Police Reform for Modernizing Law Enforcement

The industry of policing grew from two sources: In the north, the defense of the wealthy from the poor, such as Ben Franklin’s police services in Philadelphia. In the south, the tracking, catching, and returning of slaves. Police have sustained these legacies into the modern day, currently effecting to defend the wealthy from the poor, and ensure that the poor do not take property from the wealthy. This is made explicit by the 13th Amendment, which abolishes slavery except in the case of prisoners.

The police act as modern slave-catcher, trapping poor persons into a system of adjudication that imprisons two million Americans and exploits them for dirt-cheap labor for private businesses. These poor souls are further abused by the prison system which imposes costs on them for basic necessities and communications with their families. And once someone has been released from prison, it’s nearly impossible to rejoin society and be productive. Our system of policing is designed to be retributive, punitive, trap people in cycles of poverty, and generate crime from behaviors which have no victims but themselves to ensure the wealthy have continued access to slaves.

They’ve added an additional line of business, which is creating systems of extractive revenue generation from the poor to fund government, primarily police operations, so that the wealthy aren’t even beset by bearing the expenses of their own defense of self and property.

Simultaneously, policing does not address actual problems in society, such as the propensity towards violent crime, physical abuse, mass murders from gun violence sprees, and the rife exploitation of the masses by the wealthy through financial crimes. The persistence of violent crime emboldens the police and justifies their existence, if the police took actual action against violent crime, they couldn’t constantly demand an expansion of their budgets. The very structure of policing undermines its stated purpose, exposing the duplicitous lies that underpin the police-prison industry.

We are taught a common lie, that the police exist “to protect and serve”, but this is decidedly and obviously not true for the majority. Police protect only property, and only the property of the wealthy, and police serve only the wealthy, and the government functionaries and businesses that prop up that wealth.

We live in the lowest petty and violent crime era in human history, yet are swamped with white collar and financial crimes beyond imagination. Theft of labor by employers exceeds theft of property by the poor, and burglary of property through impounding and seizure by the police exceeds burglary. A person is more likely to be murdered or battered by a police officer than anyone else, including spouses – rates of spousal abuse in policing dramatically exceed spousal abuse rates in private citizens.

The concept of policing is useful as a theory, in that, if there truly were a force of persons dedicated to the common good, and the prevention of crime, life would improve for everyone. But the reality of the situation, and the understanding of what police actually do, who they are, and who they work for, demonstrates the disconnect between the reality people are asked to believe, and the reality that is present in front of our faces and lived experience.

This disconnect can in fact be remedied, and quite readily, if the government and police organizations actually acted for, and on behalf of, the interests of the entire people instead of just the wealthy. There’s a laundry list of elements of modern policing that demand remediation if we are going to transform police into a force for good in their communities. These include:

  • Lack of public control over police budgets and departments
  • Inability to fire bad cops and exclude them from the system
  • Police have little to know understanding of the laws they purport to enforce
  • The existence of police unions that prevent administration of justice
  • The existence of qualified immunity
  • No accountability or liability for misbehavior
  • Police lie constantly and egregiously
  • Police commit crimes with abandon
  • Police instigating circumstances that lead to unwarranted arrests
  • Police defend each other’s misbehavior and protect bad cops
  • Policing incentivizes bullies and criminals to become police
  • Tolerance of spousal abuse and other blatant harmful practices
  • Lack of police citizenship in the communities they purport to serve
  • A disconnect between what is good for the community and police priorities
  • Control by a district attorney or prosecuting attorney over criminal cases
  • The obligation of standing to file a lawsuit

The solution to these issues is to privatize police forces, turning them into a private security force that is tasked with maintaining law and order. The ownership of these organizations would be the citizens of the community that the police force has jurisdiction over. Each citizen would own one share of the local police precinct, no more and no less, so that all citizen interests are equally represented through ownership.

Because not all jurisdictions are residential, in this proposed structure, the employees of a business – not the business as an abstract – would also be considered citizens. When a new employee is hired, their employment contributes citizenship, and when they leave the business, they are no longer a citizen. This ensures that both physical residents through domicile, and regular but temporary occupants through employment, both have influence over the matter, while removing the business owner’s relationship to the issue. If the business owner or owners live or work in the jurisdiction, they are already receiving a share of ownership and thus voting, so the business as an abstraction does not require any additional consideration.

