Sunday Discussion

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

A few months ago, I got a call from a reporter at the Economist asking what I thought about a proposal in the U.K. to make local police chief an elected position. The measure failed, but I thought it was a pretty interesting question. The more I’ve thought about that question since, the more I’m unsure of the answer.

I’ve written a bit before about the problems with over-politicizing the criminal justice system. When you look at prosecutors, for example, guys like Forrest Allgood or Ed Jagels have continued to get reelected despite some pretty egregious misconduct, both by them and their subordinates. And the last 30 years have basically been one long lesson in the perils of mob-based criminal justice policy.

But then, the courts and bar associations have also done very little to discipline and hold rogue prosecutors accountable. While the old axiom that a thinly disguised Bill of Rights probably couldn’t win as a ballot referendum in most states today is probably true, appointed judges haven’t exactly gone out of their way to preserve, say, the Fourth Amendment, either. If it’s a bad idea to look to the electoral process for accountability, where should we look?

We have started to see at least some voter backlash, most notably the two judges in Colorado whom voters refused to retain after learning the two had withheld exculpatory evidence in an innocence case during their time in the DA’s office. The reelection of Dallas County, Texas, DA Craig Watkins was encouraging, too.

I’ve seen quite a bit of academic research into the effects of electing judges (most of it critical), but I’ve seen very little on what effect elections have on prosecutors, and if electing them is preferable to, say, having a governor appoint district attorneys the way a president appoints U.S. attorneys. It would be also interesting to see studies comparing sheriffs (who are generally elected) to police chiefs (who are generally appointed), and what effect each process has on effectiveness, accountability, and civil rights. I haven’t been able to find any such studies.

So what say you, readers? Would choosing more of our criminal justice officials through elections be a good or bad thing? If not through elections, how do we hold bad police chiefs and prosecutors more accountable?

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55 Responses to “Sunday Discussion”

  1. #1 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Personally, I don’t think making police chief an elected position would do any good. It might even make matters worse. Think Arpaio.

  2. #2 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Regardless of whether positions are elected or appointed, the process will be thoroughly infused with politics. I suppose the issue comes down to; who would you rather see the office-holders sucking up to, the electorate, or whoever has the power to appoint? For myself, I would tend to come down on the side of the electorate. The other way reinforces the notion of an elite political class, which I detest on general principal.

  3. #3 |  ClubMedSux | 

    I’m a civil defense lawyer so I can’t speak specifically to criminal issues, but after practicing in Chicago for five years I can tell you that the appointed federal judges are far more qualified than the elected state court judges, at least around here. The problem is simple: people don’t care about judicial elections, so any bum with a political connection who manages to get himself or herself elected basically retains the job for life. Sure, there are bad federal judges too, but there seems to at least be a baseline of competence that isn’t present at the state level. And the threat of not getting elected is so unlikely that it doesn’t really serve as a deterrent to unprofessional or incompetent conduct.

    That being said, I think one can make the counter-argument that state officials appointing judges wouldn’t have the same baseline standard as that applied to federal judges. And given the cronyism involved at the state and local level, an appointed judiciary may ultimately be no different than those elected in a process that few but the politically-connected actually participate in. With this in mind, I wonder if changing from appointed judges to elected ones, or vice versa, would actually make a difference one way or the other. I suspect that, until the public starts to care about having fair judges (in other words, until they get fucked over by a bad judge), we’ll continue to see bad judges no matter how they’re chosen.

  4. #4 |  Roger Abramson | 

    “The problem is simple: people don’t care about judicial elections, so any bum with a political connection who manages to get himself or herself elected basically retains the job for life.”

    Ditto. Pretty much everywhere, the judicial election process is a farce. Appointed judges, please. The “people” can affect their will (such as it may be) on such matters through the folks they elect to appoint the judges, as is done on the federal level.

  5. #5 |  Satori | 

    I’m not a fan of elections for criminal justice positions. I think it’s just too easy for those races to become posturing over who is more “law and order”.

    I live in Nevada, where all judges from justice of the peace to the supreme court are elected. I’ve worked in politics, and attended judicial election fundraisers. Watching a judge spend an evening collecting checks from lawyers doesn’t give me a whole lot of faith in our system.

