Comment of the Day: “Mid-EthicsTrainwreck Observations On Ferguson”

China Protest

How much fire power should a democracy’s police forces have at their disposal? Is the trend toward militarization in urban police departments an inherent threat to our liberty? These are interesting topics, and issues with public policy as well as ethical implications, brought to our attention by the armored vehicles we have seen prowling through the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

I confess to neglecting these matters on Ethics Alarms, in part because the question of whether a police officer justly and legally shot (six times) and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown has been muddled by too many other considerations already. As a result, I haven’t given the issues much quality thought, other than my usual fascination at the ability of some committed libertarians to take a position dictated by their ideology without being troubled by the obvious practical problems associated with that position, a proclivity I would file under the heading of “Irresponsible.” Also, “Strange.” How can someone advocate virtually unregulated access to increasingly powerful weaponry by citizens—including criminals—and oppose sufficient arms in the hands of the police to protect the public from a misuse of that weaponry? Libertarians (and others) maintain that a prime purpose of the Second Amendment  is to prevent the government from disarming  citizens to dominate and control them. Agreed. But the unfettered freedom of law-abiding citizens to acquire the weapons they feel are necessary for whatever lawful purpose they choose will also result in the same weapons being available to those with less savory objectives in mind. I understand that the opposition to a police force armed to the teeth springs from either a distrust of government generally (libertarians and anarchists) or police specifically , especially by a segment of the population, African-Americans, who are otherwise favorably inclined toward a large, intrusive government—a contradiction as striking as that offered by the libertarian position, but understandable for those who live under the threatening authority of the Killer Klown act known as the Ferguson Police Department.

Fortunately, texagg04, a distinguished Ethics Alarms regular, has been inspired to delve into some of these questions, and others, in a superb post, the Comment of the Day, on the essay Mid-EthicsTrain Wreck Observations On Ferguson. Here it is:

It would seem that our police will always be an odd balance between a militaristic force and a civilian force. It’s original beginnings were in smaller towns and villages, where social control was mere peer pressure away; where night watches of volunteers or semi-professionals constituted the only official law and order outside of the actual courts.

It wasn’t until our cities got much bigger, much more diverse, in which individuals could be easily lost in the quagmire that we saw the rise of the modern police force. The police’s earliest beginnings were inspired by the military, as the founders of most of them immediately sought to instill, as a stated goal, a military style discipline and culture in the police force. It would then follow that the development of police forces would be a race between keeping up with the complexities of the modern era – population explosion, density, diversity, eroding civic education while not becoming a military force.

1) Our cities are massive. This has the tendency of removing the police from the community. Sure, they drive through the communities, and some often walk and interact. But long gone are the days the officer may come from the neighborhood he polices. I don’t see this as an insurmountable problem.

2) The plethora of laws and regulations our police are compelled to handle have them increasingly actively looking for trouble as opposed to passively observing, which would free up mental energy to interact and to educate. The same plethora of laws has made us all lawbreakers and regulation violators at some point, slowly eroding our respect of the law (whether we admit it or not). On my way to the office this morning (and it’s a short drive), I passed no less than 4 speed traps as they canvassed that section of the highway, as they do periodically. Sometimes, commuting between our suppliers, about a 30 mile drive (crossing about 5 cities), I have passed upwards of 10 individual speed traps.

With the thought “surely you all have something better to do” on the mind, and likely shared with hundreds others on the road, erosion of respect is inevitable, as well as feelings of separation from that same force.

3) Entire subsets of the greater community have, since birth, been maliciously educated to see the police as enemies and oppositional – educated by parents, media, and entertainment. I have no solution to this other than – just stop.

4) Part of our fear that the police are being militarized stems directly from the fact that we just witnessed 2 wars in which our military was actually “police-ized”. We saw our Army compelled to engage in policing another nation. We soon stopped realizing they were conducting extremely aggressive police work and assumed, hey, that’s just war. But it wasn’t just war, and when we see our police behaving the same way (like police) we start to worry that they are too militaristic, when in all reality, we’ve just forgotten what WAR actually is.

5) However, that does not alleviate the fact that the military, military training, and military hardware has rubbed off on the police forces. This may stem a lot from discharged veterans flocking to the police forces or just simple emulation. Either way, the police gained the knowledge and desire to look and act like soldiers (a culture that IS set apart from the civilian world) when they need to act more like Andy in Mayberry.

6) Yet, I don’t see why police should not have access to the best technology, the best vehicles and the best equipment. I think where the forces have gone wrong is not in acquiring these technologies, but in not developing more advanced and more nuanced procedures that govern usage of the new hardware. If a riot seems imminent, that doesn’t mean bring out the SWAT team with tanks and snipers on every rooftop like Maidan in Kiev. It may mean give them a warning order to be prepared to upgrade, but in the mean time, stick with a lower force level response. Perhaps it is SWAT team on the scene, but dressed like ordinary beat cops. I won’t begrudge a police force an MRAP or two…I will ask them to keep the armored cars in the garage until they have to issue a warrant on a known drug kingpin known for surrounding himself with a half dozen body guards.

