Police and Public Opinion: Libertarian Party Manifesto Home Affairs Pt. 5
In this article, we discuss Libertarian policies on policing, election of officers, policy community support officers, Peelian Policing, volunteering, police numbers, and public opinion on policing.
Anyone aware of issues regarding either police brutality, or issues of states using the police to beat protestors, may find themselves rather at home with this part of the Libertarian Manifesto. Anyone who is unaware of the economic thoughts of Libertarianism, you can learn more here.
We have covered monetary and fiscal policy as well. The Home Affairs section comes in five parts; if you click on the part you’d like to read, you can find out more.
There isn’t a large amount of macro-economics involved here, but there are incentives created by the language, as well as potential abuses of policies and philosophies outlined in the Libertarian Party manifesto, which can be read here. We shall cover parts of their philosophies, as well as five policies. This will end up having covered 28 Libertarian Policies in Home Affairs, as well as 7 Libertarian Monetary/Fiscal Policies.
Part Five: Policing
The Libertarian Party have certainly caught onto a cultural hot-topic for the past few years; the police in media are not seen as defenders of the law, or public servants; in the U.S., they are described as ‘pigs’, executioners of black people with a public response of Black Lives Matter (Economist, 2019b), and often compared to the Nazi’s in their treatment of illegal immigrants (I.C.E.). There is also the use of the police by even democratic states such as France over the past 10 months, as well as some other states, whose police have been at war with their citizens and using firearms, violence, and gang tactics on their citizens.
The core statement of the Libertarians is this; the police are not against the people, they are for the people, and of the people. They are not an arm of the government to suppress the people, and in this, the Libertarian point of view is one we should support. In practical terms, however, we must balance the tyranny of the majority and the rule of law; the police should not act against the people, but they are also to protect the state and uphold the rule of law and justice. With all that is happening across the world, we must be careful to ensure that the police are servants, not enforcers.
However, in the United Kingdom, does it apply? Not really; people generally speak highly of their local police (36%) over criticise them (16%), and generally believe the police have gotten better (Ipsos-MORI, 2017). Most people feel that the police currently have a very respectful attitude with the public; around 60% of people feel that the police are respectful and friendly, whereas 6% feel that the police ‘never do this’ (Ipsos-MORI, 2017).
Policy 23: The Nine Peelian Principles
We shall sprinkle this throughout the other policies, as they are the skeleton of the body that the Libertarians interpret their policies through.
Policy 24: “Policing areas will be localised and Chief Constables or Sheriffs be locally elected and given a greater amount of autonomy allowing them to direct resources to meet local needs and to deputise voluntary candidates as needed for the legitimate exercise of their role. The role of Police and Crime Commissioner will be abolished.”
Firstly, the point regarding higher autonomy and local needs and resources, as well as localising policing areas; its been done already.
It was a complete failure in Scotland, and is a complete failure today in England and Wales. Scotland put all of its police forces under a single banner; ‘Police Scotland’, and share resources, operations, and organisation. It is more agile, and more flexible. English and Welsh police forces are trying to unite their own organisations in a similar manner, because segregation of police forces simply isn’t effective, and allows organised crime to flourish between areas as police forces cannot communicate and are unaware of what the other hand is doing.
Finally, by splitting the various agencies between ministries and organisations, they were unable to focus and cops are therefore slow to adapt and slow to learn, hamstrung by this kind of policy. Data is also segregated in this system, and so a gang in London has little or no record in Manchester; when databases were integrated, they found that the police had been hunting the same gang using different forces (Economist, 2019a).
The first part of this policy has been a failure already; like many Libertarian policies we’ve examined in this series, they simply do not apply to the United Kingdom through previous examples or data, and are ideology over effectiveness.
There is another concerning part of this policy; to elect the higher-up police officers. I see immediately several issues:
1) Who could be elected? Anyone? I am sure anyone who is paying attention to Western politics now can see that elections do not guarantee smart, experienced people are elected to office.
2) A system of choosing within the police system means that, whatever else you feel about the person, they must have prerequisite experience, and a lot of it. An outsider simply won’t have that, and may enact changes that make things worse simply to be able to say they’ve done something next election.
3) What if, let’s say, a racist gets elected? They then can enact local policies to harm different ethnicities. What if a progressive gets elected, and refuses to prosecute based on their politics, rather than a rule of law? Pick whatever group of people you may dislike; now give them power over what the police do, and do not, prosecute.
4) What if these people, in turn, select their volunteers who think like they do, and spread their poison throughout the system?
