Last weekend, while looking out the window of a midnight tram, I could see lines of people lined up outside bars and nightclubs. Their only company was the inevitable doormen, checking identification cards and keeping troublemakers at bay. The city police force were nowhere to be seen, even though I traveled through downtown, including the main train terminal. I know from having read books about law enforcement where I live, that there usually is only a few police patrols available at any given time. Additionally, the police staffing schedule is incredibly mismatched with public demand for service. The police is fully staffed during office hours on weekdays, and sparsely staffed during the “busy” time of Friday night through Sunday.
I have also learned that the vast majority of police work is handling drunks and mental health crises. Taking care of drunks doing foolish things and violent psychologically disturbed people lays claim to the majority of available law enforcement capacity. As a person that doesn’t consume alcoholic beverages, I’m frankly dumbfounded by the amount of people that spend their spare time during the weekend especially going to drinking and partying establishments. To be perfectly frank, this is a very important sociological phenomenon. These activities run on alcohol, and they fuel a lot of conflict, brawls and public order disturbances. The police couldn’t possibly manage all the “little fires” that flare up all across the city, even if their budget was doubled.
It is no wonder that the private security industry is growing. Private security, in the form of mall cops, bouncers, alarm companies and the like all tells us something fundamental about our society. There truly is a kind of anarchy at the core of our interpersonal relations. I often think about what I would do if someone with ill intent robbed me, assaulted me or otherwise engaged in bad conduct against my person. Law enforcement would at best take my statement after the fact and perhaps possibly bother to investigate. The vast majority of complaints filed with the police are dropped due to lack of investigative resources.
If someone truly desired to harm me, they would likely face little to no consequence for doing so. Unfortunately, shoplifters and other “petty” criminals can practically operate at will, having little to fear in terms of judicial punishment. All of this boils down to the necessity of self-policing. The potential for conflict and public order disturbances is massive due to the amount of people engaging in alcohol-fuelled behavior and the lack of police presence and legal consequence for acting badly. The only reason society doesn’t succumb to the anarchy that is present, is societal cohesion, self-policing and a cultural respect for others and the law. It certainly isn’t the result of an amoral consequentialist analysis of behavioral choices. Such an analysis would give the individual licence to act wildly with disastrous consequences for society at large.
If you stop and think for a while about all the ways someone could create mayhem, you’ll never sleep again. Poisoning the water supply, disabling the electrical grid, derailing a train, committing acts of physical harm against someone. The only thing preventing apocalypse is the lack of people either willing or desiring to attack society in such a manner. Societal defenses against such chaos attacks aren’t sufficient and they never can be, as the different ways to attack will always be greater than it is feasible to defend against. This brings me to an important part of this conversation. The importance of borders and demographics.
Foreign bands of criminals stealing copper wire from train lines, roving gangs engaging in organized theft from stores and private homes, foreigners ignoring parking tickets, toll road payments and the like are only some of the ways that outsiders are challenging the stability and viability of the cohesive society. The copper wire thefts are resulting in train delays and cancellations, the roving bands of thieves are undermining people’s sense of security and the foreigners ignoring tickets are creating economic harm. It does something to a law-abiding person when they see a foreigner being allowed to skip paying for the subway fare due to the fact that the ticket inspectors don’t have the patience to enforce the rules against foreigners not speaking the language. All the while, I as a law-abiding citizen has to fork over money in order to support the system. This strains my own and other people’s willingness to effectively subsidize moochers.
Personally, I don’t think the policing vacuum is inherently bad. Paired with a cohesive and homogeneous society, the lack of an overbearing police presence is a nice contrast with some heavily policed foreign countries. I enjoy greatly the sense of freedom from governmental overreach that comes from having a small police footprint. But this system can’t handle being combined with the open borders, two legal systems (one for domestic citizens, another for foreigners) reality of today. I lament facing the loss of the societal good of a light police presence. Recently I went to the annual work Christmas party. Going through security in order to enter the venue was almost like facing airport security. It wasn’t always like this. I miss the innocence and carefreeness of my youth, prior to the wave of immigrants, criminal gangs and the decline of respect for law and order.
The policing vacuum can survive for some time yet, but at some point will come the time when reality will force the situation to change. I deeply regret the direction we are currently heading in, as we can see from across the Atlantic what the lack of community bonds does to policing in the US. Must we also face the inevitable introduction of militarized police, anti-police activism, a general disrespect for law and order, and the breakdown of peace and security? Let’s hope not.