Recent events have highlighted calls for policing reform nationwide, from both conservatives and liberals. At first glance, this sounds like a rare moment of bipartisan agreement. Unfortunately it is not. Both sides approach the concept of policing differently and share very little in terms of how it needs to be reformed.
Conservatives are not new to the idea of policing reform. The police have the most intrusive authorities in all of government. Conservatives, believing the role of government should be limited, reflexively display skepticism at government power, and continually look to improve and minimize the role of government in our lives.
However, conservatives also recognize that policing is a legitimate role of government, and as such they support and respect the institution. Romans 13:4 tells us “for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.” This biblical foundation for not only government, but servant guardians within it, also establishes the authority and legitimacy of force.
Conservatives do not believe that policing is a racist institution, or that police officers seek to harm minority groups based on personal or institutional biases. Neither do conservatives believe in sweeping removal of longstanding institutions.
The area where conservatives see the most room for improving policing is in officers’ training. Use of force by a police officer is always ugly, but conservatives recognize that it is sometimes necessary. Better training will result in better use of force decisions and applications, making our guardians properly restrained but eminently capable of the difficult job we ask them to perform.
We should also reduce overcriminalization. Over-regulation and criminalization require more frequent contacts between police officers and the public, often for reasons that have no impact on public safety. The death of Eric Garner in New York while struggling with police occurred because the officers were attempting to enforce a ban on the selling of loose cigarettes. Any arrest for any reason has the potential to become violent.
No lawmaker ever intended for anyone to die when making it illegal to sell loose cigarettes, and yet someone did.
The final difference between the right and left in the current debate on policing reform is also the one being played at the highest volume right now. The “defund the police” narrative is solely found on the left, and mostly the very far left. While conservatives are fiscally frugal, they also believe policing to be a core function that should be appropriately funded. Defunding the police is illogical on its face and will place the most vulnerable among us in the worst jeopardy when police departments have to limit patrols and response times increase.
Finally, if training is the best mechanism for improving our policing, then depriving police departments of the resources to do that is sure to create far more problems in policing than it fixes.