Not all cops are good

Not all cops are good. Discuss…

Conflict is bad, and sometimes there is no easy option. Sometimes the police will have to use force. But the problem with police is they have the power to do whatever they like and get away with it. A few extra punches, a kick in the head, push people around. Nobody can stop them and there is no recourse to justice, unless they’re unlucky enough to be caught on camera.

For every incident caught on camera, thousands more happen.

This is not to say that all cops are bad. Sometimes the police are put in difficult situations, and sometimes force is necessary. Some cops do a great job and treat people as fairly as they can. But in any profession there are the good and the bad… the problem with the police is that the bad apples can so easily get away with it.

The best solution to this that I can see (besides strong checks and balances) is to introduce greater competition in the “security market”. This would provide an incentive to provide a better service, for a lower cost, and allow greater diversity.

The easiest way to introduce competition in the Australian system is to allow each local council to choose thier police provider. To start with, the suppliers would be “NSW Police”, “Qld Police” and the other current options. Over time there may be more alternatives. The competing police would be paid for each area they covered, giving them an incentive to provide better and more efficient service so that they could grow. Better cops would get paid more. Worse cops would be driven out of the system.

23 thoughts on “Not all cops are good

  1. I like the idea of corporatising the police force (better cops being paid more etc), but having a bunch of different providers would be a bad idea.

    The crims could escape justice by simply moving to the next municipal district, and the different security agencies would have no encouragement to share information, being competitors. Or if they did it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. It’s bad enough when the VIC, NSW and federal police have to cooperate on a criminal investigation.

    Perhaps the solution is for the state police to subcontract out more of the everyday functions like directing traffic, police escorts etc, while sticking to law enforcement.

    Also, I’m not sure what KPIs you would use to measure performance in a law enforcement contract – the number of robberies per month in a given area perhaps? Or would you pay bonuses for a succesful prosecution?

    I thought one of the diffrences between Libertarianism and Anarchy is that the former believe that the government should keep some roles – essentially maintaining law and order to protect individual liberty and the courts to uphold contracts. Though John, you’ve showed some anarcho-capitalist leanings previously with that stuff about Somalia and the Wild West.

  2. The libertarian solution is to make individual police responsible for their own decisions and actions.

    That means complete transparency in their activities, plus exposure to personal liability (criminal and civil) for what they do. When they bash someone, they should be charged with assault etc and be liable for personal damages. When they rip of drug dealers, they should be charged with theft and personally liable for the loss.

    Wait till they start using Tasers for “non-compliance”. They’ll hide under the government’s skirts and everyone will bleat about the system, when individual liability would quickly put a stop to it.

    You could have a different police force on every block, all competing with each other. But as long as they are immune from personal liability it wouldn’t make any difference.

  3. One of my recurring ideas is to have time-share government, where government functions like policing are shared equally by all those who choose to become citizens. The gain for the pain of policing would be the right to directly vote. I.e., for two weeks of the year, your posse of citizens is armed and on the streets, and for the next two weeks, your posse is the government, all of you. No need for ministers if government is just kept to road safety and emergency services. And this would also stop people from feeling alienated from their communities.

  4. I forgot to add, that for the other 48 weeks of the year, the citizens would be free to have a private life, whilst other people keep the streets safe.

  5. Papa — the laws would be the same across districts, and I think it would be fairly easy to set up information sharing and cooperation. It is not true that competition means that cooperation is never beneficial. Indeed… those police agencies with more effective cooperation will get better outcomes, and get more “customers”. Those who don’t cooperate will be drive out of the market.

    Without competition, corporatisation doesn’t achieve much.

    The Key Performance Index in a market economy is whether you make money or go bust. And that is a result of whether your customers like you or not.

    The above suggestion still has a state — which would set the laws and regulate the competition policing model. You don’t need to be an anarchist to believe in policing competition.

    Having said that, my ideal form of politics is anarchy.

  6. DavidL — I agree with your point about personal liability. Though if you did have “a different police force on every block” then I think the resulting competition would slightly change the police incentives for the better.

  7. I think the reform proposed by DavidL would offer a lot more improvement. Not that it is incompatible with Johns reform idea.

  8. Tasers seem to be the policing issue of the moment, so what about an LDP policy on them? I suggest the LDP supports them as a less lethal alternative, but they can only be used in a situation where potentially lethal force would have been used. Cops would be held fully accountable for their decisions in this regard.

    This might be the current policy, I don\’t actually know, but it\’s certainly looking like cops are taking a little bit too much liberty with their use of tasers.

  9. \”They’ll hide under the government’s skirts and everyone will bleat about the system, when individual liability would quickly put a stop to it.\”

    I would be worried that while they remain part of the government individual liability would never be enforced. Too much room for corruption, deals etc. (although videos like these being passed around on the internerd help.)