I won’t keep them from having M-4’s or Sniper Rifles or tear gas. I will ask them to keep them in the locker when the only problem is a peaceful gathering.

What if the gathering gets out of hand? Then ratchet up the force level. Then and ONLY then.

See, the military gets the benefit of showing up to a fight ready to dole out 2 or 3 levels of destruction more than a situation warrants. The police? Facing their own people? They have to tip toe and actually be a little riskier and wait until the situation calls for ratcheting up the escalation of force.

Also, you don’t need woodland camouflage. You don’t need camouflage, you aren’t supposed to be hiding from the community.

7) OR we need to decide at what level of our police forces we want those forces to be handling certain situations. If we don’t want our local police looking like special forces mounted in APCs, then we shouldn’t expect them to handle situations calling for it, but rather, hold those elements at the state level. If we don’t want to arm our local police to handle drug kingpins and armies of bodyguards, then we need to decide that drug kingpins are the business of higher levels of government. But that would require a colossal reality check on our culture’s part.

 

29 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Mid-EthicsTrainwreck Observations On Ferguson”

  1. How can someone advocate virtually unregulated access to increasingly powerful weaponry by citizens—including criminals—and oppose sufficient arms in the hands of the police to protect the public from a misuse of that weaponry?

    I’m not sure I would advocate that point as stated, I think the average libertarian is ok with background checks for violent crime, for instance, although a libertarian argument could be made that the government is inherently inept at managing things, and wouldn’t handle this properly, or that the reason certain people have guns is to protect themselves from the government a la V (people shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people) and it’s counterproductive to allow your ‘enemy’ to regulate your firearms. And on the other side, I don’t know what you mean by ‘sufficient’…. It makes it hard to discuss. I know that what we have right now is definitely supplement to requirement. I think that our police forces have shifted from cost centers providing a service to revenue centers supplementing tax dollars, and that there is a lot of room to improve on that system, that would necessarily require a scaling down.

    But I do identify as a libertarian, and I’ll try to tackle this. “Libertarian” is a spectrum., there are hundreds, thousands of disparate and often conflicting beliefs ranging from small-c small government republicans to radial anarchists, but it basically boils down to three things: The non-aggression principle, Personal responsibility, and Property rights.

    The non-aggression principle (NAP) is the one that probably applies best to explain the position. The NAP isn’t pacifism, it’s a non-initiation of force. Some libertarians interpret it to say that all government action is force, and therefore unethical. “Taxes are theft” “Imprisonment is kidnapping” “military actions are murder” (To be fair, they aren’t wrong, but that doesn’t mean the thefts, kidnappings and murders aren’t to an extent necessary). The way I would interpret the NAP in this setting is that the government shouldn’t be able to restrict what the average person should be able to purchase, because that restriction is force. I think the founding fathers didn’t write the second amendment to hunt, or just as part of an active militia, I think they had just finished throwing off a tyrannical government and they wanted to give people the ability to actively resist the government in the event that the government again became tyrannical.

    At the end of the day, the government is supposed to be representative of the people, and if the government thinks it can’t trust the people with weapons, how are the people supposed to trust the government with weapons? The government isn’t a meritocracy, it isn’t comprised of experts, and that’s our fault as voters, but that caveat doesn’t change those facts.

    There’s an eternal balancing act between public safety, and public liberty. We ‘need’ a standing army to protect against invasion, and we need a police force to protect our property rights and enforce personal responsibility, but that military (especially in the US) does not need to be as large as it is, And the police force does not need to enforce everything that it does. Tex is absolutely right when he says: “The same plethora of laws has made us all lawbreakers and regulation violators at some point, slowly eroding our respect of the law (whether we admit it or not).”

    All that said, I think perhaps there’s an element of fallacy in the argument. I forget what the name of the fallacy is, but I remember a discussion had on it before, on how the goal is X, so we’ll ask for X+2, so we can compromise back to X.

    • Great post that I wish I had the time to discuss in detail. A few notes:

      1. “The NAP isn’t pacifism, it’s a non-initiation of force.”

      It’s pacifism. When it manifests itself, as it does with, say, Ron Paul, by saying that the US shouldn’t have opposed Germany if Germany didn’t attack us, it’s pacifism. Also, nuts.

      2. “Taxes are theft” “Imprisonment is kidnapping” “military actions are murder” (To be fair, they aren’t wrong, but that doesn’t mean the thefts, kidnappings and murders aren’t to an extent necessary).

      Of course they are wrong. Taxes aren’t theft, because they are taken with the people’s consent under authority of law. Imprisonment isn’t kidnapping (look up kidnapping)…it is a legally prescribed penalty for misconduct. Military actions are only murder to pacifists.

      3. “At the end of the day, the government is supposed to be representative of the people, and if the government thinks it can’t trust the people with weapons, how are the people supposed to trust the government with weapons?”

      That doesn’t follow at all. The government does think it can trust citizens with armies, nuclear weapons or drones, either. Citizens, meanwhile, have the power to force government to show itself trustworthy so it can do things ordinary citizens may not.

      4. “We ‘need’ a standing army to protect against invasion,”
      Why the scare quotes? You think we don’t need an army to protect against invasion? Do you deny that an army also needs to “protect against invasion” by making it clear that aggression won’t be tolerated and will carry serious consequences?

