If You Want to Fix Policing, Listen to the Pragmatists

Reason asked writers who have been on the criminal justice beat for years to lay out serious proposals for reforms with a fighting chance of being implemented.


Nobody likes pragmatists. To the revolutionary, the pragmatist sounds too much like an apologist for the status quo. To those who fear rule by the angry mob, the pragmatist has granted the mob's premise and is simply bargaining about the timeline.

When absolutely everyone else is screaming, it can be hard to hear the calm, slightly nasal voice of the pragmatist explaining the procedures by which a cause might be realistically advanced. But in the cacophonous summer of 2020, with protesters in the street and a pandemic raging, it looked for a moment like practical policing reform might actually make some headway. Wonky pragmatists from across the spectrum seemed to converge on both the need for and general outlines of reform. National Review published a piece called "Reform Police Training—Why It's a Conservative Cause." Mother Jones asked: "'Qualified Immunity' Gives Abusive Cops a Free Pass. Will the Supreme Court End It?" The Washington Post reported "Top CEOs Endorse Calls for Police Reform, Another Sign of Momentum on the Issue." Bills popped up in the House, the Senate, and state legislatures, and governors and mayors announced their intention to make changes.

In that moment of optimism, Reason asked writers who have been on the criminal justice beat for years to lay out serious proposals for reforms with a fighting chance of being implemented in the coming months or years. The result is a robust list that includes calls to abolish qualified immunity (page 18), bust the police unions (page 22), better regulate the use of police force (page 25), rethink crisis response (page 28), end the drug war (page 32), release body cam footage (page 35), stop overpolicing (page 37), and restrict asset forfeiture (page 40). Each article begins with a quote from Reason's archives, some from issues dating all the way back to the 1960s. Reason has been carrying this torch for a long time, in preparation for the moment when mainstream political culture and elected officials were ready to hear us out.

This summer, it looked like that moment had come. According to a Cato/YouGov poll conducted in July, 63 percent of Americans favor eliminating qualified immunity for police officers, which would make it easier to hold cops accountable for misbehavior and abuse. Another 62 percent favor limiting police unions' bargaining power. A whopping 84 percent oppose erasing police records of misconduct every few years, a common clause in police union contracts. While Democrats are more likely to support such reforms, the number of Republicans open to these marginal changes was surprisingly high—64 percent of GOP respondents, for instance, say police officers should be held accountable for misconduct even if they were "unaware at the time that their actions were illegal."

Most of the folks at this summer's street protests, of course, wanted to go much further, demanding everything from an end to racism (via methods that were often alarmingly TBD) to full Marxist revolution. But at least on policing, there was some crystallization, and a genuinely realistic slate of changes emerged.

The trouble with pragmatic, incremental reform is that it simply can't produce the kind of immediate gratification that is required to keep the focus of people in the grip of culture war–induced ADHD. Chanting "Defund the police" is exciting; trying to figure out what that might look like across thousands of different jurisdictions is irksome. Spraypainting slogans on the plinth of a bust of Christopher Columbus gives a thrill; crafting legislation to hold officers accountable for misconduct in court is tricky and time-consuming.

Even more challenging, sometimes partial or badly executed reform is worse than nothing at all. Privatization without mechanisms for market competition and creative destruction can quickly become entrenched cronyism. Budget cuts without reductions in the scope of government create inefficiencies and delays. Rule changes done without proper legislative procedure create uncertainty, because they can be reversed when the political tides change.

But when agreement about the need to implement some reform, any reform, emerges, the pragmatist takes seriously the need to work with the tools that are available. Take body cameras, for instance: Many jurisdictions were surprisingly willing to require law enforcement officers to wear cameras on their lapels or install them in their patrol cars in recent years, due to a combination of public pressure, evolving attitudes toward surveillance in the workplace, and the belief by union leaders that the cams could serve to exonerate officers inaccurately accused of wrongdoing.

The hope was that cameras would reproduce the observer effect on officers, in which they would choose more ethical behavior because they knew they were being watched. That hope hasn't panned out. But that doesn't mean that we should turn away from body cams entirely. Instead, we can lean into the cameras as a tool for transparency. As part of a slate of reforms focused on accountability, cameras become a way for courts, citizens, and others to get the information they need in order to adjudicate whether police acted legally and morally in the course of their work. Paired with stronger freedom of information laws and the abolition of qualified immunity, body cams may yet deliver on their promise.

Likewise, use-of-force regulations have failed to prevent deaths and abuse in many places where they have already been implemented, but many municipalities are trying again. In San Diego, the chief of police formally ordered his officers not to use "carotid restraints" to cut off blood flow to the brain and knock out suspects. In Colorado, the County Sheriffs of Colorado, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police put out a joint statement calling for state lawmakers to require that other officers intervene when their colleagues use unreasonable force, paving the way for criminal charges. The combination of familiar reforms and a new cultural context may work where it hasn't before.

Other reforms, like busting police unions or ending the drug war or rolling back asset forfeiture, are more radical. But they have taken on new life in the context of more broadly shared concerns about police brutality.

