X Welcome to International Affairs Forum

International Affairs Forum a platform to encourage a more complete understanding of the world's opinions on international relations and economics. It presents a cross-section of all-partisan mainstream content, from left to right and across the world.

By reading International Affairs Forum, not only explore pieces you agree with but pieces you don't agree with. Read the other side, challenge yourself, analyze, and share pieces with others. Most importantly, analyze the issues and discuss them civilly with others.

And, yes, send us your essay or editorial! Students are encouraged to participate.

Please enter and join the many International Affairs Forum participants who seek a better path toward addressing world issues.
Fri. October 23, 2020
Get Published   |   About Us   |   Support Us   | Login   | Join Mailing List
International Affairs Forum
IAF Articles
Disarming the Police
Comments (0)

Abstract

In this article, I argue that police officers should no longer be permitted to carry guns on duty because they present an actual and perceived danger to citizens. The actual danger is in their capacity to arbitrarily kill or harm citizens, and to be justified by the state to do so. The perceived danger occurs when the population, specifically minority communities, have an immense and justified fear of the police as a result of the actual danger that impacts their emotional health and everyday lives. This danger undermines the role that police should play in an ideal democratic society, as well as violates citizen’s rights to life, proper mental health, education, work, etc...

This paper seeks to address how the combination of the immense power police officers currently possess and the history of unfair treatment and misconduct towards a select group of citizens goes against the core ideals of a democracy. The article starts by explaining the history of organized police forces informed by Garry Potter, revealing that they were not created out of necessity to protect citizens, but out of desire to suppress the working class and racial minorities. Then it seeks to highlight the extent to which police misconduct plays a role in the U.S. using statistics on police brutality, as well as the causes and effects of the misconduct using data from Kenneth Lawson on implicit biases, highlighting the impact of shootings on racial minorities and lower income communities. Then it argues the importance of addressing this problem as a moral duty to maintain the proper relationship between government and citizens and presents examples in other countries where police officers aren’t armed. Lastly, it addresses the drawbacks to implementing this policy, as well as what else would need to happen in order for it to work.

History

In order to understand this solution, we have to consider what the purpose of police and government should be. We have governments to promote the protection of life and property, as Thomas Paine puts it.[1] Likewise, the ideal purpose of a police force, according to Frank J. Remington, is a way to enforce laws that are created to protect the life and property of citizens.[2] The government and police ought to protect citizens and considering the immense power and authority people place on the government, it is imperative that they are held accountable to their purpose.

In contrast, the police force in the United States was not created and developed out of necessity to reduce crime or protect citizens, but mainly out of the interests of business owners during the 1830s. Wanting to “ensure a stable and orderly workforce,” powerful individuals pushed for the centralization of what began as nightly watch groups.[3] This quickly developed into a war against “dangerous classes,” which targeted the lower class, immigrants, and African Americans.[4] Additionally, police became closely tied with corruption, and local politicians would use them to advance their own interests. Increases in police power and force followed the need to maintain the economic interests of business owners and corrupt politicians, not an increase in crime. In fact, 19th and 20th century police were the “primary instruments for the creation of corruption in the first place.”[5] During this time, police began carrying arms before it became department policy.[6]

The police weren’t created, centralized, nor armed out of necessity to protect citizens. They were used by corrupt government figures and people with economic power to further their own economic interests, further organized crime, and suppress the working class. Arms were not necessary at the time, but became department policy after police armed themselves. While this might not fully reflect the role and attitude of the police today, it certainly establishes that the extent of their force and jurisdiction was not necessary in preventing or reducing crime, and was given to them for reasons other than improving the citizen’s protection and quality of life.

