Recently by Michael Fiebig: What’s Not Forbidden Is Mandated
Recently, the Denver Police Union embarked on a campaign to elicit support from the people living in the city. The union purchased 30 billboard advertisements and set them up across the city with their message predominantly displayed in bold, red, letters.
“GANGS OR COPS” it asks the people of Denver, which would you rather have on your streets? At once I was amused by this sophomoric attempt at gaining the support of the people of Denver; surely they cannot expect us to believe that without their selfless dedication to keeping us safe that the streets would be teeming with violent gang members fighting in the streets to expand and take over new territory, or do they? Regardless, I thought it would be an interesting intellectual exercise to attempt to predict what exactly would happen if all of the police in Denver were to cease to exist.
The first thing that would happen is that all the motorists and commuters of the city would find that during their drives to, and from work, they were no longer being watched by officers hiding in speed traps, picking and choosing who to detain and demand monetary extortion from for the “crime” of violating arbitrary traffic laws. People would smile from ear to ear as their daily drives were no longer threatened by the number one predator to innocent people on the streets across the city, the police officer. If you don’t think this is true, ask yourself, when’s the last time you felt safe when you found a police car driving behind you rather than find yourself nervous that you might be next on his list of victims to shake down?
The next thing that people would notice is their taxes were lower, as the ever-growing amount of money taxed from them was no longer necessary to pay for the now nonexistent police force.
Of course, people would immediately notice that people at the zoo weren’t being tazed, family pets weren’t being shot, or SWAT teams weren’t being used to break and enter into homes where people are storing plants.
It all seems great at this point, but what about the services that the police used to provide that people actually wanted? Back on the road, people would notice that after a car accident, there was nobody to help them. Though they might find themselves capable of trading insurance information and calling a tow-truck on their own, they would want the help that a police officer would normally provide. So what do they do now? I imagine that this void left by the disappearing police would be filled by the private enterprise commonly known as road side assistance. These companies might expand their services to include comprehensive accident assistance either on a subscriber or an a-la-cart basis. For every imaginable assistance one can think of that would be helpful on the road, one could easily conceive that private enterprise would be able to step in and provide the needed service. But what about protection from criminals, you know, the actual thing that the police promise to do for us?
Although it is true that 99% of the people in the city courthouse on any given day are there for nonviolent “crimes” such as traffic violations or possession of substances the governing class currently does not like, there remain a small number of legitimate criminals who will need to be addressed once the police are gone and not there to react to the crime. The fact is that people want security, and where there is demand for a certain service, a market will develop. Security is no different in this case. Property owners, especially those in the heart of the city, will want to ensure that their properties will be safe from the inevitable thug that will try to agress against them and their property. The most likely scenario that would play out in this case is that existing private security firms, seeing the void left behind from the police, will act as fast as humanly possible (remember, there is money to be made) to enlarge their services to offer security and protection to individuals and property owners across the city. Rothbard envisioned the very same scenario in Chapter 12 of his masterpiece, For a New Liberty, the Libertarian Manifesto. Private security firms would quickly grow to fill the legitimate need for security in the city, providing insurance-like policies to whole swaths of people and property owners to provide on-demand help, much like the police do today, and single-time services to others. But here’s the beauty of it all, this privately provided security service would be offered only to the extent that people want it, no more, and no less. The market would find an equilibrium where the exact amount of security that the people desire would be provided. There is no profit in providing excess services that people don’t want; the people will only pay for the level of security that they judge to be best for them and their interests.
As an added bonus, people will no longer find themselves at the opposite end of an uncooperative, threatening, or angry police officer. Private security firms whose agents antagonize their customers will quickly find out that that sort of behavior is bad for business as customers flock to the firms which provide not only the highest quality service, but in the most courteous way. These security service providers will truly be servants of the public, when each individual of the public holds the power to shut of their service at any time. Competition between security firms will create service that is miles above anything we have now under our monopolistic police agencies where everyone is forced to pay for service that in many cases hurts them and acts against their interests.
But one may ask, how will people pay for such service? Well, once people are not forced to pay for police service (through taxes, fines, payroll deductions, etc.), they will have that money in their control, and they will be free to purchase similar security on the private market or other goods or services that they deem to be more important than security. Either way, they are better off.
So to the members of the Denver Police Union who posted these billboards all over the city, I say, please don’t tempt us to consider what life would be like without you, because you’re not going to like the answer.
Michael Fiebig [send him mail] is a writer and an architect currently practicing in the state of Colorado.