2020-06-08 – If you’re horrified by the idea of “abolishing” or “defunding” police, I hear you. There are some bad people in the world. We need protection.
But let me ask you: is your police department really protecting you? The truth is, your police are doing a ton of things that have nothing to do with protecting you. And many of these things may be completely counter to the mission of “serve and protect.”
How would you change things to improve the ability of police to serve and protect? I’m betting that I’d agree with many of your ideas and that you would agree with many of mine. The problem is that we don’t take time to get past our preconceived notions. Words like “abolish” or “defund” get in the way of that.
In business, they talk about “re-engineering.” You analyze your systems, processes, and organization to identify where the organization may be sabotaging itself and to determine better ways of operating. I think re-engineering our police departments is long overdue. They are not serving us well. And I think you would probably agree.
The biggest problem with policing is that they’ve been asked to do too much. Most police would agree with this statement. Putting a function into the police department has been a favorite with politicians for a century.
Let me suggest a few functions that might not belong in a police department. You may not agree with all of them, but listing them out is the place to start. I have a list. You have a list. We probably agree on some of them and disagree on others. But this is how we can start the re-engineering process.
- Traffic enforcement. If police are intended to protect us in our homes and business, why do we have them spend so much time looking for traffic scofflaws. Traffic enforcement needs to be assigned to folks who are specialists on traffic enforcement, and their efforts should be data driven and aimed at making roads safer. Not a good way for police to spend their time.
- Parking enforcement. Oh my God! If traffic enforcement is a waste of time for the police, parking enforcement is an even bigger waste. This one is so obvious, that some cities have already spun this one off into a dedicated parking enforcement force.
- Domestic disturbances. As things stand, someone calls the police, the police show up at someone’s home, there’s a little chit-chat, everyone promises to be good to make the police go away, and nothing is solved and nothing is followed up. Couldn’t this be better handled by people trained in the field? Yes, there are cases where someone is arrested today, but typically, those cases go nowhere. Specialists could call police in the few cases in which they are needed.
- Drug enforcement. This is probably the single most counterproductive use of the police in history. Criminalization of drugs throws people who need help into jail and creates a violent black market. I think it is becoming widely agreed that the war on drugs has been a total failure and steps are being taken to switch to a mental health model for addressing the problem. You might think that the mental health approach might be expensive, but compare that to the massive costs of incarceration and related crime. Taking the mental health approach is bound to be cheaper and more effective.
- Insurance investigation. If you’ve ever filed an insurance claim, you’ve been asked to provide a police report. Did you ever wonder why that is? It’s a free service that is provided to insurance companies. The police are seen as impartial investigators. But this work is so burdensome that police departments have created complicated rules for saying when they will or will not investigate and accident. Why not get them out of the business altogether. Let the state department of insurance figure out a better way of investigating insurance claims.
- Quelling public protest. I know that this is going to be the most controversial item on my list, but hear me out. When I’ve been to protests, police line the route. Who’s in the communities standing in front of the stores that “might be looted”? Does this procedure protect our communities? Or enflame them.
When police are invested in providing “services” like these that they are not trained or well-suited to provide, what happens to basic crime prevention and investigation? What happens to community trust? Check your city’s statistics. An amazingly low percentage of crimes reported to police are ever solved. Why? Because they waste their time with all this other stuff.
Once we’ve jettisoned this other stuff, we can begin to talk about the core mission of the police and what are the best ways to accomplish that. But simply jettisoning all the non-policing tasks would enable police to concentrate on becoming better police. That is a topic for another day. Re-engineering takes a while
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