Like so many distracted boyfriends, America's wandering eye was drawn by more inflammatory topics, from fighting about which statues to yank down (see "American Idolatry Meets Woke Iconoclasm," page 58) to banning social media platforms where teenagers lip sync while shaking their butts.

Some people who took to the streets because too many Americans have died with police officers' knees on their necks or bullets in their backs have redirected their energy back to mainstream partisan squabbling rather than specific policy reform. Faced with a real chance to improve the lot of some of the least well-off people in our society by reining in the power of the state, some online activists have opted to wage Twitter campaigns to get journalists and academics fired for bad tweets instead. Many mayors seem to have contented themselves with painting large street murals declaring that Black Lives Matter and calling it a day. And some people just got bored.

It's hard to stay mad about one thing when there are so many new things to get mad about every day, especially in the cascading semi-apocalypse of 2020. But a certain kind of sustained anger is vital to real reform. Fireworks are attention-getting and bonfires are fun, but it's the banked coals of a well-tended hearth that get the job done. As meaningful reforms keep working their way through the system, it's the pragmatists, not the firebrands, who will keep that flame alive.


NEXT: Brickbat: That's Not Who I Really Am

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  2. The list checks all the boxes I’ve listed here before.I’d also add quit making it about race. Cops abuse people of all races and sexes.

    1. Yes indeed, and worse than that, the “mostly peaceful protesters” will swarm out into the street not to oppose the worst abuses, but to react to what are at best borderline cases where often the suspect is more to blame than the cops.

      Justine Damond was a case in which the cop was wrong. Her death didn’t inspire riots, but at least she had a foreign power to advocate for her – would her killer have been prosecuted otherwise?

      1. That’s largely because they don’t even hear about the worst abuses – they react to the ones the media chooses to publicize. And, because of deep-seated problems within their own industry norms, journalists choose to publish race-based stories even when there are worse abuses out there.

        1. Yes. I am absolutely certain that this is by design, not an accident. They want the conflict, not the solution.

          (If you listen to the leadership, they will tell you as much)

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      2. “Her death didn’t inspire riots”

        There was a candle light vigil for her in Australia. Americans seem to take this sort of thing in stride. When blacks take exception to police killing one of their own, they are condemned for ‘making it about race,’ followed by ill conceived boasting about how tolerant American police abuse citizens regardless of the race or sex.

        1. “ill conceived boasting about how tolerant American police abuse citizens regardless of the race or sex”

          Boasting? Are you high?

          1. “Are you high?”

            Pardon my hyperbola. Relax, ’tis merely a literary device.

            1. I wasn’t *boasting* about America’s killer cops (nor automatically exonerating them all of racism), but I reiterate that if you look for racism as *the* key explanatory factor in deaths in police custody you’ll be like a quack doctor giving the wrong medicine to the patient.

              1. The evidence used to make a non-police assault into a hate crime is the utterance of racist language.
                Has anyone heard any such language used in these supposedly racist motivated police encounters?
                If you want to claim there is racism, you need more than just the difference in the races, otherwise all the far more prevalent black on white crimes must be called hate crimes.

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              2. “but I reiterate that if you look for racism as *the* key explanatory factor in deaths in police custody you’ll be like a quack doctor giving the wrong medicine to the patient.”

                I agree. You’ll probably be a lot closer to the mark if you blame systemic racism. Pure and simple racism can be found in condemning blacks for their willingness to protest against police brutality, or ‘making it about race,’ unlike American whites who take it in stride and expect others to follow suit.

        2. “There was a candle light vigil for her in Australia.”

          OK, but that’s not what I’d call a riot. Would you?

          1. protest => candle => fire => arson => riot

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  3. “To the revolutionary, the pragmatist sounds too much like an apologist for the status quo.”

    I think the revolutionaries are serious about this. They see pragmatists as the enemy. Will the pragmatists respond by acknowledging they’re in a battle with the revolutionaries, and defend themselves accordingly?

    “To those who fear rule by the angry mob, the pragmatist has granted the mob’s premise and is simply bargaining about the timeline.”

    Of course, the reforms laid out by KMW aren’t going to appease the angry mob, so no need to worry on that score. All the pragmatists can do is reduce the mob’s support by making legitimate reforms. Then when the core mob members and leaders reject the reforms and keep “protesting,” maybe there will be more support for marginalizing the mob and enforcing the law against rioters.

    1. That all checks out.

    2. The left and the democratic party at large don’t truly want a real debate where all sides get to make points and ask questions, because they know full well that they can’t and won’t win one.

      An actual serious and sober discussion where nothing is off limits about why it is that so many interactions between cops and black male civilians seem to end up badly (and really the overwhelming majority don’t, but peaceful traffic stops where nothing happens don’t generate any clicks or eyeballs) would lead down thought roads they want absolutely no part of going down.

    3. “All the pragmatists can do is reduce the mob’s support by making legitimate reforms.”

      They don’t even have to do that. I think there’s an expression in the newspaper business, “two week wonder.” Even the most lurid story tends to disappear after a couple of weeks. The easiest reform would be to have police wait at least a couple of weeks between strangling people in the streets.

