Why US Police Are Out of Control

Exclusive: U.S. police forces are so out of control there’s not even a reliable database on how many times police officers shoot citizens. So, beyond racism and fear of guns, the problem includes fragmentation in law enforcement and gaps in training among the 18,000 police agencies in the 50 states, notes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

America is clearly an outlier when it comes to police brutality. According to The Guardian’s highly useful “Counted” website, U.S. police kill more people in a typical day than police in England and Wales kill in an entire year. Where police in Stockton, California, killed three people in the first five months of 2015, police in Iceland, which has roughly the same population, have killed just one person since the modern Icelandic republic was founded in 1944.

Where the U.S. saw 97 police shootings in a single month (March 2015), Australia saw 94 over the course of two decades (1992 to 2011). And where police in Finland fired a grand total of six bullets in 2013, police in Pasco, Washington, pumped nearly three times as many last February into a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant named Antonio Zambrano-Montes whom they accused of threatening them with a rock.

A screen-shot from a video showing Walter Scott being shot in the back by a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager on April 4, 2015. (Video via the New York Times.)

A screen-shot from a video showing Walter Scott being shot in the back by a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager on April 4, 2015. (Video via the New York Times.)

What is the reason for vast discrepancy? The Black Lives Matter movement blames racism, which is certainly true as far as it goes, but potentially misleading since its suggests that racism is not a problem in countries like England and Australia, which is definitely not the case.

In a recent analysis, Alternet’s Steven Rosenfeld blamed police reliance on excessive force, an absence of supervision, and a confrontation mentality that leads urban cops to see their beats as veritable war zones. While this is certainly the case, the logic is more than a bit tautological since all Rosenfeld is saying is that police are out of control because police are out of control.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence blames a “continuing arms race between law enforcement and civilians” that causes cops to see every suspect as a heavily-armed combatant. But while the police are plainly upping their firepower  SWAT teams are often more heavily armed than front-line troops in Afghanistan or Iraq  there is no evidence that the average American is following suit.

Indeed, Gallup reports that the proportion of Americans who say they have a gun at home has declined since the 1960s, while sales of military-style assault weapons have so far had a negligible impact on crime rates. So there is no evidence that a street-level arms race is underway or that it is causing police to over-react.

Fragmentation of Police Forces

So what is the real reason that America is off the charts when it comes to police shootings? The most important explanation is one that almost no one notices: fragmentation.

Britain, for example, has some 50-odd separate police forces, the Metropolitan Police Service covering greater London, a slew of regional police forces covering the rest of the country, plus a Serious Organized Crime Agency to deal with higher-level offenses.

Germany has a federal police force plus one police department for each of the sixteen länder, or states, while France, thanks to the Jacobin tradition of centralization, somehow makes do with just three police forces in all: the National Police, the National Gendarmerie, and the Municipal Police, only half of whom are armed. Australia meanwhile has eight police forces, New Zealand has just one, while Canada, somewhat unusually, has more than 200, including two dozen or more among Native American tribes.

So how many police departments does the United States have? The answer: more than 18,000. This includes three dozen or so at the federal level plus a staggering 17,985 at the state and local level  everything from state troopers and city patrolmen to campus cops, hospital and housing police, park rangers, and even a special department of zoo police in the town the Brookfield just outside of Chicago.

Where Britain’s police forces are firmly under the control of the Home Office while France’s are under the Ministry of the Interior, moreover, America’s are virtually autonomous. When the Justice Department sent out a survey on the use of force in 2013, the answers that came back were so jumbled as to be well nigh useless. Some departments sent back information on the use of guns, while others included reports about punches thrown and the use of non-lethal devices such as beanbag guns. Others, including such big-city departments as New York, Houston, Baltimore and Detroit, either did not know or refused to say.

A country that doesn’t even know how many times police fire their weapons or under what circumstances is one in which every local department is a law unto itself, a self-contained barony with its own special rules and customs.

“It’s a national embarrassment,” Geoffrey P. Alpert, a University of South Carolina criminology professor, told The New York Times. “Right now, all you know is what gets on YouTube.”

What does a lack of knowledge have to do with ultra-high levels of brutality? The answer is simple: absence of knowledge means an absence of control, which means that local departments behave with relative impunity. If local cops seem out of control, it’s because the only controls come from local politicians who are often corrupt and racist and therefore tolerant of such behavior on the part of the officers they employ.

The Sandra Bland Case

Just what this means became clear on July 10 when a 28-year-old Chicagoan named Sandra Bland found herself pulled over by a traffic cop in Waller County, Texas, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. As a graduate of nearby Prairie View A&M, a historically black university, Bland knew how small-town police in rural Texas operate. So she was angry, upset and prepared for the worst.

“You seem very irritated,” Police Officer Brian Encinia told her. To which Bland replied:

“I am, I really am.  I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over and you stop me. So, yeah, I am a little irritated, but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket.”

Bland had a point. When Encinia pulled up close behind her, she did the natural thing by moving over to let him pass. Yet now she found herself pulled over for a technical infraction, i.e. changing lanes without signaling. Encinia’s aggressive driving triggered the incident in the first place, and now his aggressive behavior was upping the ante.

As the argument escalated, Bland found herself thrown to the ground, cuffed and then tossed in jail when she failed to make bail. Three days later, she was found dead in her cell.

This is how a feudal knight behaves, not, supposedly, a modern cop in a democratic society. Encinia was suspended, the FBI stepped in, while the local DA launched an investigation to determine if Bland was the victim of a homicide. But this was only after dash cam footage showing Encinia’s confrontational behavior went viral on the Internet and protesters rallied to her cause. Otherwise, the incident would have been gone unnoticed.

The killing of Samuel DuBose six days later showed another side of the problem. DuBose was not the victim of an over-aggressive small-town policeman, but of a campus cop from the University of Cincinnati. Normally, the biggest problems campus police face are rowdy frat-house parties and overflowing parking lots on graduation day.

But in this case, the university, concerned about mounting crime, had entered into an agreement with the city to allow its police to patrol nearby neighborhoods. For a hapless local motorist like DuBose, the upshot was that instead of dealing with a police department accountable in some fashion to the voters of Cincinnati, he now found himself face to face with an officer answerable only to a university board of trustees, all appointees.

Control wound up scrambled, accountability was slashed, while an ill-prepared cop was thrust into a situation for which he was not properly trained. As a consequence, a minor traffic stop ended with DuBose’s death.

Once again, the local DA went into overdrive. County prosecutor Joe Deters slammed Officer Ray Tensing for making a “chicken crap stop,” dismissing his account as “nonsense” and describing DuBose’s shooting as “the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make.”  “This is without question a murder,” he added.

Loss of Accountability 

But not only was this also after the fact, but the effect was to sidestep the issue of why the city had had shunted off policing to a body far removed from voters’ control. Responsibility rested not only with Tensing, but with the city officials who entered into such an undemocratic arrangement.

So, once again, it was a case of ineffective controls and a lack of accountability allowing police brutality to flourish. If the Black Lives Matter movement had not been in high gear by that point, DuBose’s death would almost certainly have been overlooked as well. But while emotions ran high, awareness of the basic structural issues at hand was nil.

This strange contradiction outrage on one hand and utter passivity with regard to the larger political issues on the other begs two questions: why has fragmentation become so massive, and why is it all but invisible?

The first is easy. The problem goes back to the deal that America’s so-called Framers struck in Philadelphia in 1787 in which they not only divided power among three branches of government, but also between the federal government and the states. While the former wound up with the ability to tax, borrow, regulate commerce, and coin money, the latter gained an all but unchallengeable monopoly on local governance.

Things have gotten a bit more complicated since then thanks to the civil liberties movement, the New Deal, the civil rights revolution, and other such events. But to a remarkable degree, the original division of responsibility still holds. While the feds intervene from time to time in urban policy, they do so obliquely while local prerogatives remain sacrosanct.

Much as Congress carved states out of the western territories, the states gained carte blanche not only to create as many police departments as they wish, but to carve out an endless number of municipalities and school districts as well, not to mention water and sewer boards, mosquito control commissions, and other exotic flora and fauna.

The upshot is not only 18,000 police departments but more than 90,000 local governments in all, all autonomous, self-governing, and endlessly jealous of their rights and prerogatives.

“[I]f there was a dominant ‘originalist’ notion of how the nation’s governance should work,” notes a prominent investigative reporter, “it was pragmatism; it was pulling together to get done what needed to be done” (Robert Parry, America’s Stolen Narrative, pp. 32-33).

But leaving aside the fact that pragmatism is far from a simple concept the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on the subject runs to more than 10,000 words it is difficult to see how such an ornate arrangement can be described as pragmatic when there is no way to determine whether it is still working or what “working” in this context even means.