Do you know who is better at law than humans? A.I.. For example, in judging whether to allow a defendant to go on bail, a judge must try to figure out how likely they are to re-commit a crime in the meantime. Turns out, judges are not very good, but A.I. performs the job more reliably, and with less bias than human judges (Economist, 2019b). Want to cut down on costs, biases, and have more effectiveness? Let the computers decide.
Of course, we then enter into realms of whether the code is biased in one way or another, but that’s a different issue. Another issue would be that the legitimacy of the judicial system is the idea of fairness, and one judge says that using A.I. would threaten that (Economist, 2019b).
Peelian Policy 2: “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.”
The idea of this has a good point; the police should act with public approval, but I don’t believe it should be “dependent upon public approval”. There are many ways to decide how to function as a government, without needing to always turn to the ever change-able public.
I am going to make a controversial statement; not all police work is supported by the public. The ability of the police to perform their duties should not be dictated by public approval; in short, if a mob disapproves of police action, the police should back down the mob?
People also usually ‘default to truth’; they assume people are generally trustworthy and good (Economist, 2019b). So when the police are arresting someone forcefully, they assume that the person is actually good, and therefore, the police are harming a person unnecessarily. But reality doesn’t work that way; let’s use two examples of when people assumed because they only saw half of the story.
Consider the case of the Covington High School boys, who were dragged through the mud by national media for the crime of awkwardly smirking while a Native American banged a drum in their faces; why were they called the evil party? Because they wore MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats, and people literally called for their murder, and violent threats were made against their school. They were also called racists and accused of using the ’n’ word and worse (Zimmerman, 2019).
Except that it turned out that Phillips, the Native American, actually was the aggressor in this case, the boys themselves were threatened and remain peaceful and innocent. The racist comments? Made by a group called the Black Israelites (Zimmerman, 2019). Had the police followed public opinion, instead of the law, these boys would be in jail, or worse. What had this student done? He stood there. That’s it.
Another case? The shooting of Micheal Brown. Public opinion held that the police officer Wilson had murdered the suspect, Brown, while Brown had innocently held up his hands saying ‘Don’t shoot’, and was shot in the back while running away.
Physical evidence showed he was shot in the front; blood evidence showed he was charging towards the police officer, not running away; catalogued injuries on the police officer showed he was physically attacked, but none of those kinds of injuries were on Brown. Witnesses were shown to be unreliable, changing their stories from the evidence (Department of Justice, 2015).
In short, if public opinion had held, this innocent man would have been convicted of a brutal slaughter of an innocent man.
The police should perform their duties based on the law; hence rule of law, not rule of the people. It seems the Libertarians are confused on this point, because on the same page:
Peelian Policy 5: "Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law and defence of individual rights.”
So the police must not cater to public opinion, but can only function with public approval (a positive form of public opinion). Let me explain why we should not let the public dictate how the police should or should not uphold the law.
For example, 17% of people believe that the police should focus on online crime, 38% of people would call the police for an online incident, whereas only 32-30% of people believe that anti-social behaviour is a problem; as such, should the police spend more time searching Twitter and Facebook than actually on the beat? (Ipsos-MORI, 2017).
Another issue is this: humans are actually not very good at judging needs. For example, the largest part of unhappiness of the police today is the lack of police officers, but the same survey sample wanted response to violent crimes first, and police presence on foot was only 5th in the list of needs. However, while the public wants victims of stalking and harassment to be most protect of all groups (Ipsos-MORI, 2017). People are simply internally inconsistent with their judgements, and we cannot base policy on inconsistency.
So, for public satisfaction, what should the police do? What people actually want, who the public want protected, what people say they want, or what would be most effective? Who decides, and how much to allocate to each problem?
There is a further problem; people are awfully easy to lie to. Gladwell (Economist, 2019b) mentions that in a large amount of studies, people can only tell if they’re being lied to around 52%-53% of the time. Consider the discussion we are having about foreign interference in elections and opinions; if people are so easy to control, and so easy to trick, why would we hand them power over how the law should be applied?
Promising Policer Officers
The next section of policies is less about how the police will act, and more about how to increase the number of active and “on the beat” police officers, while getting rid of the ‘non-essential’.
It is difficult to decide how much to pay police officers, and how much to spend in general. Labour MP Diane Abbott once said she would increase the police force by 10,000 members, of which, she would pay £300,000 (which is £30 per person). When this was pointed out, she quickly changed the number to £80,000,000. Which is £8,000 per police officer. Labour leader Corbyn later said £300 million, which is £30,000 per officer (RT, 2017).
Conservative Prime Minister Johnson has said that he intends to increase police officers by 20,000 by spending £1.1 billion on rural areas (Morrison, 2019), which is also around £55,000 per officer.
