My conversation with a big-city cop

I received a phone call today from a cop from one of our major cities. (We know each other only electronically.) He wanted to talk because he was so discouraged about the state of police-civilian relations in the country right now. He has always been honest at his job (within human limits, of course: I'm not saying he never took a pen home), always obeyed the law as if he wasn't a cop, chastised his men when they would break it, sought to respect the community he was policing... and what's more, he assures me that most cops are more like him then they are like the jack-booted thugs of libertarian fantasies, a few of whom actually exist. (I say "fantasies" and not "nightmares" because I think most anarchist libertarians secretly are overjoyed by each act of police brutality, since then they can be so smugly right.) He readily acknowledges "We brought some of this on ourselves." He wants dirty and violent cops punished.

But he also tells me that the one-sided sensationalizing of every possibly suspicious action on the part of a cop makes things worse. Naturally, if cops feel they will be attacked and smeared even if innocent of any wrong-doing, they will become defensive, and tend to dismiss any criticism of any cop as just more libertarian/leftist hate. (And many posts I've seen on Facebook from libertarians about the police truly are filled with hate.) Furthermore, promoting the idea that all cops are "violent thugs" justifies attacks on cops, which naturally leads to cops who are quicker to pull the trigger when they feel threatened.

Once again, assertions that excessive police violence is is merely "the essence of the state," as one poster fatuously put it recently, is a falsehood designed to promote a political agenda: police forces all over the developed world are enormously less violent than the American police. For instance, in 2011, all of the police from the entire nation of Germany, policing 80 million people, only fired 85 bullets while policing. By way of contrast, in one incident resulting from a driver's failure to stop when ordered to do so, Miami police fired well over one hundred shots, killing their target as well as injuring five bystanders. (That number represents one third of the entire total the Dutch police injuring in shootings per year.) So in the course of a few minutes the Miami police launched more bullets at a single man than the German police do at 80 million people over the course of a year. If excessive police violence is "the essence of the state," every other state in the developed world must have had its essence sucked out.

No, this crisis in police-community relations is a symptom of a larger problem plaguing the American polity And its solution, if it is to be solved, will necessarily involve enlisting the aid of the many, many decent cops, like the one who called me today, who are horrified at the vision of the American police as a militarized, occupying force, charged with keeping a hostile population relatively pacified. And one thing that will surely make this situation worse and worse is smearing all police as being equivalent to the very worst of them.


  1. Indeed.
    Judging from a Libertarian blog you know well, there is the usual lack of interest in solving, or even ameliorating, the problem. Just in exploiting it.
    I have to point out one uncomfortable fact though. When stuff happens we see more thin blue line than we do whistleblowing.

    The main problem though is untangling this issue from the usual screaming about race and racism.

  2. Holy shit! Eighty-five bullets? How is that even possible?

  3. "...involve enlisting the aid of the many, many decent cops."

    I could not possibly agree LESS. The solution, if it is to be found, will come from within the ranks of the police and will NOT involve the civilian populace. Any 'solution' externally imposed will be seen as punishment and will be resisted.

    No, all those good cops you say must exist... they must implement the solution because they will not like any solution we propose.

    1. Well, If the police regard themselves as immune from civilian oversight and input, then the situation is truly impossible.

  4. Bob Murphy has responded to your post:

    You probably know that already...

  5. What about the idea of police wearing body cameras? This would help exonerate police and serve to restrain bad police from hurting people:


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