There's actually a real life example of "across the board cuts don't tackle police malpractice". In Britain there was a similar issue with non-white people being more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. The Labour Government under Blair demanded they reduce the number of stops they conducted. Alas non-white still were more likely to be stopped by the police, indeed the ratio had risen slightly. The blunt reduction in stops also meant that actual crimes were missed. So the Tory Government under Cameron came in, abandon the call for reductions per se, but did set clear, evidence-based rules of engagement for justified stops. The number of stops increased but non-white people stopped being disproportionately likely to be on the receiving end.

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I don't disagree with most of this post, however I believe you overlook a significant problem in policing. Police recruitment suffers from substantial problems with adverse selection. Bullies, racists, and authoritarians are disproportionately drawn to policing. So additional money for policing ought to start with psychological screening to eliminate candidates who after likely to be problems before they ever put on a uniform. Additionally, training should be much more rigorous, amounting to the equivalent of an Associates degree. Of course, hiring from a diverse pool is also important. Having candidates better suited to the demands of job entering the pipeline will result in better policing in the long run. Improving disciplinary mechanisms is desirable but amounts to locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen.

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The TL/DR...

"We don't pay enough for the police. Not near enough. And you get what you pay for" - Chris Rock

(sorry, you post has a ton of great nuance and whatnot, but the theme is the same :) )

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It's very frustrating that the evidence-based and thoroughly sane opinion you voiced here is seen as radical and practically trollish by both sides of this debate. Yet wishcasting the elimination of crime in The Revolution™, or desecrating the American flag in allegiance to the worst cops, is just being a bold partisan truth-teller, and way less likely to yet you ratio-ed on Twitter by those nominally on your "side".

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What is the importance of Twitter discourse? Like, who cares if a bunch of randos with roses in their handles think we should abolish the police?

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This conversation has been incredibly difficult to have since the spring with people around me. Reading this thought out and nuanced piece has only left me thinking, “how much of this could I actually get someone to read” when it comes to those around me who are nowhere near the same media sphere. My girlfriend starts the Police Academy this morning in a small/medium sized city, and I can only imagine what it may be like to hold some of these views while stepping into the world itself.

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Yes it's "allowed" to go after police unions and leave other public sector unions untouched, just as it was "allowed" for Scott Walker to do the reverse.

It's allowed, but it was unprincipled when Scott Walker did it and it would be unprincipled if our side did it.

That said, there generally is a trade-off between job security and pay, which is why crushing teachers unions are a great idea, because we should be able to pay superstar teachers superstar salaries.

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I think there's a bit of nuance missing here. It's not totally clear to me where these solutions are supposed to happen. Federal, state, or local level? I imagine mostly at the state and local level. At the local level there's going to be a whole lot of variance in terms of crime rates, per capita police funding, and problem areas.

For example, I'm riding out the pandemic in my liberal new england hometown. There's almost no violent crime here, but I see a new police station with a k9 unit, fancy tactical gear dripping off their uniforms, and military-style vehicles (not too mention a series of credible accusations of sexual assault and racism against multiple officers) and a high school that can't afford dry erase markers.

Before this, I was in a DC neighborhood where, over six years, gunshots went from monthly occurrence to twice-weekly, with no observable increase in police presence (minus the official officers patrolling the metro platform).

Obviously, getting policing right matters much more in DC than in small town new england, but maybe part of the problem around the defund the police crowd, is that many of its adherents are young people who have moved to cities from low-crime, high-police-budgeted places. I think that some of the solutions you put forward depend on local context.

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thank you, once again, for providing a modicum of informed sanity. IMHO this slogan is the single biggest reason that the Democrats almost lost the election.

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Interesting post.

On a tangent, it led me to think about the guidelines for using and citing academic research in policy-soaked venues like Slow Boring and the Weeds. Mining the riches of the academic literature is great -- I commend it! -- but I think there should be some rules. I've noted that on The Weeds (in the white paper segments), the team often cites findings in papers being discussed as if they're substantively meaningful (instead of just being statistically significant); I wish they would make that clear.

