Instigator / Pro

THBT: The police do more good than harm in the United States


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 1 vote and with 1 point ahead, the winner is...

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Two days
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One week
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Contender / Con

The burden of proof in this debate is shared. Pro will attempt to prove that the police do more good than harm, and Con will attempt to prove that the police do more harm than good.

Round 1
The evidence shows that police in the United States do more good than harm. The benefits of police activities, including crime prevention, emergency response, community engagement, victim support, and youth mentorship, are supported by quantitative data and empirical research.

1. Crime Prevention and Reduction:
With no threat of punishment, criminals will kill people. Getting rid of law enforcement is akin to legalizing every crime. Without police, every murderer, rapist, and child abuser in prison would still be roaming the streets. Furthermore, the evidence continues to show that crime rates are also sensitive to the number of police officers present, proving that police activity is necessary in maintaining public order.

New York City Crime Reduction
In the 1990s, a combination of smart policing tactics and increased community involvement led to a dramatic decrease in crime. One of the biggest contributors was an increased arrest rate, which in turn led to a decrease in burglaries, robberies, murders, assaults, and motor vehicle theft. The NYC police force grew by 35% in the 1990s, which helped to expedite the decline in crime. This provides strong evidence that increased police involvement leads to reduced criminal activity.

Police Hiring Reduces Crime
In 2002, economist Steven Levitt published a paper showing that studies consistently find a positive relationship between increased police hiring and reduction of crime. Specifically, a 10% increase in the number of police leads to an expected 3-10% decrease in crime. These findings have held up consistently with new studies, including one that studied “high alert” periods of more intense policing and found significant reduction in crime.

Reductions in Police Funding and Increases in Crime
As a result of “Defund the Police,” and other similar movements, crime rates increased dramatically. Aggravated assaults rose by 12.4%, while the murder rate increased by 29.4%. These increases were most pronounced in areas where police funding was dramatically reduced. The firing of the hard-on-crime police chief Alfonso Morales and 120 police officers led to widespread lawlessness and a 70.5% increase in Wisconsin’s homicide rate.

2. Public Safety and Emergency Response:
Lives Saved in Active Shooter Incidents
An analysis of active shooter incidents found that shooters were stopped directly by the police 28.1% of the time. In most cases, police arrive in 3 minutes or less. Shooters also commit suicide in a significant number of cases, likely knowing that they will be killed or arrested by police. Police response times also have a significant effect on the number of casualties, especially since those with critical injuries cannot be treated until the shooter is subdued. This suggests that an active and rapid police force is necessary to help mitigate the effects of active shootings.

Reduction in Traffic Fatalities
While studies conflict on the effects of more intense traffic enforcement, most research shows that the existence of traffic enforcement reduces unsafe driving and crashes. Speeding and aggressive driving, for example, can be reduced by an overall perception that the rules of the road will be enforced. Without police officers enforcing the rules of the road, traffic laws are effectively useless. DUI laws have led to decreased rates of drunk driving, but without anyone to enforce these laws, they will almost certainly go ignored.

3. Community Engagement and Support:
A new form of policing that is growing in popularity involves more active community support and engagement. Often called “community policing,” this practice involves an umbrella of methods, including engagement programs and educational initiatives.

Benefits to Community
Community policing has been shown to improve relationships between fire, building inspection, zoning and health departments. It also helps citizens to connect with social service programs, as well as address root problems behind many crimes.

Community Policing Effect on Crime
Increased funding for community policing reduces crime. This study draws from four separate data sources and found that community policing reduced crime significantly in cities with populations over 10,000.

4. Victim Support and Advocacy:
Improved Victim Outcomes
Victim support programs offer crisis intervention and psychological support. This involves allowing victims to vent and connecting them with other support programs. It also involves preparing victims for case proceedings and investigations.

Higher Conviction Rates
By preparing victims to testify in court and connecting them with resources, these programs often lead to increased victim satisfaction, helping them to testify and convict their assailant. This is especially true of domestic violence victims, who tend to be motivated by self-protection and are more likely to call police. Being more prepared to testify in court or more aware of legal proceedings can help victims walk away more satisfied. Not to mention, without police, perpetrators would never be arrested in the first place.

