What If There Were No Police?

Moving past the failed institution of the police – Published on Dissident Voice, by Kimberly Wilder, August 14, 2012;

Americans have a belief that the police are helping to keep people safe and helping to limit or stop crime. Though, in recent decades, there have been too many mistakes, where police have harmed innocent people. And many times, the police have even killed innocent and/or unarmed people … //

… Here are some ideas about potential alternative organizations to the police, who could help to “maintain order”, “enforce the law”, and “prevent and detect crime”:

  • An Auntie Brigade of volunteers who patrol busy sidewalks of downtown areas. In Russia, under a principle such as “It Takes A Village”, women in the community may consider themselves “aunties”, and give guidance or scolding to young people in the community. What if, in America, we had local governments train “Auntie Brigades” of volunteers who wore a friendly uniform (like an apron) and patrolled local sidewalks? Aunties would not have weapons. They would nip crime in the bud by pleasantly reminding people of manners, scolding people who pushed or shoved, and calling for law enforcement when needed (such as Neighborhood Watch people do). Aunties in cities with immigrant populations could be bilingual, or patrol with translators, so that they could create goodwill among communities, and gently train newcomers about community manners.
  • Social Work units at sites where day laborers gather. I believe that this idea has been introduced in some places, such as Long Island. If there are problems with large gatherings of laborers at certain sites in the community, address the problem proactively with liaisons. If this were a department of the police, the government would: hire bilingual officers where needed, train police on the customs and manners of any minority groups; use police who do not carry weapons; have police be on the lookout for exploitative or lawbreaking employers. This organization might be set up by a town or locality, separate from police. The unit would: be bilingual if there were different language groups; be trained in the customs and manners of both laborers and employers; be trained in conflict resolution; be allowed to educate and advocate for day laborers; and be allowed to educate employers on their duties.
  • Domestic Abuse Society. This could be an organization run by a nonprofit or set up by a local government. It would probably need a system to contact the regular police if weapons or death threats were involved. The staff of this organization would be trained in: patterns of domestic abuse; the psychology of domestic abuse; conflict resolution; practical matters about nurturing, speaking with, educating, and physically separating people involved in a domestic situation. The staff would have important knowledge about conveying people to hospitals or domestic abuse shelters if needed. The staff would be trained in knowing when it was important to move from privacy to reporting.
  • Society for Conflict Resolution for The Mentally Ill. This organization could be run by a nonprofit, a local government, or even a local hospital or mental health facility. If someone with mental illness was involved in a dispute or crisis, this unit would be sent, instead of sending armed policemen, who may not have the training or patience to deal with people who cannot obey orders quickly. Having a department such as this one might have saved the life of Kevin Callahan. When Callahan’s family called the Suffolk County Police for help reaching Kevin fast, the police arrived first, and killed Kevin (who was unarmed), before the family could arrive.
  • College Peace Keepers. Many universities have their own security or police force. Some of them use local police. It would be better to have a new organization, with a pro-active, weapons-free, vision of how to keep order on a campus. This organization would probably have specific skills with how to deal with young people, alcohol, and social and political rebellion. It would be ideal if some of the college or university students could serve on the peace keeping force. Their participation would be a lesson in duty, and a way to create buy-in.
  • Elementary or High School Peace Keepers. (Unfortunately, some school systems, such as New York City schools and the Anchorage Alaska schools, currently use the regular police department, on a regular basis, to keep order inside public schools.) Many schools function well using only rules, policies, and rewards to keep students in line. If more control is needed, it would best be created and implemented by people who understand child development. An ideal “law and order team” at a school would probably include staff, teachers, family members, and students, themselves.

Regular police do not belong in institutions designed for children. Very young children are illogical and unpredictable. So, a paramilitary mindset would only confuse children, and create unnecessary chaos. The unpredictability and sensitivity of children also makes it a bad idea to have unnecessary weapons anywhere near them.

When a young child is acting out, what is most needed is understanding. If a young child is acting out violently (without a weapon), there are techniques which make it easy for a properly trained person to physically restrain them. So, no one needs to use guns or handcuffs on unarmed children.

High School students who are unarmed do not deserve to be supervised by people carrying weapons. There are so many other levels of punishment and reward which can control students’ behavior. In addition, the teen years include a sense of rebellion which could be unnecessarily antagonized by having extra authority figures patrolling the spaces where students work, eat, and socialize.

Violence Interrupting Departments in troubled neighborhoods. Violence Interrupter is an actual job title. It is notably used by the Save Our Streets program, in New York City’s Crown Heights. In my ideal proposal for a new kind of policing, Violence Interrupters would not carry weapons. Violence Interrupters would try to keep the peace by circulating in troubled neighborhoods; talking with local gangs and gang leaders to discourage violence and understand concerns; teaching conflict resolution skills; and other proactive measures to monitor and prevent violence.

Re-organize the Police: … (full long text).

(Kimberly Wilder is a poet and peace activist from Long Island, New York. Her latest project is the creation of PAXi: The Daily Peace Culture Index for the United States ).

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