Here I note that Matt gives a lot of space of academic research without letting us know how grounded and accepted that research is. For example, he includes a long quote (from the abstract, I'd guess) of the Bocar Ba et al paper. I'm not even sure that has been peer-reviewed and published yet. Is it any good? Is it superior to other research in the field, especially those with counter views? I'm not competent to judge, but by giving research like this such an airing, and presenting it like it has exceeded some bar of research excellence, I think some more due diligence is required. E.g., I wouldn't cite unpublished papers. I'd prefer to see older work cited rather than brand new work, and see how well it has been accepted in the field (e.g., by number of citations).

I don't expect Matt to become an expert on acceptability of academic publications -- Slow Boring would indeed become too boring then -- but to be a better journalist regarding their inclusion, rather as he would subject a politician's claims to strict scrutiny.

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That there's no "rubber room" for bad cops you can't fire makes me question how badly police chiefs really want to fix this problem

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100 agree with everything except....

All public sector unions are bad.

Bad teachers can't be fired.

Bad firemen can't be fired.

Bad DMV clerks can't be fired.


It's just their mistakes aren't as newsworthy.

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This is a great, thought provoking post. Another I struggle to imagine under a Vox.com banner so I'm happy you're now here. A few disconnected thoughts:

(1) Defund the Police severed my Progressive political identity and without that identity tampered my overall political enthusiasm. It was strained before to be fair.

(2) The Progressive hypocrisy around default union solidarity here seems like the elephant in the room. The irony is many of these very valid police union concerns could be directly applied to teachers unions but that seems third rail. It seems clear the eventual outcome of long-term, strong union negotiation is ironclad worker protection. That's an impossible, death spiral of a situation to manage.

(3) I'm hesitant to post this but ... left unsaid in many of these police reform discussions is that the outcome of less *aggressive* engagement strategies will be more police officers deaths. There were 48 police offices killed in the line of duty in 2019. I don't think the 2020 FBI report is out yet. If policies thus far have been designed to maximize police officer safety, pulling back on those designs will increase risks. It's - statistically - a dangerous job. We should acknowledge that to provide the how-we-got-here context to these discussions.

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I think the "lawyer brain" issue here deserves more thought. It's true that you *can* strip collective bargaining rights (or at least curtail them) from police officers but not teachers & librarians, but the fact that the teachers' and librarians' unions oppose such a move ought to make us a little more skeptical that a situation where police officers can be easily fired and teachers cannot is stable over the long-term. It wasn't that long ago that Democrats wanted to make it a lot easier to fire teachers (e.g. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/08/31/the-rubber-room), and even if the party has moved on, I'm sure the teachers themselves remember.

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I agree with the agenda in this post, but I would also include policies to reinforce civilian control of police forces. There have been too many instances of police stating outright that they won't enforce a new law, or chiefs of police ignoring mayoral directives on how to deal with protests, etc. So in addition to the "make it easier to fire cops" bit, it should be possible to remove senior officers at a moment's notice, similar to how it's done in the chain of command in the military: "Chief So-and-so, under the Police Control Act of 2021, you are hereby relieved of your duties." And then you later clean it up with a memorandum for record, but the point is, high ranking officers need to undestand that not carrying out lawful directives will be met with immediate consequence, not just a theoretical punishment or firing in a few days or weeks.

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I'm curious about how this discourse scolding relates to the concept of the "Overton window" and the radical, mind-bendingly-optimism-inducing success of things like "abolish ICE," "Medicare for all," "The Green New Deal" etc.

It's fine to say "I disagree with abolishing the police, instead let's pass a bunch of left-leaning police reforms." That's an important part of the theater. But the fact that posting about this all the time achieves the desired effect in your specific case (getting frustrated reactions from activists), isn't all this rhetoric useful to Biden in the same way? Can't he say "gosh, it's too radical to get rid of a profoundly, multi-generationally toxic institution and replace it with something better, so let's do all these things that Matt Yglesias recommended as a moderate compromise?"

I think the more the activist part of the left can shout about things that are impractical, and establish that as the leftmost bound of the "deal space" as Ezra might call it, the chance for actual progressive reforms (and giving moderate Dems a sense of pressure from both sides, instead of just constant pressure from the right) is productive. Do you disagree with the premise of the Overton window, or am I misunderstanding something about it?

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