      5. “that military (especially in the US) does not need to be as large as it is.”

      This is a libertarian/progressive/pacifist/hippy construct that is not only wrong but dangerous, and we are seeing why right at this moment.

      • 1. It’s pacifism. When it manifests itself, as it does with, say, Ron Paul, by saying that the US shouldn’t have opposed Germany if Germany didn’t attack us, it’s pacifism. Also, nuts.

        I agree that Ron is off base on that, but I disagree with your definition of pacifism. Pacifism is never committing violence, non-aggression is never starting violence, but being more than willing to finish it.

        2. Of course they are wrong. Taxes aren’t theft, because they are taken with the people’s consent under authority of law. Imprisonment isn’t kidnapping (look up kidnapping)…it is a legally prescribed penalty for misconduct. Military actions are only murder to pacifists.

        Semantics, mostly. And it’s more a change on how we perceive words than actual accusations. Does someone have the option not to pay taxes? No. At the end of the day, money is removed from the citizenry by force via threat of imprisonment under the purview of law. That doesn’t make it unnecessary, but it makes you think about the relationship you have with the government. Do I think taxes are an inherently bad thing? No. Do I want the average person to sit complacently while politicians fund a $30,000.00 research study into why toilets flush clockwise? Also no. Similarly, when the military kills an enemy combatant, are they any less dead? And was the cause of death not another person? That doesn’t make that death not necessary, but perhaps changing the label will make us think “was that really necessary?”

        3. That doesn’t follow at all. The government does think it can trust citizens with armies, nuclear weapons or drones, either. Citizens, meanwhile, have the power to force government to show itself trustworthy so it can do things ordinary citizens may not.

        This is one of those x+2 things. I don’t disagree. Some things, and I think nuclear devices in particular are a good example, should be regulated. But there’s a LOT of room between gun clips with more than 10 bullets and a nuke, and there’s a difference between the military (which in theory should be focused externally) and the police force (internal).

        4. Why the scare quotes? You think we don’t need an army to protect against invasion? Do you deny that an army also needs to “protect against invasion” by making it clear that aggression won’t be tolerated and will carry serious consequences?

        Mea culpa, I had started on a different thought, then deleted the thought and continued on a different track, I accept unequivocally that a military is necessary.

        5. This is a libertarian/progressive/pacifist/hippy construct that is not only wrong but dangerous, and we are seeing why right at this moment.

        It depends on your metrics. Right at this moment? Iraq? We need American intervention to fix the problem made by American intervention to fix the problems created by the arbitrary borders created by Allied powers to fix problems that were inherent to the region for time immemorial? Again there is a LOT of room between the extremes, I’m not calling for pacifism, I’m not calling for isolationism, but America has something like 200 active military bases on foreign soil. It’s an empire. Empire is expensive.

        • 1. A pacifist objects to all war, period. See: Quakers.
          2. You must object to the principle of democratic government and the social contract. You agree to the benefits of society, and thus agree to pat taxes when the duly elected representatives deem its necessary. If taxes are coercion, all law is. it’s not semantics. It’s what words mean. You can avoid paying US taxes by opting out of the contract. Nobody’s stopping you from living is a cave in Borneo.
          5. Cop out. We need American intervention because of a problem caused by international peacekeeping refusing to follow through on its responsibilities in Iraq in 2002, just as they are now. Or should we just wait until Isis attacks here? Arguing that a threat shouldn’t be dealt with because its really, really unfair that it exists since the previous administration screwed up—essentially the Obama argument—is neither responsible nor rational.
          6. That’s not an empire—another bad definition. We have bases in Japan and Germany–we don’t run Japan and Germany, far from it.

          • 1. And Ron isn’t objecting to all wars, he’s objecting to wars that don’t directly involve America. The distinction was made that American involvement on the Japanese front was appropriate, because they actually attacked us first. Again, I don’t agree, Germany was attacking our allies, and I don’t think they would stop with them, but my opinion is irrelevant. There is a difference between pacifism and non-aggression. Pacifism is an objection to wars. Non-Aggression is only engaging to wars as a response.

            2. There’s a lot of middle ground between extremes. I don’t like the idea of a social contract. They’re contracts I didn’t agree to, that I don’t see equal reciprocity for, and I assume I would have negotiated better terms for myself than the choices I’m faced with (funding studies on duck penises during the sequester or a cave in Borneo, apparently). I’m not saying that taxes aren’t necessary, but I hate the fervor in which the government collects tax money and squanders it on STUPID stuff. Taxes used to be seen as a patriotic duty, then as a necessary evil, and now as a disastrous waste, that happens to have necessary benefits.

            5. I think you’ve moved the goalposts to Iraq, and I let you. My point was that America doesn’t need as large a military as it has, Iraq is a bad example because at this point, because of current events and history, we really do need action there. But how about Japan? Camp Courtney, Camp Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, Camp Foster, Camp Gonsalves (Jungle Warfare Training Center), Camp Hansen, Camp Kinser, Camp Lester, Camp McTureous, Camp Schwab, Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Naval Forces Japan, Okinawa, United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka, United States Fleet Activities Sasebo,Kadena Air Base, Okinawa Prefecture, Misawa Air Base, Misawa, Aomori, Yokota Air Base, Tokyo. Twenty odd bases. In Japan. Never mind the ones in China, South Korea, the Philippines, and Guam.

