Who Will Police The Police?

As the nation continues to react to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, many people are asking themselves, “Where do we go from here?”

In a piece published over the weekend in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof says that, in the wake of Ferguson and the increase in racial tensions, America needs a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Kristof writes that, “We feud about the fires in Ferguson, Mo., and we can agree only that racial divisions remain raw. So let’s borrow a page from South Africa and impanel a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine race in America.”

While Kristof may have a point, there’s another - and, I believe, more urgent and pressing question that we should all be asking in the wake of Ferguson: Who will police the police? The Constitution and our Founders provide us with some insight on that very question.

When our Founders sat down to write the Constitution, they had a big debate over whether America should have a standing army. They had that debate because armies had a nasty habit of overthrowing elected governments, all the way back to the time of the Greeks. Our founders didn’t want a military under the control of a military official, because they knew how badly that could turn out.

As James Madison told the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787, “A standing military force… will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite [start] a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended [whenever the population was calling for political change]. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

So, our founders wrote in the Constitution that the chief executive of the military and armed forces had to be an elected civilian, the president, who would be replaced every so often. (They also time-limited military appropriations to a maximum of 2 years to force Congress every session to re-evaluate the military.)

That same principle - that the head of the police should be an elected civilian, not a cop or a prosecutor - is needed for oversight of police in America. All across America, we need police oversight boards that are independent of police departments, complete with subpoena and indictment powers, and that can impartially rule on police actions and matters. But the changes can’t stop there.

We need to also bring back good old-fashioned community policing. Back in 1994, the Clinton administration created something called the COPS program. COPS, or the Community Oriented Policing Services program, provided resources for local police forces around the country, and put 100,000 police officers on America’s streets - literally walking patrol. The idea was to get officers out into the community where they could form relationships with everyday people and "serve and protect" rather than occupy and control communities as if they were simply armed soldiers.

Madison, Wisconsin Police Officer Katie Adler is a great example of the kind of police officer the COPS program was meant to create. She is a neighborhood officer in the crime-ridden North Side area of Madison. Unlike regular patrol cops in Madison, neighborhood officers like Officer Katie work in at-risk communities to make a difference and build relationships with citizens - and it even prevents future crime.

Officer Katie is beloved in the communities that she patrols, so much so that kids follow her wherever she goes. And, she’s even inspiring children in the communities she patrols to become police officers when they grow up.

Unfortunately, police officers like Officer Katie are few and far between. That’s largely because ever since the Bush administration stepped foot in Washington, funding for the COPS program has been slashed year after year. And, over the past few years, things have gotten even worse.

In 2010, $792 million was allotted in the form of federal grants under the COPS program for local police forces across the country; by 2012, that number shrank to just $199 million. If the events in Ferguson have taught us anything, it’s that community policing efforts in America need to be expanded, not slashed.

Programs like COPS help law enforcement agencies to do more than just catch criminals. More importantly, they encourage street officers to work with communities to create a culture of trust that breaks down the barrier between cops and civilians. And, by establishing police oversight boards, we can make sure that police officers and police departments are held accountable for their actions by independent and impartial bodies.

It’s time to bring community policing back to America, and add an impartial system for accountability when a cop goes rogue.


OrgDevGuy's picture
OrgDevGuy 9 years 34 weeks ago

Back in Chicago, I lived in 1 of the community policing pilot districts. My Alderman asked me to join the committee that was designing the community side of the program. The program had some limited success, but there were 2 major failings.

Mayor Daley (the younger) was in such a hurry to begin the pilot that he started it without many of the trianing processes, procedures, etc. being in place yet. & more importantly, the CPD did not handle the assigning of officers very constructively. As a result, the police viewed beat cops as a "being sent to Siberia" assignment. What they should have done was establish standards for beat officers that made it a plum assignment, available only to the highest performing, best educated officers. Not doing so drastically undermined the program.

hucktunes's picture
hucktunes 9 years 34 weeks ago

I think the constitutional insight is addressed in the first clause of the 2nd amendment. That is, our city and state police are the modern day state militias that our Founders insisted must be well regulated. We allow them arms and are responsible for keeping them civil. When an officer abuses our trust he should at the very least lose his commission.