Does San Diego County (population 3.1 million), to cite just one example, really need 65 separate fire departments? Does New Jersey (population 8.7 million) really need 565 municipalities and 591 school districts? Couldn’t the same tasks be accomplished more cheaply and efficiently if local government was consolidated?

The same goes for the police. Does America really need 18,000 police departments?  Couldn’t the same tasks be conducted more efficiently and fairly if the departments were consolidated and placed firmly under federal control?

Fear of Centralism

Conservatives will reply that any such nationalization would be tyrannical and that local prerogatives like these are the essence of American liberty. But just as liberty for the pike means death for the minnow, liberty for local pols in Waller County meant the opposite for Sandra Bland.

Americans went to war in 1776 because the British were “erect[ing] a multitude of New Offices, and sen[ding] hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” But with their 90,000 local governments, Americans have wound up saddling themselves with more local officials than George III could ever have imagined.

It’s a system crying for rationalization and reform. But this leads to the second question: how is it that no one notices? Where other countries fiddle with municipal governance as a matter of routine, abolishing some jurisdictions, creating others, and constantly re-adjusting powers and responsibilities, the very idea remains unthinkable in the U.S.

So what is the reason? The answer has to do with what one might call the dark side of pragmatism. If American governance rests on the dual principles of practicality and workability, then it follows that there is no point discussing a reform if it is not remotely in the cards. Indeed, there’s no point thinking about the problem in the first place or even noticing that it exists.

The absurdity of 18,000 autonomous police departments should be apparent to all, yet, for even the most ardent civil-rights campaigner, it disappears from view.

So do other strange aspects of the U.S. constitutional system a Senate that gives the same number of votes to Wyoming (population 576,000) that it does to a multi-racial giant like California (population 38 million); an electoral college that triples the weight of certain lily-white “rotten boroughs” (as under-populated electoral districts were known in Eighteenth-Century England), or a two-thirds/three-fourths amending clause that, thanks to growing population discrepancies, allows 13 largely rural states representing as little as 4.1 percent of the population to veto any constitutional change sought by the remaining 95.9.

Rather than the elephants in the sitting room that no one wishes to discuss, these are elephants that no one even notices.

Which brings us back to race. Although civil libertarians celebrate America’s 228-year-old constitutional system on the grounds that it locks in the Bill of Rights, the consequences are not remotely democratic. To the contrary, the effect is not only to fragment power from above, but, more importantly, to muffle and disperse democratic political power from below by placing countless obstacles in its path.

As a result, racism is allowed to fester in countless nooks and crannies in America’s over-complicated political structure. The disease thus spreads, infecting one organ after another.

For protesters, the consequence is a curious mix of anger and complacency. Young people take to the streets in response to the latest outrage. They march and chant as they challenge the powers-that-be.  But then the fury wanes, and everyone goes back home. With gyroscopic efficiency, the system rights itself and fragmentation continues unabated.

If you want a picture of the future, to paraphrase Orwell, imagine an endless succession of Sandra Blands hanging in their cell forever.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).

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42 comments for “Why US Police Are Out of Control

  1. Brad Owen
    August 20, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    In an earlier era (perhaps the sixties or seventies? turbulent-as-they-were) a rational reform of police power, and political power in general, as Mr. Lazare also touched on, in this article, would be an excellent move. Today, with our obvious trend towards outright Imperial Fascism, I’m really wary of giving the Fascists an efficient, smooth-functioning weapon like a “Unified Command” over a National Police Force (which is what it would come to, in today’s political climate). Also. I think the Founders deserve more credit for carefully weighing checks-and-balances. They were also supposedly aware, historically, of how democracy can easily slide into tyranny…witness how many people are willing to sign over their lives to the fascist Trump, willingly building a wall around the Country to keep immigrants out, not realizing the possibility that it’ll eventually be a wall to keep “the inmates” in (not to mention that actually having millions of people WANTING to come here is our one economic “trump card” as PEOPLE are the wealth of any Nation, when all advanced, developed Countries are facing a serious demographic crisis of dwindling, aging populations…which BTW, was R. Buckminster Fuller’s main argument for rapidly developing the “third world countries’, as it is a natural population control policy too).

    • Brad Owen
      August 21, 2015 at 7:17 am

      Now, over on Common Dreams, is another “Reform Police Culture” article…Now I’m really suspicious. I wouldn’t touch this subject with a 10-foot pole. There will be no implied consent coming from THIS citizen of the Republic…thumbs down. You hear me NSA! Count accurately the no votes.

  2. jaycee
    August 20, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Fragmentation does not adequately explain why these incidents appear so similar across the country. How is it that minor offences escalate into deadly use-of-force in so many instances? Exonerations of police usually state that the officers were following their training and “felt threatened”. This indicates that police training, across the country, changed at some point in the last twenty years or so to encourage escalation as soon as any officer determines their authority has been challenged. The ever increasing deadly incidents indicate that officers have been briefed that “feeling threatened” will justify just about anything they do – just as changing “rules-of-engagement” in the military provide legal cover for any manner of atrocity.

    The police seem out-of-control because at some point it was decided that this was to be the new face of policing and the training changed to reflect that.

    • Anonymous
      August 21, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      In an article from Veterans Today website , Gordon Duff ( and Press TV) states:

      “During the Bush administration, Israeli-American dual citizen and Director of Homeland Security Chertoff mandated that American police forces be trained by Israeli groups in crowd control, counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering.

      Since that time, shootings of unarmed civilians has gone up 500%, attacks on legal political protests by police have become a scandal and huge stockpiles of ammunition and military heavy weaponry have been distributed to law enforcement groups in every region of America, both local and federally controlled.”
      —–
      Tragedy of US police training by Israeli companies:

      http://www.veteranstoday.com/2012/09/27/press-tv-tragedy-of-us-police-training-by-israeli-companies/

      • JOHN
        August 21, 2015 at 8:52 pm

        thank you

      • Helen Rainier
        August 23, 2015 at 9:59 am

        When I first learned about this (American police being trained in Israel by the IDF) it was horrifying. It still is. It does not bode well, and I believe that the increase in police shootings (500? Holy hell) is directly attributable to this.

    • r harwell
      August 21, 2015 at 9:38 pm

      Well said. The police had become an occupier, forget the serve and protect. They have developed the same ROE as the military. And we know how that plays out. They will back the officer no matter what as it has become an US versus THEM ( the police versus the citizen) mindset..We are now living in Stasi territory. As many internals reviews, as many trials, h

    • Jim
      August 26, 2015 at 7:03 am

      “How is it that minor offences escalate into deadly use-of-force in so many instances? Exonerations of police usually state that the officers were following their training and “felt threatened”.”

      The militarization of our police started in the 1980’s. I watch a small, rural county south of Jacksonville, Florida, with laid-back cops turn into testosterone central. Police started heavily using confiscation laws, behaving aggressively, driving dangerously, tailgating and generally being a f**king nuisance. Same thing seem to have happened with the county government.

      It’s clear that our police are being “bent” by some form of malicious indoctrination. They sure aren’t being trained as peace officers. Lying and filing false police reports is SOP and they know they are safe from prosecution most of the time.

      I don’t think 95% of these steroid-junkies have ever felt threatened. But they should. If I see a cop bleeding out in a ditch today — I’ll keep on driving and claim I did not see anything. These people, and the mafia they serve, are nothing more than god-damn uniformed criminals.

      • August 26, 2015 at 8:35 pm

        Thank you! Rural counties around Jacksonville are INDEED massively corrupt, NOT prosecuting black criminals and preying on law abiding tax payers. I won’t get into detail about my “contacts” with local “gubmints” but just to say I was tried but, NOT found guilty of a five year prison sentence , FOR A DRIVERS LICENSE paperwork “issue”. lost my family, possessions, career ,and all assets(Including an “amended” TRW score, thanks to the county b*stards). For a license. I can NEVER own a business/fishing/drivers license again because a court clerk stole ten million dollars of the public’s money, including mine. Then jailed anyone who protested the thefts. My attorney estimates conservatively that I’m owed >$35,000, and the county took THREE homes from the family of the clerk, but WILL NOT apologize or return funds to the victims. This is Jeb Bushs’ legacy in Florida.

        http://search.jacksonville.com/fast-elements.php?querystring=%22JULIA%20MIXON%22&profile=jacksonville&type=standard

  3. Abbybwood
    August 20, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    The foundation of our national policing house is very weak because the only pre-requisite to becoming a police officer is a high school diploma/GED, being the right age and being in good physical shape.

    With the above “qualifications” one can apply to be accepted into any police academy in the United States.

    When I get pulled over for doing something stupid (like making a right on red when it is posted NO right on red), I want an officer who is intelligent and knowledgeable walking up to my window.

