How to Decrease Police Brutality, Misbehavior, Crime and Inefficiency

How can the behavior of police be improved?

Police departments throughout America have been documented generally to perform badly. One major report reads

“Police abuse remains one of the most serious and divisive human rights violations in the United States. The excessive use of force by police officers, including unjustified shootings, severe beatings, fatal chokings, and rough treatment, persists because overwhelming barriers to accountability make it possible for officers who commit human rights violations to escape due punishment and often to repeat their offenses. Police or public officials greet each new report of brutality with denials or explain that the act was an aberration, while the administrative and criminal systems that should deter these abuses by holding officers accountable instead virtually guarantee them impunity.”

This report’s recommendations are for the federal government to monitor the local and state police departments and withhold funds if they perform badly. But it notes that the Justice Department already fails to do the monitoring it was empowered to do in 1994! Besides, there is no reason to believe that centralization of this kind will improve local behavior significantly. It will create another level of bureaucracy, another barrier for the complaints of citizens to find a court that provides sanctions and justice, and institute a backdoor method of nationalizing police forces that endangers liberty. We have already seen police brutality increase as the Pentagon has disbursed sophisticated weaponry and vehicles. We have already seen other federal agencies introducing their own police forces and using police state methods.

The solution is definitely not nationalization, federalization and centralization.

The problem with the current police forces is organizational. Police forces are local monopolies. This has historical roots in which governments came to be the sole sources of the authority for the police to wield their powers. “Local Police includes municipal, county, tribal, and regional police that derive authority from the local governing body that created it.”

It is because these police forces are monopolies and because they are linked to the courts and justice systems that they perform badly. This is why we read of their mismanagement, failures to be held accountable, brutality, failures to discipline badly performing officers, hiring brutes and failing to investigate their records, poor training, and so on. There are also related issues of police unions and political pressures. Only in a walled off and protected environment can such bad behavior persist.

My recommendation is the libertarian one and also the appropriate organizational one. The authority to perform police functions should not be allocated to a monopolistic police force. It should be devolved to citizens themselves who are allowed to form companies that offer police services to the public. They can also form volunteer forces, departments and innovate other methods of policing. In this way, positive market forces come into play. Poor policing that is recognized by the consuming public is sanctioned by their withdrawal of patronage from those groups or companies or departments offering them. Good policing is rewarded by gaining customers or subscribers or volunteers or participants. The policing offered by the local governments becomes one among many, no longer protected. Exposed to competition, it either shapes up or ships out.

Naturally, I recognize that this solution goes against an entrenched system that almost everyone takes for granted, the system of local monopolies. However, historical and legal precedents for citizen police authority exist. We have all heard of citizen arrests. We all know or should know that the American theory of government makes the people sovereign and the source of such power, not the governments. “Of the people, by the people and for the people”, remember?

There is the problem that the local governments and police forces resist such changes. They tend to label serious policing by alternative groups as vigilantes. They raise scares that such forces and groups are unprofessional or need licensing and so on. Competition will be accused of creating a “Wild West”. The answers to these baseless charges are many. For one thing, the Wild West was not the violent place it has been depicted as. But I will say no more in rebuttal in this short blog, other than that those who claim to be professional are way too frequently behaving worse than vigilantes. Citizen review boards and other such monitoring or quasi-judicial groups apparently are either toothless, too slow, or captured by pro-police personnel to solve the mushrooming problems of police in America. A vigilante is someone who appoints himself to law enforcement without legal authority. That is not what I am proposing. I am proposing that the legal authority that’s now restricted to a single police department and stems from a local government be extended to multiple policing companies or voluntary organizations, not licensed but freely-chartered to undertake policing functions.

For a simpler idea of this, just imagine that wherever you live, you can phone any one of several police departments, not just one. If you live in an area with several towns nearby, you could call any one of them. You are no longer restricted and neither are they; they can operate wherever people call them. This places them in competition and immediately changes the incentives they face. If you live in a large city that has one big police department, imagine breaking it up into several that can operate anywhere. Then you could call any one of these. They could be run on a profit-making basis or a volunteer basis or both side-by-side.

Criminal violence arises from criminal behavior, whether that of people doing criminal acts, career criminals, or police behaving criminally. It only becomes a routine or widespread attribute of policing forces, whose aim is supposed to be anti-criminal, when those policing forces possess unaccountable or weakly accountable powers. That’s the case in many of today’s monopolistic police departments. Competition will bring those perverse behaviors under control and reduce them, by the power of people’s purses who are buying the policing services.


9:28 am on February 19, 2014