    The judges I’ve talked to are actually very uncomfortable with that, as well. But I think its hard for any human being to be neutral. Are you so concerned about *not* favoring the guy who’s firm gave you a $10,000 contribution that you start favoring the opponent? It seems like a situation better avoided.

    As far as DAs, while I have no empirical evidence, I think concern over how their conviction rate looks to voters can get in the way of better judgement.

    Ultimately, though, the problem is societal. As long as society has the view that the criminal justice system are always heroes, and the accused are always “bad guys”, the selection process for those positions is going to have similar results, whether appointed or elected.

  6. #6 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “It would be also interesting to see studies comparing sheriffs (who are generally elected) to police chiefs (who are generally appointed), and what effect each process has on effectiveness, accountability, and civil rights. I haven’t been able to find any such studies.”

    Agreed. I have tried find information related to that as well. In order to determine which way to go with policing in the future, I think that people in the U.S. should look at the past, including the colonial/revolutionary period. At that time, policing was thought to be everyone’s job, but there were also sheriffs and constables. Their roles, from what I have read, were much, much more restricted than their modern day counterparts. If we moved the police out of activities they should not be involved in (drug/vice enforcement) and reviewed activities that seem to be more revenue-oriented than public safety-oriented (a lot of traffic enforcement activities, for instance) then this conversation would be much easier.

    Here’s my idea: After we end the drug war and re-envision the role of police, we will determine that we need fewer officers than most municipal agencies currently employ. As police move away from dealing with vice, ordinances and other tasks associated with municipal agencies, people may begin to see having local police and a sheriff’s department as a duplication of services. It will then be feasible for most communities to rely on the sheriff’s department (led by an elected sheriff) to deliver basic law enforcement services (call response, some patrol, limited traffic enforcement and accident investigation, some community service), provide service of warrants/civil papers, secure the court house and operate the jail if applicable. Follow up criminal investigations could be conducted by detectives (a position distinct from police officer), who could be hired by victims, or provided to victims (like a public defender) upon request. Just an idea, not a blue print.

  7. #7 |  Anon | 

    The root of the problem is lack of accountability. That lack is at least partially caused by the government being the entity that has to take action when a DA, LEO, or judge (each of which is a member of the government) misbehaves. So the government has to punish (part of) itself. Doesn’t happen very often.

    Perhaps we should adopt something from British law (not being British, but having worked with a few, not all of the following details may be 100% correct). The Crown can and does prosecute criminal cases. But so can a private individual, or group. So when something occurs that breaks the law, but the crown won’t prosecute, the people can hire their own barrister and bring charges. Other than the prosecutor being privately paid, the case proceeds as normal.

    Do that here. Allow criminal cases to be brought by private individuals, or groups of concerned citizens. There are already groups that help in civil matters, or for the defense in criminal matters (ACLU is one that comes to mind), they could also help prosecute in criminal cases. When an ADA, DA, Judge, or LEO, breaks the law, and the state won’t prosecute, let concerned citizens hire a lawyer and prosecute the case. Of course, they have to have actually broken the law, but using one’s office to imprison the innocent, especially when there’s exculpatory evidence being withheld, probably constitutes at least a conspiracy to commit criminal confinement (that’s kidnapping, but not for money), which is usually a class B felony.

    Put a few LEOs, ADAs, DAs, or Judges in prison for violations of the law, and the rest will sit up and take notice, and perhaps they’ll behave better (or am I being too optimistic?).

  8. #8 |  terraformer | 

    The answer becomes obvious once you think about who can take part in these elections. Anyone with experience in the CJ system most likely can’t vote, so the only people who can are likely to think nothing is wrong with the militarization of the PDs.

  9. #9 |  freebob | 

    We’re screwed either way. We have a press that ignores local elections — the local press where I live rarely covers anything below an election for the House of Representatives — and has no interest in justice. Also, it seems like, but I could be wrong, defense attorneys can’t speak-out about misconduct out of fear of retribution for their future clients. But, maybe that doesn’t apply to police chiefs.
    Now if we had more people like Mr. Balko in the press, and defense attorneys that could speak freely about police, prosecutorial, and judicial misconduct, I think the system would get cleaned up either way. However, if that was the case — we had a proper fourth estate and an informed electorate — elections would always be preferable.