    The only way to make the national policing culture fundamentally better is to make it a minimum requirement that ALL police officers in the United States have the MINIMUM of an Associates Degree in Psychology and Sociology to even APPLY to be police officers.

    I submit that if ALL U.S. police officers had to attend college/university (home study would not suffice) and had to attend classes and be involved in group discussions and had to take tests and PASS THEM, that we would not be seeing the arrogant attitudes we witness generally in police across the country.

    This would be an easy fix. The Congress needs to see it’s way to make an AA Degree a requirement or if that cannot be done then the states should lead the way.

    Until this is done the current rotten foundation we see in national policing will continue to hold an arrogant and deadly house that will not and should not stand.

    • August 23, 2015 at 8:59 am

      I really agree.this is what is needed.. I’m sure most cops don’t have the. training and basely,they need training in behavior. Every thing that has been writing by.. Mr abbywood hold true to the point. Are every one listen… I hope the elected officials are,and hope this will become a law to become a police…StopThe Killing Now!

  4. Old Uncle Dave
    August 20, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Someone should look into how many of these violent policemen were combat soldiers before becoming cops. Many of them are acting like occupying troops instead of public servants. Perhaps it’s because that what they consider themselves.

    • John
      August 20, 2015 at 6:57 pm

      Uncle Dave, here in lies the problem….close to 75% of the police force in USA are vets….These men are trained (programed) killers…Any middle east war vet knows the term “bad guy”. Take him out !!…Sadly the government made them into killers and then released them on the civilians of our city streets….Welcome to the world of the neocons ….

  5. Joe Tedesky
    August 20, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    There is a ‘us against them’ meme that encircles almost every cop I have known. Over 35 years ago (when I was a drinker) I drank with off duty police almost everyday. To listen to these guys (they just happened to be all guys at the time) was like listening to a cop show to say the least. Remember, all these stories were being told through the eyes of a police officer. It is not that these stories weren’t even true, but after time these cop storytellers were jaded by their experiences they had on the street. The only ones these cops hated more than the thugs, was the judges they had to face on court. There was one cop I knew first hand. Our relationship started one night when he threw me in the patty wagon, and cracked me across the knee (9 stitches) after I asked him, for what was he arresting me for. I was immediately released from jail to go to the hospital to get my knee attended to, and released from there. The next day around happy hour I was sitting on a bar stool, and next to me was my new cop friend who on the evening before gave me 9 stitches worth of his cop love. This cop who will remain nameless started telling me about the guy he had encountered right before have that run in with me. So, I guess sometimes you are not dealing with the cop for what you may have done, as much as you are dealing with the problems the guy before you had stirred up with this cop you had to deal with. Remembering how all those cops I once drank with would get, and add in my billy club swinging new drinking buddy’s emotional distraught they had to bare, may give insight to what drives these law enforcers to do what they eventually do. Someone every once in awhile needs to remind these law enforcement people that their real job is to ‘protect and serve their community. Further until cops get out of the squad car, and mingle with their people on the beat, we will be hard pressed to see any real change. We need to bring the police back in to being part of the neighborhood, and not on patrol in some war zone. We also need desperately to diversify our police as to represent the ethnic and cultural identity of their patrolling areas.

    As a side note; my billy club swinging cop friend was promoted to sergeant and sent into a hornets nest of drug pushers. In less than a year he was demoted back down to officer only. He was tough, but to tough for the real people who mattered. You see what this fine officer (& I mean that) found out, was the gun wielding thug was the small fry, but the big enchilada was the corrupt politicians and fellow high ranking police who profited the most from this urban drug cabal. It isn’t what it always appears to be, remember that.

  6. Alfred Rosenberg
    August 20, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Maybe you should focus more on why the people in this country are out of control? For the most part, police officers tend to be good people. But the people police officers shoot? They are almost never good people.

    Would you rather a good police officer shot dead, or a thug shot dead? I’d like to see you write an article on why the people in this country are degenerate, and why a good portion of the people living in this joke of a country act like apes. Can you explain that?

    • John
      August 20, 2015 at 6:41 pm

      Alfred, tell us what happened when the thugs broke into your pawn shop….

    • Zachary Smith
      August 20, 2015 at 7:05 pm

      For the most part, police officers tend to be good people.

      Unfortunately this isn’t the case. And in the US of A, it never has been. Our police, especially on the lowest levels, have always been notorious for being the guys at the very bottom of society. The total losers. The following link dates to 1882!

      The Police Problem

      The US has always been a tight-fisted place with regard to paying public officials. We’ve always been a tax-hating place. And it seems that we’ve always been satisfied with what we get for our niggardly outlays.

      Of course there are good people in law enforcement. It’s just that they’re in a small minority. Make any waves, and the rest turn on you. So prudent “good guys” don’t make waves.

      I have a theory of my own about the current police shootings. IMO at least some of them are caused by low-lifes with badges wanting the ultimate trophy kill. Why else are so many of the police murders completely unrelated to threats to them? That loser who shot the 12-year-old black kid with a toy gun didn’t wait 2 seconds before opening fire. It’s obvious that many are just looking for a chance for a personal ‘kill’.

      Some are simply bullies with guns. And in the current police-state atmosphere of the US, they know that the prosecutors, judges, and most of the citizens will support them if their murder isn’t totally blatant. Another reason they’re always threatening nearby citizens with cameras.

      The current US setup is satisfactory to everybody except the victims, and they don’t have enough clout to change things. Possibly they never will.

      • Helen Rainier
        August 23, 2015 at 10:06 am

        Human trophy hunters? Would that be a fair comparison?

      • Shill
        August 24, 2015 at 7:47 pm

        I agree that this is nothing new. I remember the police killing Black Panther Fred Hampton in a morning raid on his apartment in Chicago. They said they were fired upon and were just defending themselves. Later it was determined that the great majority of the bullets came from OUTSIDE of the apartment going IN and that Hampton had been asleep when he was killed. The results of the investigation? Why nothing, of course.

    • Jason Barfield
      August 20, 2015 at 11:19 pm

      Does “acting like an ape” deserve being brutally killed? Most apes don’t do anything to deserve being shot. Apparently what you have in mind is rowdy and rambunctious behavior, because that’s the worst apes ever do. Therefore they get shot. I can only assume you think those Ferguson protestors deserve to be killed for exercising their right to public assembly, because they’re being rowdy and rambunctious like apes. Come back when you’ve cleared the hate from your mind and have an actual point.

  7. SNNNNN
    August 20, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    “For the most part, police officers tend to be good people. ”

    Watch a 1,000 YouTube (assuming your stomach can take
    it…) of your local officer beating grandma to death, shooting
    12 years old’s and general mayhem…while his buddies stand
    around and watch with their hands in their pockets (you know,
    those “good people”) and then get back to me again. This
    badge licking got old after Rodney King…give it a break.

  8. Joe B
    August 20, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    A major factor is encouragement of police violence by judges. There are cases regularly cited in which police shoot many rounds at a fleeing car with intent to kill everyone inside, rather than shoot the tires, or chase and arrest, etc. The judges have started letting this stuff go by without recourse for the victims. So this is judicial terrorism as much as police escalation.

    In another case, a woman sued because police killed all of her children, alleging that her ex-husband in the same car drove to the police station to return the children when she reported them missing, and supposedly mysteriously pulled a gun. No witnesses. Obviously escalation by the police, maybe or maybe not an attempt at self-defense, followed by a shoot-out for police entertainment. Her case was dismissed without trial, as are most cases against government. The case is being cited as a precedent to deny all action against police violence. Again judicial rubberstamping of police escalation, and they can look forward to a nice shoot-out when the next similar situation arises, to make them feel masculine after their depressing childhoods with bullying fathers.

    So consolidation of police power is has no definite effect. The same corrupt thrill-killers will get in, the same rethuglican judges will encourage them to kill.

    The underlying problem here is the utter corruption of the people by mass media and politicians controlled by economic power. Unfortunately there is no non-violent solution to that one: we are in for a hundred years of increasing civil conflict even if economic power is finally regulated, and totalitarianism ad infinitum if it is not. The conflict is probably the least tragedy that this failure of the Constitutional Convention will cost us.

  9. John
    August 20, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Listen folks, all of the websites including this site that posts opposing information is only here is measure response…….no different than how facebook is a wellspring of information. There is no limit to the long arm of those who catalog so called opposition to their agenda…..You have been warned…..

  10. Michael S Goodman
    August 21, 2015 at 10:20 am

    In the case of universities, the concept of “academic freedom” has been distorted to the point that universities have been able to usurp broad legislative, executive, and judiciary powers for themselves.

    This is a matter of public concern since US colleges and universities are now permitted to run police forces of their own, which have complete police power.