5. Youth Engagement and Mentorship Programs:
Positive Impact on Youth Development
Youth engagement programs offer positive role models and tend to lead to healthier development for youth and help them to connect with peers and educational opportunities. Population-specific mentoring for children of incarcerated parents or those in foster care can help increase opportunities for emotional support.

Reducing Youth Involvement in Criminal Activities
These programs can also help to decrease juvenile crime. The presence of experienced authority figures can help to end cycles of crime and help teens participate in healthy activities. These programs target substance abuse and youth violence by providing education and access to community resources.

The effects of policing on crime, safety, and community cannot be ignored. Police provide safety and stability while also serving as a defense against general lawlessness.

I am not arguing that the police’s violence outweighs their community help, but rather that they play a significant role in supporting a unjust legal system. 
I would consider this debate a win if I can compellingly prove these four things: 
  1. The legal system and societal framework which perpetuate oppression and marginalization of impoverished communities are highly problematic.
  2. The police force contribute significantly to the perpetuation and reinforcement of this oppressive system.
  3. The problematic institutional setup of our society has a greater negative impact than the positive contributions made by the police force.
  4. Investing in rectifying the numerous broken components of our society would substantially diminish the necessity of relying on law enforcement.
In this part of the argument I am going to first try to establish points 1, 2, and 4. After I make sure those are established I will use those as foundation to show that the negatives of the law enforcement institution outweigh the positives.
Statistics for groundwork of the arguement

This study analyzed data from various sources such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Health Organization.
Key Findings:
  • The United States has a significantly higher homicide rate than other affluent countries, with firearms being the most common weapon used.
  • Income inequality, lack of social safety nets, and poverty contribute to the high homicide rate in the United States.
  • The high level of firearm ownership in the United States is a contributing factor to the high homicide rate.
  • Cultural factors, such as the glorification of violence and individualism, may also contribute to the high homicide rate.

This study examined the policing methods of Nordic countries and compared them to those in the United States.
Key Findings:
  • Nordic countries prioritize community policing and crime prevention over aggressive law enforcement tactics.
  • Nordic police departments focus on building relationships with the communities they serve, including marginalized and vulnerable populations.
  • Nordic countries have low levels of police brutality, and police officers rarely use deadly force.
  • Nordic countries have lower crime rates than the United States.
  • Nordic police agencies have implemented innovative technologies and data-driven approaches to improve their policing practices.
This study is based on interviews with prison officials and researchers, as well as a review of existing literature on the subject.
Key Findings:
  • Prison corruption is a widespread problem, with examples of corruption found in various areas of prison operations, including staff misconduct, contraband smuggling, and favoritism towards certain prisoners.
  • Corruption can be facilitated by a lack of transparency, inadequate training, low salaries and poor working conditions, and poor oversight by management.
  • Prevention and control measures include a focus on hiring and training, establishing clear policies and procedures, creating effective monitoring systems, and implementing effective investigative processes.

The study was conducted by analyzing data from various sources, including the World Prison Brief, the International Centre for Prison Studies, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  • The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 655 people per 100,000 population in prison.
  • The U.S. also has the highest rate of incarceration of women and children, with 133 women and girls and 401 youth per 100,000 in custody.
  • Incarceration rates vary widely across states in the U.S., with Louisiana having the highest rate at 1,052 per 100,000 population.
  • The study suggests that the high rates of incarceration in the U.S. are due to a combination of factors, including harsh sentencing laws, a focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation, and racial disparities in the justice system.
Prioritizing rehabilitation and education over investing in a robust police force could potentially render the latter unnecessary. Redirecting funding away from law enforcement and punishment towards addressing the root causes of crime, such as poverty and lack of education, would prove more effective. The incarceration statistics and corrupt prison anecdotes demonstrate that the current system is inherently flawed, and by supporting it, we are disregarding said corrupt legal system. It is imperative that we shift our focus towards solutions that tackle the underlying issues and not solely rely on punitive measures for those who have been failed by the system. Countries (like the Nordic countries I showed in my evidence) that focus on root causes of crime have lower crime rates and thus less need for a strong police force.
Overall Statement: By continually overfunding and supporting our police we are strengthening the roots of a corrupt institution into our society. 