dianhow 9 years 34 weeks ago

I agree Younger Rich Daley left massive debt in his wake as well. Parking meter sale - road selling was a financial disaster. Its almost impossible to park in some residential areas .. The City puts up ' NO parking Street cleaning signs' but NO street cleaning occurs in many cases. Red light camera scam is another reason NOT to go to Chicago . I grew up when the city had lots more to offer families who were not well off. Seems Mayor only cared about downtown and north side / north shore communities.

dianhow 9 years 34 weeks ago

I believe much of the police - race problems are based on fear ( on part of many cops. ) Thats no excuse but is a factor.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 9 years 33 weeks ago

I think our media also needs to be policed with some oversight. Just look at the field day they had with this particular story. I'm not just talking about Faux News, either. All in the name of ratings our nation has been whipped up into a hate fever. Friends and family attacking each other for no reason. Reputable sources of news reduced to tabloids peddling all manner of lies and misinformation. And lets not forget about the riots.

Yes, I agree that our police are a force in need of oversight; however, let us not forget just how dangerous our media can be. Let's get a little oversight to haul in their reigns too. Lets remember that as a functioning society we are no better than the information we receive. As the saying goes, 'garbage in, garbage out.' Time to take out the garbage.

effie5555 9 years 33 weeks ago

Crime Prevention for the 21st Century

Community Policing

“by Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman - international human rights lawyers with legal educations in the United States and Europe. They are consultants and authors on international policing, social policy and human rights, and regular contributors to the forum here at LA Community Policing.

The article originally appeared in the Fulbright Commission's "Funnel Magazine" as an article in the Winter 2006 edition: http://www.fulbright.de/funnel/index.shtml (page 35 - 37)”

This article details how Palermo, the home of the MAFIA had experienced escalating crime and violence at the hands of gangs and was one of the most dangerous cities in Europe. They tried the strong armed tactics like those employed by American police today and in 1997 they had 200 homicides. By 1999 as the result of the change to their community policing, their homicides were reduced to eleven and they are now one of the safest cities in Europe. Human nature is human nature - if it can work in Sicily, it can work here.

The article is worth a look see - simple solutions for a complex problem.

Daniels's picture
Daniels 9 years 33 weeks ago

SOLUTION: digital cameras keep getting cheaper, smaller, and more reliable; we can pass laws that all police officers must wear body cams while on duty. Please sign the petition at WhiteHouse.gov :-) I did: http://wh.gov/iCLva
Till then, everyone who can afford it should keep web cams in their pockets.

ChicagoMatt 9 years 33 weeks ago

As part of Chicago's effort to have police in the community, and keep city funds within the city, cops (and firefighters and teachers and bus drivers and all other city employees) are required to live within the city limits. Those city positions also tend to be much higher-paying than private-sector work.

For a long time, city workers would group together and rent an apartment in the city, to have their checks mailed there, and then live in the suburbs. But the city cracked down on that in the 80s and 90s.

Since then, there has been a different phenomenon: entire neighborhoods full of city workers, as they group together, usually as close to the edge of town as possible. Those neighborhoods tends to be much, much nicer than the city at large. For my fellow Chicagoans - drive through Sauganash sometime and you'll see what I mean.

I'm sure we're all familar with the term "white flight". I think the more relevant term now would be "success and resource flight". Once people get the high-paying city jobs, like cops, they move to better neighborhoods. All that's left are the people who can't afford to move. As the income gap widens, this will only get worse.

ChicagoMatt 9 years 33 weeks ago
Till then, everyone who can afford it should keep web cams in their pockets

A handgun in your pocket might also help.

agelbert's picture
agelbert 9 years 33 weeks ago


The problem is one of perspective. If you go back to the days the Constitution was written and learn how they policed in those days, there was simply no comparison to modern police. That is, what we HAVE NOW is, for all practical purposes, a STANDING ARMY in every town called a "police force"!

If you disagree, read this free online book or listen to it free online. It was written about 100 years ago and thoroughly covers the habits, housing, clothing, crafts, farming, governing and infrastructure from colonial days on.

During those days they had "watchmen" that would do just that during the night. During they day they could have any profession. They watched, property, animals (to make sure loose hogs didn't get into grain fields and such) and warned of fires or thievery. You even get a detailed description of items stolen from Benjamin Franklin's residence in a robbery.