  10. #10 |  Mattocracy | 

    Regardless of how we come to employ judges or sheriffs, the issue of corrupting them comes from the fact we have too many laws and we’ve criminalized too much non violent behavior.

    I don’t think appointment or elections can overcome this aspect of our judicial system.

  11. #11 |  AlgerHiss | 

    On balance…worts and all….lesser of two evils…and all the other usual qualifiers, I still think electing these positions is the best choice.

    The mayor, city council, county commissioners, etc… can certainly screw you in any number of ways, but they DON’T have the enormous power of arrest. That a police chief could look a city council member in the eye and tell them to buzz off, without fear of losing his income, seems not a bad thing.

  12. #12 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #7 Anon:
    “Do that here. Allow criminal cases to be brought by private individuals, or groups of concerned citizens”

    Exactly! In my post (#7) I neglected to expand and discuss the possible role of private prosecutors, so thank you for doing that. Private prosecution was common in the colonial/post-revolutionary era, as far as I know, and I think it would be worth bringing back. Allowing private prosecutors to prosecute, and detectives not directly employed by the state (police agencies) to investigate, could whittle away at the monopoly on policing that radical libertarians criticize.

  13. #13 |  Swimmy | 

    This is exactly what I’m researching for my dissertation!

    Sorry, no answers yet. Hold tight.

  14. #14 |  Johnny | 

    I agree that a major problem with this would be a generally apathetic electorate that simply wouldn’t be interested in the qualities of candidates running for police chief. Coupled with that would be many voters that would be perfectly happy to support a “get tough on crime” candidate that proposed random stops for drugs or what-have-you, provided they were doing it in somebody else’s neighborhood.

    I’m thinking that a viable solution might be to allow citizens to elect zone commanders in the way they currently elect city councilmen. That way, the citizens would have direct experience and some responsibility for the policies of their elected LEO.

    As to the police chief himself, maybe leave it up to the elected zone commanders to decide who should serve? Might turn into a nasty, backroom sort of deal but it might also help neighborhoods ensure that each one’s concerns are being properly attended to.

  15. #15 |  Rich | 

    I think the problem is with a Press that refuses to name names each time they report on issues, They never state the name of the prosecutor or the elected official responsible for his hire.
    Generals are not elected positions in the Military for a good reason. The military is supposed to protect and defend the constitution and remain unbiased. The same goes with the police in my opinion. Those who hire them should be made accountable to fire them. However the press is continually culpable and the PRESS are the ones refusing to do there duty.
    Sherriff Joe from Arizona is in my opinion one of the most corrupt and evil men in the world. The people of Arizona continue to place safety above liberty.
    Police Chiefs like Generals should KNOW only there Jobs be qualified by there experience and education. They should be Fired by the elected officials who oversea there actions.

  16. #16 |  Marty | 

    #10- this is where I’m at, but I also think federal incentives are hugely corrupting to local police departments.

  17. #17 |  John David Galt | 

    Whether to elect local police is a hard question, for two reasons. One is that the public isn’t always reasonable: in places like Texas, being “tough on crime” to even ridiculous extremes will win you elections. The second is that even where they’re elected (such as here in California, where county sheriffs are elected and some judges come up for yes-or-no votes every few years), the voters aren’t given any information about the person’s record, so it’s next to impossible for voters to make intelligent decisions.

    The only real safeguard against misbehavior, as far as I’m concerned, would be to strip police, judges, and prosecutors of their immunity to both lawsuits and prosecution when they misbehave — and strip prosecutors of their monopoly on the right to prosecute. Let any official who violates someone’s constitutional rights be answerable to the victim in court. And, even where there’s an honest mistake (they tear up your house in a search that doesn’t find anything, or they arrest someone who looks like the real wanted criminal), police departments should have to pay damages just as would someone who did the same thing with no badge.

    If police say they can’t do their jobs under those conditions, let them quit.

