A proposal for an alternative to modern police forces

As the Lockdown Rebellion (against the COVID-19 Pandemic Panic) morphed into the Twenty-Dollar Revolt (the current madness triggered by the murder of George Floyd), a key meme emerged: Abolish the Police!!! (Expressed in many ways, of course.)

Many libertarians immediately jumped on the bandwagon. As if libertarians (especially free market, true, anarchists) have not been preaching and promoting this for decades. Libertarians have long argued that a root of tyranny is granting governments police powers, and urged privatizing such social functions.

“All of the sudden” millions of people seem to be screaming for the same thing. But they are not really proposing anything different.

The vast police establishment in the Fifty States is condemned as being racist. But the problem is NOT (or at least not ONLY) racism in the police forces. (Or even in their supervising “civilian” leadership.) Many serious problems exist in most police forces in the Fifty States. Including federal, state, local, tribal, and even private entities: exempt from following many laws, with little (or no) accountability to elected officials, much less the people they supposedly serve.

Which in turn makes them arrogant: obeying laws is for “civilians” – the peons. The special privileges and usual respect given to police leads to more problems. To incredible pride, we can often add sadistic and cruel, excessive loyalty to other police and to their leaders. NOT things that mesh with their supposedly sacred oaths.

Traditional, government-run policing functions – even the most basic and seemingly essential – lead directly to corruption and abuse with little restraint. Police forces are parasites on their communities even when they do carry out their assigned duties honorably. They can be a cancer.

Yet at the same time, we, as communities, worry about maintaining order. (Most of us, not so much “enforcing law.”) We want peace and quiet.

The challenge is enormous: what can replace them?

Here is one thought.

Military (warrior) societies.

A key part of the societies of the Plains Tribes, until the early 1900s at least. As far as I know, all the Plains nations – including the Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Lakota, Crow, and others, had these organizations. They were essential parts of their communities, law, moral code, and daily life. Because these nations were nomadic, the warrior societies not only protected the people as they moved from place to place, but organized the establishment and breakdown of the camps and maintained order in the villages.And because these tribal societies were violent, militaristic, and more, the societies were military in nature. We are not talking Kiwanis or Knights of Columbus or Oddfellows.

(For anyone really seriously into studying such things, there is an interesting book available on the military societies of several of the Southern Plains nations here, and the introduction is free to read and fascinating – both about the AmerInd and even the present Fifty States.)

The best known military society historicaly is the Dog Soldiers (which do still exist, albeit in altered form) of the Cheyenne people (now of Oklahoma and Montana).

These groups were voluntary membership organizations – and highly organized, which took young men at a very early age to train them in the skills AND responsibilities needed to serve and protect their people – and to fight. But unlike what was once the valuable and useful Boy Scouts of America (and Girl Scouts USA), this membership and fellowship – and accountability – continued on into adulthood and old age.

These were not like the modern American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the British Legion. They were social organizations that cared for one another, but they were more. Much more.

The key features are:

(1) They were “of the people” – they had no special privileges, no exemptions from the laws and customs of the community. They were, and were treated as peers, not superiors or servants.

(2) They were RESPONSIBLE to the community – to the people. The societies and their individual members were held to account for what they did/did not by other societies and the community as a whole. The accountability was public and could include ejection from the community, fines (up to all their possessions), loss of rank and privileges, and in extreme cases, trial by combat to the death. This included abusing their position as well as failing to carry out their responsibilities.

(3) There was NO monopoly (legally or theoretically) on force. They were no better (or worse) armed than other people in the community. They could initiate force, but only under what we would today call strict rules of engagement.

(4) They almost always rotated their duties to the community, so that there was not a single power. Different warrior societies would take turns, and even within the warrior society different members would take turns in the actual service provided. The rest of the time, they were working and living like everyone else.

(5) They crossed family and clan and band lines: they were not “set apart” in all ways. Although there were obvious ties of brotherhood among them, the warrior society members’ first responsibility was to the standards and ethics of their band (community) and society.

(6) They were NOT “professional” in the sense of getting paid to do their work – indeed, they usually paid their own way. It was volunteer work, in rotation. When they were tied up in their service work, they and their families would usually receive voluntary gifts of food, shared by others in the community. No “hazard” pay or the like.

(7) They were nearly universal: almost every adult male belonged to one. However, the warrior societies chose their own members (and usually tested them harshly). And you were not forced to join one. But the community expected you to do so, if you were capable of doing the job.

