Three futures for the police

This is a future where the defund-the-police cause gets its way on budgeting, and police spending falls in strapped cities, but without any substantial reforms to make cops more accountable or any of the creative community-based spending that Sharkey imagines as a substitute for aggressive policing.

In this future, rogue cops might get prosecuted slightly more often, as a show of principle by elected officials worried about renewed protests or media outrage. But as a systemic matter you’d get underfunded police departments retreating from their duties, an increasing anti-cop stigma discouraging good candidates from joining the force, and more cities and communities left in the position of Baltimore after the Freddie Gray riots — liberated from abusive cops but handed over to a more pervasive violence.

The righteous focus on police brutality at the moment means that this peril is a long way from most protesters’ minds, and there is a lot of free-floating utopianism (not only in Seattle’s version of the Paris Commune) about what an America with many fewer cops would look like.

But for the lives and streets that police officers exist to safeguard, the proposals to weaken unions and hold cops more accountable remain by far the safest path to reform, limited by their modesty but also limited in their potential harms.