Criminologists are, with a few exceptions, rather critical of police and many simply dislike the cops. For some, it goes well beyond dislike. They have a visceral, emotive and entirely irrational view of the cops that boarders or crosses into hatred. You can see this play out in any number of ways but you should really hear how they talk about cops at academic conferences, particularly in the bars as they are getting drunk. It’s a poorly held secret.
Anyway, it is interesting to note that these same liberal criminologists attack conservatives for their supposed blind support of the police. But is this true? Well, Gallup data do show that conservatives are more likely than liberals to support, in general, the institution of policing. What do we make of this?
Conservative political theory places an emphasis on social order and social stability. This much most liberals and conservatives agree on. Why, however, does conservative political theory value order and stability? Well, the long and short of it is simple: social order and social stability are necessary prerequisites for a safe, predictable, and functional society. Economic transactions, for example, require a degree of social trust and safety. This is part of the reason that high crime areas have few, if any, places to shop, places to buy groceries, or even public restrooms (don’t ask me how I know this).
Conservative political theory supports planned, incremental change over dramatic and sweeping change. History has shown that during periods of sweeping social change, especially if that change is enforced in a top-down fashion, that really bad things happen.
So what does any of this have to do with conservative support for police? Well, conservatives actually have an interesting relationship with the institution of policing. At one level, conservatives support the institution of policing because it represents the enforcement of the rules of civilization. Rules, by the way, are necessary for any society. Police protect people, they help to ensure social order, and they enforce law. All are moral and socially worthwhile efforts.
Yet conservatives are also suspicious of the institution of policing. Suspicious you say?? Yes. While conservatives generally support the institution of policing, they do so with some important caveats. Police cannot, for example, beat the hell out of citizens, they cannot violate the civil rights of citizens, and they cannot be allowed to morph into an internal army at the command of politicians. Many of the critics of the alleged “militarization” of the police are conservative, for example.
Policing is the extension of governmental power and conservatives share a deep suspicion of governmental power.
Yet what is going on right now, and what has been going on over the last few years, is an underground attack on the institution of policing by those on the left. This attack, spearheaded by the Obama Department of Justice and specifically by the Civil Rights Division, has had dreadful consequences for police and citizens alike.
Attached below are two stories about the political attacks on the police. The first, published in the National Review by two lawyers who used to work in the Civil Rights Division, highlights just how ideological the Division has become. The head of the Division, for example, was an ACLU lawyer with impeccable leftist credentials. She was clearly pulled from the far left side of the political distribution. Her rhetoric is as strong as the rhetoric from any religious fundamentalist.
The next story comes from Chicago. The Mayor of Chicago recently railed against the fact that police in Chicago had “gone fetal.” According to the good Mayor, police were no longer being proactive, they are no longer taking risks, and instead are simply punching the clock and going home. Why, you may ask? According to the mayor and to many other cops and chiefs, they don’t want to end up skewered by the DOJ Civil Rights Division and by their willing accomplices in the media. I recall not too long ago that an email was sent from the ASC soliciting help to refute an editorial by Heather MacDonald that said pretty much the same thing. I’m sure the ASC committee will again ask for help in responding to the mayor’s comments.
John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisi
Professors of Crime and Criminology