Should the government fund police protection?
Excellent article at Salon by Michael Lind, which begins:
Now that the president and the Democrats in Congress have set a fall deadline for legislative action on universal police protection for all Americans, battle lines are being drawn on Capitol Hill. On the right are conservative defenders of America’s system of for-profit, private mercenaries. The Democrats are divided among progressives who favor universal, publicly funded police who would protect all citizens against crime, and moderate and conservative Democrats who argue that any citizen security reform should leave America’s existing system of soldiers for hire in place.
"Do we want long wait times when we call for the police, like people in countries with socialized police forces?" Sen. Russell Flack, R-Ga., asked during a floor debate yesterday. "Under our system, we can choose our own police officers, as long as we pay for protection out of our own pockets. Do we want some government bureaucrat choosing the police for us?"
Progressives, however, argue that the American system of privatized policing is no longer affordable. They point to data showing that the U.S. spends twice as much per capita on police protection as countries in Europe and East Asia, where police are public servants paid out of taxes. Although the U.S. pays twice as much for police as the average developed country, more than 40 million Americans remain without police protection because their employers do not pay for crime insurance and they cannot afford to purchase it on their own.
"We could save enormous amounts of money if we had a public police system," argues Caroline Zeal, director of the nonprofit Citizens for Public Police Protection. "Our present crime prevention and punishment system is divided among 50 states with different rules and thousands of private crime insurance companies. And when you look at the mercenaries hired by the crime insurance companies, they come in all shapes and sizes — commandos, samurai, Vikings, centurions and ninjas."
Zeal and other progressives argue that a single-payer, universal police plan would not only standardize methods and uniforms but also allow the government to use its dominant market power to negotiate for prices with police weapons suppliers. In Canada, which has a completely public police system, guns, tear gas, billy clubs, rubber truncheons and brass knuckles cost only half as much as in the U.S.
Other analysts argue that the fee-for-service payment system associated with America’s for-profit police protection industry also contributes to the uniquely high costs of personal security in the United States. Unlike in countries where police officers are on a public payroll and have no incentive to maximize shootings, beatings and arrests, American police mercenaries get reimbursed by tax-favored crime insurance plans every time they chase or apprehend a suspect. Many analysts argue that this perverse incentive structure accounts for what is called "overbeatment" — the high number of Americans who get the living daylights beaten out of them on the streets by soldiers of fortune.
Many progressives claim that quite apart from arguments over costs there is a moral argument for providing universal police protection…