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Universal public service — the only way to rebuild America

Melvin B. Miller
Universal public service — the only way to rebuild America
“You can’t teach an old cop new tricks.”

“Black Lives Matter” was the major theme during the protests following the execution of George Floyd. Of next importance was “defund the police.” Before and after the police killed Floyd, there were other unjustified shootings of Blacks by the police — Breanna Taylor in Louisville and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. The nation’s municipal police forces quickly became the major target of social change.

Racists loudly claimed that reformers wanted to deny fellow Americans of the safety provided by the police, but Blacks responded that the police function as the primary agency of Black oppression. The primary objective of the protesters is to limit the function of the police to the suppression of violent crime and then employ much of the police budget to finance community improvement projects that will reduce the causes of criminal activity.

Advocates of social change essentially want to alter police culture. The police in England, France and Scandinavia do not have annual body counts similar to what is common in the U.S. According to the Washington Post, 1,002 citizens were shot to death by the police in America in 2019. Only three people were killed by the police in England and Wales in that period. There is clearly a major difference as to how the police operate in Europe.

Police misconduct is an expensive element of municipal costs. According to a Wall Street Journal Report in 2015, the 10 cities with the largest police forces paid $248.7 million in 2014 for assessments against the police for misconduct cases. Nonetheless, the cost has not been a major deterrent to the continued reliance on conventional police policies.

During the Obama administration, the U.S. Justice Department established a system of consent decrees on troubled police departments to require practices to reduce racial disparities and police brutality. Jeff Sessions discontinued the program when he became U.S. attorney general in 2017. The 13 existing consent decrees have not been in place for long enough to conclude that the procedure can be successful in changing the culture of a major city police department.

Another idea that has not yet been vigorously pursued is to establish a compulsory national public service for all citizens 18-26 years of age. In addition to military service, citizens would have options including municipal police. All options should offer an introduction to professional careers that the draftees might wish to follow after finishing the required term of public service.

The police training period would remove the enrollee from home turf and take him or her to a remote site for basic training. Police officers already employed in a participating department could volunteer to be temporarily enrolled for retraining. Those who failed to volunteer for retraining would be at a competitive disadvantage when new recruits began to serve.

A fundamental requirement of the plan is acceptance of mandatory public service for everyone. The military draft was ended when there was a sufficient number of volunteers to serve as soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. The problem with that policy is the overwhelming majority of military public servants are from the lower income class. Many of those who are considered to be poor have few other satisfactory employment options.

Mandatory public service is a useful policy to help to remove racial and ethnic conflicts and unite all Americans.

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