The book is called:

Home Life in Colonial Days by Alice Morse Earle

Down load free here:


Listen free here:


The SO CALLED "latitude" given by the corrupt dysfunctional Court system we have in this country to the police officers in their ROUTINE violation of the Constitutional rights of we-the-people is a Stare Decisis (case law) contrivance that ignores the Constitution.

Indiana actually has a "stand your ground" law that entitles a citizen to use force in defense of illegal assault with a deadly weapon by a police officer. Pennsylvania, on the other and more brutally normal "hand", REQUIRES that you NOT defend yourself from a legal or ILLEGAL assault by a police officer because the court will "take care of your grievance later" when you have your "Day in Court". LOL!

But the issue is not the law per se. The POINT is that the police now are acting like an army of occupation and courts have gone fully, and fascistly, out of their way to ignore their brutality. EXACTLY what the founding fathers were afraid of HAS COME TO PASS.

All this BALONEY about how a police officer has to "defend" himself in the course of his duties is not now, or EVER was, justified as an excuse for routine assault and battery when verbally challenged or not instantly obeyed.

SINCE WHEN are citizens NOT allowed to ARGUE with a police officer? I'll tell you "since when"! Since the courts made us believe the FAIRY TALE that our "Day in Court" would settle the grievance.

You know the "DAY IN COURT" is for those with PRIVILEGE in this country and probably ALWAYS WAS! Over 90% of the people in jail RIGHT NOW in the USA never had a "day in Court"! They were pressured and threatened and intimidated to accept a PLEA "Bargain" (such a deal!).

We DO NOT have a functional Court System. It is THERE for the corporations and the rich (SEE definition of Corporations PLUS Government COERCIVE power = FASCISM).

Right now Darrell Wilson is busy getting his named changed or obtaining a nice security officer job in a "proud bigots 'R' us" corporation someplace. THAT is the UNJUST modus operandi that our Corrupt Court System ENABLES.

The incredibly calloused brutality towards minorities in general and African Americans in particular is part and parcel of the MILITARY mindset our soldiers have been indoctrinated in from the Phillipines to Iraq! Our police are SOLDIERS, not "watchmen" like our founding fathers considered towns men that protected people and property at night were.

This problem goes WAY BEYOND the police. It includes the accepted exploitative, conscience free mentality of our Predatory C(r)apitalst profit over people and planet suicidal paradigm.

But recognizing that our Courts are a TOOL of Fascism that has ushered in this police brutality is a start.

For those who labor under the ridiculous wishful thinking that we are entilted to a "Day in Court" and that our Court System practices their preached claim of Ubi Jus, Ibi Remedium (where there is injustice there is a remedy), read how the victims of the Exxon Valdez fared after 20 years of litigation when EXXON was OBVIOUSLY at fault for damaging the health and environment of people and animals to the point of sickness and death. This was a NO BRAINER but our Court System "awarded" a PITTANCE to the victims to the great pleasure and joy of one of the richest corporate planet polluters in the world!

And the victims were WHITE PEOPLE! Imagine if that town had been all black like some towns that GE ravaged long ago (and the Koch brothers more recently) who's victims never did get justice.

That's the way Fascism creeps in. First you are lulled into thinking it's just this or that OTHER group getting targeted and you remain asleep until one day you wake up and the cops are a standing army that can justify, in the HANDMAIDEN of the corporations (the Courts), any and all behavior, no matter how brutal and murderous.

We don't NEED more "laws" on the books. We NEED to have courts that don't enforce the laws SELECTIVELY. The "latitude" given police officers is UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

Cops are American citizens. Its time they were bound by the same laws the rest of us are. But since the corporations OWN our Government and our Courts, I'm not holding my breath waiting for our unlawful and corrupt Fascist Court System to act Lawfully.

Pass it on. It's time for people to stop pretending we are a democracy. Day in Court, my ARSE!

Links below:

It's time to listen to Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Kajieme Powell, Chris Hedges and Will Allen. If we don't mankind is doomed.



