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Do We Really Need Police?

What is the point of having police? In an earlier blog, I discussed the nature of our war on drugs and its costs in both human and monetary terms. And then, yesterday, the Supreme Court finally got around to deciding that the second amendment, like the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, has been incorporated by the fourteenth amendment. What this means is that the second amendment operates against state and local governments, just like it does against the federal government. Which got me thinking about some of their other decisions, particularly the one that stated that the police have no duty to protect anyone from crime.

So I started doing a little research into police in general. For example, every year in America, 6,000 killers get away with murder. Even though the overall homicide rate has fallen in the past few years, the percentage of homicides that go unsolved in the United States has risen alarmingly. Even with all the DNA analysis and forensic science, and all that cool gadgetry we see on TV, police fail to make an arrest in more than one-third of all homicides. National clearance rates for murder and manslaughter have fallen from about 90 percent in the 1960s to below 65 percent in recent years.

In many big cities, like Boston and San Francisco, over half of homicides go unsolved. Nearly 185,000 killings went unsolved from 1980 to 2008. In 2008, police solved 35 percent of the homicides in Chicago, 22 percent in New Orleans and 21 percent in Detroit. Experts say that homicides are tougher to solve now because crimes of passion have been replaced by drug- and gang-related killings.

And yet, in the face of all that, the police departments keep asking for more. And they’re not ashamed to admit it.

“If I had a magic wand, I’d ask for more money so I could hire more officers. We just need more of everything,” said one police chief.

And don’t think it’s just murder. Nearly 90,000 women reported they were raped in the United States last year. It is estimated another 75,000 – out of a total of 164,240 – rapes went unreported. Yet there were only about 22,000 rape arrests – that is only a 25 percent arrest rate.

Also in the news recently was the conviction of a high-ranking Chicago police official for torturing suspects.

But there’s more. In addition to not having to protect you, and then not solving the case should you be killed, they use selective enforcement of traffic laws to raise money. Doubt it? In August 2008 Illinois governor, Ron Blagojevich, admitted planning to use traffic enforcement cameras as a “fundraiser.” First year revenue for these cameras in Illinois is expected to reach 40 million dollars. And the cameras are dangerous, according to some studies.

A study of red light cameras in Washington, D.C. by the Washington Post found that these cameras did not reduce injuries or collisions. The number of accidents actually increased. Red light cameras in Portland, OR produced a 140% increase in rear end collisions. Another study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council found that though red light cameras decreased collisions resulting from people running red lights, they significantly increased the number of accidents overall.

I had a conversation with a police chief locally a while back. I asked him what could be done about illegal fireworks, which makes some areas around here sound like a war zone. He looked at me, and with all serious, said, “Not a damn thing.” And yet our local police department has handed out 180 tickets in the last two months to people who park so as to block part of the sidewalk.

So the upshot of it all is this. The police have no duty to protect you, and based on crime statistics, they don’t. If you are the victim of a crime, they probably won’t solve it. They can’t protect you from traffic accidents, and in some places they even make it more likely you’ll be involved in an accident. They can’t even prevent minor nuisances, like fireworks, from disturbing the peace. Yet they are widely hailed as heroes, and they routinely pick the taxpayers pockets for more and more money, using the boogeyman of crime in the streets.

Given the massive amount of revenue-producing traffic enforcement, and the probabilities of traffic accidents caused by enforcement cameras, most of us have more to worry about from the police than from criminals.

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