Police Abolition is a Terrible Idea
The elimination of police departments, known as the police abolition movement, is ridiculous and devoid of common sense. Getting rid of police would just increase crime, violence, and erode any sense of safety and order in society.
Nov 10, 2020
There are a lot of dangerous and violent people. The notion of getting rid of the police does not get rid of the problem of violent or mentally ill and dangerous people. Regardless of police politics, violent criminals can still harm others.
Even in cities such as New York, where crime rates have gone down overall during the past few decades, violent crime still remains a daily reality. In fact, from January to August 2020, much of that period when the city was in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the city saw a 76% increase in shooting incidents and an 81% increase in shooting victims.
Whatever the cause of those numbers, abolishing police would not abolish the thousands of violent criminals across the country.
Just to take the example of some of the largest American metropolises, the Los Angeles Police Department reports upwards of 2,000 violent crimes per month; Chicago sees more than 4,000 in a given month—and New York City sees a staggering 7,000+ violent crimes per month. Murders in Chicago and Philadelphia have seen a spike in the last 12 months, with the Windy City seeing a 50% increase from 2019 to 2020.
Those reports include crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, and grand larceny.
Outside of cities, too, even in rural or suburban areas, armed robbery, grand larceny, sexual assault, and other violent crimes persist.
Sexual violence is a huge problem on college campuses across the country, where campus police are not enough to protect students and staff. We have to have actual local authorities to handle those matters and to keep attackers at bay.
The very absence of law enforcement will cause people to commit more crimes. Officers' function as a crime deterrent is just as important as their function to capture criminals. The data backs this up.
Numerous studies have found a correlation between a larger number of police officers on the force and a reduction in violent crime.
When it comes to violent crime in major cities, a 2018 article in the Review of Economics and Statistics found that every $1 spent on additional police forces generated $1.63 in social benefits. This conclusion, which used data from multiple cities across 50 years, found that the resulting social benefits were mainly a consequence of reducing murders.
Research has also shown that just perception of getting caught by police for certain is a bigger deterrent than any threats of punishment. Given the rates of recidivism, or repeat offenders, prison time does not seem to be a good deterrent in and of itself.
Another study—this one from 2005— found that the mere presence of visible police in a public place was enough to deter crime. That is their biggest benefit to society: simply existing.
If more police means less crime, then it would stand to reason that the absence of police would encourage those with a propensity to commit crimes to act.
A world where people are fending for themselves would be terrifying. The most vulnerable in our society need a professional police force to protect them, not vigilantes. A lack of public police may also give way to even more prejudiced private police forces.
Wealthy people would just rely on private security. Even low income communities deserve safety and security. And it's a government's job to provide that.
A lack of police could further deepen existing socioeconomic inequalities.
Wealthy Americans would likely just hire their own private security from firms like Pinkerton, and wealthy gated communities could even hire their own private police force.
They could potentially even use their private security as a militia to cause further violence or conduct personal vendettas. Middle-class and working-class Americans, meanwhile, would be forced to fend for themselves.
Without a professionally screened and trained police force, so many people are at risk of being taken advantage of by private citizens offering 'protection for pay' in communities, a problem that only exacerbates poverty and a lack of safety in a neighborhood.
Without the protection of publicly-funded police officers, the average American would be left without protection and further at the whims of the wealthiest among us.
It could lead to a rise in tribalism and mob violence. Police provide a neutral party looking out for the law-abiding community as a whole. Otherwise, all of society is put in danger.
Jacob Lund/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
Without the police, the U.S. could revert to a Wild West scenario, in which people round up posses to carry out vigilante justice. Communities, neighborhoods, and even gangs might take it upon themselves to dole out their own form of justice. This kind of vigilante violence would not only be terrifying—it could further increase division between Americans.
A professional, well-funded police force ensures we have properly trained police officers to keep order in communities across the country. They are held to the law in a way a civilian or unorganized defense would not be.
There are rules both governing what police can do and what police departments can and should do, to protect everyone in question from harm, safety and labor violations, and dangerous criminals.
As people draw lines around their immediate communities, tribalism might reemerge, where Americans identify more with a neighborhood or a group of people than with the nation at large.
Seattle has already seen a glimpse of what this mob violence might look like. When armed protesters took over the Capitol Hill section of the city, one business owner—Faizel Khan, the proprietor of a coffee shop—described unchecked violence and destruction of property. When he and others called the police, no one came.
Khan was forced to seek the permission of the armed protesters just to enter his own coffee shop. “They barricaded us all in here,” he told the New York Times. “And they were sitting in lawn chairs with guns.”
There’s also the effort of solving crimes and apprehending suspects. This service requires resources, training, and authority only a central police force can have. That expertise is even more necessary when it comes to catching violent, serial offenders.
Not all criminals are apprehended immediately, and a lack of officers would lead to chaos. Their main function is enforcing the law. Tracking down criminals can only be done by a professional police force.
Many criminals flee the scene of the crime and are not apprehended immediately.
Especially for crimes such as burglary where there might not be witnesses, it can take weeks or even months to track down a criminal. This is even truer for highly intelligent serial criminals.
Serial rapists or murderers often continue committing crimes for years, and only a concentrated effort from the police can stop them.
