Police Reform – Throwing Out the Baby with the Bath Water?

Police Reform – Throwing Out the Baby with the Bath Water?

© David Burton 2020

Police Reform

     In response to the mass hysteria sweeping the nation in regard to one supposed misdeed by one police officer in Minnesota, there is a mad rush to do something – anything – to appease or appear to appease the unthinking mob demanding the defunding or abolition of police departments. Throughout America, there is a frenzy of thoughtless proposed legislation and actions that – if carried out - would paralyze America’s police departments, force many brave and honest public servants to leave law enforcement, dissuade capable young men and women from making a career out of law enforcement, and contribute to more lawlessness and unrest.

     Meaningful police reform is long overdue. Allegations of police misconduct need to be investigated, not by police internal affairs, but by totally unbiased individuals and agencies having no connection whatsoever to the police departments. The blue wall of silence among police officers - not to report on a colleague's errors, misconducts, or crimes, including police brutality - needs to be ended. To do this, investigations need to be carried out by parties not connected to the police. Misconduct by law enforcement must be punished in court – if the misdeed involves a criminal act – and/or by administrative punishment within the law enforcement department, e.g., by suspension, by written administrative rebuke on the offender’s record, etc.

Neutralizing the Police

     Before we proceed any further, let me state my firm belief that: The single most important function of law enforcement in a democracy is enforcing the law! Any attempt by those overseeing law enforcement agencies to order those entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the law enforcement function to “stand down” in the face of rioting, mob violence, looting, arson and civil disorder should be regarded as both immoral and illegal. Police reform does not mean rendering our law enforcement agencies powerless and ineffective. It does not mean collectively punishing all police personnel for the sins of the few. Police reform should mean improving the effectiveness of all law agencies – not reducing their effectiveness!

     America has witnessed the upsurge in violence that began with the rioting over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We have also beheld the spectacle of mayors ordering police to “stand down” and not enforce the law in some of the cities that were the victims of the mob violence. Respect for “law and order” has suffered accordingly. In a response to the unconscionable acts of these irresponsible mayors and others, President Donald Trump has ordered "a surge" of federal security forces to those most impacted cities in an attempt to crack down on criminal activities and to restore law and order.

     Portland, Oregon, Chicago, Illinois, Kansas City, Missouri and Albuquerque, New Mexico are among the cities targeted by Trump, as a result of the increasing violence. Portland saw more than 50 days of often violent demonstrations before the President finally stepped in. The Portland mayor had ordered the city’s police to “stand down” in the face of the “unrest”. Meanwhile, gun violence spiked in metropolitan areas including New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago and Milwaukee.

     As the month of July 2020 was coming to a close, “The city of Portland, Ore., {continued to be} besieged by violent rioters who have committed to destroy everything in their crosshairs, including property of the federal government. Local leaders . . . have been reticent to do anything meaningful to stop the carnage.
      - - -
     “The anarchic destruction of American cities under the watch of timid or complicit elected leaders cannot be allowed to continue. Such a condition tears at the fabric of a community and shatters the rule of law.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 1)

     In response to the ongoing mayhem across the country. President Trump said: "In recent weeks there has been a radical movement to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police departments," and he blamed this for "a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence". He added: "This bloodshed will end."
     In Portland protests had been held every night since Floyd's death in May. Later, demonstrators clashed with federal officers sent to the city to guard a court. In Chicago, at least 14 people were shot outside a funeral home in a suspected gang-related attack. By mid-year, the city had seen 34% more homicides than in the previous year. A 2018 FBI survey found the violent crime rate in Albuquerque was 3.7 times the national average. The rates of murder and rape were more than double the national average that year. Kansas City, meanwhile, is on track to record its most homicides ever in 2020. Defending the intervention of federal troops, President Trump blamed the violence in those cities on the fact that they are "all run, really, by the radical left".
     In spite of the uptick in crime and violence, there are still many who are opposed to the president's policies and object to his aggressive law-and-order mandate.

     The new York City Police Department Chief said hostility towards his officers over the last couple of months had emboldened some people who believed "that cops can't do anything anymore". (Ref. 2)

     In Seattle, Washington, President Trump’s actions in attempting to restore law and order in those cities that have let rioters run rampant were more than justified when Seattle police declared a riot on Saturday, 25 July 2020, following large demonstrations in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood near where weeks earlier people had set up an “occupied protest zone” that stretched for several blocks.
     Earlier, the Seattle Police Chief had announced to local businesses that the police would not intervene if there were riots after the city council passed new regulations banning anti-riot measures typically used by police. With this unconscionable act, the Seattle city council had abrogated their obligation to preserve law an order and subjected the citizens and businesses of the city to unopposed mob rule.
     As a result, the police chief said her officers would have “NO ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large, violent crowd.” “It is a fact that there are groups and individuals who are intent on destruction in our City,” she said and she warned that Seattle would continue to experience property destruction, arson, looting, and attempts to injure police officers throughout the weekend and beyond.[3]

Reforming the Police

     While the attempts to reign in the violence proceed, politicians at both the federal and state levels are responding to the calls for police reforms – some of these efforts have been too long in coming and are certainly justified, while other aspects of the proposed reforms would likely cause more harm than good.

