After the trial and conviction of Derek Chauvin, I have had some time to think about a new model for policing. Policing in America should not be a profession because it tends to attract authoritarian types of people. The power of arrest has the tendency to make some feel as if they are above the law and some actually derive pleasure from making other people suffer. With this in mind, I have begun to explore two concepts: policing as a volunteer service and policing as a service requirement of citizenship. There are relative merits and demerits to both but they mostly address the problems associated with career law enforcement. Policing in America needs fundamental change and not simply be reformed but founded on a new model.
One concept of policing worth exploration is making it a volunteer service like many fire departments and ambulance services. Volunteer fire and ambulance services encourage people to take a stake in their communities by volunteering to serve. If somebody wants to volunteer as a police officer, they would still be required to qualify from a psychological and educational standpoint. They would still have to be capable of performing the duties but it would be on an uncompensated basis unless injured in the line of duty. This could allow people to respond to emergencies from their home or a base of operations. By making policing a volunteer service, some who would take delight in the authority might think twice if it is uncompensated. The people that really care about the safety and well-being of their communities would volunteer.
Another concept that I have thought about is making a service requirement of policing much like jury duty. This prevents some of the abusers from staying in law enforcement for too long as it rotates people in and out. Certainly, the people chosen would have to qualify from a mental health and educational standpoint. We make the requirement of one month out of every year that a qualified citizen fills the responsibilities of being a peace officer. Since it will become law, employers must allow their employees to serve. Furthermore, the paramilitary police education goes away. We don’t need our police to be track stars, we need them to be intelligent and compassionate people. Police under this model only have their arrest authority when performing their service requirement. Once their yearly service requirement is up, they lose their arrest authority.
Some experts on policing believe that more formal education is necessary for the policing profession and argue that it should require college degrees. More formal education does not seem to root out those that would seek to abuse their powers of authority. The Philadelphia Police Department has a requirement of, at minimum, an associate’s degree to apply and it has been this way for at least 20 years now. This has not necessarily attracted a better class of police officer as we still hear about rampant abuses. One could argue that police in America should require licenses like doctors, social workers, and psychologists. Qualifying for this license should be contingent upon successful completion of, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree. When we train our police, we should train them similarly to other regulated professions and not as a paramilitary unit. In fact, there should be no military training at all. It should be all about law, psychology, and sociology: It should be education. We should even stop giving military ranks to our police and adopt titles similar to corporate America.
Whether we adopt policing as a service requirement or an all-volunteer force, one thing remains abundantly clear and that is the need for systemic change. Throwing more money in terms of equipment and manpower at police forces has only worsened the problem, placing more strain on services that actually help people like social welfare programs. There is no perfect answer to the problem but we are well past the time for reform. Policing needs to be abolished and rebuilt from the ground up. Reform has, at best, bandaged the problem, and at worst, created more problems.