Clearly, what I am presenting is a very idealized view of such an alternative. And just as clearly, there were many times when reality did NOT match these points. But this model is certainly one to consider. Even (or especially) in our modern, complex society.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (christian), Pahasapan, Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer.
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8 Responses to A proposal for an alternative to modern police forces

  1. Old 1811 says:

    The size of the population at the Greasy Grass is really immaterial (except to Custer) because it was the aggregate of a bunch of smaller clans who came together and interacted once a year or so, but were still cohesive, self-contained groups. (At least that’s the way I understand it.) You could compare it to the Sturgis biker rally; a bunch of disparate groups who temporarily come together for a specific, then revert to their usual cohesiveness. (And so close to the Greasy Grass, too! Cosmic, huh?)
    As you know, 90-some percent of the people in any modern society don’t really need to be policed in any real sense. They mind their own business, and don’t bother anyone else. Whether that’s because they’re naturally good people or because they don’t want to go to jail is immaterial right now. Take away the threat of jail and you might find out the percentages.
    I’m not discounting or belittling your experiences, but most violent crime today happens in the cities, and it’s gang related. There are over 100,000 gang members in Los Angeles, and smaller but still considerable number in Chicago, Atlanta, etc., and even places like Des Moines and Peoria. (A high-school classmate of mine, who lived on a farm in Indiana, was murdered by his son as part of a gang initiation.) And for gang members, the gang is their religion, and it’s passed on through generations. Just to give one example, several years ago in Aurora, Colorado, a couple got into a violent fight in a store that got them both arrested. The fight was over how to raise their infant son who was in a stroller between them while they were punching each other; the girlfriend wanted him to be raised Crip, and the boyfriend wanted him to be raised Westside Baller. So the kid was doomed before he left the delivery room.
    I don’t pretend to know the answers to all this, but I do know that if you have a group of people who are willing to kill you for wearing the wrong color jacket, those people need to be separated from the rest of us. If you can eliminate them (and I don’t mean kill them; I mean set them on the right path), you won’t have a serious crime problem in the United States.
    The thing is, policing, like most jobs, is more complicated than it looks, and giving it to untrained, part-time amateurs is a recipe for disaster.

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    • TPOL Nathan says:

      More good points. I like your comparison of the Greasy Grass encampment to the Black Hills Rally, but it isn’t a perfect analogy. The Lakota assembled regularly (often at Mato Paha (Bear Butte) and the various bands had long established relations (good and bad) – talk to anyone who knows their history in the Oglala or the Sicangu (Rosebud) – and there were also long-standing ties with the Cheyenne. They were there as members of their various communities, not just as individuals. But even when scattered, the ties still were there: conflicts and good relations.
      The closeness of the two sites is neat – but relative to the eyes of the beholder. For us today (and for the AmerInd tribes of the Northern Plains today, 230 miles from the battlefield to Sturgis is a fairly short hop – but it was weeks of travel for an entire band. It is ironic (and neat) that Sturgis DOES sit very close to the most common of their major, encampments (and doubly so that Fort Meade all but occupies that sacred ground and controlled the access.

      Not arguing your points on cities and complexity of policing – as I said, I’ve been involved in both, and at the same time. The MPs at the Presidio of San Francisco faced a far greater challenge than most – if not the preparation needed for Kuwait or the rest of Mesopotamia. Part of that is the cities themselves. These anthills are (for humans, at least) ungovernable and cesspools in many ways. I’ve written on that, extensively over the years. And James Altucher’s very recent commentary on the fall of New York City reminds us of that. But just because a model doesn’t work in the megalopoli does not mean it cannot work in many other places. Especially if we didn’t give power to the very power-hungry politicians.

      Most violent crime, through history, has occurred in cities, so today is not really unusual. Which is another strike (in my opinion) against cities. But the problems today seem more extreme than all but a few cases (consider Rome or Constantinople at their ancient heights). Because the flaw is in the society, the lack of education and responsibility, and a lack of both personal freedom and restraints on both ends of the crime spectrum (the individual criminals, those in “illegal” gangs, and those in organized and recognized “legal” gangs like government and police.

      There are, of course, threats other than jail. Again a big topic worth discussing a lot more.

      But I think you incorrectly tie “part-time” and “amateur.” The two are NOT the same. Not just the job of being a peace officer, but in many other professions, you CAN be a professional – highly trained, skilled, and experienced – AND do so on a part-time basis. Modern technology (especially recordkeeping and communications) makes that easier than ever before. Definitely more points to consider and discuss. And of course, one of the big problems in many police forces (large and small) is that their members are really NOT professional: they are poorly trained, poorly led, and expected to do things which are not realistic. A brother in Christ and I discussed that very topic last Sunday night after class: he would add “poorly recruited and poorly screened,” as well. And I can’t say I disagree.

