How to Make Policing Smarter

We have a larger, systemic problem within policing that conservatives are beginning to come to the table on.

As of this April, New York City clocked a 42.7% increase in major reported crimes (quick reminder that most people don’t even bother going to the police these days) compared to the same time in 2021. And to be clear, we’re talking about an increase in actual crimes—you know, the things that truly violate other people’s persons and property. Rapes increased by 14.9%, murder rates are up 9.2%, and grand larceny jumped 54%.

In the face of this escalation, the NYPD has been…spending its time confiscating “weapons” that are equivalent to BB guns.

The 104th Precinct recently took to social media to brag about their activities, referring to themselves as “elite” public safety officers and noting that while the gun might look like a toy, it is actually a real thing “capable of causing serious injury akin to a BB gun.”

This is embarrassing for the department at best. On a more sinister level, this is the kind of policing that frequently gets people—notably children—killed. Let’s not forget that 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down by police in an Ohio park for playing with a toy gun. And just last week in the Bronx (a NYC neighborhood), Raymond Chalusian was shot in the face by an off-duty cop allegedly while handling an air rifle.

This is one of many ways that gun control makes our society less safe and often results in innocent people being killed—especially at the hands of police. It is also one major reasons we should never want to give the police a monopoly on our self-protection.

But these incidents are also indicative of a larger, more systemic problem within policing. And that problem is one that, given the failings of police in Uvalde and other recent incidents, conservatives are starting to come to the table on.

That problem centers around three central components. One, police are not funded in a way that incentives the prioritization of solving and preventing violent crimes. Rather, they are often funded in a piece-meal format where they receive some portion of their budgets from local and state governments, but where a significant portion is expected to be made up off of fines, fees, and civil asset forfeiture. To put it simply, we incentivize them to harass innocent people and shake them down for money. This is one big reason traffic cops behave more like road pirates than they do actual safety enforcers.

The second part of the problem is that we task police with too many objectives, asking them to spread their resources too thin and address problems they are in no way equipped to confront, like mental health crises.

That means preventing violent crimes often fall by the wayside.

Don’t believe me? Consider this data. A full 13% of the estimated 10,085,207 arrests made in 2019 were over simple drug possession alone. Not only that, but there has been a precipitous decrease in the clearance rate for homicides at the same time. In 1976, the average clearance rate for homicides was 82%. By 2020, that number was a mere 50% while only 41.7% of other violent (reported) offenses were cleared.

That’s pretty weak. Especially when one considers that the number one deterrent to crime is the assurance that one will be caught and punished for their crimes.

The third issue is the need for a restructuring of how policing is carried out. The reality is the vast majority of the population is not violent, rather it is typically concentrated among a very small network of people within each region. This means a smarter, more targeted approach to policing could produce radically different results than what we’re currently seeing.

One example of this kind of work is Boston’s Operation Ceasefire. This program has a few overall objectives. One, identify individuals at high-risk for becoming violent (through tools like the ACE measurement tests and through audits with community leaders and police). Two, hold intervention meetings where these individuals can be paired with community leaders and police to match them with services and support opportunities that can deter crime (like job-placement programs, skills-based training, and after-school programs that keep kids out of gang activity). Three, work with community members to provide services for those who want to change. And four, swiftly crack down on those who continue in criminogenic behavior.

Dallas recently implemented these tactics alongside an increase in social services, maintaining “clean and green” spaces in at-risk communities, and violence interrupters (people who’ve often come out of criminal lifestyles that work alongside police to convince others to walk away, refuse to retaliate, and pull kids out of gangs). The results? While most American cities saw an increase in homicides in 2021, Dallas was able to decrease their homicide rate by 13%.

Almost two decades of Republican-led criminal justice reform at the state level has proven that decreasing incarceration rates and instead investing in treatment alternatives and programming for those caught up in the system can both reduce prison and jail populations while also increasing public safety outcomes—which ought to always be the ultimate goal.

It’s time to continue those reform efforts and hone in on policing.

The alternative looks like Minneapolis, where wealthier residents are turning to crowdsourcing to hire additional, privatized policing options. While that will likely work out well for the residents who can afford this additional protection, it spells bad news for those actually living on the margins of society where violent crime is much more frequent. It also spells bad news for policing departments, which due to their bad incentive structures and innate corruption often found within the field, are increasingly struggling to attract employees.

There are good people working within policing, and the reforms discussed here would make them safer alongside their communities. It’s time we all come together to restructure policing in a way that actually works for society.

Hannah Cox is a fellow with Americans for Prosperity, an organization that works on police reform.

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Hannah Cox
Hannah Cox
Hannah Cox is a libertarian-conservative writer and co-founder of BASEDPolitics. She's also the host of the BASEDPolitics podcast and an experienced political activist.