  11. onno
    August 21, 2015 at 11:53 am

    What amazes me most is how the police force has ‘suddenly became racists while there is a Black US President in the White House.

    While I lived in NYC in the seventies and later in CT I had great respect for the police force who put their lives in danger to protect your average citizen. However, after watching a recent YouTube on the violent arrest of a ‘one-legged, homeless black man in SF I lost all my respect for ANY US policeman. One handicapped human being forced on the street, his leg being twisted and obviously in pain surrounded by 14 ‘bully policemen. When the man cried ‘they’re going to shoot me’ a witness said No they won’t because it will be on camera!!
    No wonder USA lost respect for their aggressive neocons in Washington responsible for Foreign policy that consist of (subversive) destabilization, open military invasions into sovereign nations in the Middle East and also Ukraine. It seems that this aggressive mentality has become part of the American ‘Way-of-Life’ and cultures both with the (black) population and the police force. Really, a sad development for this beautiful country with the greatest people on earth. I wonder what went wrong although I blame mostly Washington for this change in behavior.

  12. Aimé Duclos
    August 21, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Somewhere along the way, policing seems to have changed from “serve and protect the people” to “protect yourselves”. While “fragmentation” is certainly a factor, as is well stated by Daniel Lazare but unlikely to be able to be addressed with such a broad brush, there are other factors that can be addressed that would also take bites out of the fragmentation problem.

    1- As has been pointed out nearly 75% percent of our police officers are military veterans. That would be fine except we program these young folk to be insensitive to killing the bag guy, but we do not de-program then when they are discharged – we just say thanks and have a nice day. As policemen these folk would of necessity have an “us against them” perception on policing.

    2- The Department of Defense dumps all sorts of military heavy equipment, hardware and weaponry on local and state police forces, re-enforcing the Us vrs the Bad Guys mindset.

    3- Poor pay. Low paying jobs as a rule do not attract the brightest and the best, given that these policemen do in reality put their lives on the line daily, and are asked to make critical decisions regularly.

    4- Lack of education and training. As was mentioned in the comments, a mandatory AA or other degree program with emphasis on sociology and psychology would go a long way to inform and in some fashion de-program those of combat background.

    As a way of addressing the fragmentation issue, it would be very useful to have a national standard for all police officers, most especially for those officers who are armed. To have a national set of qualification, including minimum educational background, training programs and testing requirements would go a long way getting some balance back, tho I fear this would be met by the “local level rules” types as federal intrusion.
    And increased pay is mandatory to attract better police candidates.

    Since 9-11, law enforcement and emergency personnel have taken on a very wary approach to dealing with the citizenry, like we are all potential terrorists first and fellow citizens second. This has been reinforced by the influx of combat veterans into our police forces, plus adding all that DOD military combat equipment. We are heading to becoming a police state, if we are not already there. The police officer needs to get back to walking the streets and knowing his people.

    So, minimum qualifications, mandatory education (perhaps funded), standardized training and testing, and better pay – plus walking the streets not dressed in SWAT Team gear.

    Police need to become people again. It’s not about the police being safe, it’s about the people being safe.

    • Joe Tedesky
      August 21, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      Aime, loved your comment here. What you described is what is being done in the L.A. community of Watts. These people along with their police have all jumped in to do what needs done to make their neighbors a better place to live. What is truly telling, is the police have gotten out of their squad cars, and become engaged into their respective community. If you read the link I have provided from the L.A. Times you will read how the cops didn’t shoot the young boy with a toy gun, because they knew him. Read the link, and you’ll get the whole story, but it is encouraging to see how a community can do terrific things when everyone pitches in. It is also a good story to how we can build thriving infrastructures to poorer neighborhoods.

      http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-revoyr-lessons-from-watts-gang-task-force-20150607-story.html

    • Miriam
      August 21, 2015 at 4:07 pm

      Add to that list of Aime’s 4 significant issues do not under value the fact that since 2002, when the discussion of ‘training’ US police forces by #1 best ally, Israel, was presented. Since that time members of more than 11,000 of the 18,000 US police forces have received training there, in Israel, by IDF and Shin Bet, all paid for by various orgns within THE LOBBY, like ADL. The militarization of US police has been steadily happening apart from any awareness of its citizens. Crowd control/dispersal tactics and Skunk spray are now taking root in the US.

      • Zachary Smith
        August 21, 2015 at 6:37 pm

        This is a really important issue, and I’m kicking myself for forgetting it entirely.

        The US police forces really are being trained to treat every single one of us as Palestinians “by #1 best ally”, the shitty little apartheid state of Israel.

      • Aimé Duclos
        August 26, 2015 at 10:54 am

        Miriam – I was not aware of this, but it sure does explains a whole lot. Of all the nasty groups to be trained by……… They treat the Palestinians, even citizens, like they are all terrorists, and now that is informing our state, county and local police forces. Good grief…….

  13. Donald Forbes
    August 21, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    I believe one important reason for shooting first and ask questions later is the fact that many cops are cowardly and scared to death of Afro-American men. Besides being pure racist.

  14. Bob
    August 21, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Care to venture a guess how many witnesses the DOJ deemed credible enough to put before a grand jury in the Michael Brown case?

    The answer is ZERO.

    Every single witness that wanted to inculpate Darren Wilson was deemed not credible. What’s more, the authors of the DOJ report even took the trouble to list those witnesses in order of decreasing credibility.

    And who can forget the alarmists calling Witness 40,” A.K.A. Sandra McElroy, the “Key” Witness” supposedly responsible for Ferguson grand jury not returning an indictment?
    The alarmists who started the lie in the first place; that’s who.

    As the DOJ showed, witness 40 was just one of “(24) Witnesses Whose Accounts Do Not Support a Prosecution Due to Materially Inconsistent Prior Statements or Inconsistencies With the Physical and Forensic Evidence”.

    It’s not the cops that are out of control; it’s The Alarmists that have no qualms about destroying people’s lives based on the lies they tell themselves and others.

    Black Lives Matter is a movement based on the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” Lie, and all the other lies it spawned that destroyed the life of a cop who, AS THE DOJ FOUND, justly defended himself.

    “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

  15. August 21, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    Daniel Lazare attempts to make a case for increased centralization in America by examining the epidemic of police violence. The causes of police violence are many and complex; as complex and inscrutable as the rise in violence in general in America. The writer glosses over the sociological aspects, attributing the primary cause to ‘fragmentation’. The increasing militarism of the police is not explored in any depth, and other fundamental causes for widespread disregard for life and shift in values are totally ignored, such as (a) neo-conservative politics and the concomitant human suffering (nearly half of American families cannot feed their children without reliance on food stamps) (b) a widespread sense of hopelessness and despair in the face of a failed political system, with government that is neither effective nor accountable, (c) the government’s refusal to enforce the laws broken in the widespread criminal behavior at the highest levels of American society, (d) television and violent video games, (e) drugs, an epidemic of death and destruction, and (e) a breakdown of private and public morals (America’s TV preachers and sham faith healers are emblematic of this). The factors are complex and interrelated; Lazare’s attempt at over simplification does not serve the reader well.

    The writer does make a case for a re-examination of the American constitution. (He does such a good job of this that I actually ordered his book on the Constitution after reading this essay.) A re-write of the Constitution is absolutely essential for effective political reform. Eliminating the single point of failure in the American government — the harmful influence of money on our centralized government — will require a new and improved electoral process, and, I venture to say, decentralization. This is something which is simply not possible under the existing Constitution. Democratic reforms are also unlikely to come about during a state of emergency, the probable outcome of America’s current political malaise. While the writer does inspire one to think about the constitutional basis for our current problems … he fails to make a case for increased centralization.

    The author makes reference to The ‘Arms Race’ and the ‘Militarization of Police’, two concepts proffered as explanations for the increasing police brutality.

    The Arms Race:

    The writer misconstrues the “arms race” between the police and the citizenry by using a logical fallacy, that of inappropriate comparison, i.e. ‘apples & oranges’. The fact that an upsurge in sales of assault weapons has not been matched by an uptick in crimes committed by those bearing assault rifles is totally meaningless. Assault rifles aren’t typically used in crimes (other than mass murders and assassinations carried out by America’s national (centralized) law enforcement agencies, such as the Ruby Ridge killing or the Waco massacre.) The problem, rather, is that increasingly police are facing individuals with concealed handguns (it’s hard to conceal an AR-15) and a propensity to use them. Moreover, the circumstances of a traffic stop or street confrontation puts the police officer at a disadvantage. The police must be ever vigilant in dealing with strangers, many of whom are mentally impaired, emotionally disturbed, confused, afraid, angry, or out of their mind on drugs. And not a few are real criminals.