     Here in ultraliberal Massachusetts, there is proposed legislation to enact police reform. As elsewhere, the proposed legislation goes too far and reflects the politicians’ desire to duck and avoid being accused of failing to take action. A major bone of contention in the proposed Massachusetts legislation is the elimination of the qualified immunity doctrine, which sometimes shields law enforcement personnel from civil liability. The reason why there is a qualified immunity doctrine in the first place is to shield police (and other public employees) from frivolous law suits by publicity seekers, the mentally deranged, and mostly by greedy individuals and ambulance-chasing lawyers. If an illegal act is committed, let the accused be prosecuted in criminal court and not in a civil court. Public servants should not be under the constant threat of financial ruin. Police, in particular, have enough to worry about with the constant threat of injury or death in performing their duties.

     With regard to the ban on chokeholds - a blind reaction to the death of George Floyd - such a ban should probably not be enacted. A police officer should be free to take whatever action is necessary in orer to defend his/her life or the life of innocent others. Instead, the use on unnecessary force should be banned - let the circunstances dictate what is necessary and what isn't.

     On 21 July 2020, “Massachusetts police chiefs denounced the Legislature’s efforts to increase accountability in policing as ‘nothing more than a kneejerk reaction’ . . .
     “ ‘Law enforcement in Massachusetts is under attack by a liberal element that wants to bring change that none of us understand. None of us know what it’s going to look like, but as leaders, we stand here today and say this legislation will not make us safer,’ said {the Hampden Police Chief}, who heads the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.
     “. . . flanked by nearly 100 other police chiefs representing communities from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, {the Hampden chief} echoed what other police advocates are saying in opposition to the state Legislature’s efforts to piece together a reform bill . . .
      - - -
     “ ‘It’s like they took a bunch of garbage and threw it in one bill,’ added the Police Chief {from Yarmouth, Massachusetts}.
     “Governor. Charlie Baker along with Senate and House leaders have each pitched their own bills — {the Yarmouth chief} said the {Massachusetts} chiefs agree with the core reform in all three.
     “All three would create a civilian-led commission to certify officers — including creating a mechanism to decertify problem cops — for the first time in Massachusetts history.
     “{the Yarmouth chief} said it’s a change the chiefs have pushed for nearly a decade and criticized lawmakers he said only ‘rushed’ to action in the wake of a national movement calling for racial justice and police reform . . .
     “The bills also seek to standardize police training, ban chokeholds, place limits on use of force and institute a duty to intervene if officers witness misconduct by colleagues. These are reforms the chiefs said they aren’t necessarily against.
     “{The} Lawrence {Massachusetts} Chief, who heads the state’s most diverse police department, said ‘while the Legislature’s efforts are well-intentioned, there is a need for the experts — us in law enforcement — to give our advice.’ [Emphasis mine]
     “The House and Senate bills go further to addressing {supposed} structural racism and take aim at the qualified immunity doctrine, which sometimes shields law enforcement from liability in court if they violate a person’s civil rights.” (Ref. 4)

Eliminating the Police

     While we have disingenuous politicians falling over each other in the rush to appear to be doing something to support the Black Lives Matter stampede, others would go further – abolish the police and replace them with private security organizations. These are nothing but fools or with more sinister objectives. There are too many among us who don't bother to read our history books. We have had private "security" organizations here in America before, the ku klux klan being one. Other notable examples of private security organizations being let loose are Adolph Hitler’s infamous Brown Shirts, the Sturmabteilung or better known by its abbreviation, the SA, literally Storm Detachment. It was the Nazi Party 's original paramilitary wing and it played a significant role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. The SA committed numerous murders and atrocities in supporting Hitler.

     Benito Mussolini’s Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (MVSN, "Voluntary Militia for National Security"), commonly called the Blackshirts, was originally the paramilitary wing of the National Fascist Party, and was similar to the SA in Nazi Germany. Its members were distinguished by their black uniforms and their loyalty to Benito Mussolini. Their methods became harsher as Mussolini's power grew, and they used violence and intimidation against Mussolini's opponents.