    4. Nice synopsis of what we hope will be the case. But the contemporary response has been knee jerk, making the problem larger than what it was before. For example, a Republican administration dismantled a perfectly functioning transportation security system operated by a privately run company simply because it “had to do something”. The result was that airport security was a shambles for 10 years after 9-11, so much so that twice I was able to misdirect the screener in order to protect 3 bottles of Central American rum that I neglected to transfer to my checked in suitcase.

      I expect our knee jerk politicians to follow what they do to stay in office.

  4. Pragmatist means focusing on the practical, right?

  5. The mistrust of police is increased because government uses them as, first, revenue assessors writing up tickets and, second, as revenue collectors.

    1. Criminalizing behavior lots and lots of people don’t actually think of as particularly criminal doesn’t endear the police to the citizenry either.

  6. This is a great topic. I am glad you wrote it.

    One problem… America did not get “distracted” by shinier, flashier things like “defund the police”.

    Defund the Police was never a serious proposal. It was intended as a provocation. That was the beginning and end of the point.

    The point of the protests is not “police reform”.

    Sure, there are plenty of “peaceful protesters” who came out because they saw footage of a cop with his knee on a man’s neck and wanted to express outrage and demand that it never happen again.

    But they are not in charge.

    The organizers of these protests, and the militant troops who push it forward into peacefully burning buildings have a different agenda. They want a remaking of society. They want a communist revolution.

    They are not really all that shy about it. They are not terribly reticent to talk about it, unless they are in the middle of a propaganda campaign and are being circumspect with the media.

    But that is why “defund the police”. The useful idiots in the DNC caucus sound ludicrous as they try to smush that slogan into some code word for reasonable expansion of social services. “Nobody actually means defund the police” they say. 5 minutes later one of the people actually on the side of the protesters comes out and says “No, we actually mean take all the funding away from the police. You must end it. It cannot be reformed.”

    The reason for all of this is that they need enemies to fight. You cannot have a passionate battle with victims to push forward if everyone agrees with you.

    So they don’t simply march and take the legislative victories they could have had 3 months ago.

    They burn buildings and loot Target.

    And that wasn’t enough.

    So they demand “defund the police”. That got a few more voices raised against them.

    But not enough.

    So they went to neighborhoods. They started filming themselves running up behind old white dudes and bashing them in the head with bricks.

    They demand a race war. This is why they went to Stone Mountain Park to demand that it be torn down. They want a counter protest.

    The leaders of the activist groups want war.

    The leaders of the DNC want angry black people.

    They think they are using the BLM/Antifa people. But they are starting to suspect that things might go both ways.

    So they see the polls move on this issue. And suddenly they pivot on a dime. They went from “antifa is a myth” and “there are no riots” to “Trump caused riots” and “white nationalists are burning our cities” in about 12 hours.

    In a way it was kind of comical to watch. Some folks like Brian Stelter had not gotten the memo yet and were still on the other talking points, so they were all over the place contradicting each other for about 12 hours. But now they are all back on message. We have always been at war with Eurasia. We have always been pressing Trump to do something about the violence. Trump has never tried to do anything about violence in the cities.

    They are playing a dangerous game, promoting these anarcho-communists and supporting their tactics. With the pandemic creating a ready group of unemployed young people, this might get beyond their ability to propaganda their way out of it.

    1. They, they, they. Who are these powerful leaders of these country-wide protests that seek to turn the U.S. into the next Soviet Union? It seems you should be able to list some names, yet I haven’t heard a single name in any of these jeremiads.

      1. You’ve already had the names and money trails elucidated to you dozens of times from public resources, and every time all you do is stick your fingers in your ears screaming LALALALALALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU and call everyone who isn’t as willfully retarded as you are a conspiracy theorist.

        Perhaps we could just play the same retarded game as you and ponder vocally how the fuck you get multiple-thousands of people simultaneously beating, murdering, raping, vandalizing, stealing, and burning down buildings simultaneously in a dozen major cities at the exact same time without the slightest hint of coordination or financial resources.

        1. Fuck off, Tulpa.

          1. No. Shove off, Wood.

            Jack’s right, this time at least.

    2. As Ted Wheeler recently found out, you can’t control the Red Guard. Now he’s moving out of Portland because the mostly peaceful protests make him unsafe.

  7. Anyone else notice the MSM and unreason have cut back on Kungflu articles?

    It’s almost like millions Americans dead doesn’t matter to these people.

    1. Yes. It is remarkable how the entire swath of major news outlets turn stories on and of in perfect synchrony. Over the last 3 weeks with the conventions they pivoted on a dime to amp up Covid stories to 11 when Trump seemed to be gaining ground on law and order themes. It went from “peaceful protests” to “mass death from the pandemic” in a matter of hours, across all outlets.