Currently, there are 103,000 police officers on the ‘front line’, or ‘on the beat’ in England and Wales. There are 202,000 police staff workforce in total in England and Wales (ONS, 2019). Or about 1 police officer per 1,000 people (Allen and Zayed, 2019). By comparison, the U.S. has 2.4 police staff per 1,000 people (FBI, 2017). In the European Union, the number of police officers per 1,000 citizens is an average of 3.2 (McCarthy, 2019).
How many does that mean? There are 500 major built-up areas (large towns and cities with populations above 10,000 people) in the United Kingdom (ONS, 2013).
So regarding the promises of PM Johnson, who promises 20,000 additional police officers: Let’s say the major cities (11 of them with populations above half a million, and let’s say that London doesn’t just get all of them) get 50% of the police officers; that means each city gains around 1,000 more police officers, or 2 more police officers per 1,000 people in those areas (at best).
For the rest of the country? Not including villages? They get 20 police officers per town, or 2 per 1,000 people (at best).
As there are 84 daylight hours in a week, and a limit on working 40 hours per week (West Yorkshire Police, 2017), each of these numbers will drop by half because the officer is not always working; this means an increase of less than 1 per 1,000 people in police on the beat.
Or an increase in population representation of 0.1%. Corbyn’s plan would increase it by 0.05%. That’s it.
Any real improvement in policing requires a substantial increase in officers to have any real difference. We are less than a third of an average European country, and less than half of the U.S, but that means money, and no-one wants to spend that (including the Libertarians).
Policy 25: “We will reduce paperwork to enable more beat officers to remain on patrol for as long as possible.”
Only 17% of people feel that there are enough uniformed police in their area (Ipsos-MORI, 2017). Therefore, it is certainly popular to increase that number of people on the beat, but removing the paperwork is not the way to go.
The reason our police is completely hampered with paper work is because of all of the problems we have had with the police in the past. The paperwork is not for the protection of the police primarily; it’s for the public.
The police will find it much harder to lie about statements (everything is recorded), harder to make up evidence (everything is photographed and logged), and in turn, when the evidence is present, be better prepared to be able to provide that evidence without a risk of bias or bad memory allowing the defender to get a guilty man off.
You know when people complain that police brutality happens when cameras are turned off, recordings are missing, and paperwork is lost? You would have to be insane to make it an actual policy to allow all police officers to do so.
Hire more people to do the paperwork; but that paperwork is for the public safety. Libertarian distrust of the police is well-founded; don’t give the police more leeway to abuse their power. Most officers are on the beat; 92% of police officers are on the frontline (ONS, 2019).
It also protects the police from public opinion; in the Micheal Brown case, unreliable witnesses (and the media of the country) said that Brown was attacked by Wilson, and that he was shot in the back. Physical evidence, carefully collected, as well as the detailed report on the body of Brown found that it wasn’t true (Department of Justice, 2015). Without that paperwork, Wilson would be in jail at best, and possibly murdered in jail for his received racism and brutality.
Policy 26: “We will increase recruitment of Special Constables, volunteers and Deputies to function in their local areas in keeping with Peelian principles of policing.”
Currently, there are 7,700 volunteers, 10,600 Special Constables, and no current role of deputy (ONS, 2019). They have little power, and are paid little. They each work around 4 hours per week, and so would require 10 Special Constables per officer to maintain a similar rate of on-foot presence.
This is an important issue; 44% of people have not seen a uniformed police officer in a year in their area. However, 83% of people believe it is very important to see uniformed police officers in the area, with 39% believing it is very important; not only that, but only 24% of people are happy with the current level of police officers in their neighbourhood (Ipsos-MORI, 2017). There has been a decrease in total police officers in the force since 2010 by 20,000 officers (ONS, 2019). We also have a massive deficit of police officers when compared to other countries (U.S. and E.U.).
Who is unhappy with the level of policing? Rural, people older than 34, and white participants are less happy with the amount of police officers around. Not only that, but there is a general belief (25%) that the police has gotten worse, and in almost every category of behaviour (except information online), the police have been seen to have gotten worse than those who believe it has gotten better, from behaviour, presence, response time, and range of services (Ipsos-MORI, 2017). In short, anything that would improve this would be a hit with a large section of voters.
Notice that an increase in these positions require people to work for free; increasing these numbers will certainly be good for public spending, but expecting an increase in recruitment without spending anything on wages will be interesting; let’s see if the Libertarians can find a way to make people work and risk their lives defending the public for free.
