Do We Need Police? đźš“

Apologies for the bad shoop, but the cover of the original book works so well in this context.(If anyone knows where I can find the Cartoon typeface without paying out the nose…)

This is a serious question. Do we need specific people who are paid by the government to maintain “law and order?” If we do need these people, do they need to be armed as a matter of course? Do we need them to have special rights or immunities? What would, ideally, police mean to you?

The Rolling Stone has some suggestions for a world without police, including some that I think might get some broad approval here:

The decriminalization of almost every crime

What is considered criminal is something too often debated only in critical criminology seminars, and too rarely in the mainstream. Violent offenses count for a fraction of the 11 to 14 million arrests every year, and yet there is no real conversation about what constitutes a crime and what permits society to put a person in chains and a cage. Decriminalization doesn’t work on its own: The cannabis trade that used to employ poor Blacks, Latinos, indigenous and poor whites in its distribution is now starting to be monopolized by already-rich landowners. That means that wide-scale decriminalization will need to come with economic programs and community projects. To quote investigative journalist Christian Parenti’s remarks on criminal justice reform in his book Lockdown America, what we really need most of all is “less.”

Other suggestions seem more dubious.

An article in Truthout calls for us to start living a cop-free lifestyle right now:

Resolving not to call the police inspires us to consider the alternatives. Instead of calling the police to complain about a loud party at your neighbor’s house, you could address your neighbors directly with the intent of having a constructive conversation about each other’s needs. Talking with our neighbors about taking responsibility for keeping our communities safe and happy helps us learn from each other and establish trust, the first steps toward building relationships that are strong enough to confront more complicated problems such as bullying or domestic violence.

Violence is the most serious challenge. If you feel that your safety is threatened, and the best option to avoid being harmed is calling the police, you should do it. Resolving not to call the police is not a rule, just a way to think outside the box. Rules are for the cops, not for us.

It’s somewhat lacking in real details, highlighting either a basic need for police or how captive we are to the current system, depending on how you choose to see it.

An article from the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies doesn’t exactly call for an end to policing in explicit terms, but it sort of does. It talks about using a kind of social work to eliminate or reduce police militarization:

Today’s existing models of policing—even the heralded community policing—oftentimes create an unequal power dynamic and strains relationships between communities and police. In contrast, street outreach workers (SOWs) leverage street knowledge and social work to approach individuals and groups on a peer level.

Granted, I am not advocating that SOW groups replace law enforcement—as police officers are necessary to do just that: protect people and property by enforcing the law. Instead, there are a number of benefits of having SOWs part of a general law enforcement strategy when it comes to gang, gun, and other sorts of violence.

This article strikes me as interesting because it has the suspect premise that police,

protect people and property by enforcing the law

Do they really? And whose property at what expense? Here we seem them tromp right through someone’s property to… what again?

So that’s the discussion. Do we need police, and what do they do for us that we cannot do without them?

(Also, let’s not turn this into Yet Another Gun Thread, please.)

Previously on the BBS:


This is interesting… I’ll come back and give some feedback this evening…


Do our Police need guns?


My belief is that yes, we need police, but that the police we have are not the police we need.

Decriminalization of things like homelessness, loitering and looking “out of place” would be a start. And of course a penal system aimed at rehabilitation, not recidivism, including not giving employers the right to pry into criminal history after all sentences are served.

Maybe that won’t work, maybe the fight for privacy is a losing battle against the tide of technology and history. But in that case society itself needs to shift it’s attitude that criminal behavior is innate and that ex-cons are impossible to rehabilitate into productive neighbors and members of the workforce. This is no small task, on par with changing attitudes about racism, poverty and LGBT human rights. But society has made some progress on those and we can make some progress on this as well, if the grassroots activism is there.

