Alex S. Vitale is Professor of Sociology and Coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, and a Visiting Professor at London Southbank University. He has spent the last 30 years writing about policing and consults both police departments and human rights organizations internationally. Prof. Vitale is the author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics and The End of Policing. His academic writings on policing have appeared in Policing and Society, Police Practice and Research, Mobilization, and Contemporary Sociology. He is also a frequent essayist, whose writings have been published in The NY Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Nation, Vice News, Fortune, and USA Today. He has also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR, PBS, Democracy Now, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
1.- You propose that the police force, as it is currently structured, should be dissolved. Do you think there are any areas of the police structure that should be maintained?
Transforming the way we think about public safety doesn’t imagine that we eliminate police departments overnight. For one thing, this is not politically possible, so it is not reasonable to even consider it as an option. Second, what is needed is to begin a process of developing new infrastructures of public safety that will allow us to address public safety concerns more effectively and without the negative social costs of relying on police. As we develop these new infrastructures we can reduce and eliminate the corresponding police functions. For example, Portugal has decriminalized drugs and this means they can reduce police time that was previously spent on narcotics enforcement. Another example is the creation of non-police crisis intervention teams to respond to mental health crisis calls, thus allowing for the downsizing of police patrol capacity.
2.- In case of dissolution of police organizations, could other actors or bodies take over the functions of the police?
Yes, that is the goal, though the “functions” may look very different from what police do. Rather than trying to control and interrupt drug distribution and usage, we could invest in public health services and legalized distribution of drugs.
3.- In the event of a decrease in the role of the police, there could be an increase in private security. Would it not be problematic for many citizens who would not be able to afford it?
The goal of this new approach is to reduce vulnerability, so that less of a “security” infrastructure is needed. If we have fewer people who are poor, unhoused, lack access to basic health services, etc, there will be less need for punitive systems of crime control, whether public or private.
4.- What should be the role of citizens in an alternative security management model? What should your role be and what should be the limits of your intervention?
The modern state has worked hard to monopolize the provision of security. We need to better democratize this process. We should equip communities with resources that allow them to more effectively respond to a variety of public safety challenges on their own. This can involve both increasing the capacity of community based organizations to address issues like domestic violence, mental health needs, substance abuse, youth services, etc and enhance the capacity of individuals to work together to solve problems cooperatively such as resolving nuisance complaints between neighbors, family members, friends, etc. Involving the police in every conceivable dispute comes with huge financial and social costs and we should work to reduce their role in as many ways as we can.