  18. #18 |  Irving Washington | 

    Appoint them. There are some bad USAs, but in general, I’d say they have a better reputation than local prosecutors. One problem is that a job that is basically the same across jurisdictions has never been adequately subjected to universal professional standards. I’m not talking about homogenizing prosecutorial policy across jurisdictions; I think the ability of local jurisdictions to make different decisions about what to prosecute and how vigorously is an important feature of legal innovation. What I mean is that handling of evidence, coordination with police and other investigatorial personnel (e.g. crime labs), management and promotion of subordinate prosecutors (that hopefully gives them a career path that doesn’t rely on having to go all out for convictions), interactions with the press and local politicians, and many other prosecutorial tasks are ripe for professional standardization. If done right, it really could make prosecutors both more transparent and more effective.

    Of course, the other major problem is that the only path for career advancement is spectacular convictions. Combine that with low pay and no consequences for bad behavior, and we’re lucky that the system we have now isn’t worse. State Bars really, really need to step up and start disciplining prosecutorial misconduct.

    Elections should be jealously retained for any office that may need frequent changes in policy direction and for which advocacy for those policies will be required of the office holder. That doesn’t describe any job in the criminal justice system. Appoint ’em.

  19. #19 |  Sean Flaim | 

    Appointments are the way to go. Electing law enforcement and prosecutors is a recipe for narrow-minded “throw them all in jail” campaigning and a narrow-minded system of justice that doesn’t consider the ramifications of criminal law on communities.

    Being elected is not the same as being held accountable for ones actions.

  20. #20 |  BoscoH | 

    There are already too many people we have to elect for too many positions on a local level. Just reading all the statements on all the issues and candidates in the voter pamphlet is a several hour affair now in general elections (Orange County, CA).

    I’d bet a more meaningful reform would be to specifically allow anti-candidate statements in the voter pamphlet and allow ads and campaign organizations that just against a candidate.

  21. #21 |  EH | 

    I don’t like the idea of elected law enforcement because it’s a move towards more politicization, which of course is fine when the system’s politics agree with me, but terrible when they don’t. I’m fine with law enforcement executives being appointed by people who *are* and *should always be* elected, like mayors and county boards of supervisors (or whatever operates at the county/parish/etc. level for that locality). The mayor should lose his job if crime gets out of control.

  22. #22 |  Chris Mallory | 

    From what I have seen, in Kentucky, the appointed police chiefs are much more willing to trample upon the rights of citizens than the elected sheriffs are. It is a hell of a lot easier to replace one sheriff than the majority of a city council that would be required to remove a police chief.

  23. #23 |  bacchys | 

    I’d rather have elections. It might not make things any better, but at least it will be the electorate’s own stupidity/apathy that puts the jackboots on our necks.

  24. #24 |  John Farrier | 

    As others have said in this thread, I don’t see an advantage to appointment or election for criminal justice officials. Appointed officials are subject to apparatchiks and elected officials are subject to the mob. Neither are morally suited to rule.

    The only real hope would be (1) the elimination of qualified immunity and (2) the reduction of criminal law. If, for example, drugs were legal, then there would be no drug prosecutions.

    The problem, as Harry Browne used to say, is not the abuse of power. The problem is the power to abuse. Strip these people of the power to abuse, and they will abuse power less often.

  25. #25 |  Lint | 

    Barring any real research into the matter (though that might make an interesting paper a few years down the road, so thanks for the idea), I’m gonna say it’s probably not the greatest idea for the same reason as Mr. Krueger. However, it might be a good idea to give voters the ability to fire police chiefs with ballot initiatives. However, the initiative should not require signatures to be put before voters, since if we have a corrupt and/or brutal police chief, those signatures give him a list of people to intimidate.

  26. #26 |  SB7 | 

    How about having judges and police chiefs appointed, but making them face elections to be retained? If a judge/chief is voted out their replacement is appointed. Then office holders have to be responsible to both the executive and the populace, and there is no arms race between candidates to see who is “tougher on crime” since the alternative to voters is between the current person and [anyone else]. It doesn’t solve the bias in voters towards reelecting incumbents, but if that’s a deal-breaker than why bother with democracy at all?

  27. #27 |  Monica | 

    Judges, Sheriffs & Prosecutors hold too much sway over our freedom to be left to the politicians to appoint. We certainly cannot rely on the State Bars because they have no interest in holding their own accountable. In the small county where I live, the Sheriff was ousted in the last election and the Prosecutor lost their job after multiple convictions for DUI, but a lot of the reason for the relative freedom we experience is because 1. I live in an Amish community, and the Amish ideals of freedom and forgiveness are deeply entrenched here, and 2. The local press did their job and really stayed on top of the what the Sheriff was doing as well as the Prosecutor. One county north of me is like a police state, on the other hand, and the local press there kisses LEO’s ass and reports nothing that doesn’t flatter them. The press has enormous responsibility to report on Leos, Judges & Prosecutors are doing and if they fail, citizens are left in the dark. I say keep it local.

