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society

Realignment of Police Responsibilities

On the benefits of shifting what police do for communities.

What passes for defund is really a mixture of policies around policing and other responsibilities. If the police have to be ready for a dozen different calls, they can’t be very prepared for any one of them. They have to be versatile, and that means giving up on specialization.

If you don’t know if the weather tomorrow will be rainy, snowy, or hot and sunny, when you go out you’ll need three different hats. Knowing the weather and dressing for it is a luxury that the police currently do not have, due to overloading them with too many different tasks.

Instead, realigning policing means:

  1. Police aren’t the first responder for as many situations.
  2. Police will often take on a supporting role, rather than lead.
  3. The police can specialize more as other organizations take over some of their current responsibilities. This should make the job of police safer and steadier.

The recent Black Lives Matter protests give a good working example for how policing should be reworked. Instead of having the police be the front-line response to protesting, communities could have folks employed specifically to coordinate and work with protests. The new function would be able to observe and listen to protesters without being the face of violence or force, and so that already would reduce tension.

Throughout the opioid crisis, police have had to administer anti-narcotic-shock drugs to revive people (though, many other community servants have also been put in that position). There needs to be a dedicated civic health response, which is something that requires healthcare reforms. Involving the police complicates the health response, because they have a duty to enforce the broken drug laws, and the drug users have good reasons to seek to avoid interacting with police.

The reimagining of policing is often about shifting the social landscape around policing so that the community is safer—and the police are part of the community that is made safer through changes.

These changes will go hand-in-hand with reducing criminalization, which will lead to lower institutionalized populations. Overpopulation of prisons and jails makes the job of guards harder, as density, per se, endangers the orderly operation of those facilities.


A longstanding hope of mine has been for self-driving cars to become a reality, so that police wouldn’t have to write traffic tickets. Black folks wouldn’t be pulled over as much, and policing would shift as a result. With self-driving cars, there will still be stops, but they will be nonpretextual. They will be situations where authorities get a call that something wrong happened. If the problem fits in the narrowed police jurisdiction, they would still respond. If it fits in to a different jurisdiction, then the other authority would respond. It’s among many reasons that government should be investing more heavily in accelerating self-driving.

That’s the kind of innovation that we need. The average duty of police is very much a rollercoaster of adrenaline and downtime. It’s not a healthy way to live—jumping from all-out to tumbleweeds and back. One of my hopes is that as policing is realigned, part of that shift will involve the police workers themselves gaining new light-duty roles for half of their work hours. Giving them more opportunities to experience the community in an engaged, non-aggressive task would do a lot to help heal their own traumas and smooth out that rollercoaster.


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