      Then the Kenosha shooting happened and they flipped back. Violent white nationalists are opening fire on peaceful protesters was the only story for a while. Even when someone got shot in Portland… until they figured out it was a Trump supporter. Then CNN couldn’t figure out exactly what happened, but their articles had descriptions of violent Trump supporters assaulting peaceful protesters who simply tossed objects at them. They still haven’t figured out where that fits, so that murder basically didn’t happen.

      Then it was all covid for 24-36 hours. Then Biden’s campaign came out with “This is Trump’s America” and they suddenly were all in on riots.

      The extremely tight timing of these changes and their complete synchrony means that there is some tight coordination going on. Most news stories take days to develop. Switching the theme on all networks simultaneously absent external developments would be impossible without some behind the scenes communication driving it.

      Yet nobody has come forward since journolist was exposed.

      1. It’s the cia. And I’m pretty sure they’ve managed to get in everyone media outlet’s pockets around the world. Possibly even China and Russia.

        1. Yeah, attempt deflection. But there is no way to explain what we see without some form of coordination.

          Someone gets shot at a protest, every news outlet is going to cover that immediately. That is not what I am talking about.

          On the same day, at the same time, every outlet shifted from “there are no riots”, “Trump is lying about peaceful protesters”, “Antifa is a myth” to a new narrative of “Trump has failed to do anything to stop these ongoing riots.” That cannot be explained by an ordinary course of events dictating the coverage.

          The exact same guy tells me “Antifa doesn’t exist and these are peaceful protests and Trump knows it” on Thursday night in response to Trump speaking about rioting by Antifa and then on Friday night he tells me “The President has failed to do anything to stop the violence and destruction in our cities, and this is because he wants the violence to help his re-election chances”. And all of his cohort does the same thing at the same time. That is not just “responding to events.” That is a coordinated effort at messaging across multiple outlets.

          This is not the first go-around on this. It has been fairly obvious since at least the late 80’s. When Clinton ran in 1992, his draft status was a fairly big story. He told some whoppers to avoid the story, hoping that nobody would dig further. They did. So every other week for a couple of months, Peter Jennings would tell me “Clinton never received a draft notice, but if he did, it would be really bad.” Then someone would produce a copy of the draft notice. And Peter Jennings would tell me “We always knew about that. It is old news. But he never received a second notice!” And then someone would produce that…. it went on for about 6 cycles of “that’s old news, but this part never happened”. Every news anchor read the same script. None of them even blushed at telling us that what they said last week never happened.

          Today it is much tighter and much faster. But if you don’t notice it, well,…. I cannot see how you can’t notice it. If you look at more than one news source, it screams off the page at you. I’m not sure why anyone would suspect that journolist simply disappeared because that one listserve got compromised.

          1. Those are just purely coincidental happenstances, like when a half dozen online software platforms simultaneously ban a dozen right-wing commentators at the exact same hour of the exact same day.

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        2. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence this has really ramped up since they legalized propaganda against Americans!

    2. Watching the wrong channel. Plenty of discussion on coronavirus. Also try your local paper, there an article everyday.

    3. Simple reason: news is new. Not much discussion today of the War of the Roses either.

      When the virus hit, it was the biggest news around, so it got the most attention. Then the lockdowns became the biggest news, but of course couldn’t be discussed while ignoring the virus.

      Then all the unemployed and isolated got restless, tensions rose, cops over-reacted more than normal, people over-reacted more than normal, the Burn Loot Murder squads saw an opportunity, politicians saw opportunities, and that became news.

      If any of this surprises you, then you’ve been rip-van-winkling too long.

      1. That perfectly explains the wild gyrations in coverage and red-herring diversions to “old news” when the “new news” is inconvenient to a psychotic Marxist narrative.

  8. Another phase in the pivot:

    This morning NBC news has a new segment. “America’s Cities: Fact vs Fiction”.

    today, Inside Portland, the Battle for the City.

    Remember the “mostly peaceful” mantra?

    Yeah, that’s gone. The entire B-roll was of windows being smashed and police firing tear gas.

    Simply watching the background footage it is clear what is happening. Police are randomly attacking peaceful protesters for no reason. Trump supporters are attacking peaceful protesters for no reason – well, other than to incite violence. And then some people got angry and broke windows.

    They have completely ret-conned the entire last 4 months. Now any violence is a response to heavy handed police tactics (in Portland, where the police have been ordered to stand by and watch, and where prosecutors refuse to prosecute anyone they do arrest … something that is so egregious and so pervasive that other departments have refused to put their officers in harm’s way under a request from the governor. They don’t want their people getting injured only to see the people assaulting them released with no charges the same day. )

    I’d really love to see an expose’ on the command and control of this propaganda machine. It has been just a couple of days, and the networks have all switched from “antifa is nonexistent, It is Trump’s fever dream” to “The cities are burning in Trump’s America because of his support of white nationalists”.

    It was just last week that CNN was being lampooned for the “Fiery peaceful protests in Portland” chiron over video of rioters burning buildings. Now they are all-in on the Biden slogan “this is Trump’s America”.

    Did none of them read Orwell? Or do they all see it as an instruction manual?

    What of the rest of us? Are we really such experts at double-think that we don’t remember what was being said by these same people 12 hours ago?

