A Few Bad Apples, Many Bad Laws

The ideas that all cops are killers and that all cops narrowly walk a thin, blue line are both untrue and are an affront to logic and reason in the face of the data in front of us. There are more than a few bad apples, but that is always the case.

No matter what, there will always be a bottom 20% of performers, and there will always be people in any profession with malicious intent. It would be impossible to rid schools and churches of pedophiles, politics of lust for power, and welfare lines of those who have fallen to sloth and complacency.

The question is in the American system, “Is this huge problem because of the pawns or those who designed the game?”

What I mean by this is simply should the bulk of the blame for an obvious issue of police brutality, overreach, and malfeasance due to a bunch of cops on a power-trip or a system that is inherently broken? I believe it is a bit of both, but the main issue is a system that punishes peaceful people, who may not be doing the most ethical thing at the time, with violence. Myriads of stories could be told about a minor infraction by an upstanding, and all but this once, law-abiding person running into the police for something that had no consequence to anyone else.

A 2014 article by Politifact showed that 410 uses of deadly force and 12,196,659 arrests. That means that there was more than one person, on average, killed by police each day and that only .003362% of arrests ended in lethal force. Each of those statistics alone could be used to mislead a reader to one side of the issue, but together they paint a different picture and a more nuanced conclusion. (Ignore the fact that this author can’t do math- I checked his statistics and math.)

The arrest rates of violent crime were 166.3  per 100,000 arrests and property crimes were 528.1 per 100,000 arrests according to FBI 2012 Statistics. This means arrests for violent and property crimes were .69% of arrests.

However, 386.9 out of every 100,000 reported crimes were violent crimes and 2859.2 out of every 100,000 reported crimes were property crimes. That equates to 3.25% of all reported crimes. That seems to be a large discrepancy for the most heinous crimes. Also, that means that arrest rates for non-violent offenses are disproportionately high.

So, let’s do some math on this. If police only pursued violent crimes and property crimes, which are the only two types that consist of victims at high risk of immediate danger, that would eliminate need of police at 99,305 per 100,000 arrests. Now, not all of those remaining are victimless crimes necessarily, although violent crimes and property crimes cover almost all victims. Cases of neglect and endangerment are not necessarily violent crimes in FBI statistics, even though Wikipedia counts them, and because the statistics of arrests I am using are from the FBI, I will accept their definition.

Finally, let’s say that victimless crime arrests are only 95% of those 99,305 arrests left per 100,000 after violent and property crimes are subtracted (which is conservative). That would mean 94,339.75 of every 100,000 arrests are non-violent and victimless “offenses” that are met with force of the state. If those go away, all that’s left is 5,660.25 arrests per 100,000. This would leave only 690,361 of the 12,196,659 arrests.

If the same rate of deaths by police per arrest persisted with only 690,361 arrests, .078 people would be shot per year. At that rate, it would take over 12 years on average before someone is killed by a cop.

Obviously the disparity between the arrests of violent and nonviolent crimes shows a focus on less severe, and especially on victimless offenses. Maybe the main issue isn’t the cops? Maybe it is a system of unjust laws and ill-conceived incentives for police?

It appears to me that eliminating “crimes” that have no victim, where there is no one but the perpetrator who is being harmed or put at immanent risk of harm, should be eliminated. This would allow police to focus on truly violent crimes, and hopefully arrest more than 43% the people who commit them. The same can be said for property crimes in which only 18.5% of perpetrators are arrested.

This doesn’t account for malevolence, but the statistics seem to show me that focusing on so much “nonviolent crime” results in unnecessary interactions with cops. These just create more chances for a cop, who is understandably stressed, to react poorly to a frustrated victim of bad laws.

Last Words

Instead of hitting traffic ticket quotas and ruining the day of some guy smoking marijuana in a park, cops ought to focus their energy on crimes with a victim. It is not the state’s duty to enforce a set of morality. It is to protect life, liberty, and property (based on its own documents). By eliminating the laws that allow police to pursue people whose only victim is their own better future, cops can focus on the people in our society who are truly malevolent. And, it may decrease the animosity, which would in turn lower the tensions between the people and cops.

In the end, let people live the life they wish to live as long as it doesn’t hurt any one.

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One thought on “A Few Bad Apples, Many Bad Laws

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  1. Awesome article. It’s a shame that is MUCH too rational for the current system. As someone who has been a victim of violent crime, and of property crimes, none of which ended up with an arrest, I WISH the cops spent their time trying to stop the serious stuff, and quit harassing the rest of us. Worry a LOT more about rapists, and lot less about seatbelt violations.

    I agree that the problem is in the laws trying to legalize morality by various people’s opposing standards. Although how much of this is just me wishing the laws that represent MY morality (leave us alone if we aren’t affecting others!!) were the law of the land? Hard to say where the line is between “this is rational” and “this is my opinion.” I’m sure there are things others would consider overreach of the legal system that I consider serious crime (driving after drinking comes to mind, an awful lot of people seem to think it’s ok, I absolutely do not.)

    Part of the problem is the interconnectedness of this society. I can see why people want seatbelt laws, since people who don’t wear them tend to run up high emergency services/medical/disability bills that often end up being paid by the rest of us. I wear a seatbelt, but I don’t think ticketing people for doing so is a good use of police energy. Question here might end up being “how do we teach people to make well thought out choices, and protect the rest of us from the fallout of their choices?” Or even better, how do we get people to do the right thing without the threat of punishment? An awful lot of religions seem to have not managed that one, I doubt I will figure it out anytime soon.

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