond. A thought I had when I first entered policing in the late 1960s; I was approached by a young man who looked at me and said what a wonderful world it would be without cops. I replied, as long as there are 3 people left on this Earth, one of them would have to be a cop. That’s simply the human condition that Martin does not comprehend.

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  2. It appears that this guy wants to replace the police with non-coercive systems of social control. I certainly know and understand that there are people out there who just don’t like the police, they probably resented being told what to do by their parents also but this alternative requires people to voluntarily step-up and face the problems in their neighborhoods. As rational human beings, they simply won’t do this, with the exception of those seeking public recognition and political advancement. Want proof… take a look at what is going on in the absence of pro-active policing in Chicago and Milwaukee.

    The fact is that people of means have little to fear from crime and criminal perpetrators, they can pay for their own security as they have always done.
    it’s the disadvantaged who would bear the costs of such proposals.

    “There are people who live in fear every day, not from the police but from those who roam their streets. They fear the criminal predator, handicapped with an underdeveloped sense of humanity, who embrace the culture of violence that rips communities apart and causes them to be abandoned by business investment and modern educational opportunities. These disadvantaged, but law abiding people, cannot let their children play in the yard or walk to school; these people have no other choice than to live in neighborhoods plagued by growing crime and violence because they can’t move away, send their children to private schools or provide for their own security.

    In the past the police have actively patrolled these areas because that is where the criminal prey exist, not because the police are racists. Today certain groups are making the argument that the enforcement activity of the police disproportionately impacts people of color, and they are exactly correct. These groups however, do not understand the nature of policing. They are placing concerns for social justice above concerns for public safety and the impact on the most vulnerable members of our communities will be profound.”

    People will not step-up to the challenge so a “cop free” world means returning to the state of nature where the strong prey on the weak. One does not have to look far to see what this would actually look like.

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  3. Interesting thought…. in the 90’s five police forces were closed on the east coast of Canada in New Brunswick and replaced by the RCMP. I was told by the Mountie who interviewed the members on those forces that it was necessary evil.

    Whatever the reason or reasons those forces were closed sometimes police officers need to be replaced and it can get so bad I’m assuming that forces need to be replaced and I’m not convinced civilians are the answer but they certainly could play a role like an auxiliary police officer especially at nights.

    However I do believe there should be a pool of officers ready to march in and take over policing when investigations are called into police forces and/or the need becomes evident as was the case in those five Maritime police forces.

    I don’t know of any other Province in Canada were so many police forces were disbanded in the same zone and replaced by another police force but those in the Province of New Brunswick. They were Moncton, Dieppe, Sackville, Sussex and the force I was shot in, Shediac.

    Says something right there about the need to do something before someone dies.

    Thanks for Posting these Post and Keep up the good work….

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  4. Cops still have not protected striking workers nor are they doing a thing with white collar, corporate crime.

    “In the past the police have actively patrolled these areas because that is where the criminal prey exist, not because the police are racists. People will not step-up to the challenge so a “cop free” world means returning to the state of nature where the strong prey on the weak. One does not have to look far to see what this would actually look like.”

    Well, in the past cops were racists because they support the institution of slavery and Jim Crow labors. They are also still preying on the weak in place. Ferguson was an excellent example of the cops preying on poor people and blacks to depend on revenue for the city.

    “The police have always been a “dumping ground” for local government. When issues arose and local government decided the issue was a problem, they instructed law enforcement to deal with it. Issues like public drunkenness, street prostitution, lower-level drug consumption and others were given to the police to control.”

    I don’t see the cops standing up to local government and telling the politicians that what they are doing is wrong. If the cops don’t want to be a dumping ground, they need to get more involved in voting for more politicians to turn society around.

    “Want proof… take a look at what is going on in the absence of pro-active policing in Chicago and Milwaukee.”

    What pro-active policing in places like Chicago and Milwaukee? All I see is cops acting like they are above the law and don’t care about the people they serve.