  28. #28 |  kant | 

    I don’t really trust elections for LEO/DA because then there’s a motivation other than “justice” for their actions and that is almost never a good thing.

    I’m not sure how this would turn out but what I would like to see is this system. A politician appoints positions like chief of police, DA, etc. Then the populace be able to elicit a vote of no confidence kicking them out and making them ineligible in the next election.

    That way an official can’t distract voters by saying “well luck at how discusting that other guy is.” but has to run on the strength of his/her actions. Idealisted sure. but both of our current systems have easily exploited flaws.

  29. #29 |  Burlyman78 | 

    Personally, I think electing prosecutors would make it worse . . . because, fundamentally, we, “the people,” are the problem. Most people believe the criminal legal system is fundamentally just, do not presume innocence, and instinctively support anything done or said by the government actors within the system. Elections for prosecutors would empower these individuals to have an even greater impact on the criminal legal system.

    Majority support for the status-quo and highly organized government actors within the criminal legal system (police officer unions, prosecutor associations, etc.) are our biggest obstacles to change. As far as I can see, we can only defeat both if we become more organized.

    Some things that have been floating around in my own brain:

    *Find ways to identify like-minded people in our areas (Reddit, MeetUp, etc.)

    *Form citizen groups with names like “Oregonians or Portlanders (?) for Transparency and Accountability in Law Enforcement” to promote the issue.

    *Start simple email distribution lists that we send news on this topic to and add people to the lists who we meet in our areas.

    *Organize small group meetings with state legislators and city council members.

    *Identify transparency and accountability measures that have worked in other states/towns, improve upon/pitch these approaches to state and local lawmakers (i.e. Maryland SWAT disclosure law, citizen review boards, etc.).

    *Use of state FOIA laws to gather and publicize information about local SWAT raids, police use of things like data extraction devices for cell phones, unmanned drones, license plate scanners, etc.

    Information gained by FOIA requests could be split up and “mined” by group members, made available online on websites like Scribd, and funneled to local newspaper and tv reporters who cover these issues.

    If even ten people got together, all in the same city or town, and started writing emails to lawmakers, reporters, etc., making FOIA requests, meeting with lawmakers, etc., and coordinating their activities, I think it could have a significant impact. Mainly because right now it seems like most of us are angry but not organized.

  30. #30 |  Packratt | 

    You know… I could look through our data and sort out a comparison between sheriff’s and police chiefs in terms of how they address misconduct and the relative per capita misconduct rates…

    But nobody has requested that kind of information.

  31. #31 |  Acksiom | 

    “If not through elections, how do we hold bad police chiefs and prosecutors more accountable?”

    Ubiquitous Citizen recording. Open Citizen databases that collect and correlate statistics on police, judges, prosecutors, etc., both individually and generally.

    In abstract, don’t bother wasting your time and energy fighting the people in the system over their rice bowls. It’s wasteful. Instead, use the new technology to simply empower the Citizens relative to the State. You’ll get much less State opposition and much more Citizen support

    Don’t even bother trying to shift the system around to improve it. Just push the easy button and improve it by routing around it.

    Empower the Citizens, not the State. Exploit your advantages and the opponent’s disadvantages; avoid your disadvantages and the opponent’s advantages.

    If any of you have studied warfare, try considering whether ubiquitous live-uploading A/V recording is an example of force mobility.

  32. #32 |  notsure | 

    Ending the concept of immunity for people who work in Criminal Justice is the best answer I think. If they were actually held accountable for their actions, judges, prosecutors, and police would all be more honorable no matter how they got the job.

  33. #33 |  Acksiom | 

    Packratt, I’m requesting it.

    In fact, if you can tell us how you’d go about doing it, that would be even better.

    I’m glad to see more people getting the general idea on their own. My compliments to you and Burlyman78.

