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Policing is Not a Public Good

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/07/04/policing-not-public-good


Law enforcement “professionals” as a whole are much more cowardly than they let on. There is one component of their psyche that I have teased out over the years and it basically boils down to: “this is all I know how to do.” Unidimensional bots trapped in a system, to a person they feel compelled to defend what they have and seek to augment resources and power at every turn. They circle the wagons largely because they do not believe in themselves. Many have home lives that are quite dysfunctional probably stemming from a lack of self esteem that causes them to act out to establish a pecking order. Sure, they are all not bound by this stereotype, but many are–and those are the ones who make it to the videos. Add in the horrific Israeli training and the police are primed to exert terror on the people, perhaps shooting rubber bullets at their own children’s teachers. Sick, sick, sick.


Policing in the manner we all have witnessed on national TV after the murder of George Floyd is derived from the hate and oppression exerted by the slave masters of the old south.

Keeping the community in fear of “getting out of line” the most aggressive of those hired to police, are the strong arm types that thrive on bullying and pushing others around.

Hiring former military creates a militaristic setting in the minds of those who cannot differentiate the meanings of “To Serve And Protect,” and “Be All You Can Be,” or “Aim High, Fly, Fight, Win,” or “Army Strong.”


Oh, but THAT kind of thinking would require a willingness (& ability) to go to root causes, examine them seriously and critically, then name causes and, where needed, assign blame, … and thereupon seek solutions.

Can we get there?

Certainly not with the current crowd, many of whom would not even understand the sentence above.


Officially, police still is a “public good” in the official definition of that concept, (services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority) a very narrow definition indeed these days.

If we start outsourcing/offshoring some off those jobs, however because of WTO MFN rules, they may all (all police jobs at the local level) soon have to be outsourced. That will be a loss of another few million jobs, at a cost to our economy of tens of billions of dollars. Also dont forget all that money wont be going into Social Security, because the workers will be earning so little and will be temporary, and will leave after five or six years, which isnt enough to get to keep the benefits. Not only is it unfair, its so unfair that it will probably be the subject of another didpute which we will lose.

adding to the problem that will already be being caused by huge losses in other fields which currently are planned. By outsourcing and offshoring all these jobs - we decided to destroy Social Security. That was a huge mistake. What the hell were they thinking?

And what sense does it make, really? Defunding police doesnt mean there will be no police, it mans outsourcing police.

I am 100% sure that will be the outcome. Offshoring/outsourcing their jobs to authoritarian Third World countries (The LDC countries get a preference that means they will often win bids) wouldnt necessarily get us better police officers. What it will do is lose us yet another category of once-public jobs in a near future where practically all US jobs will eventually be outsourced and offshored to foreign companies that pay their workers the very lowest wages possible, perhaps not even being limited to US minium wage (our ability to make their firms pay a minimum wage is being disputed. )

Its not unlikely that the only once-public jobs that wont be subject to this are the national security related ones. Millions of other jobs currently anchoring communities will be lost. Thats what services liberalization is supposed to do, to cut costs… Including teachers, nurses, doctors, (hospital services) IT and many others. Police, however are exempt because supplied as an exercise of governmental authority. And because as of yet we dont have privatized police in towns. Once we do, they all will likely be privatized fairly quickly. As we will probably lose the ability to limit it with quotas next year.

Let me ask people, what jobs that people without advanced degrees can get will be left?

What we’ll probably get could be worse than what we have today with the addition of new language barriers.

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When we put up dams we make the seas angry. The same with skirmish lines of police acting as a dam to prevent marcher’s progress.

Intimidation is the game, from both sides. But shouldn’t protesters have armed guards, body armor, helmets and shields?
This could lessen the intimidation factor owned by the cops. I believe we would not have had the looting and vandalism if cops marched with us, not against us.


Capitalists hire politicians to write policies into laws that make money. Police enforce policy.