    “I replied, as long as there are 3 people left on this Earth, one of them would have to be a cop. That’s simply the human condition that Martin does not comprehend.”

    If the cop is a crooked one, that is something you can’t understand let alone comprehend.

    …..but this alternative requires people to voluntarily step-up and face the problems in their neighborhoods.”

    I wish the business people, politicians, corporations, and wealthy people would step-up and face the problems they have created in those neighborhoods.

    “These groups however, do not understand the nature of policing. They are placing concerns for social justice above concerns for public safety and the impact on the most vulnerable members of our communities will be profound.”

    Too many cops don’t understand the nature of policing even though they have work in that profession for years. In addition, there seems to be too much emphasis on public safety at the expense of political, social and economic justice for poor people, minorities, and workers of the communities.

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  5. We have no pro-policing activity in dealing with white collar, corporate crime and look at the various Wall Street and corporate scandals for the last 36 years.

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  6. If having a secret detention center in Chicago for decades is an example of pro-policing activity, it proves that the cops don’t understand the nature of policing.

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  7. I agree that some of these suggestions are hype, but some I believe are worthy of consideration. Organizations attempt to survive and usually only adapt when survival is at stake. The March of Dimes didn’t hold a big party when Salk developed the polio vaccine and then fold up shop. They are still here, and still do good work, but I think that case is illustrative of that organizational phenomenon.

    The epidemiological foundation of the Cure Violence program shows promise and is one method to reduce violent crime. Restorative justice works in some tribal contexts. The need for improved mental health services is blatantly obvious.

    I believe the idea that holds the greatest promise is decriminalization of many activities. I have come to believe that the police should enforce only those laws where there is clear interpersonal harm or hazard. It would be somewhat like returning to the common law, though there are obviously many technological nuances in the 21st Century. Decriminalization would allow the police to then execute the most significant, and I believe necessary change – just police. I believe that just (syn. only) policing, within Just (adv.) governance would be more effective at reducing crime, would be well received by the community, and is all we can hope to accomplish with limited resources.

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    1. I agree. I am reading Alice Goffman’s book, “On the Run,” which highly illustrates what happens we we over-police minor “offenses” in a Philadelphia neighborhood and then how the courts-probation-prison-parole systems gets kicked in — often only after someone not being able to pay a fine for a petty offense. It is a striking portrayal. We police too much “petty shit” with dire consequences on those who are poor.

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      1. I have told legislators not to criminalize any behavior they are not willing to see someone killed over. Any arrest situation can devolve to deadly violence and my research has shown that 27% of the variance in sub-optimal outcomes (use of force, injuries, complaints, damage to property, etc…) are explained by officer activity. The more you do, the more likely something will go wrong.

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  8. While I agree that these critics should not just be blown off, people should understand that these ideas have been peddled by anarchists and/or libertarian Marxists since, well, Proudhon and Bakunin. Modern anarchists tend to use the same examples (ie. Northern Ireleand, South Africa, The Zapatistas, etc.) and just take it for granted that their anti-police readers will accept that these experiments are superior to a truly accountable, community-oriented form of policing that we might envision.

    I would ask proponents of abolition if things were better for southern blacks when southern police ignored their neighborhoods (unless whites were effected) during the Jim Crow era. Jill Leovy’s recent book “Ghettoside” revisits this era and finds that homicides rates in these areas were very high (And they still are). Did self-policing work then? And today, where cooperation with police in black communities is low, how much self-policing is occurring? The statistics should make the answer to this inquiry obvious.

    Having some left-libertarian leanings myself, I am not without sympathy for the idea of scaling back police operations significantly. The drug war, for instance, creates more crime that it solves. The police are then sent in to quell violence that prohibition largely creates. “Quality of life policing” often turns police into little more than armed bureaucrats and is an excuse to push more (largely) black men into the system. Even traffic enforcement is suspect in many ways. Does anybody believe that speed enforcement, for instance, is more about public safety than revenue production?

