If Policing Were A Product, We’d Take It Out Of The Marketplace

I recently wrote on Matt Apuzzo’s article, Police Rethink Long Tradition on Using Force. Another statement, made by Executive Director Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, is good to springboard off of:

“People aren’t buying our brand. If it was a product, we’d take it out of the marketplace and re-engineer it,” Mr. Wexler said. “We’ve lost the confidence of the American people.”

I can’t help but wonder, are police officers unaware that they would not exist in a free market? Many cops, regardless of where in the world you find them, are socially and politically conservative within the political paradigm of the state they live in. In the United States, this means that most of these young cowboys would assert that they believe in the free market, and small government.

Wexler seems to understand. If policing were a product, people would not buy it. Let’s rephrase that another way: cops, we don’t actually want you here.

A common response, by cops and police thralls entranced by fear, tends to follow the format of well, you’d want us if we didn’t exist. Alternately, we’ll just leave you to some scary black people, and then see how you feel. But these are strong assertions with no evidence. And the brutality of modern policing is quite a high price to pay for such hypotheticals.

Indeed, the fact that people would not fund police officers tells us more about reality as it is. We don’t need to address what people might or might not want, absent cops. All we need to know is this fact: in a market people would not pay for the kind of service they currently receive. This is all we need to know, because it is the market ideology itself that conservative enforcers claim to adhere to.

And many who claim to support free markets, in the end, don’t. Policing is one example. Alternately, ask a militarist about closing the Pentagon, the most expensive welfare program in the United States. Few will assent.

Now, and I hope this isn’t too controversial of a statement, markets are one way to perceive demand. (Where that demand comes from – if it is rational or completely manufactured – is a different question.) I think I would feel bad if my job consisted of performing a service that no one really wanted. Especially if I knew that my job only exists because people are forced to pay for it (taxes).

Even if entire institutions were designed to insulate me from popular opinion, that fact would tickle the back of my mind. No amount of support could overshadow it. Even if every person I interacted with seemed to love and revere me, I’d have to face the fact that for every one of them there are thousands who don’t. Or, at the very least, thousands who would not pay me to do what I do. Moreover, that without forcing them to pay me my job would not exist.

Perhaps I could rationalize it. Well, the people are big dummies and they don’t know how much they need me. But then I’d have a hard time reconciling my unilateral crusade against crime with the image of democracy. And the democratic facade is a core element of police propaganda. Anti-democratic; I’m protecting people against their will, rendering services they would not voluntarily buy, and using their money to pay for it.

In the end I might not care. I might even realize all of this and feel bad, but it wouldn’t outweigh the benefits. After all, government employment – especially policing – offers benefits and security the market doesn’t provide. I’d be virtually immune to legal abuse myself. The most powerful unions would protect me. A comfortable retirement would be guaranteed.

To reject that package, I’d have to be a supremely moral individual. And I suppose that is why police officers don’t reject it.

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