Round 2
CON has not challenged any of the evidence that I provided in my opening. Instead, they seem to be arguing for some sort of police reform. This is a clear non-sequitur. Even if CON's four premises are all true (which I don't admit for a second), they do not show that police in the United States do more harm than good. I will address this at the end, but I'm bringing it up now just so that you have a basic idea of what my counter is going to look like.

1. Crime Prevention and Reduction:
CON has not challenged my evidence here. Extend.

2. Public Safety and Emergency Response:
CON has not challenged my evidence here. Extend.

3. Community Engagement and Support:
CON has not challenged this. In fact, they seem to support it. Extend.

4. Victim Support and Advocacy:
CON has not challenged this. Extend.

5. Youth Engagement and Mentorship Programs:
CON has not challenged this. Extend.

"The legal system and societal framework which perpetuate oppression and marginalization of impoverished communities are highly problematic."
I do not disagree with this, but I'm listing it here so it's clear I didn't miss this point. My issue lies mainly with the next three premises.

"The police force contribute significantly to the perpetuation and reinforcement of this oppressive system."
CON's first bit of evidence for this premise is that police systems in Nordic countries are more effective than that of the United States. Again, this leads to a non-sequitur. Just because those police forces are more effective at deterring crime does not mean that police in the United States contribute to any sort of oppressive system. Con also commits a correlation-causation fallacy by assuming less aggressive policing leads to lower crime rates. It's equally likely (if not more likely) that low crime rates reduce the need for more aggressive policing. Low crime rates in Nordic countries can just as easily be attributed to other factors. We don't know that these factors definitely cause their low crime rate, but it's a fallacy to attribute it to less aggressive policing when many more likely causes exist.

The second bit of evidence CON provides is that prison corruption exists. I agree that this system could probably be improved, but CON has to argue that this method of incarceration is worse than having no such system at all. Some prisoners may be treated better than others, but would it be better to let every single criminal walk free? That's what CON has to argue if they think the negatives of the police outweigh the positives.

"The problematic institutional setup of our society has a greater negative impact than the positive contributions made by the police force."
CON hasn't provided any evidence for this, mainly because they haven't addressed the huge crime spikes that occur when police funding is reduced (or most of my other arguments). They also haven't argued for getting rid of the police force entirely, so it seems they do acknowledge some positive contributions of the police force. CON is not actually weighing the negatives of our institutional setup with the positives of police. They seem to believe that both of these things exist and then claim, with no justification, that the former outweighs the ladder.

But even if they did support this premise, it wouldn't support their argument. This debate is weighing the positives and negatives of the police, not the positives of the police against the negatives of every single institution.

"Investing in rectifying the numerous broken components of our society would substantially diminish the necessity of relying on law enforcement."
Maybe. But this does not prove that the police create more problems than they solve. Crime is the problem here, and even if police aren't the best way of solving it, they clearly do more good than harm. I don’t think we’ll discover the best way of stopping crime for quite a while, but we shouldn't let perfect be the enemy of good.

"Highest incarceration rate in the world"
Which is better? Having the highest incarceration rate in the world, or arresting nobody? I think it's a good thing that murderers, rapists, and molesters aren't allowed to walk the streets freely. The United States has some of the highest recidivism rates in the world. Maybe investing in certain social programs will help with this, maybe not. In the meantime, police can keep criminals behind bars where they can't hurt innocent people. Community policing, which CON supports, exists already and is likely to help with this. Getting rid of the police means getting rid of community policing.

Argument from contradiction of my opponent's position
Even if many police officers are corrupt, our only hope of stopping them is through the police as an institution. If the police are dissolved, we will be left with two alternatives:
  1. martial law
  2. anarchy
I will assume that my opponent does not support martial law as an alternative for the police. If they do support martial law, I can address that point, but for now, I will assume we are both against it.

Under anarchy, every corrupt cop or corrupt member of our current institutions will be free to commit whatever atrocities they want without being punished. If they want to shoot minorities or lock people up without a trial, then tough luck. The police aren’t around to stop them. With no method of enforcement, our government is essentially powerless. And power vacuums can be worse than dictatorships.