Handling of evidence is even governed by rules and regulations, which do not apply to non-government funded police forces.
Overall, on average the police make upwards of 10 million arrests annually.
The process of solving a crime often requires expertise and experience. Without a central force that is part of the government, there would be no regulations on the investigative process and that would result in fewer solved crimes. Forensic science requires experts, not laymen.
Law enforcement are uniquely qualified to solve crimes. The average police officer undergoes at least 647 hours of basic training.
This is on top of training officers and detectives must undergo at each stage of their careers as well as working with forensic scientists, lawyers, and other experts from who they learn during the course of investigations.
In some cases, it can take as long as five to six years to become a fully-fledged police officer.
Much of that training teaches police the unique skills and intricate science involved in solving crime, including crime scene handling and the detection of clues.
Other branches of law enforcement—such as the FBI or the CSI—undergo even more intense and specialized training that give them the know-how to solve crimes.
Conducting complex criminal investigations is a major aspect of law enforcement—and one that police are uniquely suited for.
Without government-funded crime labs, forensic scientists, detectives, and the rules and regulations making sure all these processes and procedures are done in a consistent manner, far fewer crimes would be solved.
Private police and detectives do not have access to the same technology or bank of experts as central police either. Untrained civilians are simply not capable of doing what law enforcement is trained to do.
Non-violent crimes can be just as harmful to innocent people as violent crimes. There is no such thing as a victimless crime. Police help all of those "invisible victims." From cyber crime to theft, these crimes still affect average Americans.
Police do not just monitor violent crimes, they also play an important role in keeping people safe from what could be called 'victimless' climes like vandalism, looting, non-lethal DUI citations, trespassing, petty theft, or public disturbance violations.
They also police cybercrimes and identity theft, which can have long-lasting negative impacts on people's lives.
Police help 'invisible victims' who are often vandalized or looted small business owners, local government officials, city budgets, and the sense of safety and security in the community.
Rights to privacy and property are important to police as well and allow people in the community to feel better.
Police officers also can stop petty thefts from neighborhood businesses just by their presence, they can stop and prevent graffiti on public property which could cost taxpayers money to clean up, and they can serve as an important first stop for people the victims of cybercrimes when the criminals are often hidden.
Police also conduct many functions that are not crime-related. Abolishing police would leave communities lacking important emergency services. Citizens would be forced to carry out their own rescue work, in addition to criminal investigations.
They conduct rescue operations and other community functions. That includes 9-1-1 services and another emergency help. They sometimes carry-out high risk rescue operations, aiding women and children.
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Police conduct search and rescue operations in kidnapping cases or when children wander off, do welfare checks on the elderly and mentally ill, and can help remove vulnerable people from situations of domestic violence in their homes.
Violent crime is usually defined as homicide, robbery, rape and aggravated assault and actually takes up only a small portion of a police officer's on-shift time.
Defunding police would likely lead to more of their other, community-based work taking a hit in addition to putting the community at risk from these violent crimes.
Several cities from New Haven, New Orleans, Sacramento, and Seattle have reported that the vast majority of 911 calls involving police have not been violence-related.
In fact, only about 4% of a police officer's on duty time is spent involving violent crime.
Approximately half of their time is spent responding to non-criminal calls and traffic duty. On a more personal level, police can also do welfare checks on the elderly or disabled members of the community, making them feel less alone and ensuring they are healthy for family members or friends concerned.
They also help foster a sense of community. Their presence can offer a sense of safety. And police officers often serve as role models.
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Police officers' presence in communities, at coffee shops and neighborhood stores, and talking to students in schools all add to a sense of safety for parents, children, and members of that community. In the absence of other infrastructure, police can rescue cats from trees, be a mentor to troubled youth, or serve as a deterrent from criminal elements entering a community.
Police chiefs often have to play the role of community liaison as well, bridging gaps between law enforcement and citizens to better understand each other.
Police and sheriff departments, particularly in underfunded or rural areas, often serve as more than just crime busters. Police officers can be important role models for children in a community by going to speak at schools and teaching them early about the law and what safe communities look like.
They can serve as a resource for key administrative functions so City Halls and mayors' offices can focus on other substantive matters.
The majority of Americans don't want to abolish the police. Most people want and need some police presence in their communities. Even the majority of Black people don't support police abolition.
The difference between "defund the police" and "abolish the police," explained.
According to a recent survey, most Americans do not support the idea of taking money away from law enforcement - especially because they realize it could lead to an increase in crime.
The alternatives to policing do not foster a sense of safety for most Americans, despite race or geographic location.
While nearly 60% of Americans think police treat white people better than people of color, they still think reform - not abolishment - is the answer to the policing issue.
The majority of Americans support body cameras, warning systems for problematic officers, and psychological training rather than just getting rid of the police all together.
The majority of Americans want a well-trained police department rather than private or vigilante law enforcement patrolling their communities.
Even a majority of Black Americans do not support defunding the police. They support reforming it through restructuring the existing system, more close monitoring of officers' behavior at the first sign of possible problems, and banning officers from using chokeholds and strangleholds - none of which require taking money away from police departments.
Black Americans want safer communities and better relationships with the police but understaffed departments or cuts to community-based outreach programs could hinder all of that.
Police abolition: A curated collection of links by The Marshall Project
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