    IMO the only solution is open competition in police services (which would presume personal liability as they\’re outside of the government, unless it\’s contractually limited with the service consumers.) Competition in legislation creation and all other government services, á la David Friedman would be nice too…

  10. (1) Vigilantes would be cheaper and only a little worse
    (2) If you are worried about corrupt cops, and councils are probably more corrupt than the cops ever were in ANY state…
    (3) I can see “commercial in confidence” hiding even MORE corruption.
    (4) At the moment, it’s hard enough to kick the two accountable people – police minister and premier. This suggestion would make accountability even MORE difficult.
    (5) THEY’D STILL HAVE THE POLICE UNION…. who have many fishy officials (you’ll get the joke if you are in Vic), and can make the old Painters and Dockers look like a bunch of choirboys. With the union bigger than individual “clients”… not good.

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  12. I think you ultimately need some centralised police force –
    it’s pretty much necessary to fulfil the (only) obligation of the state, that being the protection of private property rights. But certainly greater competition would be a good thing – and we’re already seeing this happen.

    On a slightly tangential note, of the best blogs on abuses of police power is Rodney Balko’s The Agitator; he works for reason and frequently writes about such matters from a libertarian perspective. Strongly would encourage every libertarian interested in law and order to check it out at

  13. I think you have to distinguish between competition of law enforcement and competition of legislation itself.
    The latter would not be a good thing because it would result in mob rule. Legal science should rightly be a science.

    So security guard companies competing would be a good thing.
    But anarcho-capitalism would not because you would end up with competition over the law itself, not just the enforcement and processing of the law.

    Regarding corruption. I suspect that a lot of this originates from an unjust legislation. Corruption is most prevalent in drug enforcement for example.

    You will always get bad cops though. They should be disciplined by the force. And I don’t see why this doesn’t work quite well.
    Recently on YouTube I watched a video about a 16 year old who rang 911 to get an ambulance for her father (he had returned from brain surgery and was convulsing on the ground – she thought he was dying). The police office who took the call (small town with police taking 911 calls directly) took over 6 minutes to contact the ambulance and refused to take any details about the situation. Why? Because the girl used the F word over the phone.

  14. Tim R – from memory, the situation was actually a lot worse than that – he actually hung up on her several times and repeatedly insulted her, and she was forced to get help herself whilst her father was in imminent danger of dying…

  15. “The latter (competition of legislation) would not be a good thing because it would result in mob rule.”

    Please explain how.

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  17. Dave Bath —

    (1) The vaste majority of councils (I think probably all) would employ reputable and highly professional police forces.

    (2) I’m not worried about corrupt cops (at least — not in this post). I’m worried about cops who can get away with poor and inefficient service.

    (3) Commercial-in-confidence doesn’t stop people being upset about their police force.

    (4) Competition makes it much easier to punish bad service. You change your supplier. People do this all the time in the free market.

  18. Except the incumbents at any given time happen to have guns and other weapons, and are trained in interrogation, and for these and other reasons would pronably be in a pretty good position to prevent competition.

    We could have multiple police forces at once, operating under the same laws within the same jurisdiction, or simply contract individual police officers and pay them bonuses based on objective measures as well as public satisfaction (bye bye speed cameras).

  19. I agree with David, the major problem is that police don’t live under the same rules as the rest of the world does.

    Even when they get caught, the worst that happens is that they get suspended or fired for offenses that a civilian would be prosecuted for.

  20. Greego, the law itself shouldn’t be determined by market place competition.
    It shouldn’t be hard to accept that Government is different to business in some ways, that’s what I try to tell people all the time who cannot realise that government is a force initiating agency.

    Legal principles can be objectively derived, for example the principle of contract which finds a commonality within the particulars of the millions of different business agreements by using the same basic concept.

    If you had two legislation creating agencies with equal power, how would you resolve a legislation dispute? The best possible outcome would be by popular vote of the people within the jurisdiction. Although how would you ensure a vote could even take place? How do you ensure the two agencies have equal powers to begin with? But even in this best case scenario, the result would be populism, not legal science.

    Security guards still have to operate within the law and cannot make up their own laws. I think security companies are a great idea perhaps even more so in our society where police resources are misdirected.

  21. Tim R., my idea of time-share government gives people a direct vote, though only over public property. If your fraternity passed a law that other fraternities didn’t like, they could repeal that law when their turn came. Perhaps each section could have the right to propose one referendum for all to vote on, a local referendum day each year.

  22. Tim R — I think you underestimate the potential benefits from having a competitively determined set of laws (or at least — overestimate the ability of government to do better)… but that’s a different topic for a different day.

    Any time a dispute can be reasonably predicted (and obvious, two competing agencies with different laws could predict conflict) they have a very strong incentive to have a pre-arranged dispute resolution mechanism. Unless you think that businesses are profit minimisers… which is a strange assumption.

    But that’s a different debate. All I’m promoting in this post is increasing competition in service delivery.

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