  34. #34 |  Jeff | 

    Elected officials are generally only as good as the electorate. Democracy has failed.

    Then again, appointing them has largely failed as well (because the appointed have the same symbiotic relationship to the executives who appoint them that the elected have to the electors).

    Either system will likely fail, today. There is too much apathy and ignorance, and ethics is in decline.

  35. #35 |  JS | 

    I think Dave Kreuger nailed it with the first one. Personally I think people where I live are too fucking stupid to know who to vote for.

  36. #36 |  Ken Hagler | 

    I agree with those who have pointed out that elected sheriffs aren’t any better than appointed police chiefs. I think the only way to improve things is to abolish police–and yes, I know that’s not going to happen, but realistically no other sort of reform is going to happen either.

  37. #37 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    The proposal in the UK is for police “commissioners”, as I understand it.

    I prefer having someone – and do remember that UK training standards for police are far higher – who has risen through the police ranks in control. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a mixed board, including members of the public, overseeing police forces, but…

    (The real problem with the police in the UK is at the very top end, the company at the heart of British policing, the ACPO. Rip it out and replace it with a properly accountable, government-run round table for police chiefs)

  38. #38 |  glasnost | 

    Matt Yglesias smartly points out that the more offices to which an electorate is forced to elect candidates, the worse of a job which that electorate will do at making smart decisions.

    Attention is a limited resource, as is time. Severely limited. An electorate will make more decisions if it has to learn about 50 different sets of candidates than if it has to learn about two.

    Despite the fact that elections and democracy are good, large numbers of elections are worse than smaller numbers of them.

    The problem is compounded by low turnout rates. Honestly, most people in the world are not stupid and evil. The reason why people prosecutors that do terrible things get heavily re-elected is that the vast majority of noncrazy and nonfanatic people do not vote or receive very flawed information.

    And low turnout rates can be affected by smart structural design. For an obvious example – standardize election day for every office in the US, synchronize federal and state and local, election days and times, and then make that day a national holiday. You will absolutely see turnout increase, better electoral decisions, etc.

    Of course, from what I’ve seen, libertarians are mostly nihilists when it comes to making anything that has to do with government better, so I’m sure this will be mocked, but I’m happy to be wrong.

  39. #39 |  glasnost | 

    Strike more, insert worse here: “An electorate will make more decisions if it has to learn about 50 different sets of candidates than if it has to learn about two.”

  40. #40 |  Mannie | 

    I switch between appointed and elected frequently. I honestly don’t know which would be less bad. I hate to even say “better.” Maybe we should have a pool of qualified candidates, and a lottery. I’m not sure it would be any worse.

    A few things would help. Accountability. Qualified immunity should be gutted and absolute immunity reduced to qualified. This would restore some fairness to the system. I’d like to see a recall capability, for both elected and appointed officials, in all states.

    I’d like to see the Public Defender’s office given as much power as the Prosecutor’s office, including the right to prosecute cops and prosecutors for violations. Real checks and balances.

    {Fffffffffffft} Wow! This is some good sjit. Here. Take a hit off this!

  41. #41 |  Mr Weebles | 

    My small New Hampshire is one of only a handful of towns that elects their police chief. The process is a farce. During the last election the Chief was inside the polling location and two officers were outside with the police dog telling people on the way in that the other candidate wanted to do away with the K9.

    Both of these were election violations: One, someone on the ballot cannot be in the polling place except for a short time to cast their vote, and two, the dog is a town asset and isn’t supposed to be used for electioneering. Are these huge violations? Of course not, but I filed a formal complaint with the state anyway. As you can imagine, nothing was done.

    Unfortunately, one of the three candidates for CoP dropped out just before the election and siphoned off enough votes so the incumbent won.

    My town has a problem with arresting and charging people with videotaping police among other things (Google: Weare, NH police wiretapping). We needed a new Chief with a new attitude but got stuck with the same jackass for another three years.

  42. #42 |  Z | 

    “despite some pretty egregious misconduct”

    make that “because voters were impressed with some pretty egregious misconduct against people different from them.”

  43. #43 |  steve | 

    Elect them, then hold a trial at the end of their term.

  44. #44 |  Cyto | 

    Making the top police officer elected only works if you have an effective system of checks and balances via the judiciary, particularly in the form of a strongly enforced set of constitutional limitations.