The police budget would be funded by the citizens (including the workers, as described before) in whatever way the citizens determine is appropriate for their community. This may be through membership fees, service fees, response fees, and other means to ensure that the parties receiving the benefits of the service are also paying the costs, while parties not receiving immediate and tangible benefits have lower costs but maintain ready access to the service when it’s required.

This approach shifts control over the police out of the unaccountable government, and into the hands of the persons who actually benefit or receive harm from the police activity. Because the police are no longer government employees, they do not have any protection from being fired if the owners of the organization – the local citizens – object to their practices. And if the entire department is corrupt, the owners can dissolve it and reform a new one.

While labor unions may be preferable or nonpreferable for many reasons, the political influence of police unions, and the ability of police unions to prevent officers from being exposed to consequences and accountability for their actions, must be broken. By removing the police from the government system, and by making police owned by their communities, the power of police unions are broken. And since qualified immunity relies on the police being government employees, qualified immunity is lost.

As part of police reform, officers are now treated as employees of any other professional class. They must receive an education in their line of work – preferably attending law school or administration of justice courses, so that they are educated and knowledgeable about what they’re doing, in the same way we demand of attorneys, engineers, doctors, and more. Forcing police officers to obtain an education in law and policing would ensure that only committed persons would go through the schooling, and only educated, capable persons would become licensed officers. The loss of a license and permit, along with the time and cost burdens of education, create very strong incentives to prevent police misbehavior, similar to any other profession.

And with this professional obligation comes the necessity of insurance for errors and omissions, general liability, and professional liability – the same obligations of any other professional class. If an officer abuses or neglects their authority, under this reform, they would face the same legal consequences as any other professional who abused or neglected their role. They would be able to be fired, sued, lose their professional license that would exclude them (whether temporarily or permanently) from the workforce, have to attend mandatory continuing education courses, and be liable for insurance claims filed against them that would increase their insurance rates or make them uninsurable.

Newly private citizens instead of government employees, this reimplementation of consequences for police officers would extend to private and public behaviors as well – sustained charges of spousal abuse would result in the loss of police license and thus employment. Engagement of criminal activity by a police officer would have the same outcome as criminal activity by any other private citizen – adjudication. Any officer convicted of a crime greater than a misdemeanor traffic offense would lose their licensing and permit permanently, nationwide, and would never be employable in the police or criminal justice system in any capacity.

Under these reforms, police officers would not be permitted to lie to the public except in the case of undercover work or interrogations. Police currently lie constantly and with abandon about anything they choose and without consequence. Police lie about why they pulled someone over, they lie about possessing warrants or evidence, they lie about their behavior to everyone they can. By eliminating tolerance of lying in a professional capacity, for their own benefit or for some perceived benefit to the police force, and imposing consequences on the officers who lie, we can move policing back towards protection and service for the community.

Officers will regularly instigate situations to justify taking police action, such as transforming protests into riots by caging protestors then initiating attacks against them. “Look at what you made me do” is the cry of an abuser, not a protector. Police often arrest someone for resisting arrest, with no other underlying charges. Or they assault and batter persons for no discernible reason other than defense of the officers’ ego, and then escalate their battery when the victim attempts to defend themselves. Police will wrench people’s arms and jam equipment into their ribs and other sensitive places, then when someone naturally reacts to pain, use that as a reason to attack them further. These behaviors are not only permitted by often encouraged and trained.

Police often commit crimes themselves, typically egregious crimes such as murder and rape, or less egregious but still consequential violations of the public trust, like theft and burglary. By imposing modifiers to charges and sentencing of police officers who commit crimes under the color of authority, increasing their punishments and remediation, we can disincentivize police from acting as criminals. Police will shoot anyone, whether they are a physical threat or not, because they know they can get away with it in nearly any case. Police are far more likely to murder citizens than citizens are to murder police, or than citizens are to murder citizens, because there are no consequences. Police also regularly rape people, whether those persons are prostitutes or just the object of an officer’s desire. A citizens’ status as a sex worker or otherwise, as an arrestee, detainee, or prisoner, has no bearing on an officers’ crime of rape. Rape is a crime regardless of the status of either party, and ignoring rape by police officers simply encourages it.

Much of this criminal activity is persistent because police officers will protect each other and engage in criminal conspiracies and cover-ups, lying on behalf of bad officers, and committing additional crimes to cover up the crimes previously committed. This is all ignored by the courts and defended by police unions. By treating police coverups like a RICO case or other felony cases, any officers who attempts to hide the crimes of another officer would become an involved party in the crime, and charged for the same crime they attempted to hide, much like a getaway driver for a bank robbery is charged with murder if one of the robbers inside the bank commits murder.

