Commentary: Disbanding the police isn't an option

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“Dismantle our nation’s police departments.”

That is the current chant of many of the protestors on the streets across America.

Others are insisting law enforcement agencies have their budgets dramatically cut.

Most recently, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council members said that they plan to disband the city’s police department. Their actions will be closely watched by other municipalities who believe it is more expedient to curse and condemn an entire police force rather than fix the problem by providing better training and instituting an effective mechanism to promptly fire and remove the individual officers who have forsaken their oath.

Authority and power abhor a vacuum however so disbanding, or defunding, a police department does not mean the streets will not be governed. They just will not be under the control of anyone wearing a badge or who intends to keep law and order. Whether it is the empowerment of street gangs and enabling of neighborhood vigilantes, Isis or other criminal group, someone is going to swiftly take control and ownership of what had been the purview of the police. For law abiding people, it will be a descent into chaotic hell.

Absence of a police force is not unprecedented, however.

In the 1820s, a winding series of streets in lower Manhattan converged in what was known as “The Five Points.” An overcrowded slum that was home to thousands amidst crumbling warehouses, firetrap tenements, and filthy sewage, where immigrants eked out a living. But they were not alone. Criminals ran the neighborhood, battling over turf, raking in cash from gambling dens and brothels, extorting meager coins from residents and assaulting the unwary foolish enough to wander into their neighborhood.

It was the breeding ground for what would become some of the most notorious gangs and gangsters in America’s history. Some would go on to be the mobsters of organized crime.

By 1845, New York City officials recognized that, absent a police force, the city would become ungovernable anarchy and chaos. So they formed a police department modeled on London’s Metropolitan Police; full-time professionals who would take back the streets and the neighborhoods. Five Points was a primary target. It was gritty business and one can be confident no one was read their rights. As the city grew, the police force was reformed, consolidated, modernized, and strengthened. Perfect it was not. No paramilitary force (or group of people) ever is, but that is not to say you do not keep at it.

Even Teddy Roosevelt played a role in confronting a corrupt police department in 1895, serving as its commissioner and later imposing additional reforms when he served as New York’s governor.

Defund and disband the police? Ask the Suffolk families who watched the arrest of gang members who ambushed and murdered their children. Ask the parents who watched drug dealers seeking to poison their families busted by Nassau County police. Ask the tourists and pedestrians in Times Square whose safety and lives were saved from ISIS inspired terrorism due, in no small part, to an exhaustive police intelligence operation.

Today, there is justifiable outrage over the disgraceful actions of some despicable rogue police officers. Just like there is justifiable outrage over the disgraceful terrorist actions of some Muslim Jihadists.

Every single group of people have their bad apples, but the bad apples should never define the group, nor form the basis to hold the groups good apples accountable for the bad apples’ bad actions.

Reform is an imperative. Systematic racism or bigotry anywhere, whether it is in Corporate America, the corner market, the military, or law enforcement is completely unacceptable, intolerable and must be immediately eradicated to the best of our ability.

The Thin Blue Line is made up of men and women; fallible, flawed, and human, as we all are. But dismantling our police departments is simply insane in its conception and will make things dramatically worse. It is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Disbanding our police departments will destroy our great country and the freedoms we now enjoy and will turn it into an unlivable place, where tyranny, anarchy and criminal behavior will control and where we all will be defenseless to those criminals and terrorists, both foreign and domestic.
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Ronald Rosenberg is senior founding partner of Rosenberg, Calica & Birney LLP.