Essential policing

In my discussions on government by data and urgency, I have described a government that involves itself with very few laws enforceable at any one time and where the laws would expire quickly. This was a consequence of having a government guided by democratically-selected algorithms using crowd sourced data. Laws must be minimized to achieve the goal of having data that most accurately reflects the population’s natural tendencies outside of government influence.

Laws would only be in effect when there is a popular expression of some urgency for the government to do something about some complaint. When that happens, an algorithm would select some law based on the predefined rules and metrics of merit. The resulting law would do something, but not necessarily anything related to the current crisis. Assuming that the popularly decided algorithm is to optimize future prospects, the new law would choose something that takes advantage of the crisis to better prepare for the future by either optimizing benefits or by avoiding future hazards.

Very likely, such rules will be unpopular to the population at the time and abhorrent to modern sensibilities, but they will have full force of the most extreme authoritarian state. I imagine that there would be widespread acceptance of the new rules. A machine comes up with the rules without human guidance, approval, or overrule. The rules do account for the most recent observations about everyone’s current behaviors and capabilities, and the algorithms capture the expressed aspirations of the population. The rules themselves will expire quickly.

I am assuming that the population is readily conditioned to adjust to the new conditions imposed by the current rules so that those behaviors will persist long after the rules are no longer in effect. Recent experience with the COVID19 behaviors demonstrates this conditioning. We could remove all restrictions and government guidance right now and a large portion of the population will continue to act cautiously and will admonish others for not doing likewise. New behaviors persist long after they are enforced, and old behaviors may never return because they were habits to begin with. New habits will emerge that are consistent with the learned behaviors from the authoritarian-imposed rules.

Under this kind of government, policing has a very limited role despite the authoritarian nature of this governing once triggered by a popular expression of urgency. The government’s exhaustive capability of collecting and saving data empowers it to record what each person does during the enforcement period and that record will then influence future rules made by the government. This is a government that eliminates the modern notion of privacy, but it also transforms criminal punishment. While today we punish a convict with incarceration or a fine that will affect that convict’s future, this alternative affects the convicts future opportunities and obligations when the next crisis demands a government response. For the rational, there is a comparable incentive to behave.

That does leave a sizable population that will misbehave. My concept includes some tolerance to this misbehavior. The remedy for excessive misbehavior is for an additional expression of urgency that triggers a new rule based on this particular observation. The new rule will use the observations of the misbehaving and address the issue collectively instead of individually.

Such a government can deal with criminal behavior without directly prosecuting the criminals. There is less need to apprehend individuals and prosecute them in court. The government deals with the problem collectively by addressing something the misbehaving population shares. This is not intended to be perfect, some will continue to escape this type of justice similar to how our current system allows many to escape justice. The difference is that this alternative government has no pretense or goal of being perfect: instead it is satisfied if it reduces the misbehavior to a level that falls below the population’s demand for urgency for yet another rule.

There will be some people who will behave in destructive behaviors that directly threaten other people. The hypothesized government would have to prosecute them individually using a system very similar to our current system. This will require some type of arrest and prosecution in from of some type of court that will decide whether to convict the individual.

Once the court convicts, the hypothetical government has very different options from our current system. In particular, the option for long-term incarceration is not available. There is a new punishment option of having a record that will have much more impact on a person’s future prospects because of how thoroughly data is used for all decision making including at the inter-personal level. Everyone has quick and easy access to all information about anyone else.

Given the lack of the long-term incarceration, there may also have to be a more permissive acceptance of punishments that we current consider to be cruel or unusual, up to and including death sentences. However, this hypothetical government has an incentive to preserve each human life as a potentially valuable resource for the future. The cruelty will not result in any permanent disabilities, and death penalties would be reserved for only the irredeemable. All human life is worth preserving for potential value in the future. In any case, the punishment occurs swiftly with no opportunity for appeal.

This government’s goal is to resolve all issues as quickly as possible and then resume a normality. It accepts that such quick resolution will be unfair at the large scale of rule making. Similarly, it accepts that some getting punished unfairly. In both cases, there is the counter-balance of allowing the affected to resume their normal lives as quickly as possible. Even cruel punishment will come with precautions to avoid any permanent disabilities for future opportunities. Death sentences would be rare though perhaps more common than we have now because of the need to complete the sentence swiftly.