     Who in their right mind would want to replace law enforcement under public control with “security organizations” under private control? But there are those who demand that the police be defunded or disbanded. Could any rational person believe that such demands are being made by people in their right mind?

     “The Black Lives Matter movement seeks to counter the systemic racism they believe is foundational in American culture with a systemic solution: defunding the police. The calls to defund the police have reached the ears of every elected official, from local levels up to the federal executive. Now, the cries from the street are being echoed by celebrities.
     “A group of some of the most notable black artists in America have penned a letter to studios and Hollywood executives demanding the entertainment industry divest from police. . .
     “While many on the left have said that defunding the police does not mean disbanding them entirely, many others have said that abolishing the police force is exactly what they have in mind. [Emphasis mine] . . .
    - - -
     “This level of self-obsession is so typical of members of the celebrity class. But what would this mean in terms of actionable, real consequences? If there were no police, or a force that had been cut in half or more, what would this look like?
    - - -
     “Theoretically, money would be diverted from police departments to community-based programs, where people would decide for their communities what they need. . .
    - - -
     “Instead of police responding to homelessness, ‘homelessness outreach personnel’ would respond. Instead of police responding to late-night domestic disputes, social workers would pull up in their Subarus ready to make a new case file. Instead of police responding to violent crime, members of the community would respond in whatever way their neighborhood group saw fit. Instead of police investigating homicides or organized crime, something else would happen — or not. . .
     “{It was} brought up that, while they were different and distinct cases, self-deputized members of the community took matters into their own hands to end the lives of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery. . .
     “The celebs who penned {the} letter don’t have concrete answers . . . What they demand and present are platitudes: ‘to break ties with the police…put their money where their mouths are…advocate for black people…get educated… [and] imagine black freedom.’
     “If cultural institutions stopped working with the police, they would hire private security companies to do the work instead. Private security companies are not beholden to anything or anyone other than their clients. Celebs who already have bodyguards or security details would be able to retain those services as well. While celebs would be safe and snug behind their walls of wealth, communities across the country would be left vulnerable to dangerous criminals. [Emphasis mine]
     “When the wealthy call for defunding police, they are speaking from a place of privilege in society that means they can have little to no regard for those who are most affected by the decline in the enforcement of criminal laws.
     “Calls to ‘Abolish the Police’ Are Wildly Utopian.
     “”The narrative against police that tells us crime is a direct result of social inequity, and that should social inequity be destroyed crime would not exist, is driving this conversation that our nation does not need police. But it is a lie. [Emphasis mine]
     “There is this idea that if there were no police, if that money were redirected at vulnerable communities, there would be no crime in these areas. The claim is that in the absence of systemic problems, there would be no reason for people to commit crimes. Despair and economic injustice lead to crime, goes the claim. . .
      - - -
     “The black artists and celebrities of “Black Artists for Freedom” have not chosen to display leadership. Instead, they are seeking a way to remain safe within the industry that butters their bread. A group of people requesting the abolition of something they don’t even need is disingenuous at best, and callous at worst.
     “Every time police lessen their presence in the vulnerable communities of New York, Minneapolis, Seattle, or elsewhere, more death always comes for the downtrodden. In turn, the result is more violence and less accountability for both criminals and police. [Emphasis mine]
     “In giving their voices to the mob, these artists have done little for liberation. Instead, all they’ve done is provided cover to those who would violate the very communities they claim a desire to protect.” (Ref. 5)

Throwing Out the Baby With the Bath Water

     Neutralizing or eliminating the police will not save Black lives - in fact, it will accomplish just the opposite! Such action will only result in an approach to anarchy throughout the country. Police reform is a much more preferable and legitimate action that can and should be undertaken. But, such reform must be meaningful, well thought out and not a knee-jerk reaction to the demands from hordes of loud-mouthed “protestors”. In the end, police and all Americans will benefit from a set of uniform and appropriate rules to govern the behavior of our police. Now is not the time to be stupid! Now is not the time to blindly and unthinkingly lunge ahead with ill-conceived actions. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water!

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  1. 1Federal response needed to handle Portland chaos, Boston Herald, Page 18, 27 July 2020.
  2. 2Trump to send 'surge' of hundreds of federal agents to cities, BBC News, 23 July 2020.
  3. 3Seattle endures riots after police chief warned businesses were on their own, World Israel News, 27 July 2020.
  4. 4UNDER ‘LIBERAL’ ATTACK, Erin Tiernan, Boston Herald, Page 5, 23 July 2020.
  5. 5Celebs Call To Abolish The Police While Hiding Behind Private Security, Libby Emmons, The Federalist,
    23 June 2020.

  18 August 2020 {Article 429; Suggestions?_48}    
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