De-policing in America: Answering the question "How would a world without police look?"

You can’t 'coexist' with people who are trying to kill you, rape you, maim you, and take from you all that you hold dear — that’s why we have police officers to protect us

Competition for the title ‘Most Asinine Assertion About Police in America’ is heating up. 

In addition to Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers saying, “My ISIS is the police” and the activist group “Disarm NYPD” trying to, well, disarm the New York Police Department, we have Claire Van Fossen, who apparently believes that “the negative effects of policing outweigh the benefits.”

Ms. Van Fossen — a nonprofit professional and self-avowed activist “deeply dedicated to a vision of a socially just Milwaukee” — has a blog on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Purple Wisconsin project page. While I generally ignore most anti-cop Op-Ed blogs, the piece Van Fossen penned last week all but screamed for a response. 

Life in a world without police would be as Thomas Hobbes described: nasty, brutish, and short.
Life in a world without police would be as Thomas Hobbes described: nasty, brutish, and short. (Image by John Michael Wright, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Argument
While the anti-police group Copwatch wants to create “no-cop zones,” Van Fossen seemingly wants to do away with all law enforcement, writing on her blog that “a just and free world means a world without police.” 

Chew on that for a moment — a world without police. 

Van Fossen opened her anti-police argument thusly: 

“Whether we call them because of a dispute between neighbors or a robbery, a shooting or sexual violence, the police rarely meet our needs. They don’t help us heal. And they don’t prevent future harm.” 

According to this line of “thinking,” have the police who recovered an elderly woman’s most treasured memento of her late husband — her simple gold wedding band — not met her needs?

Have the officers who arrest the gang members — on both sides of a gunfight — that left an innocent woman dead while shielding her children from the hail of gunfire, not helped those children on their long road to healing?

The cop who arrests a man guilty of domestic abuse — and the prosecuting attorneys who see that arrest is converted into a conviction involving incarceration — has not prevented future harm? 

Has the multi-jurisdictional task force that dismantled a human trafficking ring in which countless victims suffered heinous abuse not prevent future harm?

Has the patrolman arresting a drunk driver — who blew a deuce — not prevented even the potential for untold future harm? 

I need not go further in exposing how Van Fossen’s “logic” is false on its face — you get the idea. 

Upon reading Van Fossen’s blog post, Police1 Columnist (and retired cop) Dick Fairburn said, “Officers arguably have the most difficult job of all, being called upon to serve in roles ranging from marriage counselor to SWAT sniper. In Ms. Van Fossen's idyllic world with no cops, a rape victim would be twice wronged knowing her attacker would never be brought justice.”

The Microscope
It gets better — or worse, depending on how you want to look at it — when she adds that:

“...there is virtually no system of accountability of police to their ‘clients’ or the public.”

What? Virtually no system of accountability? From civilian oversight boards to municipal risk pools to an often-overeager media, the police profession is more closely watched — and held accountable — than just about any other human endeavor. 

When an officer screws up — as human beings sometimes do — the incident is on the nightly news for an indeterminate period of time (usually until something else sensational happens). Then the department pays out a sum of money in a settlement. The cop may even end up losing the career of service they have committed their lives to — and love as much as life itself. 

The Politics
As one might expect, Van Fossen’s true agenda is more about her politics than police policy. She writes:

“Rather than serve as advocates for true justice, they use their nearly limitless power to reinforce the oppressive status quo. They threaten us with violence and incarceration and target the most oppressed and vulnerable people in our society. By blaming “crime” and “criminals” instead of systemic oppression for society’s ills, the police exacerbate societal problems, harm citizens, and bar the people from liberation by maintaining the capitalist social order.”

“In a perfect, utopian society there would be no police because there would be no need for them. If Ms. Van Fossen can point me to that paradise, I'll be moving there tomorrow,” said Fairburn.  

Lieutenant (ret.) Dan Marcou added, “If this naive woman’s wish came true and all the police magically disappeared overnight, it would be painfully obvious within 24 hours of taking such action why police are needed. Chaos would reign. I hope this woman is never able to turn this … gibberish into a reality, for her anarchist’s dream would instantly become a national nightmare.”

The Reality
Van Fossen says that without cops, people would naturally just work out their differences.

“By eliminating the involvement of the state in social conflicts, we increase our opportunity to practice methods of conflict resolution like mediation, dialogue, and reconciliation.”

Van Fossen quotes Luis Fernandez — Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University — as saying that “most of our human interactions are already outside of the purview of police officers... Most social relationships between people do not require police intervention.”

This is true. But police exist because “most interactions” don’t equal “all interactions.” 

“Most” people have never committed a crime  — nor would they. 

But some do.

“Most” people have never been so horrified that they dial 911 with fumbling fingers and plead for help in vibrating voices. 

But some do.

Newsflash: You can’t ‘coexist’ with people who are trying to kill you, rape you, maim you, and take from you all that you hold dear — that’s why we have police officers to protect us.

The Heroes
Fairburn put it perfectly when he concluded, “Ms. Van Fossen, if you think there is some good in everyone, you haven’t met everyone.”

Police are the heroes who run toward the gunfire when “most” people flee in panic. Those law enforcers do so with valor and honor and to denigrate them is a disgrace. 

For some, life in a world without police would look like a cross between Mad Max and The Purge. 

For some, life in a world without police would be as Hobbes described: nasty, brutish, and short.

We can — and will continue to — do a hell of a lot better than that. 

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