I don’t mean to be discourteous by dismissing most of my opponent’s arguments as irrelevant to this debate. They’ve said a lot of things that I agree with. Many of our institutions can be improved—I have no doubt of that. But Nordic countries have police—for this debate, we need to compare the current system to one in which no law enforcement exists.. When deciding between the police as an institution and anarchy, it’s clear that having an active police force is the better option.

I am going to start by analyzing PRO's rebuttals:  

“Just because those police forces are more effective at deterring crime does not mean that police in the United States contribute to any sort of oppressive system.” 
My argument is that the current state of policing in the U.S. is excessive. I used examples from Nordic countries to demonstrate that police do not need to be as heavily armed and numerous as they are in the U.S. This excessive policing is unjustifiable and results in undue harm.

“But even if they did support this premise, it wouldn't support their argument. This debate is weighing the positives and negatives of the police, not the positives of the police against the negatives of every single institution.”

The overbearing police force in the United States has strengthened other problematic institutions in the country by perpetuating a culture of violence and impunity. Law enforcement agencies, with their excessive use of force, have instilled fear and mistrust among many communities, particularly those of color. This has led to the proliferation of other institutions that reinforce racial and economic inequalities, such as the prison industrial complex and the military-industrial complex. These institutions not only benefit from the militarization of police forces but also help maintain the status quo by perpetuating a system that favors the wealthy and powerful. In essence, the overbearing police force in the U.S. has become a cornerstone of a larger system of oppression that disproportionately affects marginalized communities. 

“Crime is the problem here, and even if police aren't the best way of solving it, they clearly do more good than harm.” 

A self-admittedly ineffective system that requires significant funding is obviously harmful. The over-reliance on law enforcement has not only failed to address the root causes of crime but has also led to the over-policing and over-criminalization of marginalized communities. This has resulted in the disproportionate incarceration of people of color and the perpetuation of systemic inequalities. Furthermore, the high costs associated with maintaining a large law enforcement system have diverted funds away from other important social programs such as education and healthcare, which could help address the root causes of crime. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and inequality that leads to higher crime rates.

  • African American residents are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system in DC. Despite making up only 47% of the population, they make up 91% of individuals arrested for violent offenses and 85% of individuals arrested for drug offenses.
  • Low-income residents are also disproportionately impacted by the justice system, with 84% of all arrests and 90% of all convictions occurring in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is above 20%.
  • The use of money bail in DC has a significant impact on low-income residents, with 70% of individuals in DC jails being held on money bail.
  • The report also highlights the racial and economic disparities in pretrial detention, with Black residents and low-income residents being more likely to be detained before trial.
  • Finally, the report notes that the over-reliance on policing and incarceration has not effectively addressed crime in the city, and that community-based solutions that address the root causes of crime are needed.
Lastly you mentioned that “for this debate, we need to compare the current system to one in which no law enforcement exists”. 
The purpose of the debate is to examine the role of police in the United States, and whether their actions do more good than harm. Introducing a hypothetical scenario in which there is no law enforcement whatsoever is not relevant to this debate because it is not a realistic or feasible option. Furthermore, it is difficult to compare a hypothetical scenario to a real-world situation in a meaningful way. This is why I brought up the example of Nordic countries to demonstrate a way were police can do more good than harm. 

Now, you wanted me to look at the good police do: 
Most of the beneficial actions of the police you mentioned can be done by other institutions. 
1. Crime prevention can be reduced via education and investing in impoverished areas. 
2. I agree with this being the strongest benefit of the police, however I believe it is outshadowed by the negatives. 
3. This is something I support, however, it should be noted that this is a small part of the police and in today's society these programs are not in effect on the scale they should be.
4. Once again I agree that this is benefit of the police, but again I still the cons outweigh the pros. 
5. The communities that most need youth engagement often lack trust in the police. Other successful or important members of society can serve as more effective mentors for youth. It is possible that in a reformed society with greater trust in the police, these programs would be more effective.