      Thanks! You give me a lot to think about and respond to! Time permitting, this too I shall attempt to do.

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  3. Old 1811 says:

    This is a joke, right?
    The hue and cry and amateur law enforcers worked up through the 19th century in some places, but today’s society is too specialized for that to work today. And enforcing the law (or keeping the peace, if you will) is dangerous; who are you going to get who will do it for free? Also, since the goal of policing is to get bad people convicted in court, how do you plan to ensure their rights aren’t violated in a way that prevents that? And who will indemnify the peacekeepers against the ghetto lottery?
    If you want to dream about things that never were and say, Why not?, don’t endanger a whole society with your utopian fantasies.

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    • TPOL Nathan says:

      I respectfully disagree, and will ask others to chime in.

      Please, don’t just dismiss the offering – provide constructive criticism and other suggestions.

      The “hue and cry” sort of actions you are talking about date from the 12th and 13th century, not the 19th. While being a peace officer was not as specialized or professional in the 19th Century as law enforcement is today, it still was able to handle the needs of very complex societies and large populations. And we ARE talking about keeping the peace, not law enforcement, as I tried to separate in the commentary. They are related, but still separate functions.

      Both activities can be dangerous, but then so are thousands of other jobs, handled by volunteers and by private persons and companies. One of the major examples is that of firefighters: there are still millions of volunteer firefighters responding daily here in the Fifty States in the year 2020 – just as there were in 1870. And they don’t work for salary or wages – some don’t even get expenses!

      Of course, one of the reasons that policing is so dangerous today is because of the thousands of laws that are malum prohibitum, not evil in and of themselves, and create conflicts that cannot be resolved by peaceful means.

      I would disagree that the goal of “policing” should be “to get bad people convicted in court.” The goal of “policing” or “law enforcement” or “keeping the peace” should be to keep bad people from harming other people. Whether that involves conviction in court or not is a point of debate, just as is the punishment meted out by that jury. Going to court should be way down on the list of desirable outcomes – or even as part of desirable process.

      Societies with these characteristics DID exist, and not just among the AmerInd tribes of the Great Plains and Rockies: there were similar elements in ancient Israel, the Celtic lands, and other times and places. Were they perfect or utopias? Absolutely not. But they seem to be worth studying and trying, to replace a system that is increasingly broken: failing to keep the peace – much less enforce the laws.

      I could add more – and may, later – but I ask other readers to contribute.

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      • Old 1811 says:

        The policies proposed here worked (maybe, we only have their word for it) in a low-population-density, homogeneous, agrarian society, where everyone knew everyone else, and there was a strong societal pressure to conform. . We now live in a high-population-density, heterogeneous, industrialized society where nobody knows his neighbor, and there’s no societal pressure to do anything at all. To give one example, if you burglarize a tepee and try to carry off a blanket that everyone knows belongs to Running Dog tied to your saddle, you won’t get very far. But if you burglarize Running Dog’s house and put his blanket in the trunk of your car, you can take it two counties away, fence it off, and Running Dog will never see it again.
        You also say the goal isn’t to convict people in court, but to get them to be nice to each other. How do you plan to do that? Give them a good talking-to? You’ve obviously never had any contact with a real criminal population.
        And one of the first rules of policing is “learning your beat.” and rotating part-timers will never learn it. You have to know things like which cars are always parked in which driveway, when each store opens and who runs it, who belongs here, and who doesn’t belong there. You also have to learn which of your neighbors are the salt of the earth and which ones are a felony looking for a place to happen, and which of your neighbors’ kids will be the class valedictorian and which ones are destined to ride the needle. That way, when Mrs. Johnson’s car gets stolen, you can say, “I’ll bet it’s that Smith kid,” and go straight there, instead of wasting time rousting the Joneses, while the Smith kid uses Mrs. Johnson’s stolen ride to rob a bank, or chops it up to sell the parts. If you’re the police this week, I’m the police next week, and Joe on the corner is the police the week after that, nobody will ever learn the beat.
        And are you going to have rotating part-timers handling all the records, taking, classifying, and storing fingerprints, and taking mug shots? How are you going to enforce quality control? Or do you just want to go back to the old system, where the Jeff Jones you arrest today, the Bob Bailey I’ll arrest next year, and the Larry Little that Joe on the corner arrested two years ago are all the same guy, but we don’t know it, because our records are in a shambles?
        The world today isn’t a Norman Rockwell painting. It wasn’t even a Norman Rockwell painting when Norman Rockwell was painting it, and Andy and Barney weren’t real, either.
        I would never presume to tell you how to do your job, but everyone who’s ever turned on a TV knows how to be the police.

