Restructuring the Police

The solution to the problem of police misconduct requires a radical restructuring, not just of the police, but also of the political and economic infrastructure that propagates social problems. The current social structure is that a mass of people, swayed by misleading propaganda, elect officials that authorize the municipal police to enforce impositions that perpetuate violence. The radical solution is to reform three basic structures: law, governance, and economics.

Social peace begins with the law. There are two types of legislation: statutes prohibiting coercive harm to others, and statutes prohibiting acts that have no invaded victims, such as laws prohibiting drugs, prostitution, gambling. Victimless crime laws create a conflict between the police and the people. When there is a victim of theft, the victim calls the police. But where there is no victim – nobody coercively harmed – the police have to search for criminals.

To enforce victimless crimes, the police rely on informers. The police also run sting operations and use decoys to lure people into crimes. The police have to invade privacy in order to find the drugs. No-knock forced entry is a logical consequence of drug laws.  If the police announce themselves, users will flush the drugs down the toilet. Another harmful aspect of the war on drugs is civil forfeiture, in which the police may confiscate property merely suspected in being involved in a crime. As has been widely discussed, the enforcement of drug laws is heavily tilted against non-white minorities.

Various reforms have been proposed to reduce violent confrontations.  However, unless the root of the problem is removed, reforms will ultimately not work. The remedy is to legalize all acts which have no harmed victims. If that is too radical, we can start by legalizing marijuana at the federal level, and releasing those imprisoned by its prohibition.  

The second structure to reform is governance. A deep restructuring of the police requires a change in how the police are selected. Rather than having a big remote police department alienated from the people, a city or county can be divided into neighborhood districts and implement community-based policing. The residents of a neighborhood of, for example, 10,000 persons would elect a council. The council would have responsibility for local public works and security. Even if the members of neighborhood patrols and crime response do not live in the district, they would be accountable to the people of the community. There could still be a municipal police or county sheriff, but the main enforcement would be local.

Neighborhood guards and patrols would include people trained to handle behavioral problems, like dementia and family conflicts. Much has been written about having social workers do some of what the police currently do. This would be even better with community policing.

The third basic reform involves the economy. Much crime is related to poverty and economic deprivation. Measures such as a higher minimum wage treat the symptoms of poverty instead of providing a remedy that eliminates poverty. Henry George used the term “extricate,” meaning to pull out by the roots, so that the weed does not grow back up.

Many people concerned with poverty have stated that a worker should be able to support a family with normal labor. They seek to provide governmental benefits to the poor, but their policies create poverty in the first place. What is the sense of forcibly extracting wages from a worker, and then alleviating the poverty with subsidized housing? To enable a worker to have an income that covers his basic needs, his wage needs to be tax-free, including the portion of the taxes on wages paid by the employer. To have workers afford the cost of living, we need to do more than untax wages. We need to stop subsidizing the wealthy.

Many in the social justice movement talk about taxing the rich. The rich are already heavily taxed, although some do escape taxation. Instead of an elusive “fairness,” we should strive for justice. The mother of all subsidies is the generation of land rent from the public goods and welfare provided by government. Justice requires that this ground rent be divided among the people equally, either for public goods or as an individual basic income. When a worker keeps one’s full wage and also receives an equal share of the economy’s ground rent, then he should be able to afford housing, food, and other necessities.

Even with economic justice and the abolition of victimless crime laws, there will be some greedy persons who seek to steal rather than engage in honest work. There is no good substitute for what the Greek philosopher Aristotle called “virtue.” We need a culture and education that instills in people a respect for individual sovereignty. But this is not feasible so long as the law disrespects individual choice and steals honest wages. How do we prevent private theft when the government commits the legalized theft of taxing wages? We need consistency, and the three reforms proposed here will go a long way towards the social peace most of us desire.

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