    1. Idk man – it seems like we should lead by example and not pay attention to MSM. I rarely check “the news” anymore. I guess you can’t avoid seeing headlines though. And wherever you get your news, they’ll still be reporting on the MSM’s reporting.

      It’s crazy because everyone I know thinks the MSM is a joke and profess they don’t trust it. Yet if they say something you want to hear, you’re all ears.

      They’ve really got us by the balls because of our apathy. This media shit can’t go on forever though and they know it. If it’s by design, then we can expect the media to continue to push to extremes until some Hegelian synthesis is provided – which will probably be something like government ran media.

      1. The problem is that “we the people” are the ultimate arbiters of government policy. We decide who will govern.

        And the entire point of the 4th estate was to ensure an informed populace.

        So how is this populace to make wise choices if they have a curated and crafted pile of information upon which to base those decisions? A pile which contains no truth, no light… only carefully selected tidbits designed to obtain a specific result.

        Where are we then?

        1. “Where are we then?”

          Disinformed and manipulated.

          1. For example, ENB this morning:
            “• D.C. police fatally shot a young black man in the back as he was running away from them. Deon Kay had just turned 18, according to his family. Police say they were called to the area “to investigate a man with a gun” and “upon arrival, officers encountered individuals in and around a vehicle.” When two of the men, including Kay, saw police and tried to leave the scene, the cops pursued and shot at them, killing Kay”

            Except Kay had a gun, which he was waving around at neighbors and the cops. And he wasn’t shot in the back.
            This was known, but unconfirmed, last night. Bodycam footage released today confirms it.
            But ENB runs with a completely fabricated narrative that presents the most inflammatory story possible.
            Reason is the MSM, but less honest

            1. Not lying about everything would probably be the best place to start on reform

    2. Read Red Horizons by Ion Mihai Pacepa if you want to know the origins of nearly the entirety of modern disinformation.

    3. While it’s clear that the current climate is caused by anti-capitalists, white nanny state actors and/or black culture, Reasons constant harping on alleged police misdeeds is strong evidence that they maintain sympathies for the big three above.

  9. We don’t need police reform, we need criminal justice reform. There’s just as many bad prosecutors and bad judges and bad legislators as there are bad cops. All of them have discretionary powers and the more it becomes obvious that they can’t arrest and prosecute and punish everybody for everything (Three Felonies A Day), the more it becomes obvious that they’re engaging in selective enforcement. It’s a basic, fundamental unfairness of the system and nobody respects that shit, nor should they.

    I don’t know what the answer to that is, any more than I know what the answer is to government over-spending is, but defunding the police sounds a lot like starving the beast. Give the police department 12 dollars and a stick – you can go hassle jaywalkers or you can go investigate a murder, your choice. But if you prioritize hassling jaywalkers over investigating a murder, we’re taking away the 12 dollars and the stick.

    1. This is the point.

      The cops go where they are told to go, and do what they are told to do. The biggest problem in their control is the complete lack of accountability. It is so pervasive that “3 month paid leave” is a standard joke around here.

      But other than that… the problems are all in the hands of the people who set the mission. And ultimately, that is us. And the courts.

      1. No, the cops don’t go where they’re told to go and do what they’re told to do, they can go there and do that – they have the discretion and they abuse the shit out of that discretion. They can’t bust every jaywalker out there, but they can bust your ass for jaywalking if for some reason they decide they want to bust your ass. And there’s a thousand other laws that they could nail you on if they decide they wanted to. So we all know that if they bust you for some petty-ass bullshit, it wasn’t simply because you were doing the thing, it’s because they decided they didn’t like you for some reason.

        1. Their boss decides whether they do jaywalking or prostitution or underage drinking. Remember how Giuliani reformulated policing in NYC? That was not the cops deciding what to do.

          If we end the war on drugs, the cops are not gearing up in paramilitary garb to do a 2 am raid on someone’s house because they received a suspicious fedex package.

          If their boss decides that they will not be using SWAT to serve all warrants, then SWAT won’t be serving all warrants.

          Those are the big problems. Sure, day to day a single cop can make someone’s life miserable simply because he is being an ass. That happens. We even have egregious examples where ex boyfriends stalk women or their new boyfriend, etc.

          But those are not systemic problems. Those can be fixed with the reforms about accountability.

          The big problems that get people killed and lives ruined are our fault. We support victimless crimes. We even demand harsher and harsher sentences. Even our drug reforms in the form of legalizing pot actually perpetuate a black market and prevent us from seeing the benefits that should accrue. Pogo was right.

          We support civil asset forfeiture. We support the use of police dogs as “contraband detectors” that get around the need for probable cause. This is all on the political leadership.

          The last mile… getting around the unions and holding individual cops accountable for bad behavior? That’s trivial by comparison.

          First, the layers of protection they enjoy are largely based upon the shared culpability of the system. If shooting your dog and stealing your pickup truck was completely off the reservation and not in service of the system, I doubt prosecutors, judges and unions would work so hard to protect those who do these things.