    This reality does not justify the use of unnecessary force by police — local, state, and federal. But it is important that we try to understand the reasons behind the epidemic of insane police violence. In truth, it is beyond mere police brutality, it is widespread murderous insanity. Putting all of America’s police departments under one umbrella agency is one approach to dealing with the problem. But it is an idea that is fraught with peril, and deserves critical examination.

    The Militarization of Police:

    The fact is, police departments everywhere are being encouraged, through federal grants and national programs and policies (again, a reflection of centralization) to acquire military-style armaments and equipment and sophisticated high-tech electronics, none of which is in keeping with the police mission of ‘to serve and to protect.’

    There is no reason to think that centralization will result in a change of priorities.

    The author has an interesting perspective on the U.S. Constitution as it relates to the concept of power in a democracy:

    “Although civil libertarians celebrate America’s 228-year-old constitutional system on the grounds that it locks in the Bill of Rights, the consequences are not remotely democratic. To the contrary, the effect is not only to fragment power from above, but, more importantly, to muffle and disperse democratic political power from below by placing countless obstacles in its path.”

    The author makes a valid point. It is known that the Founders were leery of democracy, of the unchecked passions of the unkempt masses. This is why they chose a REPUBLIC which, assuredly, does “muffle and disperse” the democratic impulses of the people. But if the writer is, here again, calling for more accountability to the voters through the democratic process, it is not clear to me how this argues in favor of increased consolidation. And, with regard to America’s vaunted civil liberties, the Bill of Rights was an afterthought — a series of amendments to the Constitution.

    Lazare points out some problems with the US Constitution that we do need to re-evaluate:

    “So do other strange aspects of the U.S. constitutional system – a Senate that gives the same number of votes to Wyoming (population 576,000) that it does to a multi-racial giant like California (population 38 million); an electoral college that triples the weight of certain lily-white “rotten boroughs” (as under-populated electoral districts were known in Eighteenth-Century England), or a two-thirds/three-fourths amending clause that, thanks to growing population discrepancies, allows 13 largely rural states representing as little as 4.1 percent of the population to veto any constitutional change sought by the remaining 95.9.”

    While I do agree that we need to draft a new Constitution, I question whether further consolidation of the functions or powers of government would be beneficial.

    Some considerations on the concept of centralization . . . .

    Presumably, as part of rewriting the constitution … the author advocates centralization of many government functions. In particular, he advocates centralization of police functions, insisting that this will reduce racial discrimination, reduce police violence, increase efficiency, and improve accountability.

    Many have argued that decentralization, not increased centralization, should be emphasized in efforts at political reform in America. Decentralization would return power to the people, something which (as I point out elsewhere) the author endorses in principle. Decentralization would also seem to be more in accord with the Christian principle of subsidiarity, that decisions affecting a person’s life be made at the lowest level, closest to the individual.

    At the same time, I recognize that centralized (‘federal’) programs frequently are better managed and more equitable than the hodge-podge of local programs. Examples from my own life experience:

    (a) human services and the social safety net vary widely from state to state, often being absolutely wretched; the centralized, uniform, federal Social Security programs are vastly better;

    (b) local and state courts (especially where judges are elected rather than appointed) are frequently corrupt and inept; abuses and civil rights violations are much more prevalent in state courts with more parochial attitudes and lower professional standards for lawyers and judges (as well as lower standards for local police.)

    (c) school systems (which are generally administered locally) vary significantly in funding, quality of teachers and learning, facilities, etc.

    (d) in my own life, I have been stalked, tormented, tortured, drugged and poisoned by the authorities. NOT the local authorities, but the (centralized) federal government agencies. Local law enforcement authorities do not have the capability of dealing with the criminal acts of the federal government. They lack the resources, the capabilities, and in most cases the legal authority to investigate crimes committed by federal government agencies.

    What we have, in reality, is a situation where the federal government trumps local law enforcement, making the federal government a ‘law unto itself’, accountable to no one.

    (e) I have knowledge of a number of serious crimes committed by federal authorities, including several murders — even the murder of an investigative journalist right here in the town where I live — yet the local authorities are helpless, totally unable to protect the community from the crimes of centralized authority, the crimes of what I refer to as the ‘national security mafia’.

    Further considerations:

    (f) as the author points out in this essay, local police departments’ performance varies widely. I do agree that the situation is deplorable, even frightening … and it is not apparent how things would improve. Something we do not understand is happening. Overall, it looks like we are living in a society in decay, with fascism and possibly anarchy looming in America’s future.

    (g) It has been pointed out that centralized law enforcement function are not necessarily better. Recently the FBI, DHS, Secret Service, DEA, and ATF (among others) have all come under fire for egregious behavior of both individuals and groups, internal criminal activity, corruption, civil rights violations, abuse of process, questionable operations, falsification of evidence (another form of civil rights violations), and more. Regrettably, the internal safeguards do seem to be working, but only after a fashion (ask those falsely imprisoned or even executed for crimes they did not commit), and the bad actors have been ferreted out and the failed processes re-worked. This shows that transparency and accountability can and do work. Admittedly, this is generally not the case with *political* issues — such as targeting groups for persecution and prosecution — and covert operations (police stings, set-ups and entrapment, use of paid informants, etc.) Here the law enforcement agencies are completely out of control.

    (h) A legitimate concern is that opportunities for ‘systemic’ (widespread) abuse is more prevalent in a centrally-administered program. Fascism, intrusive government, and civil rights abuses have historically been facilitated by centralization. Conceptually, ‘centralization’ and ‘checks and balances’ are diametrically opposed.

    (i) On the other hand, it took the direct action of the federal government to enforce civil rights legislation in the 1960 and since. Had the federal government not gotten involved, it is likely that racial discrimination would still be a problem in many parts of the country, especially the South, with its history of slavery and discrimination.

    (j) you can’t get the same level of quality in staffing in local police departments with low salaries as can be had in high-paid federal agencies with much more selective employment process, rigorous training and performance requirements. At the same time, local police departments can’t afford to pay big-city salaries, and rural life might not appeal to many exemplary candidates.

    (k) the centralized Mexican Federal Police is probably the most corrupt and vicious law enforcement agency on earth, and has been as long as I can remember.

    With regard to other areas where the question of centralization figures prominently:

    Local control of the economy:

    It may be neither FEASIBLE nor DESIRABLE to have local control (some would use the term ‘interference’) over the economy. Regulation of the economy is specifically ascribed to the federal government in the US Constitution (and explicitly denied to the states.) Federal regulation of the economy is a core principle of the US constitution and of the Union itself. The Founders were concerned more than anything about financial manipulation and unregulated banking, a serious problem in the Colonies, as it is today. Yes, reigning in the financial manipulators is probably the American government’s biggest failing today … but that does not mean that the task should be performed in a disjointed manner by local functionaries who would be even less capable of doing so than the federal regulators. The problem is lack of responsible regulation, a result of failed a political system. Decentralized is not likely to result in better regulation of the economy; quite the contrary.

    Some serious flaws in this essay . . . .

    (a) This essay is self-contradictory. The writer states that:

    “… the effect was to sidestep the issue of why the city had shunted off policing to a body far removed from voters’ control”

    Unless I am reading this wrong, Lazare is here saying that law enforcement should be under local voters’ control. He is arguing against his own stated position, which is a call for centralization. Note that in his discussion of the Constitution Lazare points out that our Republican form of government effectively blocks out (“diffuses”) the peoples’ influence in governance. It is difficult to reconcile the writers’ stated belief in ‘people power’ with the dangerous belief in ‘consolidation’ in government. As I say, these concepts would seem to be mutually exclusive.

    (b) The essay is condescending:

    “The absurdity of 18,000 autonomous police departments should be apparent to all, yet, for even the most ardent civil-rights campaigner, it disappears from view.”

    Not agreeing with the writer’s opinion is … ‘absurdity’ (?) I confess I sometimes secretly share this sentiment (I too am guilty of the sin of pride on occasion.) Yet I try never to reveal it in my writing. (I did label the writer’s call for consolidation ‘dangerous’, but that is not the same thing ….)

    It might actually be more efficient to have 18,000 separate police departments than it would be to have one huge police department with 18,000 city divisions. After all, public service functions are not competing business ventures; as a general rule no efficiency is to be gained from consolidations. To the contrary, the word load remains fixed but the levels of management increase exponentially. But reduced efficiency is not the only argument against consolidation and the resultant increased bureaucratization. Accountability is another. The author himself says that law enforcement should be under local voters’ control.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    (c) The author seems to lack an understanding of some basic life principles, as shown:

    “Does San Diego County (population 3.1 million), to cite just one example, really need 65 separate fire departments? Does New Jersey (population 8.7 million) really need 565 municipalities and 591 school districts? Couldn’t the same tasks be accomplished more cheaply and efficiently if local government was consolidated?”