Peelian Policy 9: “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”
Don’t worry; despite the fact that 80% of British people want to know about their police, only 11% have even noticed the visible evidence of police action dealing with it; in short, this is not a problem that actually exists in the United Kingdom (Ipsos-MORI, 2017).
The data also doesn’t support this idea; data shows that when police are seen to be dealing with crime, perception that crime is being dealt with is higher; in short, people want to see ‘visible evidence of police action’ (Ipsos-MORI, 2017), but that people don’t really notice in general.
Policy 27: “We will abolish the role of the Police Community Support Officers (PCSO) and seek to recruit those capable into the main police force, and to disband the remainder.”
There are 9,000 PCSO’s at the moment (ONS, 2019). A PCSO is paid just above £20,000 as a starting salary (North Yorkshire Police, 2019). However, a newly hired Police Constable (the lowest rank) is just under £20,000 (Metfriendly, 2019). So despite having limited powers, they are paid more than full members of the police force.
So in this regard, the Libertarians are correct. PSCO’s work a full week (37 hours per week), and are paid more than a full P.C., who has more powers, works longer hours, and is paid less (North Yorkshire Police, 2019; Metfriendly, 2019).
So why do we have this? Because police salaries increase over time (up to £40,000), and PSCO’s are capped at £22,000 (North Yorkshire Police, 2019; Metfriendly, 2019). Another reason is that they do not require any level of education, which provides groups in society a way to enter the police force and gain payment and experience (BBC, 2012).
But it seems an ultimately inefficient force, with more pay and less powers, and so we should support the reduction of this section of the police force.
Policy 28: “We will abolish all non-essential non-front-line roles.”
How many of the police workforce are non-front line? Around 49%. How many police officers? About 92% (ONS, 2019). How many are non-essential?
About the police staff who are non-front line, how many are necessary? The 8% of police officers are either ‘frontline support’ or ‘business support’ (ONS, 2019). The other jobs includes jobs like forensics, 999 centre workers, digital programmers, secretaries, and other things that give the police the technology and manpower it needs to work. I would like for the Libertarians to specify which particular jobs they mean, and how many there are. It’s a nice soundbite, but it means little.
Due to the lack of details in the manifesto, there isn’t any real substance to this section. All ideals, and nothing concrete. This has been a repeating issue in the Libertarian Manifesto.
It is telling that the first thing that they discuss in depth is the ideology of Peelian Policing; it is pure idea, and nothing real. Lots of “we will x”, but no “how” or “how much/many”.
Some of their policies (remove the non-frontline officers, remove the paperwork, make the people love the police) are all things that appeal to a certain type of ‘police aren’t doing enough’ voter, but they don’t say how they would do this, nor consider the long-term effects of doing so. Anyone with a level of criminal legal training would explain why we have so much paperwork (read about police abuses before PACE Act was passed).
They say they will increase volunteers (how?), remove all non-essential roles (which ones?), increase Special Constables (how?), and “preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion” while “perform[ing] their duties … dependent upon the public approval of police actions” (how do you do both at the same time?). Some of their ideas are good; I do not see the advantages of PCSO’s in the long-run, and they should be cut.
They would get rid of experienced police leadership to replace it with elected officials (find one person who thinks our politicians are doing good work), as well as trying to make our police more local, an idea that the police is currently trying to remove right now.
The entire ideology of Libertarians is that the person is completely rational; it turns out that our environment and class has a massive effect on your choices and we have discussed how easy it is for the media to change political opinion across the population. Not only that, but we have found that even in the same survey, people cannot agree with what they want, and what they think they want. We have the possibility of entire elections being controlled by foreign powers. People are quite easily controlled via psychological trickery; it’s the entire point of advertising and marketing. The Libertarians would give the law to the rich media owners; LawTM, brought to you by Disney and Rupert Murdoch.
We laugh at Johnson and Abbott, but at least they give some numbers. We have found that the U.K. is severely under-policed by global developed standards, and current levels of promises do nearly nothing to help.
There has not been a single number by the Libertarians in this entire section of the Manifesto; my suspicion is that it may be intentional, because even a cursory glance across this manifesto and my research shows that none of their Home Office policies would actually work by numbers. Even their monetary policies struggle. It makes it difficult to provide real numbers, because they haven’t even provided guesses as to what they actually want to do. It seems even they know they don’t have to provide anything, because they’re not a real political contender. With this article, I shall likely not return to them.
All fluff, nothing there.
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In all articles, I provide as much information for sources as possible, including links. I encourage everyone reading this article to read deeper, and make their own conclusions. For students, links are here so they can read the original source themselves. Most sources are linked the first or second time they appear in the article.
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