Police Accountability: Is It An Unfixable Problem?

Despite near-constant pleas for "bipartisanship" in the media, the worst offenses to liberty often occur when both parties agree.  If both parties are stepping on each other to try to beat their chest hardest about an issue, it is time to duck and cover.

This week we have seen how most cities have laws and union contracts that stand in the way of even basic accountability for police.  I fear that this is an unfixable problem, because both Republicans and Democrats conspire to block accountability of police, though for different reasons.

Republicans tend to fetishize police in the same way they do the military, and tend to blindly support the police position in any he-said-she-said confrontation (I know, I used to be one of them).  While Conservatives bemoan the "women never lie about rape" meme on campus, they take the exact same position vis a vis police.

Democrats have generally been better allies of civil libertarians on these issues (though Democrat politicians will throw that all out if they need to buff up their "law and order" credentials for an election).  However, Liberals have a huge blind spot in that they also feel the necessity to be fiercely loyal, even blindly loyal to public unions, which include powerful police unions.  Taking on police accountability would require Democrats to take on a very visible public union, which they are loath to do.   In the past, when faced with a choice of fixing schools or appeasing teachers unions, Democratic politicians have almost always chosen the latter and I don't think they will do anything differently with police.

If you think I am leading up to a silver lining and a proposal, you are wrong.   I don't have one.  Sure, after Baltimore, we may have a lot of talk about reform, but when the cameras turn their attention elsewhere, all the reform will die as quick as they did at the VA and any number of other failed government institutions.

Instead, I think I am going to go home and binge watch The Wire again.  Seems timely.  For fans of that show, everything that has happened this week is entirely familiar.


  1. Matthew Slyfield:

    I have a proposal.

    1. Destroy both the Republican and Democratic parties.
    2. Outlaw public sector unions.
    3. Eliminate "qualified immunity" by constitutional amendment.

  2. Not Sure:

    Re: #2... As the government seems to believe it is necessary to enact numerous laws to protect workers from their greedy, uncaring private sector employers, one wonders why a government worker would ever need a union.

  3. Vypuero:

    the system will never reform until it collapses, so wish for collapse

  4. Matthew Slyfield:

    Given "As the government seems to believe it is necessary to enact numerous
    laws to protect workers from their greedy, uncaring private sector
    employers" why would any worker ever need a union?

  5. jdgalt:

    I believe voter initiatives, where they exist, can be used to force police accountability. But we may have to outspend the police unions to pass one, so we'd better be prepared to gather a huge war-chest of money first.

  6. jdgalt:

    The purpose of unions is to extort money for leftist politics from their opponents. It is outrageous that this practice ever survived a first amendment challenge, and we should try again until it does not.

    Unions are nothing but gangsters.

  7. FelineCannonball:

    I don't remember the police killing anyone in The Wire. Certainly not through misconduct. The series soft-peddles racism and police brutality (showing Tony Colicchio and Herc as naive and relatively harmless) in a way that wouldn't be possible today. Sign of the times I guess.

  8. stanbrown:

    Coyote has a fetish in his abuse of the straw man Republican. There is so much untrue, generalized crap in this post that Coyote owes his readers an apology. I expect this garbage from Obama or Hillary. This is ridiculous. Turn on the brain next time.

  9. David in Michigan:

    I have an imperfect solution or at least a partial solution to the police accountability issue. As these issues almost inevitably come down to race, I suggest: SEGREGATION. Being a policeman in a poor community is hard. Being a policeman in a poor black community is harder. Being a white policeman in a poor black community is harder yet.

    Yes, I realize this sounds stupid, especially to the diversity crowd. But if the government would step out of the picture, segregation would indeed be the result. It already is among the wealth to do.

  10. Ann_In_Illinois:

    How many times has collapse led to improvement? The American Revolution was unusual in that it led to a superior system, rather than to the mob simply looting and destroying and taking revenge.

    The system surely could be improved, but simply scrapping it and starting over is risky, given that we already have one of the best systems on the planet.