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      • TPOL Nathan says:

        Dear Old 1811 (I hope you will share the story of why you use that screenname!), thank you very much for your detailed and thoughtful comments. I very much appreciate them. These sorts of response are what I hope to achieve with a commentary like this.

        I agree with many of them, as well. And like the opportunity to explore this idea more. Let me address a couple of your points immediately.

        The Plains tribes who used this system for a century and a half were not perfect, but I think they had some concepts that make sense – and even more so in a society which is (or was) based on biblical ideas of morality and ethics.

        They were not agrarian – they were hunter-gatherer societies, and not just nomadic but highly mobile. So they were very complex societies, and at their peak, they were very large, powerful. For example, when the Lakota (the Teton Sioux) had their annual grand encampment, the population of the camp (for several weeks) has been estimated at 20,000 to 25,000. (On 25 JUN 1876, at the Greasy Grass, FedGov and Lakota historians estimate there were about 8,000 people in camp.) Maintaining peace and order in even a small city of that size, given all the factors, certainly can rival modern small cities and towns. Especially given their bellicose nature and non-christian morals. And even modern large urban areas are not monolithic societies, despite attempts by government to make them so. They are made up of relatively small, often quite homogeneous communities in which there is that closeness and familiarity that you say no longer exists. Communities that are willing, and can, do much “peace-keeping” and preventing violence and crime, on their own. (IF they are allowed to.) And can do more with help from other communities.

        All these points you raise are important to address – and presently our society and various levels of government have failed to address them adequately. We need to consider new (or old, kipped) ideas. Modern concepts of policing developed in the later 1800s and early 1900s – nearly as far back as warrior societies!

        No, I don’t say that “a good talking to” is all that is necessary. But we know there are many alternatives that exist between that and conviction followed by imprisonment (or execution). And for good or bad, I do have consider experience dealing with “real criminal populations” – I have lived and worked in Northern Virginia, San Francisco and East Bay, Metro Denver/Northern Colorado, and several modern Reservations. I spent time in the Permian during oil booms – amazingly crime-ridden even in the 1970s. As an Army officer just a short time after the end of the Draft, I’ve had my share of contact with the lawless side of military society as well, and though I am an Engineer, I was in an MP battalion in California – San Francisco, in fact – and served as the military police duty officer. So I do have some experience with crime and urban, not just rural and frontier conditions, in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

        The very first defense of a society – especially one which no longer teaches respect and other morality to its young – is armed, alert, and prepared private persons, eager to defend themselves, their families, property, communities and friends, and responsible in their behavior.

        One major advantage (both for lovers of liberty and would-be tyrants) we have in the 21st Century that neither the Plains tribes nor the organizers and developers of our modern American police state had is technology. That, with your kind permission, I will address later, but I think it does address some of the very important points you raise about part-timers, “knowing the beat” and recordkeeping (which is really part of what Prof. Harold Hill’s detractors sang about: “You gotta know the territory!” (See , I can bring up ancient media myths, too!)

        But I really do appreciate the thoughts. You raise very good points which must be addressed with ANY proposal to replace our current system. A system that seems to have worked for 175 or even 200 million people – but clearly is lacking with 330 million of us. To say nothing of the rest of the world: the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, even Germany and Italy and other nations that have been been seemingly “successful” for many years are now showing the same signs as many places Stateside. Of course, I will point out another thing: there is NO “One size fits all” solution for crime and chaos and civil unrest than there is for anything else human. What may work well in the Black Hills (or even on the Wyoming side versus the South Dakota side) may not work at all in Albuquerque or even Farmington, much less Oakland or Tacoma or Kansas City. We need MANY solutions because there are MANY problems.

        As I said, hopefully we can continue to discuss these things and both gain from them, as well as benefiting other readers.

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  4. blackice85 says:

    Ideally that’s probably the right track. Each person, or nearly so, would feel more invested and involved in their community, and understand how policing and defense actually works. The same kind of problems exist in other subjects too, like agriculture for example.

    Many people nowadays don’t understand the first thing about how food is grown or raised, but everyone has their opinions on what is ethical, safe for the environment, etc. But without any firsthand experience themselves, they often end up with silly ideas that don’t work.

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