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How Exactly Should the US Reinvent Its Police Departments?

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/06/08/how-exactly-should-us-reinvent-its-police-departments

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Somehow, someone must plant the fundamental question in the minds of “law” “enforcement” “officers”, “just exactly what is it that you are so very afraid of?” From there, perhaps we can proceed.


Defunding the police is primarily a call to begin a discussion about what the function of police in a capitalist and racist society is, and what might replace police as an institution.

Prepare for weeks of obfuscation, double-talk, distortion, and lip-service by corporate media, elected Democrats and affluent liberal intellectuals purporting to TELL you how to reinvent the police rather than engage in a democratic discussion that centers the communities, like Minneapolis, that are most abused by cops.

What defunding the police does NOT mean, Mr. Hartmann, is residency requirements, civilian oversight and common sense budgeting. These are liberal strategies that have been pursued and sometimes implemented for over a generation, with mixed results, that do not fundamentally question why we need the police in the first place, or what purpose they are actually serving. There’s plenty of data on what these strategies have accomplished, and it is worth reviewing that data rather than continuing to call for it as a sort of knee-jerk reaction.

If your reinvention does not consider gentrification, a complete absence of public health infrastructure, a lack of affordable housing and underfunded schools, then you have missed the point. If you aren’t incensed by the fact that the only mental health facilities for the American poor and working class are in jails and prisons, then you are not on the right track. And if your reinvention is not a democratic process, then it isn’t going to change anything.




Two thoughts on this article.

1st - why always go to the “funders” where there are so many best case examples in other countries, norway, iceland etc…or in other countries where policing is divided in branches, such as fiscal, civil code, etc.

2nd - you can’t separate police redesign from larger issues such as financial poverty, lack of health care and economic rights, over incarceration, use of military force abroad, looting of public goods, etc. They are all inter-related.


I think Sir Robert Peel’s nine principles are a pretty good place to start. They’ve served the London police department well for a couple hundred years.

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognize always that the extent to which the cooperation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favor, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public cooperation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognize always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

Get rid of the military hardware and former military members and go from there.


Our task as the “public” will be to keep attention focused on the systemic aspects as you have done.


I’d say articulate that in precisely the societal context - as dahlia11 has done above.

perhaps part of that in some cases is a ‘quota’ - like parting ticket revenue or civil asset forfeiture which has become such an infectious disease born of the “War on Drugs”.
In Arizona 5/2020: Why Did Arizona Democrats Kill a Bill Protecting Citizens From Police Overreach?
“It’s all about the revenue. Civil forfeiture brings in money, and lawmakers are more worried about their budgets than residents’ due process and property rights.”


The question remaining is how has that worked over the period in which the mentality, as posed by thatcher: “There is no such thing as society”. Regardless of her intended meaning, her intent was to take a term and usurp debate as to meaning. An act of empire, if you will.

The nine principles do precisely the the same thing. Look through them. All terminology is retained, structured and asserted so as exclude the societal existence of what in medical insurance (ahem) would be referred to as “pre-existing condition”. Hence, “society” indicates a prexisting condition, the scope of which must be “externalized” (NOT defined). There is much more to be said about the sphere of references. I have no doubt the discussions will broaden and deepen over coming weeks.

Military hardware didn’t kill George Floyd, a knee did.

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Yes, effective change has to be made through discussion and decisions of those people directly affected. Suggestions like those made by Hartmann in this article are “reforms” which mean tinkering around the edges and not the kind of fundamental solutions that happens after deep, democratic community deliberations where those affected are elevated to the level of primary decision makers. this is a complex challenge and must include consideration of long-term justice and equity-focused consequences not just simple and short-term fixes.

The Principles pre-dated Thatcher by more than 100 years. What do you disagree with of the Principles?

  1. Prevent crime, rather than repress
  2. Public respect is paramount (i.e., consent of the governed)
  3. Win the cooperation of the public rather than enforce it
  4. Avoid the use of physical force
  5. Work with the public rather than against it
  6. Use the minimum force necessary, when force is needed
  7. Police are members of the public, not a special separate caste
  8. Do not take the law into their own hands
  9. Good policing means a lack of crime, not cracking down on crime

Especially #2

UBI might be a start

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Just don’t call it “defunding.” That wording plays right into GOP talking points about law and order. Even if that is your goal, you should find a better euphemism to sell it to the center, which currently is unlikely to be receptive to the idea.

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How exactly…? That’s easy. Let’s start demilitarizing the police force and drill it into their minds that their duty is to serve and protect…

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Hi WiseOwl:
Maybe all potential recruits have to have a mental health exam to even be considered. Watching many of them at work seems to make clear that they are interested in power, not in peace, and remember too that wanna be tyrants are in every industry----it’s just that sadly, America is so willing to arm them with articles of war, which main, kill and sicken so easily. : (


There was once a Bill of Rights that had some ideas that might be useful in all of this.


People could start by putting their money where their mouth is. Fund welfare agencies that take care of homeless. Fund mental health agencies that take care of the mentally disabled. Take the burden off of police to do jobs they aren’t qualified for. Fully staff police departments to relieve the stress. Pay them enough so a police department can hire the best people, rather than the bottom of the barrel. Quit blaming the police for the unlevel economic and social playing field we have created that discriminates against minorities. Keep dangerous career criminals in jail, rather than sending them back out into the streets. Help the non-dangerous ex-cons find work and reintegrate into society, rather than forcing them to continue a life of crime. Elect politicians who don’t load educational curriculum and book boards with racists who determine what kids learn in school so they can learn real American history, rather than raising generation after generation of racists like themselves. It’s not rocket science, but I don’t see a way forward.

Accidents of history remarkably strengthen the Floyd Rebellion, and keep it focused.

  1. Minneapolis already went through every “reform” in the book – including a relatively enlightened police chief – so they’re fed up as a city and as a City Council, prepared to show the way.

  2. It’s intensively local. Defund the police right here in my town. The feds are totally out of it.

  3. A new child-rebellion is born with every fresh atrocity of police terror – never a scarcity.

  4. Alex Vitale irrefutably clarifies police abolition in The End of Policing. And it’s a short book.


Back in the late 1950’s, I had the habit of reading the Reader’s Digest from cover to cover every month. Today I think of that magazine as profoundly conservative, but then I knew it as the only written commentary that came into my parents house that I could read.

Most of what I read I have long ago forgotten, but one article that talked about policing has stayed with me and it is relevant to this issue. Police have special powers and they receive special training in the law, the article observed. The article continued to claim that as a result, police should be held to a much higher standard with regard to obeying the law. I continue to think this is the right conclusion, though I know now that just the opposite standard is more the reality. In reality, police are rarely expected to obey the law at all; for them it is only in exceptional cases that any aspect of law is inforced.

Reinventing police departments should begin with enforcement of law with respect to police to at least the standards we hold for others.