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The defects of absolute local autonomy in the matter of police administration are gradually gaining recognition. As yet, however, there is an inclination to regard the difficulties which have arisen as peculiar to certain cities or classes of cities and to single out these for special treatment as against the remainder of the state. When the state has felt it necessary to intervene the remedy applied has almost without exception been the same the city has been completely deprived of the management of its police. At one time or another nearly all of the more important
cities of the United States have had the control State Control of of their police departments placed in the hands Police
of state-appointed officials. With that measure our ingenuity in providing a system for the control of police seems to have come to an end. The tendency has been to fluctuate between the extremes of complete local independence on the one hand and no local independence on the other. In fact, the history of police in American cities seems to indicate that there is at least a strong undercurrent of belief that absolute state control of local police is to be regarded as merely a temporary intervention, warranted by unusual conditions, and entered upon with a view of ultimate return to a normal condition of local autonomy.
The belief in local independence in the matter of police, or at least a lack of belief in complete state control, may account in part for the fluctuating policy which has been indicated. An additional reason is to be found in the fact that neither of the extremes has proved continuously satisfactory. The defects of local control have been sufficiently emphasized. A careful study of the experience of various cities under state control leads to the conclusion that, in general, it has shown itself open to very serious objections. Boston alone, among the cities now having state police commissions, seems to have come nearest to uniformly satisfactory results. The fair measure of success in Boston, however, may be attributed to circumstances making for satisfactory state action in local matters that are unlikely to be duplicated in other states and some of which can scarcely be expected to continue unchanged in Massachusetts. In Baltimore, St. Louis and Kansas City, to name the three other large cities where there is now complete state control of police, the results have been varied in the extreme. The quality of police administration has risen and declined in conformity with the quality of the state government. In general the average result has been no higher than in cities with forces entirely independent of state influence. This conclusion is also valid for other cities which, after a season of state control, have been restored to independence.
On the whole it can hardly be claimed that the destruction of all local autonomy in the matter of police has justified itself in the quality of service which has resulted therefrom. On the contrary, the policy has shown itself capable of developing faults quite as detrimental to police efficiency as the system which it was designed to supplant. The temptation of the state administration to use the police forces for political purposes seems at times almost irresistible. When that occurs the effect upon local government is bad in the extreme. The city is practically helpless. Moreover the evil conditions do not act as a spur to local spirit because the power to eliminate them does not belong to the city voter. Evils that cannot be eliminated easily come to be tolerated and the final result is a lowering of the standard of civic virtue.
It has already been pointed out that the development of efficient democracy under urban conditions demands that advantage be
taken of every possible expedient to entice or Full State
even to force the electorate to maintain an interControl Undesirable
est in government. At the very outset the people
need to have thrust upon them the necessity of using their utmost endeavor for the protection of their fundamental rights. For that reason the withdrawal from the city of any large degree of responsibility for police conditions is to be regarded with distrust. This is especially true since the assumption of all police responsibility by the state often fits in with an inclination on the part of the city dweller to shirk the onerous task of looking after his own interests in that particular. There is no doubt that the state will best subserve the ends of sound democratic government by refusing to protect the localities against themselves except in so far as it is necessary to safeguard the interests of the state as a whole.
Enough has been said to indicate the weakness of complete local control of police on the one hand and of complete state control on the other. There has been no serious attempt in any of our states to devise a system which would avoid the evils inherent in both. What is needed is a plan whereby the state can secure the execution of its mandates while preserving to the city the great advantages of independence in local matters and the valuable training which comes from the performance of an important function of government. The principle to be followed is clear. The city should have a right, a continuous right, to self-government; the state should be able to secure the thorough
and uniform enforcement of all state laws. A Plan of
There appears to be no method by which such a Control
program can be carried out in its entirety except by leaving the police in the control of locally-appointed officers but subject to strong powers of state supervision. The following is an attempt to embody in brief suggestions the main features of such a plan:
(1) A police commissioner should be appointed in each city by the mayor. His term should be during good behaviou and efficiency and he should be removable by the mayor only upon a full written or printed public statement of charges.