Overall statement: The current police force uses resources that could be more effectively used to reduce crime rates in a healthier manner. It is clear that the U.S. faces significant issues with crime, which are rooted in education and culture. Over-policing exacerbates these problems and does not provide a solution. Other countries have demonstrated that low crime rates can be achieved through police reform, which is sorely needed in the U.S. Furthermore, the harm caused by the current police approach outweighs any benefits, reinforcing the need for significant changes in how policing is approached. 
Round 3
CON does not dispute the positive effects of police. However, they argue that the negatives (cost of police and disproportionate arrests) outweigh these positive effects. I believe this is false, and I will explain why.

“Police in the United States are excessive”
CON has yet to defend this argument with evidence. I showed how reducing police funding leads to huge spikes in crime, and Nordic countries require less active police because their crime rates are lower. I already linked to a number of likely reasons for why this is.

“Culture of violence and impunity”
I see a lot of conjecture here without much evidence for direct harm caused by the police. A perceived problem—fear by certain groups of police abuse—is nowhere near as bad as the effects of huge crime spikes. Many criminals will murder, rape, and steal unless some institution uses force to stop them. What does lead to violence and feelings of impunity is criminals knowing they won’t be punished for killing or assaulting people. On balance, I don’t think that law enforcement assists corrupt wealthy individuals—in fact, laws passed by democratically elected officials are the only way of keeping the rich and powerful accountable.

“Police require significant funding”
I find it hard to believe that reduced police funding would be redirected strategically to other programs that effectively reduce crime. That’s attributing an unrealistic amount of competence to government officials. Even then, I’m not sure throwing money at the problem is guaranteed to help. Will higher salaries for teachers stop people from selling meth? If it does, the effect is very indirect, and I don’t think it outweighs the huge crime spikes that occur when police funding is slashed. If these programs really did have that level of positive impact, we could fund them by raising taxes while keeping the police. But I don’t think they will be a priority for government officials either way—when police were defunded in the past, crime increased.

Furthermore, if the police didn’t exist, how would we fund anything at all? If someone refuses to pay taxes, who is going to arrest them? We could try to fine them, but what if they refuse to pay? Police are the only ones preventing this problem.

“Disproportionately affected groups”
Unfortunately, poor and underprivileged groups are more likely to commit violent crimes and to be affected by them. I hardly think the problem here is to stop prosecuting criminals, or to go after them less harshly. If we stop arresting murderers because a disproportionate number of them come from underprivileged groups, then innocent people will suffer, many of them from those same groups.

Argument from contradiction of my opponent's position
Without police, our alternatives are martial law and anarchy, which will increase all of the problems and abuses that my opponent takes issue with in the police department. Thus, police as an institution are the only thing preventing one or both of these outcomes. If the harms caused by martial law or anarchy are greater than those caused by police, which my opponent does not seem to dispute, then we already see a significant benefit of policing (preventing martial law and/or anarchy) that outweighs their total harm. So, whether or not this is a hypothetical scenario, it clearly illustrates that the positives of the police outweigh the negatives.

Final points
  • Without law enforcement, it’s impossible to prosecute tax cheats and effectively fund anything. Police prevent this problem.
  • Without law enforcement, corrupt officials can commit violent crimes against minorities with impunity. Police prevent this problem.
  • Without law enforcement, murderers, rapists, and molesters cannot be arrested. Police prevent this problem.
  • Without law enforcement, anyone at any level of government can launder money meant for education and healthcare without facing legal consequences. Police prevent this problem.
  • Without law enforcement, the rich will be just fine. They can fund bodyguards and private security. It’s the poor who will suffer at the hands of anyone powerful enough to harm them. Police prevent this problem.
  • These benefits clearly outweigh any negatives caused by the police as an institution. The choice is simple: a police department accountable to democratically elected officials, or mercenaries working for the highest bidder.

Even if other institutions do have some efficacy at reducing crime, this does not allow us to conclude that the police do more harm than good. That is a classic example of a red herring—the efficacy of other programs does not change the efficacy of the police. At most, my opponent has proven that the police cause some harm and could be causing less, which I don’t necessarily dispute. But the threats directly prevented by police—crime, anarchy, increased active shooting deaths, etc—clearly outweigh the harm caused by the police as an institution.