          The big problems are also the low hanging fruit. It would be really easy to strictly limit qualified immunity, scale back the use of “dynamic entry” raids, end the drug war, legalize prostitution, end civil asset forfeiture…. heck, all of that could be done by legislation in a week.

          Holding the ass who punched you because you gave him attitude accountable is more complicated, but it certainly would be easier in a world where these other issues are off the table. And we are already making progress on this front with body cameras and other reforms.

          1. Body cams need to be uploaded to the cloud via 5g and the cloud needs to be an independent 3rd party.

            Also, “what other reforms” are you speaking of?

            1. Other than civil asset forfeiture, the war on drugs, other victimless crimes like prostitution, violent entry raids in non-violent situations, qualified immunity for police, absolute immunity for judges, prosecutorial immunity for prosecutors, forensics reforms to make it an actual independent science, much greater circumspection about narcotics dog alerts as a predicate for a search….?

              I’m sure there are plenty of others.

              But those are all things that could be done by legislation from the top down, right now. They could be in place by the start of the next administration. (well… except that a lot of them are also local issues)

              Simply doing those things would remove a majority of the systemic problem, leaving only the old “bad apples” to deal with….which strictly enforced and accountable body cameras would go a very long way toward eliminating. Unions would be much easier to deal with in that world. So would the “thin blue line”.

              1. Yeah, “simply”.

                Things are the way they are because, worldwide, enough of the subject population wants to suppress deviants among them. What kind of deviants? Any kind. So all that matters is how much they’ll stand for hassling of non-deviants to make life hell for deviants.

                1. Roberta gets it.

                  Pogo said it in 1971.

          2. Almost got there. The final admission is that most of the policies in place that people don’t like are unopposed in the offices of government because nobody voted in any opposition. We are individually at fault. I think that’s the real reason for the vitriol. Most people don’t have the maturity to admit their own fault, but they know something is wrong and lash out.

            Look before you leap.

      2. “And ultimately, that is us. And the courts.”

        Ideally it would be us but in reality it is almost entirely “Men In Black” aka judges. Try taking a step toward control of the mission by handing out a pamphlet on jury nullification, in front of a court house, and see how that goes.

        1. The “How To” of Jury Nullification


          Simply advise on how to not get your nullification nullified by the judge.

          1. Username checks out.

    2. It’s the same with the judges and the prosecutors, they’re always complaining about how over-worked they are, too many cases and not enough staff. Yeah, that’s because you’re prosecuting shit that shouldn’t be a crime, stop prosecuting that shit. And as far as the legislators go, pass all the goddamn laws you want, we ain’t enforcing that shit and we ain’t prosecuting that shit. Go away, we already got too many goddamn laws, we don’t need more. It may make you feel all tingly inside to know that you’re passing a law that “does something”, but when we can’t enforce it, it ain’t really doing shit.

    3. Give the police department 12 dollars and a stick – you can go hassle jaywalkers or you can go investigate a murder, your choice. But if you prioritize hassling jaywalkers over investigating a murder, we’re taking away the 12 dollars and the stick.

      Of course, they’ll still choose to hassle jaywalkers because that’s a citable offense that will produce revenue. Investigating murders doesn’t produce revenue. And the politicians won’t take away their 12 dollars and the stick because “look at all the revenue they’re generating ticketing people for jaywalking.”

  10. Ultimately, the people who escape blame are the politicians. Police officers take the brunt of the blame (they do pull the triggers). But Mayors, City Councilmen and Governors sit on their shoulders. The Police are law enforcement officers. Politicians make the law.

    In my 59+ years, I have seen a steady steam of well intentioned laws that led us to this point. From the War on Drugs to the War on Terror, we have used the same playbook to address the numerous ills of society. But as the laws have piled on top of one another, we have somehow lost the plot. As the saying goes, a Grand Jury can indict a ham sandwich. When an inanimate object can be indicted, the law has become arbitrary.

    The libertarian problem is that it is extremely hard to convince most people that fewer laws are better. A local talk show host used to say that as long as you don’t violate a person’s life. liberty or property – you were free to go about your business. I am not sure that Woketarians or Trumpatarians would agree.

    1. But the “ills of society” are almost all accounted for by one thing: People Different From You.

  11. This article misses the whole point of police reform.
    The only thing that matters is that cops stop arresting, or even talking to, young black men committing crimes.
    There are no riots when asset forfeiture steals a man’s life savings.
    There are no riots when cops get away with rape by qualified immunity.
    There are no riots when a cop retires with a six figure pension from padding overtime hours in the last three years.
    All that has to be fixed to stop the riots is for cops to leave the blacks alone.
    (and maybe repeal all gun control laws)

    1. No one riots when whites get hassled by police, either. Or when blacks shoot blacks.

      Which tells you, it’s not a police reform movement. It’s racist violence masquerading as anti-racist reform.

  12. Libertarian Party VP Candidate Endorses Joe Biden For President

    At least Weld isn’t on the ballot like he was when he endorsed Hitlery in 2016.

