Police reform: How about outsourcing some of the services the police provide?
Recently, a debate has arisen over what to do with the police system. Both in Minnesota and around the country. People agree on one thing; the police system can use a reform. But what kind of reform is where disagreements occur. Lately, a huge movement has risen calling for defunding for the police. Not much discussion has been focused on what to replace the system with after that.
Regardless of the practicability or consequences of defunding the police, there are a lot of other immediate reforms police departments can take to reduce violent incidents. These include restricting the use of force, demilitarizing police departments, and reforming police union contracts. There are also numerous other reforms that can be geared towards comprehensive community safety.
One of the most common solutions to comprehensive longterm community safety has been to reduce the number of jobs under the scope of the police. This means requiring the police to do fewer and fewer jobs that require a lot of contact and rarely warrant the use of force. There are a lot of low-risk jobs that can be done without the use of force, but involving the police brings an aspect of force to the Job.
As expressed by Alex Tabbarock, one of those jobs is traffic safety.
It’s an unacknowledged peculiarity that police are in charge of road safety. Why should the arm of the state that investigates murder, rape, and robbery also give out traffic tickets? Traffic stops are the most common reason for contact with the police. I (allegedly) rolled through a stop sign in the neighborhood and was stopped. It was uncomfortable—hands on the wheel, don’t make any sudden moves, be polite, etc. and I am a white guy. Traffic stops can be much more uncomfortable for minorities, which makes the police uncomfortable. Many of the police homicides, such as the killing of Philando Castile happened at ordinary traffic stops. But why do we need heavily armed men (mostly) to issue a traffic citation?
Similarly, the police have no expertise in dealing with the mentally ill or with the homeless—jobs like that should be farmed out to other agencies. Notice that we have lots of other safety issues that are not handled by the police. Restaurant inspectors, for example, do over a million restaurant inspectors annually but they don’t investigate murder or drug charges and they are not armed. Perhaps not coincidentally, restaurant inspectors are not often accused of inspector brutality, “Your honor, I swear I thought he was reaching for a knife….”.
Police handling of people with mental health illness is especially stark. In 2019 for instance, out of the 752 people shot and killed by the police, 142 have had a mental health illness. The police, are generally ill-equipped to handle people with mental challenges. Yet they remain first in line responders in cases of mental health crisis. Especially considering the fact that the police are trained to use force when they feel endangered, there is a merit to outsourcing some of the services the police provide. This, in addition to other long term reforms would certainly make major improvements to the policing system.