The Mike Brown Shooting - What You're Not Being Told


The Exxon Valdez PITTANCE of a settlement: PROOF we have a Fascist Fossil Fuel Government AND the irreparably DYSFUNCTIONAL Court System is its HANDMAIDEN



Fascist Big Ag uses Food Disparagement Law and the Patriot Act to threaten Truth tellers



Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. on what the LAW is ALL ABOUT



The Lady Justice Legal Scales mean the OPPOSITE of what you think they mean


Don't count on our Court System to defend Americans from Fascism - Here's why the solution to Corporate Profit over Planet is EX CURIA


UNC Tarheels's picture
UNC Tarheels 9 years 33 weeks ago

Who will ensure that parents teach their children right from wrong? It is illegal to take things that do not belong to you. It is illegal in most states to possess, sell and use marijuana. I'm tired of people who drive drunk and get mad because a police officer pulled them over.

Parents should instill values in thier children. When I was a child I had a rough life and grew up poor I never took other people's property use alcohol or drugs, and I never painted a toy gun to look like a real one and I never pulled it out on a policeman. It seems common sense goes a long way. Some thing the parents and the younger generation lacks.

no civilian needs to police the police as long as they think it's permissable to steal $50 worth of cigars, smoke pot and fight the police.

No outrage for Dillion Taylor (white guy) shot by black Salt Lake City UT police officer Bron Cruz in August.

jamlat's picture
jamlat 9 years 33 weeks ago

it doesn't matter if the police have body cams or dash cams or a jumbotron live feed... there are people who will spin the truth any way they wish..

a very VERY good example is Oriana Ferrel, who was involved in a police stop that turned into a road side shoot out...

for months, the defense and local civil rights groups were spreading around an edited version of a dash cam showing the woman pulled over and seconds later being shot at by 4 police officers. After the full footag ewas released, it showed the woman evading police, her son getting out of the car and attacking the arresting officer and then the woman driving her minivan at the cops in an effort to get away... all for a speeding ticket.

the outrage and claims of police brutality had been public for a year before the truth was shown. After the police were found to have acted in accordance with training and law, the civil suit was filed and she was back in the news with the edited version and threats being made to the police precinct by BSE groups.

it doesn't matter what the truth is, it doesn't matter what the facts are... if an agenda has to be met, then the rumors will fuel the fight.

I will venture to guess that if Wilson had a camera on, the edited versions would still be used to incite violence. the public would still demand he be prosecuted and the boy would still be held up as a victim on Jim Crow.

glandeweer's picture
glandeweer 9 years 33 weeks ago

How about if all citizens have the opportunity to wear a "Google Glass" type device. This would allow the citizen to document assaults by anyone, (including the police).

oneworldatpeace's picture
oneworldatpeace 9 years 33 weeks ago

I am always happy to get the historical perspective the "found book garage attic library" has sparked Thoms' level of analytics.

It occurs to me that the cops have always operated as the ENFORCERS OF CAPITAL POWER and the people on top like it that way and when Cops walked a beat they got to know their PEOPLE and took on the role as DEFENDERS OF THE NIEGHBORHOODS against criminals and disorder. That might mean an Officer Katie talking to the kid that just stole a candy bar and just listening why the kid stole it, instead of shooting him from the squad car, or beating him, or tazing him' and arresting him.

You don't need a degree to see which model the Power of Capital prefers. Officer Katie disrupts that system that relies on us all remaining separate, fearful and insecure.

That kid officer Katie saved from the system might just start feeling that he or she, is not worthless, but more importantly, someone in their culture, not only in their family, gives a shit and maybe the kid feels CONNECTED to something that offers hope and that feels GOOD! A future of being CONNECTED TO OUR COMMUNITY breeds commitment to each others wellbeing and that threatens the school to prison pipeline that feeds the current police state.

I think the deployment of all this Military equipment, Swat Tactics to serve traffic ticket warrants, Drug Searches, Tear Gas. Automatic Weapons, body armor, Tear gas and it's use are all intended to supply the Elite with a local Army they can control. I don't think they have any current intentions (these are plans in case of total Climate Driven Rebellion when we'll all be looking for them!) but the un- inintended consequences are all these mis-fires that are being tried out on the poulations that conveniently are not deemed to be human by most Republicans, Conservatives and a lot of Democrats.

People seem to forget that EVERY MONARCHY IN THE WORLD STARTED WITH AN ECONOMIC MONOPOLY! Currently the top 1/2% own vastly more than any historical Earthly Empire and I think they're forming their Army so that they won't have to bother with Governments. History shows the path!

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