            6. Yeah, but how many countries DO you have to control before you are considered an Empire? And define control in that light. You talked about Germany and Japan having bases but not being controlled by… But the bases are American soil, so in a very literal sense, America does control a part of what we consider Germany or Japan. How about Iraq and Afghanistan? What about Guantanamo?

        • “It depends on your metrics. Right at this moment? Iraq? We need American intervention to fix the problem made by American intervention to fix the problems created by the arbitrary borders created by Allied powers to fix problems that were inherent to the region for time immemorial? Again there is a LOT of room between the extremes, I’m not calling for pacifism, I’m not calling for isolationism, but America has something like 200 active military bases on foreign soil. It’s an empire. Empire is expensive.”

          Nope, we need American intervention to fix the problem caused by American idealism that we could establish a friendly *democratic* power as part of our global strategy of containment of enemy nations (in this case Iran) as well as the reason Jack cited.

          Empire is an odd word. Having one established through normal expansion of a Commercial Republic it isn’t a bad thing…and I don’t have a problem with it because the rest of the world doesn’t want to play by Commercial Republican rules we have to be a bit more heavy handed in certain regards on foreign policy.

          Empires established to push other world views…or when successful republics lose their way… then I’ll take issue with it.

          You’d enjoy this read: “The Geopolitics of the United States, Part 1: The Inevitable Empire is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

          You’ll note, why we must get into periodic foreign entanglements.

          • Empire is really an odd word when one uses it to describe military bases on foreign soil, or any area, however small, where a nation has some semblance of sovereignty. Kidnapping, theft, empire, murder, pacifism–this thread set some kind of record for head-scratcher definitions. Does France have an “empire” because it has embassies in lots of countries? I’m reminded of the gag in “Love and Death” where the Russian peasant always dreamed of owning a “small patch of land,” and finally was satisfied with a clump of grassy earth the size of a Portabello mushroom cap.

            • No, it isn’t the military bases that established our hegemony over vast swathes of the planet…and we didn’t need to flex our cultural might via the military either. (Our military was always only a back-up to ensure no regional power rose that could challenge the Pax Americana)

              It was our post WW2 massive overwhelming economic output compared to all other countries (combined). Those that wanted a piece of the action easily aligned themselves with OUR interests and OUR culture…

              And so what? Since OUR interests involved individual rights, freedom, protection under the law, then other nations aligning with that could only be a good thing.

              It’s only been in the past 2 decades, as the other nations slowly began to catch up from the post WW2 destruction of their economies that we now see them start to flex some of their native cultures.

            • I’ve thought about the use of words before, and how we sometimes say things aren’t what they are, even though they are. If a private individual took half of your money under threat of violence, even if they planned to give you a smaller portion of it back in services they say you’ll like, we would call it theft, if a private individual locked you in a room because they didn’t like the way you acted, it would be called kidnapping and confinement, if a private individual shot you dead because they really really wanted the oil in your backyard, and you kicked their dog, that would be murder. But if the government does those things, we call it taxes, imprisonment and military action. It’s semantics. It doesn’t make your money less gone, you more free or less dead, it just shades the exact same actions with the lens of law. If you could get 51% of america to agree that it’s a good idea to kill all the (insert group here) and call it community enrichment, that doesn’t mean it isn’t (insert group here)icide.

              You said “If taxes are coercion, all law is.” All law IS coercion. Usually necessary coercion, but coercion nonetheless. “If you possess marijuana, we’ll throw you in jail.” is absolutely coercing behavior at the threat of violence. It just is. And the average person really can’t just move to Borneo. Even if he did, there are tax brackets there. The cave in Borneo is a cop-out.

      • “Of course they are wrong. Taxes aren’t theft, because they are taken with the people’s consent under authority of law. ”

        What about the fact that half the people out there don’t pay taxes? We have the oppression of a minority by the majority. They aren’t voting to raise their taxes, they are raising it on others.

        I don’t see that as particularly consensual.

    • “Taxes are theft” “Imprisonment is kidnapping” “military actions are murder” People who honestly believe that and don’t acknowledge the necessity of them are anarchists, not libertarians. I’ve seen a fair number of anarchists in libertarian clothing before.

      • Anarchists are libertarian’s extremists and I don’t think that anyone actually believes the statement as stated, but as more of a metaphor.

    • The problem is, certain strains of Libertarian thought take the principles as absolutes and then run down the trail of logic focusing on the aspect of humanity that is Individual, while forgetting that we have an opposing aspect that is Communal as well. As you said, it is a trade off of liberty for security. Our system is heavily heavily skewed to the Liberty side (rightly so, and I’d say proved successful), but there is still the Security part of that. Denying our community nature in pursuit of complete utter isolation of the individual is folly.