Police Today

Police overuse of force is still a problem today. 717 people have been shot by police just in 2019, and the last four years have seen that number reach nearly 1000 by the end of the year. [7] The impacts of police use of force continue to disproportionately impact people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, and the LGBTQ communities, who are more likely to experience violence from the officers.[8] This is partly due to implicit biases of police officers that cause them to unconsciously view these groups with mistrust.[9] This is not unique to police officers, as a study done by Joshua Correll revealed that people are more likely to shoot a black man than a white man regardless of their own race.[10] While individuals, police included, might not explicitly be racist, implicit biases that are a result of centuries of cultural influences play a role in their decision making. This emphasizes the need to not only address the root of the problem itself, which is this implicit bias, but it calls for the need to minimize the detrimental impacts of the problem to most effectively preserve the rights of citizens.

These implicit biases lead to a big problem with police brutality that have serious impacts on the health of black communities specifically. Police misconduct and brutality have “adverse physiological responses that increase morbidity,”  and also lead to  “racist public reactions that cause stress;... arrests, incarcerations, and legal, medical, and funeral bills that cause financial strain; and... integrated oppressive structures that cause systematic disempowerment.”[11]  This relationship between police and the black community has negative effects on their health, depriving them of “the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”[12] It also violates the right to economic development, work, and even self-determination, as people cannot have proper control over their personal and work lives if they are constantly worried about their family, friends, or themselves being pulled over by a police officer for no reason.

Despite this prevalent problem, the police force continues to be increasingly militarized in an effort to fight the war on drugs and increase both police and public safety.[13] In 2017, Trump and Sessions reversed a previous restriction on transferring “explosives, battering rams, riot helmets and shields” from the military to federal, state, and local police agencies, allowing police to use weapons that are “typically used in warfare” in a community setting to ensure public safety.[14] However, militarization doesn’t increase public safety, nor does it have an impact on police safety.[15] In instances were the equipment was used, people responded more violently towards the police, and within-agency violent crimes rose, putting them in more danger.[16]   It also has a negative impact on police reputation and their relationship with their community.[17]

This describes the “weapons effect” in which “ militarized policing can greatly escalate situations that might otherwise end peacefully.”[18] Arming police officers leads to the perception that the public is an enemy and that the police must maintain the control that they’re granted over the people.

This militarization of the police force violates the Convention Against Torture drafted by the UN and which the U.S. is a state party to. According to the convention,  “the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person... for any reason based on discrimination of any kind” and “is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”[19] Police misconduct, namely police killings, has serious detrimental effects on the physical and mental state of citizens, and disproportionately affects lower income communities and racial minorities, all under the authority of the federal and state government. Additionally, United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, stated that "any unnecessary, excessive or otherwise arbitrary use of force by law enforcement officials is incompatible with the absolute prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,"[20] meaning the intense militiarization and misconduct of the U.S. police force is an act of torture and should be avoided at all costs to ensure the citizen’s safety and right to not be subjected to torture that is guaranteed by article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.           

Solution

It’s apparent that the police are not fulfilling their purpose. Only 45% of Hispanics and 30% of blacks as of 2017 had confidence in the police.[21] It is evident through the citizens not having trust in their law enforcement as well as the negative mental effects caused by the police and inflicted on the citizens that the police are not effectively making certain citizens feel protected. Additionally, any form of police misconduct is government-sanctioned misconduct, or government-sanctioned deprivation of life and property or security. Every life taken by police as a result of shootings is insitution-sanctioned murder. 43% of people killed by police in 2019 were fleeing the scene and 44% were unarmed, posing little threat to the police officers themselves.[22] Even if this percentage was much lower, the act of the government giving an officer the authority to take the life of a citizen is unjustifiable, and action would still need to be taken to prevent it.

Disarming the police force would minimize the possibility of the implicit biases of individual officers to result in fatalities among citizens. Police would no longer be given the power by the government to easily and arbitrarily take the life of a citizen. This would decrease the serious impacts of discrimination, and citizen trust and relationship with their police will be stregnthened. Overall, this would ensure a more democratic form of law enforcement, one in which both the police and the government are held accountable to their purpose.

