What Would America Look Like Without Police?
It’s hard to imagine what life was like in America before the establishment of police forces.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, community volunteers handled these duties. This “watch system” was mainly a night watch. It was established in Boston in 1636, New York City in 1658 and Philadelphia in 1700.
This system was not very efficient. After a while, “volunteers” were assigned this task as punishment. Eventually, constables policed their communities. They earned money through fines people got for breaking laws.
The first official American police force was established in Boston in 1838. Funded by the public, it featured full time workers. It was followed by police forces in New York and Chicago. Plus New Orleans, Cincinnati and elsewhere.
Abolishing or defunding
It’s even more difficult to picture America without a police force now. Police made more than 28,000 arrests per day in the U.S. in 2018. And, of course, they were also involved in many non-arrest situations.
But the abolishment of police forces is what some people are calling for today. Including members of the Minneapolis police abolitionist group MPD150.
They say getting rid of traditional law enforcement will reduce crimes. They believe communities can be responsible for policing themselves.
Some others feel abolishment is too severe of a reaction. Instead, they support shrinking police departments. And reinvesting the dollars saved into the communities.
They want to change policing from punishment and imprisonment to reform and rehabilitation.
Routine traffic stop
What would it look like if there were no police on the streets? Let’s start with a routine traffic stop for speeding.
Philip McHarris is with the Community Resource Hub for Safety and Accountability. Here’s what he says.
“Someone who manages safety on the roads could pull the driver over. And then say, ‘Hey, I want to share some statistics with you. About how speeding increases the likelihood of someone potentially dying.’”
McHarris believes the emphasis should be on education. On how to convince someone to drive better. Rather than on threatening them with punishment if they break the law.
Here’s what supporters of police abolishment say about domestic violence cases.
Alex Vitale is the author of The End of Policing. “Many people do not call the police in these situations. Because they know that involving the police can actually lead to more harm,” he said.
Vitale added there should be neighborhood violence centers. Their family members could be taught how to resolve situations among themselves. And be provided with intervention options.”
McHarris said de-escalation is the key. “There can be a team of trained domestic violence interveners. (They’ll give) people the support they need to navigate out of that situation.”
What about something as horrific as a school shooting? Do some believe this could be handled without a police presence? Patrisse Cullors is co-founder of Black Lives Matter. Here’s what she says.
“That gets way more complicated. Mostly because we haven’t seen many examples of de-escalating a school shooting. I also think it’s really important to talk about why that school shooting happen.”
Cullors said she would not want authorities to intervene in a school shooting with guns. “I would like to live in a world where we don’t have to use guns to respond to harm and violence.”
Vitale added, “There has been a reluctance among young people to raise the red flag about someone. What we need is an early alert system staffed by counselors and social workers.
“So students know they have someone to go to in order to bring concerns. Without necessarily having it immediately result in criminalization.”
No police, no protection
Many people believe some police departments may need to be reformed. But they feel abolishing the police would be a big mistake.
Writing for the libertarian website Reason.com, Ilya Somin expressed this. “Much social science research shows that increasing the number of police… can reduce crime rates. Often dramatically so.
“Abolishing the police completely or severely curtailing their numbers could easily increase crime. (And) in the process disproportionately harming… minority communities reformers most want to help.
“Many minority communities have long complained that the police don’t do enough to protect them against crime. Abolishing the police entirely would make that problem worse.”
‘Radical and dangerous’
President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order. It encourages police departments to improve training. But he also expressed his support for law enforcement.
“The vast majority of police officers are selfless and courageous public servants,” he said. “They are great men and women.”
Trump called proposals to defund police departments “radical and dangerous.” He added that many police departments are underfunded and under supported.
The president said Americans “demand law and order. They may not say it, they may not be talking about it, but that’s what they want.”
The biggest argument against abolishing the police is that society will break down. And anarchy will rule.
Will a speeding driver pull over just because a community officer wants them to? If so, will that driver listen when the officer “suggests” they drive better?
Will someone engaging in domestic violence stop hitting his wife? Just because a social worker asks them politely to stop?
Will a school shooter stop shooting students? Just because unarmed peace officers recommend he do so?
What do you think?
How do you feel about this situation? Do you think the defunding or abolishment of police forces would reduce crime? Or would crime increase instead?
I’d love to hear your opinion about this. Let’s keep it civil and respect each other’s opinions.