    When you have incentives for “tough on crime” at the legislative, executive and judiciary levels and constitutional protections become code words for “soft on crime”, I don’t think it really matters which method you use to select the officials in charge.

  45. #45 |  JOR | 

    The system is pure politics either way. They’ll be unaccountable either way. The goal should be to abolish the professional police force as we know it and replace it with empowered civilian law enforcement (anyone can make arrests, and anyone can resist a bad arrest; like a homicide, whether an arrest or resistance thereof is justified or not is determined by the circumstances). To this end a more immediate goal would be the complete and total removal of criminal and civil immunity for law enforcement agents of all kinds and at every level; if they’re not doing anything wrong, they don’t need immunity, and if they have a problem with those laws against extortion, robbery, assault and battery, breaking and entering, etc. well they should work to change the law, the law is the law, etc., etc. The most immediate goal, of course, is getting enough people to want to accomplish all this that it’s politically possible. Even with public sympathy, it might be easier to just legitimize, in the public culture, killing cops when they flagrantly start or escalate violent encounters, to the point that cops decide it’s not worth the risk to misbehave.

  46. #46 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    glasnost – The UK tends to have votes together on one day in the spring. It’s not a holiday though.

    JOR – So, how much are you planning to pay to the local Mafia for protection money?

  47. #47 |  JOR | 

    Leon, when are you going to stop beating your wife?

  48. #48 |  Police Misconduct NewsFeed Weekend Recap 07-30-11 to 07-31-11 « Injustice Everywhere | 

    […] Radley Balko asked his readers an interesting question as to whether appointing or electing law enforcement leadership had […]

  49. #49 |  Chris Bell | 

    Depends. Can prisoners / ex-cons vote? If so, then elections are probably a good idea.

  50. #50 |  Morning Links | The Agitator | 

    […] Injustice Everywhere crunches some data related to yesterday’s discussion. […]

  51. #51 |  Highway | 

    Accountability depends on the terms of the appointment. In a lot of major cities, it’s probably a lot easier to get the (appointed) Police Chief fired than any other official, because they tend to serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. If things go pear-shaped, the mayor has a convenient scapegoat in the Chief of Police. If the guy was elected, then there’s really noone to complain to, since they can always point at the electorate and say “Well, he’s not my responsibility”.

    I think the trouble with appointments is that for a some of them, either the term is for life without question, or there’s no real recall procedure (judges, primarily). And I think we know that even if there is a recall procedure, it’s rarely used except for political point scoring.

    Elections are far worse, tho, because the more people who get elected, the less anyone cares, even if it’s a completely terrible person who ruins every life they touch. If the person doesn’t touch too many lives, or the wrong ones for anyone to care (like criminals), then being on a ballot doesn’t mean anything, since people just reelect everyone on there anyway. Elections are pretty worthless as long as the default action is ‘reelect’ rather than ‘unelect’.

  52. #52 |  Nick | 

    I would think that there should be plenty of data in the United States to show whether this is good or bad, after all, many Sheriffs are elected in the United States (and that is an equivalent position to a Police Chief).

    In Wisconsin in fact, the Sheriff is considered a “partisan election”… meaning that the Sheriff actually declares his political party (as opposed to non-partisan like judges and a few others where no party designation is used). Here in Milwaukee, things like the Sheriff’s budget and control over their Union tends to be a much bigger election issue than actual crime, especially now that the current Sheriff is a Republican.

  53. #53 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    JOR – I’m not suggesting laws which would allow me to beat my wife…

    Oh, right, you could do that under your suggestion with enough cash too.

  54. #54 |  markm | 

    Leon: Is the Mafia really worse than an armed gang with Immunity?

  55. #55 |  JOR | 

    Leon, I didn’t propose any laws that would force me to pay money to the Mafia. Unless you think stripping LEOs of civil and criminal immunity (which is 90% of the way to ‘abolishing professional law enforcement as we know it’) would somehow place me at the mercy of a mafia? I could see how it might shake out that way but it’s not particularly likely (no likelier than ending up at the mercy of some Mafia with the current law enforcement structure in place). And frankly, if they didn’t have (de facto) civil and criminal immunity they’d be less objectionable than the cops anyway.