Policy and Feasibility

To get an idea of  what this looks like implemented in  society, we can look at a few countries whose police don’t carry arms. In the U.K., only specialist officers are permitted to carry arms, and the majority of police officers prefer it that way.[23] As a result, in 2012, only one person was fatally shot by police, compared to 409 in the U.S... Iceland’s police are unarmed as well, and despite it being the 15th most armed country per capita, crime rates are low and as of 2013, only one person had been shot and killed by the police.[24] A professor in New Zealand, John Buttle, makes the case against arming the police, stating that arming the police would “lead to an arms race with criminals and a spike in casualties.”

Other changes

Of course, there are significant differences between these countries and the U.S. that would make implementing this policy difficult in the U.S. For example, Iceland is a very small, homogenous country that doesn’t deal with inequality to the extent that the U.S. does. Iceland’s low crime rates are thought to be a result of their low levels of inequality and strong welfare system, suggesting it’d be infeasible in the U.S.[25]

There would have to be other changes that accompany this policy, namely gun reform that restricts gun use among citizens. Additionally, efforts to decrease income inequality and education inequality would be necessary to form a more egalitarian society similar to what Iceland has. Legalization of victimless crimes would minimize mass incarceration and prevent the cycle of poverty. Lastly, while training alone is “an inadequate method of preventing police misconduct,” some sort of training on de escalation has the potential and promise to be valuable.[26]

Conclusion

While it would take a lot of effort and resources to enact this policy, it is imperative that we do so. As I said earlier, the government is supposed to keep themselves and other people from infringing on other people’s rights, and the capacity of an officer to arbitrarily take the life of a citizen is unjustifiable. Police authority and use of force had been established not out of necessity or for the protection of the citizens, but out of the interests of corrupt politicians and businessmen. To this day, their authority continues to grow with the glut militarization of federal, state, and local police forces, despite concerns with police misconduct, specifically, police shootings. Armed officers aren’t the root of the problem, and taking guns away alone wouldn’t eliminate misconduct as a whole or eliminate inequality and biases. However, since the primary need for guns nowadays stems from crime, which stems from poverty,  which is a result of inequality, a lack of job opportunities, and systemic racism, looking at the issue of armed officers forces us to address the roots of the problem and form a society in which it is possible for officers and citizens to not carry arms. In the meanwhile, disarming officers would take away the fatal capabilities of the problem itself. For the sake of demanding the protection of the lives and properties of our citizens, as well as holding the government accountable to its purpose and ensuring a more ideal democracy, we must disarm our police officers.

Olivia Fergerstrom is a sophomore at William and Mary University.

 

Bibliography

Alang, Sirry, et al. "Police Brutality and Black Health: Setting the Agenda for Public Health Scholars." American Journal of Public Health, vol. 107, no. 5, 2017, pp. 662-665. ProQuest, https://proxy.wm.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1880081194?accountid=15053, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303691.

Akpan, Nsikan. “Police Militarization Fails to Protect Officers and Targets Black Communities, Study Finds.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, August 21, 2018. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/police-militarization-fails-to-protect-officers-and-targets-black-communities-study-finds.

“Arbitrary Police Violence Can Amount to Torture, Even in Public Spaces, UN Expert Warns.” OHCHR. OHCHR, October 13, 2017. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22235&LangID=E.

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1.1)

“Fatal Force: 2019 Police Shootings Database.” The Washington Post. WP Company, January 2, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/police-shootings-2019/.

Engel R. S., McManus H. D., Herold T. D. (2019). ‘The Deafening Demand for De-Escalation

           Training: A Systematic Review and Call for Evidence in Police Use of Force Reform.’            

          Unpublished manuscript, IACP/UC Center for Police Research and Policy, Cincinnati, OH

“Fact Sheet 31: The Right to Health.” Human Rights Documents Online, June 2008. https://doi.org/10.1163/2210-7975_hrd-4012-3003.

Goldman, Adam. “Trump Reverses Restrictions on Military Hardware for Police.” The New York Times. The New York Times, August 28, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/us/politics/trump-police-military-surplus-equipment.html.

Hassonjee, Arva. “Militarization of Police Fails to Enhance Safety, May Harm Police Reputation.” Princeton University. The Trustees of Princeton University, August 21, 2018. https://www.princeton.edu/news/2018/08/21/militarization-police-fails-enhance-safety-may-harm-police-reputation.

