Robert Cohen / St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP
By Julian Adorney
When judging an institution, it’s important to examine the incentives of its agents. The incentives of the police force in Ferguson are decidedly flawed.
Three major incentives tend to govern police force behavior.
First, the police monopoly on protection means that anyone who wants to save lives, protect innocent people, and be a hero is funneled into 911. Due to the monopoly, they have few other ways to exercise these instincts. That leads to stories of, for instance, policemen rushing into a burning building to save an elderly woman and a baby.
While many libertarians are uncomfortable accepting this incentive, it exists. Failing to admit that police forces attract some heroic individuals leaves us in danger of seeing only one side of the equation.
The second incentive is more dangerous. Police officers have significant privileges in society, from the ability to ticket civilians to the power to kill suspected criminals. These privileges attract some people who want to abuse them.
Ideally, police forces would take responsibility for screening out, or summarily firing, officers that displayed abusive tendencies. While this does happen in some forces, it’s far from common. In Ferguson, we saw police attacking press, pointing assault weapons at unarmed civilians, and treating free protestors like citizens of an occupied territory instead of fellow community members.
Police forces, rather than weed our horrible officers, tend to protect them. Internal Affairs units dismiss 92% of complaints. Courts tend to give extra weight to an officer’s testimony, and police unions protect even clearly guilty officers. While not all police forces do this, enough do. Bad police officers are protected far too often.
The third incentive is on even fuller display in Ferguson: police have a financial incentive to militarize. The Pentagon gives them leftover war equipment, and tells them to either find a use for it or give it back. Most police forces don’t want to give away new toys—so they find a use. The result is that police increasingly dress like, and use the tools of, soldiers. That in turn affects how they behave—as evidenced in Ferguson.
By contrast, market alternatives to 911 are only governed by the first example. Peacekeeper, the world’s first alternative to 911, is a free app that allows you to build a voluntary network of friends, family, and neighbors that can rely on each other in an emergency.
If you’re in an emergency—for instance, a home invasion—you can let your Peacekeeper network (called an ERG, Emergency Response Group) know. Friends and neighbors, trained and ready to help, can show up in minutes.
Your ERG is completely voluntary: everyone is on there because they want to be. Only people who are interested in helping and protecting others will join. And, because you’re in control of who’s on your ERG, the possibility of abuse is slim to none. Unlike in 911, there are no bureaucracies dedicated to keeping bullies on your ERG. Peacekeepers have no additional privileges beyond those of ordinary citizens.
Peacekeeper was built with the right incentives in mind. You’re in the driver’s seat, which means that your ERG serves you. If you want an emergency response system that will never look like the police force in Ferguson, download the app today.