All of these actions by police, and the lack of consequences for these actions, create an environment that both excuses and encourages bullies, criminals, and other harmful persons to become police officers so that they can commit crime under the color of authority. These reforms described would force bad officers out of policing, and encourage the return of good officers who have previously left the practice due to their inability to enforce policing upon the police themselves.

Similarly, the seizure of property by police would no longer be tolerable outside of a court adjudication in the same way that neighbors cannot steal from one another without consequences. If the police had an adequate case that property was gained through the performance of a crime, or used to perform a crime, they would be able to bring a case to the courts and prove it. Police would lose the privilege of being petty burglars.

These police officers could only qualify for their employment by being a citizen, and therefore a shareholder, in the jurisdiction they intend to serve. This realigns community interests to police interests, and ensures that the members of the community have an incentive to maintain pay rates and residential costs that enable the police force to live in the same community.

Having to live in the community has other incentives to demand good behavior, too – if it’s expensive to have to move from one community to another because of a job loss, then someone has a built-in incentive to maintain good status with their community and employer.

The last two points go outside the immediate concerns of policing and encroach on the police’ relationship to the government. Currently the police act in part as evidence-gatherers for the local government attorneys, and the government attorneys decide which cases warrant criminal prosecution in the courts. This creates a cozy relationship between prosecutors and police that prevent the prosecutors from properly holding police accountable.

By allowing criminal cases to be charged by any qualified attorney, instead of just the jurisdictions prosecuting attorney, the legal system is no longer bound by the priorities, preferences, and ofttimes corruption, of the local prosecuting attorneys. With the ability to press charges thrown open to many qualified parties, these other parties can bring charges against the police (or other private citizens, or businesses) as they see fit and believe the evidence warrants. These non-governmental prosecutors would be held to the same standards of evidence and process as the government prosecutors, and would be compensated for their efforts by the government if they win the case.

“Standing” as a concept is a relatively new contribution to the courts that limits a party’s exposure to lawsuits narrowly to the parties that can prove that they have been directly harmed. However there are countless examples of parties who are harmed by the actions of another but do not have what the court is willing to recognize as standing. By removing standing, and allowing anyone who has a reasonably justifiable case to press charges against parties, even when they are not directly involved in the events, the legal system removes barriers for parties to address malfeasance in a very broad sense.

Prosecuting attorneys need improved accountability as well, which is beyond the scope of this document, but in general, any PA that declines to prosecute a police officer to the same standard as a private citizen would be removed from office. Any court action or agent of the court would be obligated to disregard and not consider in any way a persons status as a police officer or former police officer when deciding to press charges or adjudicate a case, with the only consideration provided being additional charge modifiers that increase the severity of the punishment for criminal behavior enacted under the color of authority while the defendant was a police officer.

If these concepts are objectionable: accountability, responsibility for one’s actions, bearing consequences of one’s behavior, being at-risk of lawsuits for civil or criminal matters, are of concern to a party, then one should inquire quite pointedly about what exactly that party has been up to that makes them object so strongly. After all, if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to hide – that’s what the police and government always tell us, so let’s hold them to that as well.

The proposed reforms are:

  • The elimination of government ownership & management of police
  • Direct citizen ownership and control over police agencies as corporations that can be hired, fired, organized, dissolved, controlled by shareholders and customers, and regulated
  • The ability of those citizen owners to inspect, investigate, fire, or dissolve the police agency for their community
  • Elimination of police unions as political organizations
  • Elimination of qualified immunity
  • Elimination of the capacity of police to lie, instigate, and commit crimes
  • Elimination of police rights to property seizure without court conviction
  • Reimplementation of accountability and personal officer responsibility for their actions
  • Police education and qualification for their role, including continuing education
  • Mandatory police permitting, licensing, and insurance
  • Officers being convicted of crimes removes eligibility of police licensing and insurance
  • Officers must be citizens of the communities they police
  • Any qualified attorney may file criminal charges
  • Elimination of “standing” obligations to file a lawsuit by a complainant

This approach is not a complete solution, and warrants scrutiny to identify the missing pieces or errors in construction that may require revising or expanding on some of these points. But in general, these reforms should dramatically improve policing and realign the purpose and incentives of police away from the legacy of protecting the rich and catching slaves, and retarget the reality of police back to the heretofore unjustified claims that the police exist to protect and serve their communities. With these reforms, the true potential of policing is revealed.