James, Nathan. “Public Trust and Law Enforcement— A Discussion for Policymakers.” Congressional Research Service, December 13, 2018.

K, D. “Trigger Happy.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, August 15, 2014. https://www.economist.com/democracy-in-america/2014/08/15/trigger-happy.

Llana, Sara M. “Lots of Guns, Little Violence: Shooting Highlights Armed but Peaceful Iceland.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 2013. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2013/1203/Lots-of-guns-little-violence-Shooting-highlights-armed-but-peaceful-Iceland.

Maule, Brian A. Police Misconduct in Brooklyn: Documenting, Understanding and Preventing. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2017.

Mummolo, Jonathan. “Militarization Fails to Enhance Police Safety or Reduce Crime but May Harm Police Reputation.” PNAS. National Academy of Sciences, September 11, 2018. https://www.pnas.org/content/115/37/9181.

Nix, Justin, Bradley A. Campbell, Edward H. Byers, and Geoffrey P. Alpert. “A Birds Eye View of Civilians Killed by Police in 2015.” Criminology & Public Policy 16, no. 1 (2017): 309–40. https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-9133.12269.

Noack, Rick. “5 Countries Where Most Police Officers Do Not Carry Firearms - and It Works Well.” The Washington Post. WP Company, April 19, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/18/5-countries-where-police-officers-do-not-carry-firearms-and-it-works-well/.

Potter, Garry. “The History of Policing in the United States, Part 1.” Police Studies Online. Eastern Kentucky University, June 25, 2013. https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/history-policing-united-states-part-1.

Purnell, Derecka, and Marbre Stahly-butts. “The Police Can't Solve the Problem. They Are the Problem.” The New York Times. The New York Times, September 26, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/opinion/the-police-cant-solve-the-problem-they-are-the-problem.html.

Remington, Frank J. “The Role of Police in a Democratic Society.” The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 56, no. 3 (1965): 361. https://doi.org/10.2307/1141253.

 

 

[1] Paine, Thomas, 1737-1809. Thomas Paine's Common Sense : the Call to Independence. Woodbury, N.Y. :Barron's Educational Series, inc., 1975.

[2] Remington, Frank J. “The Role of Police in a Democratic Society.” The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 56, no. 3 (1965): 361. https://doi.org/10.2307/1141253.

[3] Potter, Garry. “The History of Policing in the United States, Part 1.” Police Studies Online. Eastern Kentucky University, June 25, 2013. https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/history-policing-united-states-part-1.

[4] Potter, Garry. “The History of Policing in the United States, Part 2.” Police Studies Online. Eastern Kentucky University, July 02, 2013. https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/history-policing-united-states-part-1.

[5] Potter, Garry. “The History of Policing in the United States, Part 4.” Police Studies Online. Eastern Kentucky University, July 16, 2013. https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/history-policing-united-states-part-1.

[6] Potter, Garry. “The History of Policing in the United States, Part 3.” Police Studies Online. Eastern Kentucky University, July 09, 2013. https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/history-policing-united-states-part-1.

[7] “Fatal Force: 2019 Police Shootings Database.” The Washington Post. WP Company, January 2, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/police-shootings-2019/.

[8] Purnell, Derecka, and Marbre Stahly-butts. “The Police Can't Solve the Problem. They Are the Problem.” The New York Times. The New York Times, September 26, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/opinion/the-police-cant-solve-the-problem-they-are-the-problem.html.

[9] Nix, Justin, Bradley A. Campbell, Edward H. Byers, and Geoffrey P. Alpert. “A Birds Eye View of Civilians Killed by Police in 2015.” Criminology & Public Policy 16, no. 1 (2017): 309–40. https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-9133.12269.

[10] Kenneth Lawson, "Police Shooting of Black Men and Implicit Racial Bias: Can't We All Just Get Along," University of Hawai'i Law Review 37, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 339-380

[11] Alang, Sirry, et al. "Police Brutality and Black Health: Setting the Agenda for Public Health Scholars." American Journal of Public Health, vol. 107, no. 5, 2017, pp. 662-665. ProQuest, https://proxy.wm.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1880081194?accountid=15053, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303691.