Convicts disappearing into an opaque prison system must end as well. The corporate prisons, the tough-on-crime politicians, and the public itself don’t want to see the ugliness of crime and punishment. Almost all shows about the justice system focus on law enforcement or the courts. Those few that do focus on the prison system more often than not romanticize or humorize it. For most people, they’d rather it be out of sight so they don’t have to think about it. I understand that desire, it’s emotionally draining to face. But if we sweep it under the carpet, the mess will simply grow and fester.

Prohibition must end. This looks like it might be happening piecemeal, or it may stop at pot. But prohibition is the bread and butter of over-militarized police forces and the prison industry, and fund international organized crime. As with incarceration transparency, most of the profit motive on all sides is arrayed against drug decriminalization. Advocating decriminalization carries a stigma among white middle-class America who associate it with moral corruption. This is social programming. If it weren’t, alcohol would be treated with the same stigma, but that’s seen as merely a slightly naughty vice for upstanding moral citizens.

There is a huge race and poverty dimension to this. To shift attitudes, white middle-class America and society as a whole needs to be shown the links between the horrors of prohibition and the racism, poverty, organized crime and conviction as class warfare. Once before this was done in American, to end prohibition. I strongly recommend anyone interested in how this happened to watch Ken Burns’ excellent three-part documentary Prohibition. It should be required course ware in every college in America. Decriminalization advocates will continue to face stigma, until eventually the established rhetoric of the broken and defunct prohibition system finally loses the perception of the moral high ground in the public eye. This won’t happen overnight.

Police forces themselves need to be made to be more transparent. They won’t do this voluntarily. Authority naturally fears accountability. They must be made accountable through law and through continuing grassroots actions. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Police forces should be required to draw a minimum of half their recruits from local communities, and beat cops should at least start off policing the very neighborhoods they live in. There needs to be community outreach, but not just outreach organized by cops. Communities need to organize outreach and cops need to attend. Maybe something as simple as a barbecue to anything as complex as a symposium. But dialogue needs to replace rhetoric. Sensitivity training is important, but it won’t take unless communities and cops see cops as part of the community. Cops think of each other as brothers and sisters. That sense of family needs to encompass the people they’re charged with protecting as well.

There is so very much more to do, and it all really is connected. Those are some starting points to get things rolling. Believe it or not, I’m a long-term optimist. I really do believe the arc of history bends towards justice. But a lot of good people get cut down in beta testing. Remembering them, making sure we care about human beings and not just humankind, is critical to not throwing away their lives as grist for the mill.

Okay, I’ve tortured enough mixed metaphors for now. Back to work.


tl/dr with the police as part of the society and not some kind of outside influence/force they fulfil an important role


  • I am one of the godless Euro-commies not believing in freedom*
  • my home country learnt a lot, causing two world wars gives an experience no one else can match***

still here?

weird. but anyway.

imo the police is generally a Good Thing and I’m fine with the monopoly on violence, less because of the rights given to the state but the duties.

I do know that the police is not my enemy, and while racism/classism/foobarism exists in the society (and the police is part of the society and does define itself as a civil organisation) this is to a high degree true for everyone living in Germany.

no one has to love LEOs, but the job they are doing is worthwhile and generally balanced***. I have the feeling that the US society is much more confrontational (black/white thinking, an eye for an eye, with us or against us, etc), so far this is not the modus operandi hereabouts - and the police is part of this society based on compromises and agreements.

* “civil liberties” does sound wrong to me, those are “civil right” combined with a package of duties**
** like taxes
*** but it gets worse, see my multiple posts about the newfangled auxiliary police with minimal training****. who said that history repeats itself? first as a tragedy, in the second try as a farce?
**** I forgot if it was a police union boss or one of the right-wing politicians who said that the US police should be a role model, as they are much more comfortable with the proactive use of weapons


I believe we need police.

What we don’t need:

  • soldiers (poorly trained and organized ones, at that) patrolling domestically or “keeping the peace” by intimidating (or, y’know, murdering) citizens with lethal weapons
  • law enforcement organizations whose main purpose is to raise revenue
  • drug policy designed originally to suppress hippies and minorities, and now simply to perpepetuate law enforcement for its own sake
  • for-profit prisons

My ideas:

Demilitarize the police completely. Any functions that actually require SWAT teams or riot gear now become the jurisdiction of the National Guard- In which 2-4 years of service is now mandatory. When the people you’re protecting and/or shooting at are your family and neighbors, you just might be a little more inclined to think about the situation from a moral perspective.