      You CANNOT practically provide the necessary security by following the hard core, near-anarchist, version of libertarianism. I’ve heard the “don’t need a standing army” argument before…all you need is an armed citizenry that cares enough to fight for each other. Or a privatized military that people pay for if they want the service (a chuckle by the way). That can’t cut it, because there are external forces that neither espouse nor tolerate libertarian NAP and would simply move in faster than the market can provide a defense solution. So much for the Libertarian utopia.

      The Non-Aggression Principle is spiffy as a principle, and quite frankly I don’t think most people, even non-libertarians disagree with it. But in practice, you see many libertarians applying it like pacificists. That is wrong-headed. NAP is great when evaluating relationships INSIDE your society. But outside the society, where certain cultures and nations DO NOT subscribe to NAP, on occasion they need to be dealt with BEFORE they act aggressively either through strong deterrence in the form of an OVERWHELMINGLY strong military or through direct force. The best way to export the Ideals of our culture is through Commerce and Interaction with cultures that don’t think like us. But, that Commerce will NEVER occur if the Oceans are not secured by US. So, despite my Libertarian domestic views, on foreign policy, you could call me a Strategic Interventionist. Until the whole world uniformly espouses NAP, we don’t need to govern all our foreign interactions on it.

      And government IS force. Because we cannot live securely in a near-anarchic society, there is a certain amount of coercion involved. So what? That’s the ethical trade off known as “Social Contract” – that to maximize everyone’s ability to INDIVIDUALLY pursue happiness, each of us surrenders a modicum of independence (whether you choose to do so or not). I know Social Contract is probably not the best term utilized, because it allows the super-absolutists to dismantle the term contract by saying “contracts are voluntary”. I understand that, but this isn’t the kind of contract we mean when we discuss an exchange on the free market. And because not everyone believes in that, for the good of 99% of us, we’re going to force 1% of dissenters to agree to this particular Social Contract (and thank God we got the one we got, and not some god-forsaken unwritten constitution like the United Kingdom’s or some horribly imbalanced and unstable ones like other nations established).

      From a response related to this topic:

      Not Anarchy

      At this point usually an anarchist accusation usually flies forth, in a generic form of “well, if you believe no one should ever be compelled to do anything for the group or no one should ever surrender or collectivize any powers, you must not believe in government”. On the contrary, here’s yet one more way our prophetic and visionary Founding Fathers got it right. They understood for a body of citizens to operate freely and securely, certain rights, while not fully surrendered, would need to be partially collectivized. How did they pick and choose which of these collectivized rights, thusly named Powers? On deep meditation, especially in regards to the Federalist Papers, you’ll see that the Founders knew that inter-state rivalries could inevitably tear apart the nation in internecine economic and inevitably military conflict, so they collectivized certain economic regulatory powers…not too many, because they also knew that a generally unfettered economic is how citizens can best manifest their INDIVIDUAL rights for the COMMON good (voluntarily – the best way). Additionally, the early governments, from National, down to State, depending on the appropriateness of decentralization, knew that certain services of security were absolutely necessary because the free market could never provide those services.

      During peace time, there is no free market demand for a military: yet, with invaders on the doorstep, the free market would never be able to generate a military quickly enough before the invaders conquered the land, thereby ruining the country and ending the free republic: so that is why we see a need to *partially* collectivize the right to self defense and institute a military. Other functions of necessary collectivized services follow this pattern of answering the question: “what solutions can the free market not generate quickly enough to solve problems that would destroy the free market or significant aspects of it?”

  2. Great Post;
    I think the most salient point made follows:

    “I think where the forces have gone wrong is not in acquiring these technologies, but in not developing more advanced and more nuanced procedures that govern usage of the new hardware.”

    When I work around the house I don’t use a twenty pound maul to hang a picture.

  3. I was going along with most all of this post as it summarized things I could say as well, until point seven. We complain about the cost and unresponsiveness of state or federal authorities, and that some problems like population sparseness or bias let things like Ferguson slip through the cracks to too long until it reaches this breaking point.

    I liked living next door to the police chief and chatting at the convenience store. And many locals do manage to balance that community with authority, but the pendulum has swung too far away from being part of the community, all of the community. I think better would be if local could easily and quickly call for assistance when there is a drug kingpin or holed up cult without any fuss or recrimination. Perhaps a bit more like how fire departments get called for a large fire than the jurisdictional issues and glad-handing that apply when multiple departments cooperate. Problems in Ferguson snowballed into something far worse when state and national interests got involved, didn’t they?

    • To answer you on 7, effective SWAT teams require a lot of training, drills and sustainment. For any level approaching proficiency requires local dedicated and specialized facilities. The good ones travel all over the country and world using federal, military and foreign nation facilities to just stay proficient. Consolidation of resources would result in increased effectiveness and free up personnel and resources for local use. It would also limit the use of SWAT in general policing something that should stop. Not to take anything away from part time SWAT personnel but the training is designed to instill combat skills while operating under specific conditions, it is intense, focused on making the identification of a threat and initiating response as quickly and accurately as possible. When confronted or put in an intense situation and something happens, that trained reaction, the one developed for use under specific conditions is the first engaged, if it is not sustained then the ID or accuracy will suffer and bad things result.