Such an arrangement would make it possible for the city electorate to fix responsibility for police conditions definitely on the mayor. The plan in that regard is simple and understandable. The police commissioner is given an indefinite tenure of office because, rightly considered, his is not a political position and we need to foster the idea that there is no question of policy involved in law enforcement. An indefinite tenure would tend to promote efficiency in the commissioner and through him in the police
force. Recent experience in New York has Local Oficers
shown how important it is that the police commissioner be left in control long enough to carry through any reforms that may be needed. It has also demonstrated the impossibility of freeing a police force from improper political influence when the commissioner is frequently changed. The power given the mayor to remove the commissioner for cause is a sufficient safeguard against corruption or inefficiency in so far as they can be prevented by local action. Public sentiment must be counted upon to prevent any unwarranted use of the removing power by the mayor.
(2) Mayors, police commissioners and sheriffs should be removable by the governor upon a public written statement of reasons, the reasons to involve delinquency or corruption in the enforcement of state laws.
This provision, together with those suggested below, would place the governor definitely at the head of the law-enforcing
machinery of the state. The power of removal Removal by
would make it possible for him to control the the Governor
local officers charged with the enforcement of state laws without opening the way to the political abuses which have so frequently accompanied full state control of police. From the standpoint of efficient state government the control suggested would mark a great advance. The addition of sheriffs to
a the list of removable officers would place all localities upon the same basis. The governorship would become an important and responsible office. A governor elected upon a platform of law enforcement would have an effective means of redeeming his pledges if he cared to do so. If he wished to evade the responsibility of his platform, of his campaign promises and of his oath of office he would not, as at present, be able to hide his hypocrisy by a specious and noisy manipulation of old and ineffective weapons of government.
(3) A system of state inspection of local police should be established.
State inspection could reasonably be expected to have a favorable influence in several particulars. Inspection by an expert outside authority would attract attention to the police and give wide publicity to local conditions. It would make possible the establishment of standards of comparison between the police of different cities and thus would tend to promote a healthy spirit of rivalry among the various forces of the state. The inspectors would be able to render important service as expert advisers and by making the experience of all the cities common property. If. as in England, the state would pay a portion of the cost of the local police upon condition that a certain standard of efficiency be maintained the value of inspection would be greatly increased. The results that might be expected to flow from a system of state inspection can scarcely be regarded as a matter of theory.
Central inspection of schools has long been used State Inspection with great success. State inspection of local accounts is proving of the highest value even where the inspector has no power except to make public his findings. In fact the chief value of inspection does not lie in the possession of coercive power to correct improper conditions. Its greatest usefulness comes from the ability to determine and make public exact conditions, to fix standards of service and to give expert advice to the local official.
While central inspection may exert a powerful influence upon local administrations it can be made to accomplish its purpose without interference with any proper measure of home rule. Even with a rigorous system of inspection the locality can and should be made responsible in the first instance for the quality of government secured. Home rule, properly understood, is not violated if the state merely insists upon full publicity regarding local conditions, shows the comparative cost and efficiency of the same service in different communities and provides a system for advising local officers.
(4) There should be a small but efficient state detective force to assist the governor in informing himself regarding local conditions, to prosecute violators of the law in case of failure to do so by the local police and to furnish expert detective service to the small towns and rural districts when needed.
Inspection alone could not always be depended upon to furnish the governor with that intimate knowledge of local conditions on
which to base the exercise of the removing State Detectives
power which has been suggested. A small force of experienced officers under his immediate command would supply this deficiency. The number of detectives need not be large for the usefulness of such a force would not depend upon its size but chiefly upon its effect on the local police authorities. Knowledge on the part of the mayor, police commissioner and sheriff that the governor had at his command a means of informing himself as to the manner in which they were discharging their duties to the state could be relied upon to stimulate their activity in the enforcement of state laws.