  13. Reason has been carrying this torch for a long time, in preparation for the moment when mainstream political culture and elected officials were ready to hear us out.

    And it’s starting to look like you’ll be waiting another 50 years or so. And probably not even then.

    1. This.

      and you need to drop the “formerly” from your handle if you are going to make comments like that.

  14. Great posts, Cyto. A lot of meat on your proposals.

    I’d add a point that John brought up a week or two ago, concerning police use of force. Roughly paraphrasing, his point was that the cops are scared shitless of the people they are ostensibly serving and protecting. That fear drives a bunch of the ‘warrior cop’ ideas, the overwhelming use of force towards anything that might be perceived as a risk to officer safety.

    His idea was twofold. First, make it absolutely clear that a cop is a cop: bright unmistakable uniforms, big lettering, lots of flashing lights, etc… So, no unmarked units making arrests, no 3 AM raids for dope, no undercover guys expecting people to surrender to arrest.

    Second, throw not just the book, but the entire library, at anyone violently resisting a lawful arrest, and make it known that will happen from now on. If you pull a knife on a cop, expect to get shot. Or expect to go away for a long time. (Keeping the provably violent locked up until they age out of being an asshole, would help here too.)

    Have those two things, in addition to your reforms, and we’ll have a police force far less twitchy and willing to blast people. We should also have far fewer people willing to fight cops.

    Race has, and should have, nothing to do with this. Except as a precis for culture, which is a problem. Inner city (or holler, or barrio), violent honor culture absolutely has to be addressed if we want to address the problem of violent crime in this country.

    1. I’m not keen on the second proposal because I know for a fact the cops declare anything that doesn’t result in instant, rag doll compliance to screamed, conflicting commands as “resisting arrest”. I get what John is saying. I do note you have the qualifier “violently resisting” so that helps, but I’m just saying we need to step carefully on that.

      1. Yeah, it sounds really good…

        But we have all seen the times where police claim “resisting arrest” when they were just tuning some dude up. They even have whole strategies for that sort of thing… like the casual nutshot to get the handcuffed prisoner to resist so you can slam him around some.

        Like anything – this would definitely be abused and cause unintended harm.

        Resisting arrest with force is already a bigger crime than most of the crimes folks are being arrested for though… so we may be good on that half.

  15. If You Want to Fix Policing, Listen to the Pragmatists

    So don’t listen to Mother Jones because even if you hate Qualified Immunity as I do, it doesn’t “give cops a free pass”. That is a false statement.

    1. I love mother .. because even though they have a solidly left point of view, they write interesting pieces about odd subjects and don’t always go with straight propaganda.

      Honest lefty news is a good thing. Propaganda is not.

      1. As do I. But the “qualified immunity” gives cops a free pass trope needs to go away, because it’s dishonest or just plain wrong. It gives them close to a free pass for being named directly in lawsuits. It does not stop the agency or municipality from disciplining or firing them, and it does not shield them from criminal prosecutions.

  16. Good article, likely difficult to implement. I see qualified immunity and unions as something the rank and file police are likely to resist, because everyone wants to know someone will have your back. There is always the fear that I could be unjustly accused. Were any of the pragmatist contributing present or former police officer that could suggest a way to cull problem officer and reassure other officer that they can make decision they need to make?

    1. Yeah, you cannot completely eliminate qualified immunity. There is no way to field a police force if every interaction with the public could bankrupt you.

      But we need a lot more emphasis on that “qualified” part. Right now, they let a couple of guys walk on stealing a quarter million because it wasn’t an established violation of someone’s rights to steal a quarter million dollars from them. That’s just ludicrous.

      1. Get rid of immunity and you’ll have insurance companies move from covering the municipality to covering the officers. Their unions will cover the insurance premiums, which will ultimately come from funds from the public.

        It’s not about shifting responsibility or costs related to lawsuits, because both already exist.

        No, if you really want to eliminate bad behavior, the unions need to be eliminated. They’re the key.

    2. It will be resisted because other government agencies (and their personnel) benefit from Qualified Immunity. The unions will never let a single Democrat produce any legislation that nullifies it, let alone clip its wings.

      QI is NOT just a police phenomenon, it protects teachers and social workers, and you know how powerful the teacher’s union is.

    3. Shorter: Civil Servant unions across the land have clamped onto qualified immunity like a Belgian Malinois, and they ain’t letting go.

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  18. when the Ruling Class no longer requires police protection there might be reform

    1. I too dream of a world where Senators and Congressmen need no protection because they’re such inconsequential creatures that nobody would bother attacking them.

  19. Police are well trained and professional and don’t need to be reformed or defunded. We just need to gradually decriminalize (drugs, guns, sex, etc) as we gradually reduce funding. The people are responsible and civilized and we don’t need to be patrolled and controlled like we used to. All these proposals for reforms are so disappointing. We’ve forgotten that we’re libertarians and believe in smaller government. It’s really that simple.