    Answer: not likely. Consolidation often leads to inefficiencies and increased bureaucratization (the claims of the advocates of centralization notwithstanding.) The State of California centralized its schools’ administration years ago. There end result is, in California, there are more administrators than there are teachers (I am not making this up.) Not only that, since administrators earn higher salaries than teachers, the state spends far more on school administration that it does on teachers’ salaries. Nobody would call this ‘increased efficiency.’

    When I was growing up, school administrators were called ‘principals.’ Each school had a principal, although in the elementary schools, the principal doubled as a teacher. The administrative staff consisted of the school secretary and a janitor. The high school, which had a greater number of students and teachers, also had a records clerk, and even had an assistant principal, a man whose job was to discipline the boys for their bad behavior (a never-ending task which would have been undignified for the principal, who was the most dignified man I have every known.)

    California has more administrators than teachers. What do these ‘administrators’ do all day?

    Examples of poor writing (nit-picking):

    “Much as Congress carved states out of the western territories, the states gained carte blanche not only to create as many police departments as they wish, but to carve out an endless number of municipalities and school districts as well, not to mention water and sewer boards, mosquito control commissions, and other exotic flora and fauna.”

    ‘other exotic flora and fauna’ is stupid and inappropriate. Florid prose serves no purpose here; it does not buttress the writer’s position nor make the essay more readable. Hell, half of Americans don’t know what flora and fauna are anyway. Americans only read at the 5th grade level … if they read at all.

    “Ornate arrangement” should be “complex” ? Ornate connotes aesthetics, a visual image. This is flowery prose … not appropriate. To avoid overuse of the word ‘complex’ I guess ‘ornate’ is acceptable, although there are probably better synonyms.

    “strange aspects of the U.S. constitutional system” … delete ‘strange’. Everything about the US Constitution was unique when it was written. If an adjective is required to improve the flow of the sentence, use “outdated”, or “no longer appropriate”. But strange is the wrong word.

    Conclusion:

    America is beset by violence. Some of the most shocking images of wanton disregard for life in America are those of police brutality resulting in the deaths of thousands of Americas (each year), many unarmed and innocent of any crime, a threat to no one. Like the phenomenon of mass killings, the cause(s) are poorly understood (and that is an overstatement.) Lazare sees the problem as caused by fragmentation and proposes consolidation as the solution. A national police force is probably not the answer to the problem of America’s epidemic of police brutality. We have a national police force now. Actually, as the author points out, we have more than a dozen federal law enforcement agencies. Are we any safer because of it? America’s ‘federales’ so to speak, are even more corrupt than the local police. Consider the FBI. The FBI is up to its neck in dirty business, and I am not just talking about the revelations of widespread falsification of evidence which has compromised hundreds of criminal investigations, and of course we cannot talk about the others, those that have been effectively covered up. Ask the survivors (there weren’t any) of the FBI’s assault on panicked victims of religious persecution in Waco, Texas, where tanks and flame throwers were used to slaughter women and children on their knees, praying desperately to the Lord to save them from … the American government. An example of how widespread is the corruption within the FBI is the 9-11 terrorist investigation — or, rather, the ‘non-investigation’. There has been no actual law enforcement investigation of 9-11; all attempts by police, fire, and regulatory bodies to conduct investigations have been effectively blocked by the national security apparatus.

    It is not clear how further consolidations in government or law enforcement will accomplish anything — not anything good, anyway.

    (08-21-2015 17L55 -0500)

  16. Bill Jones
    August 21, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    The Bullshit from idiot liberals knows no bounds does it?

    “The Black Lives Matter movement blames racism, which is certainly true as far as it goes, but potentially misleading since its suggests that racism is not a problem in countries like England and Australia, which is definitely not the case.”

    US police kill more whites than blacks.

    • zapster
      August 22, 2015 at 10:08 am

      Did you fail to notice the part about nobody *knows* who police kill or how often? There is no reporting. But if you peruse various local news reports, it sure gives the appearance that they kill far more blacks than whites. I can remember, off the top of my head, a case of a white guy actually *shooting* at cops–and they took him alive. A black guy merely tries to obey an order to present his license, and is shot in the head, instantly.

  17. Clark
    August 22, 2015 at 12:27 am

    No, what changed is the people. When people can steal with impunity, there is always a certain number that will and of course if you can murder with impunity certainly some will.
    Remembering Barny Fife on Andy Griffith, perfectly encapsulates the problem now.

    The mindset and mentality of a Barny who has no appreciation for a human being. The law was made for people, not people for the law. Hence, if the law doesn’t protect, it’s useless.
    What’s more, is that these Barny Patrolmen can’t be controlled because they neither respect life and have no personal Andy to make obvious the relationship of the purpose of the law is for people, not the other way around.
    So, a large enough number of our policeman are plain ordinary everyday murderers and many times thieves and rapists, they just happen to wear a badge.
    This extraordinary danger made me leave my country……. after almost 70 years there, I knew that arbitrarily my life could end just like Ms. Bland.
    The American mental sickness is deep………..at the state level we murder in the millions like in Iraq and displace democracy like in Honduras and blatantly lie. Its only a matter of time before consequences come to visit the US. And it will come in dreadful force, to the undoing of the country.

  18. August 22, 2015 at 1:36 am

    Thanks for such a fine analysis Dan.

    What I like about it is to look at system features that are obviously different from other nations with orders of magnitude less of a problem with out-of-control police violence. It’s very good cross-system analysis.

    I think a way to build even more support your conclusions would be to look at other professions in the U.S. which have good quality control and see if national/federal controls, management and training happen in those professions.

    For example, among, say, orthopedic surgeons, there is a “board certification” process which is quite rigorous, relying on data from both cases, peers and administrators to even qualify for taking the exam. This is a national program I think, run by a division of the AMA. I suspect in professions with good performance by international standards there is national or federal control from some supervising agency. That would support your conclusion that it is fragmentation (absent national/federal controls, management and training) that enables many pockets of very bad professionalism and criminality, and little accountability.

    Understanding this would help groups like BLM to formulate system-change demands, along with other demands to end the massacres. Also, what criteria are used for national-level controls, management and training? In the case of the Army and the Marines, these are national/federal-level programs, and yet their ethics are awful, by their own measurements, the rare cases they do measure. For example, in 2006, the Army Physicians group did a study on ethics of soldiers and marines in Iraq.

    The Army’s own report documented in 2006 that near majorities and more had little regard for the dignity of the civilians in Iraq or their property, and would not report war crimes committed by their fellow troops. A third believed in torturing Iraqis. This hadn’t changed by the issuing of the 2008 version of the report.

    http://www.alternet.org/story/52292/one-third_of_troops_in_iraq_support_torture%2C_majority_condone_mistreating_innocent_civilians

    This indicates that unified control, management and training does not guarantee high quality professionalism, skill and ethics, even if it makes it possible.

    I think it’s a safe conclusion that massive fragmentation in police departments prevents consistent professionalism. And it is also a safe conclusion that while national control, management and training doesn’t guarantee professionalism, it does make it possible.

  19. bfearn
    August 22, 2015 at 11:16 am

    You think cop violence is bad? Try thinking of the millions of innocents who have been killed by Americans since WW2.
    Remember the outrage when the Jordainian pilot was burned alive by ISIS? Remember the outrage when thousands of Vietnamese civilians were burned alive with American napalm? Strange you don’t remember and neither does the American media.
    America, the most violent country on this planet!!

  20. August 22, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    Daniel Lazare attempts to make a case for increased centralization in America by examining the epidemic of police violence. The causes of police violence are many and complex; as complex and inscrutable as the rise in violence in general in America. The writer glosses over the sociological aspects, attributing the primary cause to ‘fragmentation’. The increasing militarism of the police is not explored in any depth, and other fundamental causes for widespread disregard for life and shift in values are totally ignored, such as (a) neo-conservative politics and the concomitant human suffering (nearly half of American families cannot feed their children without reliance on food stamps) (b) a widespread sense of hopelessness and despair in the face of a failed political system, with government that is neither effective nor accountable, (c) the government’s refusal to enforce the laws broken in the widespread criminal behavior at the highest levels of American society, (d) television and violent video games, (e) drugs, an epidemic of death and destruction, and (e) a breakdown of private and public morals (America’s TV preachers and sham faith healers are emblematic of this). The factors are complex and interrelated; Lazare’s attempt at over simplification does not serve the reader well.

    The writer does make a case for a re-examination of the American constitution. (He does such a good job of this that I actually ordered his book on the Constitution after reading this essay.) A re-write of the Constitution is absolutely essential for effective political reform. Eliminating the single point of failure in the American government — the harmful influence of money on our centralized government — will require a new and improved electoral process, and, I venture to say, decentralization. This is something which is simply not possible under the existing Constitution. Democratic reforms are also unlikely to come about during a state of emergency, the probable outcome of America’s current political malaise. While the writer does inspire one to think about the constitutional basis for our current problems … he fails to make a case for increased centralization.

