Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Law enforcement officials have tremendous discretion to determine the amount and style of policing that occurs in their jurisdiction. These decisions — concerning whom to police and how much — are primarily matters of distributive justice, and are made at the level of the police department rather than on the street. These departmental decisions spread a variety of important social resources across communities, as well as imposing certain burdens on those communities as part of the prevention or investigation of crime.
The police decide to apportion social resources through making policy, just as any other administrative agency concerned with resource-allocation might. Yet these policy decisions are mostly unregulated by the courts, and (unlike other some other agencies) closed to public input.
The distributive consequences of police policy-making, expressed in the amount and style of policing on the ground, include a range of social harms that can generate friction between the police and the public. These harms are often concentrated in communities subject to the most intensive and invasive policing. Recent public demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, among others, have emphasized the harms of policing and community alienation from politically remote police decision-making. Yet these distributive concerns are neither captured nor allayed by the judicial system’s individualized focus on the reasonableness of police activity, and the remedies of exclusion or civil damages. In the light of these concerns, I employ the political theory of civic republicanism to advance one remedy: the possibility of public challenge to police policy-making. I propose some ways in which republican political structures can undermine the remoteness and fragmentation of the police and their policy-making process, to produce a more inclusive, egalitarian, and accurate set of police policies.