    So by all means, refocus the police on emergency response and let them deal mostly with common law crimes (Murder, Robbery, Larceny, etc.). But understand that the people making these arguments for abolition have little sympathy for victims of crime (After all, they think crime is a creation of the capitalist state and that property owners have it coming anyway). They seem to believe that if we just eliminated private property people would no longer victimize one another. But does lack of want always persuade people to stop hurting people or ripping people off? Ask a white collar criminal or a wealthy wife-beater!

    The problems we have with policing can be solved by altering laws, holding officers accountable and refocusing on things that hurt people or deprive them of their property. Anarchists have been trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater since they bickered with Marx at the Socialist International. And their ideas are no more relevant or acceptable to the masses now than they were in 1848.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Chief,
        Thanks very much for the invite. On the 16th, I’ll be working in Chicagoland so I won’t be able to attend. I’m eager to hear how the conference goes and I’ll check back to your blog frequently.

        Thanks for asking the hard questions. Even though I don’t think this particular option is a good one, I give you credit for exploring ideas that few chiefs (Current or retired) or few citizens in general would consider. I work in private protection (healthcare security, to be specific) and have always had to justify my existence. Perhaps if more police went through this exercise, they would think more critically about their occupation.

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  9. “I agree. I am reading Alice Goffman’s book, “On the Run,” which highly illustrates what happens we we over-police minor “offenses” in a Philadelphia neighborhood and then how the courts-probation-prison-parole systems gets kicked in — often only after someone not being able to pay a fine for a petty offense. It is a striking portrayal. We police too much “petty shit” with dire consequences on those who are poor.”

    I would suggest reading the book “Kids for Cash” by William Ecenbarger which talked about the history of how America dealt with its youth which led to the judicial scandal of two judges sending kids to private prisons in return for kickbacks and how the entire judicial system including the police let the kids down all in the name of law and order. We never have view kids as investments except when it makes money for corrupt government officials and crooked business people.

    If you look at the history of the RCMP, they were sometimes ordered to take over various Canadain Provincial Police duties because those provincial police departments were totally corrupted and the people in those provinces were fed up with the situation. Of course, the provincial politicians didn’t like it because they lost control over their own police force and you had RCMP Commissionaires who didn’t take garbage from the local politicians and the federal government was backing them up . The Ontario Province Police earn the unofficial title as the Ontario Political Police because for many years the politicians ran it like it was their own private police force.

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    1. I wonder if the same thing won’t eventual happen in America — unless police improve their civil rights records the federal government can and will (and has recently been under consent decrees) take over. An interesting thought…

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  10. Thanks to John Oliver’s show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the politicians in Washington D. C. and in some of the states, have been finally forced to deal with things like minor offenses and being sent to prison because people have been unable to pay the offenses or put up bail. You wonder where was the mainstream media when this was going on for decades and it also shows how there is no more investigative journalism anymore.

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  11. Unfortunately, the owners of the media didn’t care much about reporting the hidden dark side of America. Media moguls like William Randolph Hearst, Harrison Gray Otis, Harry Chandler, and the Daniel Quayle family use their papers to support and maintain the political, social, and economic of their wealthy friends and businesses even during the good old days and even during the days when you had a lot more diversity in the media compare today.

    If you read the book Slavery by another name, the Southern press was also used to report positive things about the South instead of reporting how Afro-Americans were put into a semi-slavery condition at both Southern and Northern companies because those companies needed a cheap labor force to rebuild South after the Civil War, prevent unionization of the Southern workforce, and keep the Afro-Americans in their place by using many of the same laws that still exist today.

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  12. I don’t want the police to be abolished; however, you wonder why have them when the Supreme Court made a ruling that the police have no obligation to protect you and then you have people like Sheriff Clarke telling the community that calling 911 is not their best option and to go armed themselves. Furthermore, why bother to have the police when you have many stories of people calling the police for assistance and they end up getting killed or beaten up or facing retaliation for reporting police misconduct whether the police were on duty or off duty?

    Like

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