Yesterday there was a bad mass shooting in Florida. There is evidence that law enforcement knew about the shooter well ahead of time but didn’t pursue it. As usual, there are calls for gun control but the evidence shows they are futile. Perhaps its time for a new idea on the subject of preventing violence in our society?
Here’s a question: What should the government do, in general? What is its proper function? Lots of people have different answers to that question but at the intersection of those answers tends to be that they it should maintain public order. Keep the peace. Prevent violence in our society! If you read “Better Angels of Our Nature” that is one of the big takeaways. The better the government is at preventing violence the better a society tends to function.
Given the fundamental importance of preventing violence why does the US spend so little on law enforcement? Overall we spend around $100 billion/year on law enforcement and there are a little under 1 million police officers in the US. Law enforcement consumes about 0.5% of GDP while government as a whole spends something like 36% of GDP. We spend about 7 times as much on our military than on police even though foreign enemies kill virtually no Americans (aside from soldiers we put in foreign war zones) and criminals kill about 15,000 Americans every year. There are over 22 million people employed by government at all levels in the US. So less than 5% are law enforcement.
I also read this yesterday. Men are not doing very well, relatively, in the labor market. Police officer is a highly respected, middle class and male dominated field. If we increase the demand for police, the supply is there to meet it.
Lets aim high. Lets imagine that we could get from less than 1 million police officers to say 5 million police officers. That would still only consume about 2.5% of GDP. Still well under what we spend on the military let alone on the civilian parts of the government. We could probably save that much just by increasing government efficiency. We could save way more than that if we got our healthcare spending down to levels comparable to other developed nations. The money is definitely there if we want to find it. Imagine what 5 million police officers could do. There are <100,000 public schools in the US. So, it would be trivial to have police at every school whenever children are there. Most crime happens at night anyway, so they shouldn’t be too busy during school hours. Having police at every school would have to decrease the likelihood and severity of school shootings. Every major public area could have an abundant number of police. Every crime ridden area could be absolutely blanketed with police. The costs of growing up around crime, afraid for your safety are profound. Removing that stress from all those children would be well worth the cost in terms of greater long term productivity, lower long term crime and government dependency.
Most criminals are basically sane and rational. If you increase the chance that they will get caught by dramatically decreasing the distance to the nearest cop then they will commit less crimes. If crime visibly works less well then fewer people will decide to pursue it. The idea is not to round up all the bad guys, it’s to convince them to stop being bad. This would also have the effect of helping with the problem of mass incarceration over the long run. The less the police have control over an area the more criminality there is going to be and the more it will have to be punished. If criminals simply lay down their arms knowing that continuing makes no sense, then they don’t need to be arrested.