    The author makes reference to The ‘Arms Race’ and the ‘Militarization of Police’, two concepts proffered as explanations for the increasing police brutality.

    The Arms Race:

    The writer misconstrues the “arms race” between the police and the citizenry by using a logical fallacy, that of inappropriate comparison, i.e. ‘apples & oranges’. The fact that an upsurge in sales of assault weapons has not been matched by an uptick in crimes committed by those bearing assault rifles is totally meaningless. Assault rifles aren’t typically used in crimes (other than mass murders and assassinations carried out by America’s national (centralized) law enforcement agencies, such as the Ruby Ridge killing or the Waco massacre.) The problem, rather, is that increasingly police are facing individuals with concealed handguns (it’s hard to conceal an AR-15) and a propensity to use them. Moreover, the circumstances of a traffic stop or street confrontation puts the police officer at a disadvantage. The police must be ever vigilant in dealing with strangers, many of whom are mentally impaired, emotionally disturbed, confused, afraid, angry, or out of their mind on drugs. And not a few are real criminals.

    This reality does not justify the use of unnecessary force by police — local, state, and federal. But it is important that we try to understand the reasons behind the epidemic of insane police violence. In truth, it is beyond mere police brutality, it is widespread murderous insanity. Putting all of America’s police departments under one umbrella agency is one approach to dealing with the problem. But it is an idea that is fraught with peril, and deserves critical examination.

    The Militarization of Police:

    The fact is, police departments everywhere are being encouraged, through federal grants and national programs and policies (again, a reflection of centralization) to acquire military-style armaments and equipment and sophisticated high-tech electronics, none of which is in keeping with the police mission of ‘to serve and to protect.’

    There is no reason to think that centralization will result in a change of priorities.

    The author has an interesting perspective on the U.S. Constitution as it relates to the concept of power in a democracy:

    “Although civil libertarians celebrate America’s 228-year-old constitutional system on the grounds that it locks in the Bill of Rights, the consequences are not remotely democratic. To the contrary, the effect is not only to fragment power from above, but, more importantly, to muffle and disperse democratic political power from below by placing countless obstacles in its path.”

    The author makes a valid point. It is known that the Founders were leery of democracy, of the unchecked passions of the unkempt masses. This is why they chose a REPUBLIC which, assuredly, does “muffle and disperse” the democratic impulses of the people. But if the writer is, here again, calling for more accountability to the voters through the democratic process, it is not clear to me how this argues in favor of increased consolidation. And, with regard to America’s vaunted civil liberties, the Bill of Rights was an afterthought — a series of amendments to the Constitution.

    Lazare points out some problems with the US Constitution that we do need to re-evaluate:

    “So do other strange aspects of the U.S. constitutional system – a Senate that gives the same number of votes to Wyoming (population 576,000) that it does to a multi-racial giant like California (population 38 million); an electoral college that triples the weight of certain lily-white “rotten boroughs” (as under-populated electoral districts were known in Eighteenth-Century England), or a two-thirds/three-fourths amending clause that, thanks to growing population discrepancies, allows 13 largely rural states representing as little as 4.1 percent of the population to veto any constitutional change sought by the remaining 95.9.”

    While I do agree that we need to draft a new Constitution, I question whether further consolidation of the functions or powers of government would be beneficial.

    Some considerations on the concept of centralization . . . .

    Presumably, as part of rewriting the constitution … the author advocates centralization of many government functions. In particular, he advocates centralization of police functions, insisting that this will reduce racial discrimination, reduce police violence, increase efficiency, and improve accountability.

    Many have argued that decentralization, not increased centralization, should be emphasized in efforts at political reform in America. Decentralization would return power to the people, something which (as I point out elsewhere) the author endorses in principle. Decentralization would also seem to be more in accord with the Christian principle of subsidiarity, that decisions affecting a person’s life be made at the lowest level, closest to the individual.

    At the same time, I recognize that centralized (‘federal’) programs frequently are better managed and more equitable than the hodge-podge of local programs. Examples from my own life experience:

    (a) human services and the social safety net vary widely from state to state, often being absolutely wretched; the centralized, uniform, federal Social Security programs are vastly better;

    (b) local and state courts (especially where judges are elected rather than appointed) are frequently corrupt and inept; abuses and civil rights violations are much more prevalent in state courts with more parochial attitudes and lower professional standards for lawyers and judges (as well as lower standards for local police.)

    (c) school systems (which are generally administered locally) vary significantly in funding, quality of teachers and learning, facilities, etc.

    (d) in my own life, I have been stalked, tormented, tortured, drugged and poisoned by the authorities. NOT the local authorities, but the (centralized) federal government agencies. Local law enforcement authorities do not have the capability of dealing with the criminal acts of the federal government. They lack the resources, the capabilities, and in most cases the legal authority to investigate crimes committed by federal government agencies.

    What we have, in reality, is a situation where the federal government trumps local law enforcement, making the federal government a ‘law unto itself’, accountable to no one.

    (e) I have knowledge of a number of serious crimes committed by federal authorities, including several murders — even the murder of an investigative journalist right here in the town where I live — yet the local authorities are helpless, totally unable to protect the community from the crimes of centralized authority, the crimes of what I refer to as the ‘national security mafia’.

    Further considerations:

    (f) as the author points out in this essay, local police departments’ performance varies widely. I do agree that the situation is deplorable, even frightening … and it is not apparent how things would improve. Something we do not understand is happening. Overall, it looks like we are living in a society in decay, with fascism and possibly anarchy looming in America’s future.

    (g) It has been pointed out that centralized law enforcement function are not necessarily better. Recently the FBI, DHS, Secret Service, DEA, and ATF (among others) have all come under fire for egregious behavior of both individuals and groups, internal criminal activity, corruption, civil rights violations, abuse of process, questionable operations, falsification of evidence (another form of civil rights violations), and more. Regrettably, the internal safeguards do seem to be working, but only after a fashion (ask those falsely imprisoned or even executed for crimes they did not commit), and the bad actors have been ferreted out and the failed processes re-worked. This shows that transparency and accountability can and do work. Admittedly, this is generally not the case with *political* issues — such as targeting groups for persecution and prosecution — and covert operations (police stings, set-ups and entrapment, use of paid informants, etc.) Here the law enforcement agencies are completely out of control.

    (h) A legitimate concern is that opportunities for ‘systemic’ (widespread) abuse is more prevalent in a centrally-administered program. Fascism, intrusive government, and civil rights abuses have historically been facilitated by centralization. Conceptually, ‘centralization’ and ‘checks and balances’ are diametrically opposed.

    (i) On the other hand, it took the direct action of the federal government to enforce civil rights legislation in the 1960 and since. Had the federal government not gotten involved, it is likely that racial discrimination would still be a problem in many parts of the country, especially the South, with its history of slavery and discrimination.

    (j) you can’t get the same level of quality in staffing in local police departments with low salaries as can be had in high-paid federal agencies with much more selective employment process, rigorous training and performance requirements. At the same time, local police departments can’t afford to pay big-city salaries, and rural life might not appeal to many exemplary candidates.

    (k) the centralized Mexican Federal Police is probably the most corrupt and vicious law enforcement agency on earth, and has been as long as I can remember.

    With regard to other areas where the question of centralization figures prominently:

    Local control of the economy:

    It may be neither FEASIBLE nor DESIRABLE to have local control (some would use the term ‘interference’) over the economy. Regulation of the economy is specifically ascribed to the federal government in the US Constitution (and explicitly denied to the states.) Federal regulation of the economy is a core principle of the US constitution and of the Union itself. The Founders were concerned more than anything about financial manipulation and unregulated banking, a serious problem in the Colonies, as it is today. Yes, reigning in the financial manipulators is probably the American government’s biggest failing today … but that does not mean that the task should be performed in a disjointed manner by local functionaries who would be even less capable of doing so than the federal regulators. The problem is lack of responsible regulation, a result of failed a political system. Decentralized is not likely to result in better regulation of the economy; quite the contrary.

    Some serious flaws in this essay . . . .

    (a) This essay is self-contradictory. The writer states that:

    “… the effect was to sidestep the issue of why the city had shunted off policing to a body far removed from voters’ control”

    Unless I am reading this wrong, Lazare is here saying that law enforcement should be under local voters’ control. He is arguing against his own stated position, which is a call for centralization. Note that in his discussion of the Constitution Lazare points out that our Republican form of government effectively blocks out (“diffuses”) the peoples’ influence in governance. It is difficult to reconcile the writers’ stated belief in ‘people power’ with the dangerous belief in ‘consolidation’ in government. As I say, these concepts would seem to be mutually exclusive.

