Crime and Punishment
Some say the job of the police is to prevent crime. They usually mean that the police should be able to stop crimes from happening in the first place. Police generally don’t do that, nor could they. Mostly they show up in the aftermath of crime with notebooks and pens and write reports. Maybe they collect some evidence, and maybe they catch the perpetrators. Crime prevention largely consists of effectively and efficiently prosecuting criminals as an example to others as to what will happen to them if they venture over the line from civilization to criminality. When police give up on catching the criminals and when the prosecutors and courts give up on punishment for crime, the inevitable occurs. Crime flourishes.
Although police cannot prevent most crimes before they occur, police can reduce the crime rate. Broken Windows Policing is one way they can do that. Since a police force can never be a personal protection detail for every law-abiding citizen and their property, police will never be able to prevent more than a percentage of criminal acts. How large or small that percentage depends a lot on the leadership and wisdom of each police force.
In the UK, the leadership of the police is appalling and there isn’t a smidgen of wisdom. In its place is an indifferent attitude toward the victims of street violence, or to the extent there is any concern it is to make sure no one tries to defend themselves from violence. Since the government in Britain does so little to catch criminals or to punish them when they are caught, the question is not why are there so many thugs and looters on the streets, but why there aren’t even more.
Recently, the London police stood by and did nothing while thugs and looters ruled the streets in a Northern suburb for over 12 hours.
One of the more depressing things about these riots is the way that the only thing that the Police can think of to say to us non-looters and non-arsonists is: “Don’t join in” and “Let us handle it”. If the bad guys start to torch your house, let them get on with it. If they attack your next door neighbour, don’t join in on his side. Run away. Let the barbarians occupy and trash whatever territory they pick on and steal or destroy whatever property they want to.
But “letting the police do their job” is not a satisfactory answer for the victims of mass looting and violence:
The trouble with “letting the Police do their job” is that in the precise spot in which you happen to live, or used to live, their job probably won’t start, if it ever does start, for about a week. In the meantime, letting the Police do their job means letting the damn looters and arsonists do their job, without anyone laying a finger on them, laying a finger on them being illegal. This is a doomed policy. If most people are compelled by law to be only neutral bystanders in a war between themselves and barbarism, barbarism wins. The right to, at the very least, forceful self defence must now be insisted upon. The Police, as we advocates of the don’t-disarm-the-victims-of-crime policy have been pointing out for decades, can’t be everywhere. They cannot instantaneously attend every crime, and magically prevent it. Only the potential or actual victims of crime can sometimes immediately prevent or immediately punish crime, provided only that they not forbidden to.
The Los Angeles Rodney King riots saw the LAPD acting much like the London Police, but at least in that case there were Korean store owners with revolvers and AR-15’s to fight back and contain at least the worst of it.
In the UK the police are undermining their own legitimacy. This is a challenge to the police in the U.S., given the rising occurrences of flash mob violence on this side of the Atlantic.