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Law Enforcement is a Critical Infrastructure and Key Resource

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Ygnacio “Nash” Flores, Don Mason, and Tracy Rickman
July 13, 2021

Critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR) are complex systems ensuring the safety and security of the nation. The loss or diminishment of any CIKR can significantly impact the country and our communities. Overlooked as a social necessity in conversations to defund and abolish policing in this country is law enforcement’s value as a CIKR. Supporting a need for law enforcement in our communities was realistically framed by former President Barack Obama in an interview on The Daily Show.

Law enforcement as a profession is part of a modern society’s ability to protect communities and ensure a safe environment. Regrettably, law enforcement officials have not always been there to protect and serve their communities, as evidenced by recent protests and social movements. The dichotomy of the need for services and the most recent tone to reduce funding presents a harsh reality for those that need an immediate law enforcement response. The critical nature of an emergency dictates life or death scenarios based upon the reaction of law enforcement or the lack thereof. 

Behind the social unrest are decades of institutionalized discrimination developed through national policies like the war on drugs, the war on crime, law and order, and the war on terrorism. The consequence of these social campaigns targeted minority communities, increased incarcerations and expanded prison systems. Paramount in the litany of justification for defunding/abolishing law enforcement are the deaths of people—primarily African Americans—by law enforcement. Research indicates that in the most recent years, the killing of African Americans by law enforcement is at a higher rate than other races in America. While law enforcement officers kill white Americans in the line of duty, it does not compare to the alarming rates of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

There is little argument for continuing law enforcement as practiced since the previous century. This reasoning does not support the call for eliminating law enforcement in our communities. As a CIKR, there is no current entity to replace law enforcement functions in our communities. A telling example of ad hoc measures to replace or abolish professional law enforcement is Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) and the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP). In Seattle, business owners filed a lawsuit against the city for abandoning the CHAZ and removing the police, fire and other emergency services.

Another telling example of the dangers of removing CIKR in a transitional environment is in the post-Saddam government in Iraq. The abolishment of the Baath Party and the inability of its former members to find employment left many people little option except to join ISIS as a means of providing for their families. Similarly, the wholesale and indiscriminate branding of all law enforcement personnel as evil is not the solution. Defunding or abolishing law enforcement will affect the officers, their families and the supply chains that support the infrastructure of law enforcement through various businesses and services. Add to this the lawlessness and lack of order in a civilized nation, and we can question the desire to abolish a system where the meek, frail, elderly or day-to-day citizen who has done nothing illegal can be taken advantage of, with no institutionalized response from law enforcement. Being based on a rule of law requires those that “keep the peace” to engage while resolving issues without escalation. 

In a worst-case scenario, defrocked law enforcement officers will look to far-right and anti-government organizations such as the Oath Keepers or the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association as a form of identity. Even worse, organized crime might look to recruit former law enforcement officers as security and enforcers as they replicate the actions of many drug cartels south of the border. 

Legislative acts to defund or abolish law enforcement will create a vacuum in a community’s key resources and damage the infrastructure of a sound government. As in Seattle, elected officials have to weigh the attraction of temporary social approval against the long-term damage to their communities. Instead, civic leaders need to consider how they employ their law enforcement assets. 

Law enforcement is not the answer to all the woes of a community. Leaders need to explore using other infrastructures and key resources to service their communities and stop relying on a uniformed officer to solve all issues. Law enforcement  officers must recognize what is happening in the country they have devoted their lives to protect and serve. There must be a starting place, a collaboration of sorts, a movement tied to the betterment, not the detriment of our society at large. If not, laws will not matter, and the expectations of safety and security will be an idea of the past.


Authors:

Tracy Rickman
Ygnacio “Nash” Flores
Don Mason
All serve as faculty in Rio Hondo College’s Public Safety Department.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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