      Similar things can happen with regular police but they “should” be starting with a different mentality.

      As for things getting worse when state and national interest got involved are you referring to the politics and leaders or the actual resources, there is a difference.

    • “I liked living next door to the police chief and chatting at the convenience store.”

      My comment shouldn’t be read as claiming ALL police powers from local to state should be consolidated at the state level, thus removing them completely from the community…

      I gave #7 as an option vs #6 to remove certain functions of the police powers to the state level.

      “Problems in Ferguson snowballed into something far worse when state and national interests got involved, didn’t they?”

      I disagree. I believe things in Ferguson snowballed almost immediately through a combination of kneejerk anti-civic behavior on the part of the “aggrieved” and because of an honest reaction to an extremely ham-fisted response by LOCAL police forces. Instead of gradually ratcheting up force proportionately to the threat, if I recall, police seemed to be a notch or two below martial law from the onset of the protest.

      Which is why I discussed in #6 that police need a more sophisticated and fine tuned escalation of force with all the new hardware available to them. Their posture and capabilities need to be directly proportionate to what they face at the moment, not directly proportionate to what the situation may become.

  4. Tex has done a fine job highlighting several aspects on a topic which is immensely complicated. I have a few comments, MOSTLY affirming his view.

    It would seem that our police will always be an odd balance between a militaristic force and a civilian force. It’s original beginnings were in smaller towns and villages, where social control was mere peer pressure away; where night watches of volunteers or semi-professionals constituted the only official law and order outside of the actual courts.

    It wasn’t until our cities got much bigger, much more diverse, in which individuals could be easily lost in the quagmire that we saw the rise of the modern police force. The police’s earliest beginnings were inspired by the military, as the founders of most of them immediately sought to instill, as a stated goal, a military style discipline and culture in the police force. It would then follow that the development of police forces would be a race between keeping up with the complexities of the modern era – population explosion, density, diversity, eroding civic education while not becoming a military force.

    Although I don’t entirely agree with some of your lead in, taken as a whole I am more or less on board with one qualifier, the goal was to instill the discipline and a code of conduct, not the purpose. As I read what you said I believe that you understood this and identified it with “while not becoming a military force” but I think that the distinction cuts to the heart of many of these issues and where we have and will continue to go wrong.

    1) Our cities are massive. This has the tendency of removing the police from the community. Sure, they drive through the communities, and some often walk and interact. But long gone are the days the officer may come from the neighborhood he polices. I don’t see this as an insurmountable problem.

    I don’t agree here, I do see this as insurmountable, the efficiency and effectiveness of a police officer coming from the neighborhood he/she polices is the most effective model out there. Although the model is ripe for corruption that is easier to control for then it is to try to duplicate the efficiency that a member of a community brings. That member lives the terrain, sees the person he interacts with, knows the communities sensitivities/values, the intel value alone can’t be duplicated. There are departments out there that target their recruitment to take advantage of these benefits. It isn’t always possible or even feasible to do but what is lost by not doing it cannot be duplicated any other way. That officer becomes a cornerstone of the neighborhood and over time their influence spreads further and further in the community making negative interactions less likely to occur.

    2) The plethora of laws and regulations our police are compelled to handle have them increasingly actively looking for trouble as opposed to passively observing, which would free up mental energy to interact and to educate. The same plethora of laws has made us all lawbreakers and regulation violators at some point, slowly eroding our respect of the law (whether we admit it or not). On my way to the office this morning (and it’s a short drive), I passed no less than 4 speed traps as they canvassed that section of the highway, as they do periodically. Sometimes, commuting between our suppliers, about a 30 mile drive (crossing about 5 cities), I have passed upwards of 10 individual speed traps.

    With the thought “surely you all have something better to do” on the mind, and likely shared with hundreds others on the road, erosion of respect is inevitable, as well as feelings of separation from that same force.

    Going back to your lead in, most of these ever increasing laws are the replacement of the Civic duties that all too many in the past sneered at. Police are now expected to serve as society’s conscience so that we can continue on our self-absorb way.

    3) Entire subsets of the greater community have, since birth, been maliciously educated to see the police as enemies and oppositional – educated by parents, media, and entertainment. I have no solution to this other than – just stop.

    My solution is to return to community centered policing, incentivize officers living in the areas they police, the return on such an investment will in the end reduce overall costs. Even in a city such as LA that puts 20 officers living in each square mile or done by density 1 officer per 378 people.

    4) Part of our fear that the police are being militarized stems directly from the fact that we just witnessed 2 wars in which our military was actually “police-ized”. We saw our Army compelled to engage in policing another nation. We soon stopped realizing they were conducting extremely aggressive police work and assumed, hey, that’s just war. But it wasn’t just war, and when we see our police behaving the same way (like police) we start to worry that they are too militaristic, when in all reality, we’ve just forgotten what WAR actually is.

    I think I disagree here as well or your distinction is not strong or focused enough. The confused optic is there but in reality I think the mentality and approach should be the distinction but isn’t. One of the most effective ways to keep a military healthy is to de-humanize your enemy; you talk it, train it and live it. Policing in this day and age results in similar effect, the mentality of us against them, it is institutionalize, the move from community policing to a centralized, unionized, politicized force guarantees a detachment when having to enforce such a convoluted bunch of laws. When your job is to primarily have negative interactions with the community everyday it becomes a coping mechanism.