I really have to object to three claims here:
1 - that origins for “modern” police are in Boston - Go back further in time and across the pond to London
2 - that police come out of slave patrols - then this would only be in the USA
3 - that police are all about race - nonsense - it is class, race is an added factor in the class war
** points expanded
** Before we get there, police were created by merchants to stop theft by people handling goods and amount largely to property crimes, which where not crimes before (this changed the method of "pay"ment.
** points
1 - The Thames Marine Police Office on the docks of London established in 1798. The link to Olivia B. Waxman’s article is okay but she kind of skims over some material and in particular never even mentions the privately organized professional, uniformed police established by London merchants in 1798. The usual means of payment for loading had been for some pay and some goods but the merchants decided they were going to clamp down on that. So they tried an experiment for a year and set up new methods of payment (underpayment and overwork, actually, still a problem) and also setup a new police office. These police actually oversaw the workers on the docks, “docked” them for slacking (new vagrancy, etcetera laws) and were actually the paymasters. When workers were to get their pay they got it from these police. How’s that for defining whose interest and what kind of interest the (later to be nicknamed) “coppers” undertook, rather than concepts of public safety?
Even the name “police” needs to be noticed. It came from the French and refers to policy and the French term came in turn from Greek “polis” meaning city or the management of a city. Said nothing about “to serve and protect” (except for the understanding that this meant the goods of the merchants).
This Thames Marine Police Office was such a success that the merchants then lobbied their government to take over the operations so that they got the government (taxed citizens) to pay for the police rather than the London merchants on the docks.
This was also the model used by Robert Peel (Bobby, from whom we eventually get the name “Bobbies” - “Peelers” was an early name) informing the Metropolitan police in 1829. Also, the Thames Marine Police was a model quickly exported across the pond and elsewhere. In the US it also meets up with slave patrols in the south (mainly). Slaves being lower than low class in the class structure.
The “Chartist” movement in the UK was one demanding rights for the lower classes. They were viciously opposed. In 1819 the Peterloo Massacre saw 18 protesters killed and possibly 600 injured when they were run down by cavalry swinging sabers. The movement finally died after the 1848 petition drive with a couple million petition signatures (on paper) to deliver to parliament. They were met with 150,000 to 174,000, depending on sources, police from London and around the country. The petition was never delivered. A petition, opposed by massed police forces, in England.

** 2 & 3 - this goes to my point about slave patrols and race. Neither slave patrols nor race were the cause of the current “modern” police organizations. They may have been a major target of those police but only because the police were first and foremost about suppressing lower classes, and race was a lower division on the ladder. Further, race allowed the lower classes to be divided by divisions within the lower classes (maybe I should say “essential” rather than “lower” - might be confusing for a second but it is more accurate).

** last point - in any system where individuals are given free reign of behaviour, even to life and death, with total or almost total impunity, you will find “creative” cruelty en masse. Even lesser cruelties of toying with or harassing civilians becomes entertainment. The aborted Stanford Prison Experiment of Philip Zimbardo in 1971 (?) shows how fast that deterioration takes place (though there are some method problems, partly because it was stopped early and partly because another such experiment has been forbidden in psychology schools because of the emotional damage).

There are a ton of details I am omitting but I’m trying to keep this as a comment not an article (and not compacting it very well even leaving out so much). I just want us to keep in mind that corporations are the real beneficiaries and to watch out for “solutions” and “compromises” and “changes” which are fig leaves rather than real changes in interest, job and mission.

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Thank you for pointing out that law enforcement ‘professionals’ as a whole are cowardly. Many of them seek this profession because their psyche is geared toward abuse ànd a position of power gives them the opportunity to live this out. Abusers almost always are cowards.


looks like someone’s read OUR ENEMIES IN BLUE by kristian Williams.

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great talk on youtube on the umasshistory channel by flint taylor, an attorney with the people’s law office in chicago, on various aspects of police abuse of power, including assassinations, torture, murder…


Thanks. You just expanded my reading list. I didn’t know about Williams or that book but I’ve now ordered the book. I looks right down the line of where I’ve been going.
I came to my first knowledge of the Thames Marine Police in 1798 from Lizzie O’Shea’s “Future Histories.” She is an Aussie activist, writer and civil rights attorney. She is actually writing about the modern surveillance-capitalist state and tying it back to the origins of modern capitalism. She put a lot of loosed ends together for me.

Here is a quote (emphasis in Italic is my added note):
“He (Patrick Colquhoun, pronounced: Ke HOON) was describing a tactic that would be deployed by the powerful in our own era: surveillance as a method of social control. Colquhoun determined that the conversion of river workers into a disciplined, regulated class of wage laborers could only be achieved through moral transformation. This transformation involved the criminalization of idleness and a revision of the sense of injustice that made workers feel entitled to a decent share of the fruits of their labor.”

From there I quickly branched out seeing various versions of the story including “official” accounts. Here is an official account via the West India Committee. Interesting because it is an “agency” view and because almost all the narrators are black officers.
This is a ten minute video on the start of modern policing with a note about diversity at about 7:00 minutes quoting the term and the time of “half-caste” - as normal part of London’s population in the 1790’s or so.

Added: Further quote from O’Shea’s book::
“Civil government,” observed the ideological father of capitalism, Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations, “so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” Inequality has always been the raison d’être of the police, to both preserve it and protect people from its consequences. Their role is both paradoxical and self-serving: to create crime (by defining its meaning in practical terms) while also preventing it. For this reason, the establishment of the Marine Police Office was a milestone in both “metropolitan policing and in the history of the wage-form.” In this moment, we can see the theory of class division under capitalism put into practice: collaboration between property owners to direct power.

your welcome, mike. i think u’ll like the book. i found it a bit dry at times, but it’s quite comprehensive in it’s analysis and indictment of police(ing).

And what would it do for the violent inner-city where 90% of kids have no fathers, etc., etc., etc. This is a nice idealistic article without addressing the real problems that start in the home