chapter  5
13 Pages

The Limits of Police Reform

WithAlex S. Vitale

Liberals think of the police as the legitimate mechanism for using force in the interests of the whole society. The police must maintain their public legitimacy by acting in a way that the public respects and is in keeping with the rule of law. For liberals, police reform is always a question of taking steps to restore that legitimacy. Adjustments to training, diversifying police forces, and community policing are designed to restore police legitimacy rather than address their role in maintaining the inequalities at the center of American society. Part of the problem is that our politicians, media, and criminal justice institutions too often equate justice with revenge. Popular culture is suffused with revenge fantasies in which the aggrieved bring horrible retribution down on those who have hurt them. The tools that police have for solving systematic problems are generally limited to punitive enforcement actions such as arrests and ticketing.