    5) However, that does not alleviate the fact that the military, military training, and military hardware has rubbed off on the police forces. This may stem a lot from discharged veterans flocking to the police forces or just simple emulation. Either way, the police gained the knowledge and desire to look and act like soldiers (a culture that IS set apart from the civilian world) when they need to act more like Andy in Mayberry.

    Anecdotal but based on my interaction for 2 decades with many of the individuals and units this has affected. Having the equipment coupled with the us vs them mentality does drive some to want to emulate the military use of said equipment which further results in an increasing military mentality. Removing the equipment wouldn’t change the mentality just the lethality at this point. Many (not all) of the veterans who are part of these organizations actually work to counter this mentality. Many of these guys I have known almost my whole professional life, they see it, they fight against it but it is becoming ever harder to do.

    6) Yet, I don’t see why police should not have access to the best technology, the best vehicles and the best equipment. I think where the forces have gone wrong is not in acquiring these technologies, but in not developing more advanced and more nuanced procedures that govern usage of the new hardware. If a riot seems imminent, that doesn’t mean bring out the SWAT team with tanks and snipers on every rooftop like Maidan in Kiev. It may mean give them a warning order to be prepared to upgrade, but in the mean time, stick with a lower force level response. Perhaps it is SWAT team on the scene, but dressed like ordinary beat cops. I won’t begrudge a police force an MRAP or two…I will ask them to keep the armored cars in the garage until they have to issue a warrant on a known drug kingpin known for surrounding himself with a half dozen body guards.

    I won’t keep them from having M-4’s or Sniper Rifles or tear gas. I will ask them to keep them in the locker when the only problem is a peaceful gathering.

    I want our cops to have the best but there is no replacement for good police work. With nearly any profession good training, mindset and leadership trumps quality of equipment every time. Departments who can afford to do so have compartmentalized many of their specialty functions such as SWAT because those functions breed a different mentality then what is required of the officer on the street. Smaller departments who are getting just as good equipment don’t have that luxury and they are serving multiple functions, this isn’t effective and sets both the community and officers up for failure. Misusing specialized assets (with a trained and drilled mentality specific to certain situations) additionally leads to disaster as has been repeatedly seen when executing warrants.

    What if the gathering gets out of hand? Then ratchet up the force level. Then and ONLY then.

    Unless use of force changes the big shift in equipment when things heat up is personal protective equipment, which will feed a mindset, but not increasing weapon lethality. In riot situations the number personnel and the quality and discipline of those personnel is a far bigger factor then any lethal equipment the police may have on hand, the M-4s need to be put away (other than a response force)and the shields and clubs need to come out.

    See, the military gets the benefit of showing up to a fight ready to dole out 2 or 3 levels of destruction more than a situation warrants. The police? Facing their own people? They have to tip toe and actually be a little riskier and wait until the situation calls for ratcheting up the escalation of force.

    Absolutely, the right of our citizens come first and the police must react, that does mean assuming risks but that is the job. Police should not have the mentality of locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat.

    7) OR we need to decide at what level of our police forces we want those forces to be handling certain situations. If we don’t want our local police looking like special forces mounted in APCs, then we shouldn’t expect them to handle situations calling for it, but rather, hold those elements at the state level. If we don’t want to arm our local police to handle drug kingpins and armies of bodyguards, then we need to decide that drug kingpins are the business of higher levels of government. But that would require a colossal reality check on our culture’s part.

    Absolutely Correct

    • 1) I think we agree here, how do you see the problem as insurmountable? I think if we reduced the overall quantity of laws and regulations, the police force could expend tremendous amounts of energy immersing themselves in their communities. Given the nature of things, at this point, I won’t begrudge an officer not living in the community he serves. If his paycheck warrants living in a nicer part of town but his beat is the “ghetto”, I won’t compel him to live in the ghetto. However, truly altruistic and dedicated officers may do so with great effect.

      2) “Going back to your lead in, most of these ever increasing laws are the replacement of the Civic duties that all too many in the past sneered at. Police are now expected to serve as society’s conscience so that we can continue on our self-absorb way.”

      Yet, civic duties are just an education away…they can be brought back, but only after Education is taken back by people who don’t want to denigrate traditional American civic values.

      4) I don’t think you disagree, you’ve just clarified well. I’d agree that part of the military culture involves a certain amount of separating oneself from one’s opposition if merely to more easily do the final act necessary to eliminate him. But that separation MUST NOT infiltrate the police ranks and certainly not the viewing of the members of the community as opposition. I do agree that decentralizing and immersing would go a long way to countering that tendency.

      6&7) I think these are coupled either as a choice or as a compromise, and I think we still agree. I just think that if you do need a “different breed” to conduct certain police work, we need to ask ourselves if that is local police work anymore or a higher level of responsibility. Your first two sentences are correct and help lead into my argument that what is lacking is a very sophisticated protocol of escalation of force given all the new available hardware. Or, if those protocols do exist, I’d submit we need to reevaluate the triggers that determine what level or posture the police present themselves.