    (b) The essay is condescending:

    “The absurdity of 18,000 autonomous police departments should be apparent to all, yet, for even the most ardent civil-rights campaigner, it disappears from view.”

    Not agreeing with the writer’s opinion is … ‘absurdity’ (?) I confess I sometimes secretly share this sentiment (I too am guilty of the sin of pride on occasion.) Yet I try never to reveal it in my writing. (I did label the writer’s call for consolidation ‘dangerous’, but that is not the same thing ….)

    It might actually be more efficient to have 18,000 separate police departments than it would be to have one huge police department with 18,000 city divisions. After all, public service functions are not competing business ventures; as a general rule no efficiency is to be gained from consolidations. To the contrary, the work load remains fixed but the levels of management increase exponentially. But reduced efficiency is not the only argument against consolidation and the resultant increased bureaucratization. Accountability is another. The author himself says that law enforcement should be under local voters’ control.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    (c) The author seems to lack an understanding of some basic life principles, as shown:

    “Does San Diego County (population 3.1 million), to cite just one example, really need 65 separate fire departments? Does New Jersey (population 8.7 million) really need 565 municipalities and 591 school districts? Couldn’t the same tasks be accomplished more cheaply and efficiently if local government was consolidated?”

    Answer: not likely. Consolidation often leads to inefficiencies and increased bureaucratization (the claims of the advocates of centralization notwithstanding.) The State of California centralized its schools’ administration years ago. There end result is, in California, there are more administrators than there are teachers (I am not making this up.) Not only that, since administrators earn higher salaries than teachers, the state spends far more on school administration that it does on teachers’ salaries. Nobody would call this ‘increased efficiency.’

    When I was growing up, school administrators were called ‘principals.’ Each school had a principal, although in the elementary schools, the principal doubled as a teacher. The administrative staff consisted of the school secretary and a janitor. The high school, which had a greater number of students and teachers, also had a records clerk, and even had an assistant principal, a man whose job was to discipline the boys for their bad behavior (a never-ending task which would have been undignified for the principal, who was the most dignified man I have every known.)

    California has more administrators than teachers. What do these ‘administrators’ do all day?

    Examples of poor writing (nit-picking):

    “Much as Congress carved states out of the western territories, the states gained carte blanche not only to create as many police departments as they wish, but to carve out an endless number of municipalities and school districts as well, not to mention water and sewer boards, mosquito control commissions, and other exotic flora and fauna.”

    ‘other exotic flora and fauna’ is stupid and inappropriate. Florid prose serves no purpose here; it does not buttress the writer’s position nor make the essay more readable. Hell, half of Americans don’t know what flora and fauna are anyway. Americans only read at the 5th grade level … if they read at all.

    “Ornate arrangement” should be “complex” ? Ornate connotes aesthetics, a visual image. This is flowery prose … not appropriate. To avoid overuse of the word ‘complex’ I guess ‘ornate’ is acceptable, although there are probably better synonyms.

    “strange aspects of the U.S. constitutional system” … delete ‘strange’. Everything about the US Constitution was unique when it was written. If an adjective is required to improve the flow of the sentence, use “outdated”, or “no longer appropriate”. But strange is the wrong word.

    Conclusion:

    America is beset by violence. Some of the most shocking images of wanton disregard for life in America are those of police brutality resulting in the deaths of thousands of Americas (each year), many unarmed and innocent of any crime, a threat to no one. Like the phenomenon of mass killings, the cause(s) are poorly understood (and that is an overstatement.) Lazare sees the problem as caused by fragmentation and proposes consolidation as the solution. A national police force is probably not the answer to the problem of America’s epidemic of police brutality. We have a national police force now. Actually, as the author points out, we have more than a dozen federal law enforcement agencies. Are we any safer because of it? America’s ‘federales’ so to speak, are even more corrupt than the local police. Consider the FBI. The FBI is up to its neck in dirty business, and I am not just talking about the revelations of widespread falsification of evidence which has compromised hundreds of criminal investigations, and of course we cannot talk about the others, those that have been effectively covered up. Ask the survivors (there weren’t any) of the FBI’s assault on panicked victims of religious persecution in Waco, Texas, where tanks and flame throwers were used to slaughter women and children on their knees, praying desperately to the Lord to save them from … the American government. An example of how widespread is the corruption within the FBI is the 9-11 terrorist investigation — or, rather, the ‘non-investigation’. There has been no actual law enforcement investigation of 9-11; all attempts by police, fire, and regulatory bodies to conduct investigations have been effectively blocked by the national security apparatus.

    It is not clear how further consolidations in government or law enforcement will accomplish anything — not anything good, anyway.

    (08-22-2015 12:56 -0500)

    • August 23, 2015 at 1:35 am

      Charles, I agree that Lazare errs fundamentally in his assumption that there must be a single cause of the problem he describes. As you observe, the causes, as with most problems involving the interactions of large numbers of people, are multiple.

      However, I question your statement that law enforcement is more corrupt in states that elect judges than in jurisdictions where judges are appointed. I am aware of no solid information to back such a statement. Moreover, the election of judges, while subject to the will of the majority, is far less political than the appointment of judges to lifetime terms. I expect to see a radical judge appointed next 12th of Never. The appointment process filters for those who support the status quo and its lobbyists, not those who wish to alter the status quo. And lifetime appointments coupled with high pay immunize judges from socialization with the lower income classes.

      As I age, I find myself questioning more and more whether democracy of the American variety is a good idea. Certainly, we could achieve an elected government far more representative of the public by limiting elected officials to a single term and choosing them by a random method. (Any statistician can confirm that.) Elections are currently far too corrupted by money, propaganda, and name familiarity. Eliminating professional politicians holding offices that are currently elective via term limits and random selection of officials from the general population seems to me to be worthy of experimentation. But it raises the question of who would ensure that the selection is truly random?

      To those who are bothered by the fact that 10 rural states can block a constituional amendment, I can only say that those with that gripe have most likely never experienced the reality of rural life. In fact, rural life of necessity has different needs and values than urban life. For example, if you live where the police travel time to site, should they choose to respond, is measured in hours or days rather than minutes, you will most likely and quite correctly have a far different attitude toward the Right to Bear Arms than the typical urban dweller, particularly when you have to worry about predators other than the human variety too.

      I’ll add to the list of causes the fact that our legal system is incredibly biased toward the wealthy and white; and the Supreme Court and Congress have done very little about that problem. The members of the Supreme Court are all well aware that they preside over a legal system that disproportionately disadvantages minority groups. But they have rejected virtually every opportunity to do something about it.

      For example, affirmative action was quite arguably constitutional and squarely addressed inequality between the races in economic opportunity, but the Court shot it down. Another example, the Court has established a legal test for reviewing challenges to prosecution disqualification of potential jurors on racial grounds that makes it child’s play for prosecutors to get away with bumping minorities from juries.

      Another example is the Supreme Court-created qualfied immunity of government officials to tort damages when they have violated federally-secured rights. The Court decreed that in such cases, government officials are immune from suit unless the acts or omissions they are charged with were “clearly established” as violations of the federal right by a federal court of appeals with jurisdiction or the Supreme Court before the challenged conduct occurred. Yet on the criminal side, the court has no problem with members of the public being sentenced to death or to fines or long terms in prison even if the particular conduct involved has not previously been found by a court to constitute a crime; those charged with crimes are expected to anticipate courts’ later interpretations of the law. Ditto for non-government citizens sued for damages. Given that government officials are nearly always indemnified by government for any damages awarded in civil rights cases anyway, the qualified immunity doctrine seems far too generous to government officials.

      But tell me, do you see any mention of qualified immunity in the statute governing most civil rights cases against state and local officials:

      “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress[.]”

      42 U.S.C. 1983.

      My point being that a good part of the blame for police and prosecutorial misconduct can be laid at the feet of the Supreme Court justices.

  21. George Yanney
    August 22, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    Adam 12 like peace officers serving the public vs bullies with a gun serving demons. An educational course of how to be a good peace officer would put a more loving respectful glow to the badge and attract more loving people to the profession.

  22. Ron Hinchley
    August 30, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    I think the conclusion is wrong. The brutality of the police is directly related to the brutality of the criminal justice system. Remember, police see both sides. They know first hand the consequences of a DA trumping up charges to get a plea deal, then following through. They know the lives destroyed by nightmarish stacked sentencing. Devalued human life is pumped through the system, and of course it effects police behavior. Corruption too, where it is so pernicious it is not even recognized as corruption anymore. DA staff rewrite police reports as a matter of routine to win cases. Don’t think for a moment is a police problem. Police are probably the least culpable and do the least harm.They are the expression of the rest of the system.

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