A Practical Solution: Run Police Departments Like Fire Departments

By Tom Mullen

Huffington Post

jacomstephens via Getty Images

Do you lie awake at night in constant fear a fire will break out and nothing will be done to put it out?

For the 99% of the population not suffering from pyrophobia or a similar neurosis, the answer to that question is “no,” even though firefighters aren’t patrolling the streets in their big red trucks. They still manage to arrive at the scene of a fire within minutes of an emergency call.

Why can’t police departments be run the same way?

If they were, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and Sandra Bland would be alive today. All three encountered police doing what would be considered outlandish for any other institution charged with public safety: roaming the streets, looking for trouble.

No one had called 911 asking for protection from Scott, Gray or Bland. No judges had issued warrants for their arrests. All three were, at least at the time of their arrests, just walking or driving down the street, minding their own business. They were detained in what are generally considered “routine” but are in reality wholly unnecessary encounters with police.

There has been a lot of digital ink and warm air expended on whether these victims of tragedy were treated differently because of their race. There are compelling arguments on both sides of that question, but no practical solutions offered by anyone. At the end of these discussions there is invariably some vague reference to “more training” or bland platitudes. Everyone knows nothing will change.

I’m going to suggest a solution that will sound radical, even in a country that styles itself “the land of free.” Let’s get cops off the streets, unless responding to a 911 call or serving a warrant issued by a judge. Everyone would be freer and safer, including the police officers themselves.

This is by no means an anti-cop argument. The problem isn’t how they do their jobs; it’s the job we ask them to do. A free society shouldn’t be asking armed agents of the state to patrol the streets, keeping its citizens under 24/7 surveillance.

I haven’t seen any surveys, but I have a feeling that if you asked cops at random why they joined the force, very few would say it was to protect the public from broken tail lights or untaxed cigarettes. The men and women we want on this job join to protect the public from real crimes, like murder, assault, rape and robbery.


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3 replies »

  1. That’s the way it is in the Latin American country where I live. You really only see cops patrolling in the downtown of the capital city. In my mixed-income neighborhood I can go many years without seeing a cop car.

  2. Any sort of posse or neighborhood militia sort of approach to public safety would mirror this sort of proposed system. I’d combine this approach with mental health crisis responders as well as a network of well known community representatives who can de-escalate conflicts, both as they are happening and before they occur. In some cities (including Chicago, I believe) they employ well known ex gang members to visit gang shooting/stabbing victims in the hospital to open up negotiations between rivals and organize a sit down before the violence escalates. Most, if not all, violent confrontations I’ve personally witnessed have resolved one way or another without any involvement from the police or judicial system.

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