Next, combine the functions of police, fire, and paramedic into one consolidated force whose objective is to maintain the peace and safety of the community. Incidentally, pay them what they’re worth: Train the shit out of them, maintain high standards, make it a respected, high level job with difficult qualifications and a 6 figure check. Also, limited skills / authority to do social work- Really set things up so that instead of just arresting someone, they can actually get them help, if that’s what they think they need.

Maybe, just maybe, people will be less likely to act violently towards an officer if they know that same guy is likely to be pulling them out of a burning building or car accident someday. Maybe officers will take a more nurturing attitude towards their community if they’re actually serving and protecting it, rather than just policing it. Maybe people will actually be happy to see an officer when they know that person is there to administer first aid or perform rescue operations, rather than just look for someone to arrest.

Also, and this really should be first and foremost, but END THE GODDAMNED FUCKING DRUG WAR AND FOR-PROFIT PRISONS. Not just end them, but find the people responsible for them, line them up against a wall, and execute every last fucking one of them while distributing their ill-gotten gains to their victims.

Regarding the difficulty in cross training police/fire/EMT: They’re all difficult and distinct skills, but given the number of cops and Guardsmen I’ve met who have been EMTs or volunteer firefighters, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to train to a base level of competence in both areas- Especially for a well respected, high paying job.

Beyond that level, there’s still plenty of room for specialization across all aspects of a consolidated unit- Which would still allow for career experts in their specific field.


Liked everything but the executions. Didn’t end so well for France or other coups.

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We (society) needs a system of order, justice and accountability.

What we have instead is a legal system that doesn’t work, a justice system that doesn’t work, and a penal system that doesn’t work; all perpetuated by a tiny but powerful group of individuals who are more interested in keeping themselves at the “top of the heap” than they are in anything else.


In my utopia, security forces would be on the streets just about everywhere. And they’d be armed with flasks of hot, sweet tea, fluffy blankets and ready to deploy comforting words and tactically soothing advice at a moments notice.

What we have are insecurity forces. :frowning:


See, most revolutions drop the ball on the mass executions. It really demands a level of finesse and subtlety we just don’t see these days.

I mean, whatever happened to building a wall from the skulls of your enemies? Tasteful, decorative, and functional to boot!


Okay, you’re being sarcastic. Actually kind of funny. Maybe not the right place, but liked anyway for a modicum gallows humor.

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No, we don’t. In a democratic society, most people will agree with what the laws are and abide them, because they were involved in the formalization of these laws. And inconveniencing the majority in pursuit of the small minority who don’t abide them in unjust to the majority. A civilized society is about facilitating the needs and goals of the citizens rather than trying to make them behave a certain way.

We could go on police ride-alongs to make sure we’re not thinking in our own little bubbles. Take a camera, ask hard questions. (Get asked to ride in back.)

OTOH, I think a lot of America’s current problems can be traced back to the unwillingness to hang every slaveholder in 1865.

Like much else in our society, we have a 19th century solution for a 21st century societies. Rethinking policing means rethinking what it means to be a society. Honestly, Foucault’s Discipline and Punish gives a great break down on why our prison (and school) systems look the way they do.

If we need police, we need them in a much different way than we did in 19th century France.


Are you implying we aren’t a democratic society?

What made you decide a democratic society was a good thing? I thought you were an anarchist.

Defining “democracy” appears to be a contentious process! How the US works now I suppose I’d call “coercive populism”, if I had to apply a quick label.

When they work well, they are pretty much the same thing. The best (IMO) of both are all about encouraging participation.

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Democracy generally involves voting. Anarchists have told me that this disempowers the minority and only consensus is acceptable.