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In my column this week for Defining Ideas from the Hoover Institution, I look at the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and the reaction they’ve inspired in the press. One of my conclusions: that many libertarians have gone overboard with otherwise legitimate concerns about policing. As I note:
It is not that I entirely part company with modern libertarians on all issues relating to the police. It is that I would like to see libertarians of all stripes slow down their denunciation of public authorities, without whom we cannot enjoy the ordered liberty that we all prize. The correct attitude on the police force is to see it as a regrettable necessity, but a necessity nonetheless. Without police intervention, many cities in this country would turn into Iraqi-style war zones. The point remains true even if it is the case, as it is in Iraq, that most people have a strong desire to live out their lives in peace. So long as some fringe groups are intent on using violence, they can force everyone else to follow suit, until by degrees entire nations can be plunged into chaos and sectarian violence unless there are some organized institutions to protect us.
But that is only half of the story:
The next step is to ask what should be done to make sure that the police, with their own monopoly over the use of force, don’t convert the traditional police power into a police state, with all the shuddering connotations that this term carries with it. And so it is back to the old story about the importance of institutions. Running the police is in part a big business, where we have to ask and understand how police are recruited, trained, equipped, deployed, supervised, promoted, punished, and paid. The basic deal is that we give the police extra powers, but we expect them to meet higher standards, which justifies their right to use of deadly force. And when they fall short, the sanctions on them are often the heaviest because they cannot plead the excuses available to ordinary people who have neither the training nor the temperament to engage successfully in the use of force.
You can read the article in its entirety for a fuller sense of the many issues at work in this case.
Where do you draw the line on how much power police forces should have?
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