    As for ending qualified immunity – terrible idea. It will be much harder to attract qualified people. In fact part of the reason that ‘well regulated militias’ aren’t protecting our downtowns from looters is that it’s a very risky proposition if there’s a conflict and someone gets hurt. So hard working Americans don’t want to take a chance and instead demand the police (or national guard) handles it. Which is fine. But even if Rittenhouse is a hero, we don’t want a police force of guys like him willing to risk it all.

    Everyone is scared of Judgment Day so they spew myriad plans and proposals to stave it off. But it’s really simple: decriminalize.

  20. If You Want to Fix Policing, Listen to the Pragmatists

    Most Americans don’t have any contact with the police, and when they do (e.g., for a speeding ticket), they are polite, behave themselves, and get on with their lives. Most people don’t travel around with tens of thousands of dollars in cash because it’s plain stupid and unnecessary. And when police officers or departments misbehave, we have courts and elections to address that.

    You can make libertarian arguments or principled arguments that things should be different, and some of those I’m even sympathetic to. But the very idea that we need a massive overhaul of policing is the very opposite of pragmatic. The pragmatic thing to do about policing is… nothing at all, beyond local elections and the courts.

    1. “And when police officers or departments misbehave, we have courts and elections to address that.”
      That absolutely qualifies as the most naive & flat out stupid statement I’ve ever heard.

  21. There is only one way to fix this and that is to destroy the B.A.R. Association, expose them for the outright treason & sedition they’ve perpetrated against the American People & restore constitutional law.
    Nothing less is acceptable.

    1. The “law” is such a beautiful justification for busybodies to initiate violence.
      “Laws are maintained in credit, not because they are essentially just, but because they are laws. It is the mystical foundation of their authority; they have none other.” ~ Michel de Montaigne
      “When law and morality contradict each other the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his sense of morality or losing his respect of the law.” — Frederic Bastiat
      There were some people in the 1940’s who chose “rule of law” over rule of conscience. They called themselves Nazi’s and their decision to ignore their conscience got them hung.
      “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.” ~ Albert Einstein

      1. Who said anything about ignoring conscience? Any law that contradicts morality, is no law at all, fraudulent and void, which essentially describes the entire body of the BAR Association’s malum prohibitum statutory code.
        Constitutional law, for man, is the law of nature. Nobody needs to write down and codify what is wrong, as any man with any sense would automatically know it was wrong, because it would be immoral.

  22. So sad. We are worried about a few mistakes made by police in the line of duty, which is seldom black and white…more grayish at times, while 200,000-300,000 people are killed by fixable medical errors every year in this country. We are burning, rioting, looting, beating up people to protest a few killings, of which we don’t have ALL the pertinent facts, and fostering hate and racism (thank you fake TV news). It’s not so much the police need fixing, it’s the Supreme Court ruling that leaves them un-accountable for their actions. Being a cop is no easy task and I am sure there are some who love to exploit the power they believe they have. It’s up to the individual communities to keep watch over the police. Then again, it’s like most everything else (group-wise)…a protected brotherhood where things often get swept under the rug.

    1. “A few mistakes made by police”??? Are you stark raving mad?
      They’re sociopaths. Sadistic, psychotic criminals. Virtually all of them.

    2. The medical error frequency is based on a myth that adverse outcomes are preventable 100% of the time. They aren’t.

      If you excluded adverse outcomes involving judgment and individual reactions to medical decisions, the frequency of serious medical errors drops to tens per year. The system is safe.

  23. Reading all comments I’d say those bad cops, judges, politicians are all reflective of many peoples desires. After all; Those crooked SOB’s were ALL elected by the people thus the more crooked the population the more crooked the leadership. Which would also lead into why Democratic hellh*les are ripe with this kind of injustice. It’s like having prisoners electing their own leadership/law… 🙂

    Nothing worse than living in a population with a majority of “gimme, gimme, gimme” mentalities (i.e. Democrats). UN-Just, UN-Constitutional Socialistic policy (legal enslavement) empowers this mentality as did the Obama Administration. My only hope is everyone can learn basic ethics of if you didn’t earn it you don’t deserve it.

  24. You ladies at Reason don’t know what fights are like or what the streets are like. I’d guess that you wear your lace panties to war as well. Here are a few inconvenient questions for you. Were the police who committed the horrific acts responding to calls? Why didn’t they just eat donuts and declare the NHI (No Humans Involved)? Were the dead men on drugs and did they have records confrontations and abuses? Are you willing to demonstrate some nice way to deal with black men out of their minds on PCP or fentynal?

    1. Ask Navy veteran Dennis Tuttle and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas.

  25. “Does it not seem a vast waste of valuable human material that the pioneers of thought, those who by their genius dare to clear unknown paths in the arts and sciences and in government, should have to conform to the dictates of that non-creative, slow-moving mass, the majority? An appeal to the majority is a resort to force and not an appeal to intelligence; the majority is always ignorant, and by increasing the majority we multiply ignorance. The majority is incapable of initiative, its attitude being one of opposition toward everything that is new. If it had been left to the majority, the world would never have had the steamboat, the railroad, the telegraph, or any of the conveniences of modern life.” ~ Charles Sprading

  26. End the War on Drugs and the rest will fall into place.

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