  5. How can someone advocate virtually unregulated access to increasingly powerful weaponry by citizens—including criminals—and oppose sufficient arms in the hands of the police to protect the public from a misuse of that weaponry?

    That’s actually got a very simple argument in reply, which I will merely present here for consideration (i.e. without endorsing, rejecting or qualifying it just here): putting sufficient arms in the hands of the police to protect the public from a misuse of other members of the public’s weaponry is, ipso facto, putting sufficient arms in the hands of the police to enable them to abuse the public with those new arms. It comes down to where the greater trust should lie, with the police as a precaution against a dangerous minority of the public, or with a majority of the public as a precaution against that dangerous minority of the public and against the police themselves? It’s a variant on the old “a government strong enough to give you everything is a government strong enough to take everything away from you”.

    This is not academic or hypothetical. When I was a child in Luluabourg our community’s own weaponry was our only defence against a police mutiny until relief arrived after three days, and that would have been inadequate if the mutineers had only realised that they had mortars in their own armoury; their superior weaponry would have been our ruin.

    I do think many of your rebuttals of Libertarian positions are based on defining away the very points they are trying to make, rendering those both inadmissible and vacuous. Unless you allow a circular argument you cannot assert that taxes aren’t theft because they are consented to by the people, when the validity of that very collective assent is what is at issue; that imprisonment is not kidnapping because it is done under the authority of a law when the validity of that very authority is at issue; and so on. For soundness and completeness you would have to demonstrate separately those validities, rather than either stipulate them or infer them from your own basis as opposed to a basis you share with Libertarians.

    • But PM, you can deny gravity the same way, and say its magic.

      This is the system, and the system defines theft. Libertarians can claim the moon is cheese, but that doesn’t make it cheese, and pointing that out isn’t circular. Sure, I deny their reasoning because its based on doubletalk. You can’t live in a majority rule republic and deny that you are subject to the laws you agreed to abide by by living here. Or rather you can, but the claim is stillborn.

  6. Several commenters here have noted the question of our power vs their power. Whether the police should have a slight edge or the citizens should have a slight edge.

    1) The local police, being a representative of the government at the lowest level possible ought to be the least affected by the “us or them” mentality. And ideally, should it truly come to a revolt for whatever reason, I’d assume the local police would side with the people of that locale if the grievances are fair. Of course, the Federalist papers make it clear that each level of government is meant to provide succor and defense to the People if another level gets rampant. But ideally things should skew local. That being said, ideally, the a local community should not be too scared or oppositional to its own police and vice versa.

    2) However, should such an opposition arise, I’d much rather have a parity of force. As a former commenter here says it “I support citizens having access to arms. I do not support the police possessing anything I am legally not permitted to own. If I don’t get it, neither do they.”

  7. I’ll chime in here, since the discussion has veered toward libertarianism, and I identify as libertarian, maybe I’ll try to add some thoughts. I can only speak for myself and my analyses.

    While I tend to agree with the philosophical whole, abiding by the NAP, knowing that the State has power, etc., there is a relative balance to it. For example, the realpolitik of certain situations calls for answering moral quandaries. World War 2 is a nice ur-example: did we do the right thing in going to war? Yes. Why? Because of the moral imperative of stopping Hitler, and for liberating Europe. Is war bad and reprehensible? Of course. However, the millions of lives saved make up for those lost. In fact, those who died were often fighting for their lives.

    Or, there’s Henry Kissinger. Not exactly the shiniest, most ethical person on the planet, yet he was an excellent statesman who was appropriate for the job. US foreign policy came out very much ahead during Nixon’s tenure – the Soviets signed SALT, Mao opened China up for trade (buying off Red China and furthering the China-Soviet split), helping Israel during the Yom Kippur war, aiding fighters against communist (read: mass murdering) insurgencies around the world. Again, nasty business, but the lives and livelihoods ultimately saved were worth it.

    Now, the war on terror is tricky business: does the US have an obligation to combat ISIS/ISIL? In a way, yes. While it would be terrible to get involved in another ground war in the Middle East, the millions of lives that are in danger as something of the result of our (America’s) actions deems that we are morally culpable for what happens. And it seems to me that ISIS/ISIL is a much larger threat that Hussein was, and could perhaps be more dangerous than Al Qaeda.

    So, while I’m libertarian, I understand that the public weal of things like taxes do provide a common infrastructure for people. I also understand that sometimes horrific actions need to be undertaken to protect the human rights that are the center of libertarian principles – the NAP is not sacrosanct to those who wish for absolute power. Stalin or Hitler, Mao or Pol Pot would simply have laughed at the rhetoric and gotten the flamethrowers out. Death is bad, of course, but people need to keep in mind the moral imperative that it is better to enter a fight to help those who need it rather than stand back, say “NAP,” and surrender those very moral principles.

    Okay, that was long, but I hope that shows that “not all libertarians” would stay on ideology. In fact, I think I’m about to get the “no true Scotsman” for saying all the above.

    In any case, thank you Jack for the site, the intriguing ethical cases, and the open forum to discuss these ideas. Best.

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