This concept of government has a need for a police force, but this police force would have a much more limited role than we current demand. The existence of intrusive data collection reduces the need for police to identify and arrest people. Changes in their data status will be sufficient to encourage most people to show up to authorities to address that status change, similar to how people will contact their bank when their credit cards are blocked.

There will be some elusive criminals but these may be tolerated as long as they remain few in number and not publicly visible.

As described above, there are just fewer laws to enforce and these few laws are enforceable for a short period of time. Compared to our current government of a multitude of perpetual laws, this government greatly reduces the need for any law enforcement. People will learn to avoid unwelcome behaviors through conditioning from past authoritarian rules. In addition, people will tolerate more misbehavior in order to avoid raising the alarm of urgency to the level that would trigger a new authoritarian rule that they can’t control in terms of impacting their own lives.

This alternative government is more tolerant of misbehavior and this results in less need for policing. Compared to the current system’s obsession with justice and fairness, this alternative is more practical. I can imagine a broad public acceptance because of a new priority of making policies only during times of urgency and using only predefined algorithms and recorded observations to make those policies without any human approval or veto. This alternative is also practical in that is permits collecting data of the misbehaviors, making this data available for better optimization in future rule-making. In particular, it would make rules that better accommodate future generations of misbehaving populations.

This description of a hypothetical government does outline an essential police activity. Due to the requirement of limited number of temporary laws triggered only during periods of popular expression of urgency, there are fewer laws that require enforcement. The extensive and intrusive data dependencies would provide sufficient incentives to get most people to voluntarily resolve their change in indictment status. The tolerance for some getting away eliminates the need for police to seek out arrests.

The essential role for policing is in protecting people from immediate threats to their lives or property. The police role is to deescalate the situation through separating the offending party from the victim and taking steps to keep them separate. Arrests may be made in these situations, but these situations involve aggression currently in process.

Once the situation has past, the damage has already been done. The injured party may report the offense and describe the offender. This becomes part of the data record that will be available for future decisions such as how police should handle future interactions with the assailant. The police have no role in seeking retribution from the assailant. For one thing, there was no law broken because there likely was no law to break. There are alternative ways for the victim to seek retribution because he too is similarly free from most laws.

This hypothetical government may offer some advice for our current government.

  1. The essential role for police is to respond to immediate conflicts, and they have no role after the conflict is ended.
  2. Police should not be required to arrest anyone not currently threatening anyone else, even if that person is wanted for court. There exist other methods incentives to encourage that appearance.
  3. Optimizing the court systems to process cases more quickly would permit more instantaneous hearings for the times when the indicted person voluntarily presents himself to the court. The hearing should be as swift as possible so as to eliminate the need for jail or bond to hold a person for some distant court date.
  4. The cases should be resolved quickly followed by swift punishment that completely closes the case. While this may seem unfair especially for someone who might otherwise win on appeal, the appeal process itself is an unfair punishment in dragging out the case for the individual.
  5. In the context of a finite human life, a swift process that may be unfair benefits everyone more than a slow process that strives to be fair and perfectly just.

We can easily reform our police system by simply reducing their roles to what is absolutely essential: to intercede in current conflicts that present immediate threat of harm. We can eliminate many of the current laws because they have already served their purposes of conditioning the population. This would eliminate the need for policing of these laws. We can implement alternative incentives to encourage voluntary presentation in front of court without relying on police arrests. We can have a culture that is more tolerant to some level of misbehavior, and avoid the demand for criminally trying that miscreant. When the level of behavior does become intolerable, the proper response may be to address the problem collectively on the entire population instead of having police make individual arrests.

The alternative to the current demands for reforming the police is to reform the justice system by redefining the purpose of laws to condition the population instead of requiring perpetual enforcement. To the extent the court system is still needed, it needs to operate more swiftly ended with a complete resolution in a very short time. Many of the current police arrests are the result of a dysfunctional court system that requires holding a suspect to schedule an case on a calendar excessively crowded by an overloaded court system.

Fewer laws, faster trials, and swifter punishments.

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