[12] “Fact Sheet 31: The Right to Health.” Human Rights Documents Online, June 2008. https://doi.org/10.1163/2210-7975_hrd-4012-3003.

[13] Akpan, Nsikan. “Police Militarization Fails to Protect Officers and Targets Black Communities, Study Finds.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, August 21, 2018. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/police-militarization-fails-to-protect-officers-and-targets-black-communities-study-finds.

[14] Goldman, Adam. “Trump Reverses Restrictions on Military Hardware for Police.” The New York Times. The New York Times, August 28, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/us/politics/trump-police-military-surplus-equipment.html.

[15] Hassonjee, Arva. “Militarization of Police Fails to Enhance Safety, May Harm Police Reputation.” Princeton University. The Trustees of Princeton University, August 21, 2018. https://www.princeton.edu/news/2018/08/21/militarization-police-fails-enhance-safety-may-harm-police-reputation.

[16] Mummolo, Jonathan. “Militarization Fails to Enhance Police Safety or Reduce Crime but May Harm Police Reputation.” PNAS. National Academy of Sciences, September 11, 2018. https://www.pnas.org/content/115/37/9181.

[17]  Akpan, Nsikan. “Police Militarization Fails to Protect Officers and Targets Black Communities, Study Finds.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, August 21, 2018. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/police-militarization-fails-to-protect-officers-and-targets-black-communities-study-finds.

[18] Joseph B. Doherty, "Us vs. Them: The Militarization of American Law Enforcement and the Psychological Effect on Police Officers and Civilians," Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal 25, no. 2 (Spring 2016): 415-450

[19] Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1.1)

[20] “Arbitrary Police Violence Can Amount to Torture, Even in Public Spaces, UN Expert Warns.” OHCHR. OHCHR, October 13, 2017. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22235&LangID=E.

[21]  James, Nathan. “Public Trust and Law Enforcement— A Discussion for Policymakers.” Congressional Research Service, December 13, 2018.

[22]  “Fatal Force: 2019 Police Shootings Database.” The Washington Post. WP Company, January 2, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/police-shootings-2019/.

[23] K, D. “Trigger Happy.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, August 15, 2014. https://www.economist.com/democracy-in-america/2014/08/15/trigger-happy. ; Noack, Rick. “5 Countries Where Most Police Officers Do Not Carry Firearms - and It Works Well.” The Washington Post. WP Company, April 19, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/18/5-countries-where-police-officers-do-not-carry-firearms-and-it-works-well/.

[24] Noack, Rick. “5 Countries Where Most Police Officers Do Not Carry Firearms - and It Works Well.” The Washington Post. WP Company, April 19, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/18/5-countries-where-police-officers-do-not-carry-firearms-and-it-works-well/. ; Llana, Sara M. “Lots of Guns, Little Violence: Shooting Highlights Armed but Peaceful Iceland.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 2013. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2013/1203/Lots-of-guns-little-violence-Shooting-highlights-armed-but-peaceful-Iceland.

[25] Noack, Rick. “5 Countries Where Most Police Officers Do Not Carry Firearms - and It Works Well.” The Washington Post. WP Company, April 19, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/18/5-countries-where-police-officers-do-not-carry-firearms-and-it-works-well/.

[26] Maule, Brian A. Police Misconduct in Brooklyn: Documenting, Understanding and Preventing. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2017. ; Engel R. S., McManus H. D., Herold T. D. (2019). ‘The Deafening Demand for De-Escalation Training: A Systematic Review and Call for Evidence in Police Use of Force Reform.’ Unpublished manuscript, IACP/UC Center for Police Research and Policy, Cincinnati, OH

Comments in Chronological order (0 total comments)

Report Abuse
Contact Us | About Us | Support Us | Terms & Conditions Twitter Facebook Get Alerts Get Published

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2002 - 2020