  11. mesocyclone:

    I agree. I tire of his mischaracterizations of Republicans. I have seen a couple of really bad ones (including this post) in the last couple of weeks. Coyote needs to get to know some Republicans, and find out how they think. His stereotyping is at least as bad that I hear from my rabid left-wing Facebook friends. It's too bad, because it means that Coyote's reasoning on public issues, often so right on, will continue to be off when that reasoning involves the Republican Party.

    I live a mile from his office. Lunch is always a possibility.

  12. jdgalt:

    I'm with Coyote. If the GOP were the limited-government party it pretends to be and needs to be, neither libertarians nor the Tea Party would need to exist outside it. But the GOP is controlled by its big-money donors, and they are as corrupt, and willing to take away our freedoms, as their Demonrat counterparts (though sometimes in different ways). And most of them are even more in thrall to police unions than are the Demonrats.

  13. Officer Friendly:

    From Reason:

    "Not only did the six officers have 10 days to line up legal representation and give a statement to authorities—in an interrogation process that looks very different than the one you or I would go through—they remain employed by the Baltimore Police Department despite the damage they've done to the department's already poor reputation. "

    That's how it works with normal citizens too- you can be invited to make a statement pre-arrest and you are free to decline. As for compelling cops to make statements, case law in this instance is pretty settled; see Garrity v. New Jersey.

    The question should be: Did any internal affairs investigators obtain a Garrity statement from the officers? If not, why?

  14. SamWah:

    Collapse usually allows the usual suspects to make things worse.

  15. jdgalt:

    That's not how it works with normal citizens, because any other employer would instantly fire the accused just for being accused, and never take them back even if found innocent. But as in many other parts of the system, cops get an undeserved pass.

  16. jdgalt:

    That's why Alinsky and his followers want collapse to happen.

  17. c_andrew:

    Well, let's chalk up one more victory for "Qualified Immunity."


    so the DEA coopts your employee (well, he thought that the man was his employee...) who, on their instructions, loads your truck with MJ and then takes it to a drug deal shootout. Guess who is to blame? You are!

  18. c_andrew:

    Yeah, I hear you.

    Rush Limbaugh was opining that prosecutors rarely make mistakes and that when they do have an innocent man incarcerated and find out about it, they (the justice system) try to fix the mistake 'as fast as they can.'

    For the "Mayor of Realville" he is extraordinarily subject to delusion on this topic.

    Did he miss the decades-long falsification of 'forensic findings' by FBI labs in favor of prosecutors? Or the reluctance to inform said defendants of those falsifications?

    Or did I miss the part where Scalia changed party affiliations?

    "This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent," Scalia wrote in a 2009 dissent of the Court's order for a federal trial court in Georgia to consider the case of death row inmate Troy Davis. "Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged 'actual innocence' is constitutionally cognizable."


    How about Orrin Hatch's apologia for Janet Reno's barbarous actions at Waco?
    Or for that matter, Rush Limbaugh's maunderings on the same atrocity?
    And Yeah, like Coyote, I used to be one of the blind supporters of cops. I think that large number of people like I used to be are the reason that the GOP doesn't address these issues. It would not play well with their base.

  19. Daublin:

    I agree: the best policemen, like the best jurors, are going to be peers of the people they are policing. They should all know each other, and they should develop an informal set of rules of the road that everyone feels good about the police enforcing. That will never happen in any area where the acting policement are from another, more affluent region.

    A second way to make things less bad is just to minimize the amount of policing that goes on. If we stop searching everyone's trunks for marijuana, we can greatly reduce the size of the police force, and we can make the smaller police force be a better one.

  20. Peaceful Streets:

    Policing is a disease. Stop trying to fix it - remove it. Abolish the police.

  21. jdgalt:

    Policing is necessary, but just has to be done rightfully. If too many things are banned, so that the police are everybody's enemy, then yes, let's fire the police and organize patrols like what Zimmerman was doing. But policing needs to be done.

  22. Jacob Cardova:

    We should abolish the Peaceful Streets Project first.

  23. Peaceful Streets:

    Because we peacefully document the actions of thug police?

  24. Peaceful Streets:

    We disagree on the necessity of policing. They do far more harm than good. Until you can reverse that you can't convince me that we need them.