If you are watching the news or thumbing through Twitter you probably have the sense that the police are not very popular at the moment. In fact, you would probably be wrong. Over the years polls have shown that local police forces are overwhelmingly popular. Nationally the police rank third in a list of most trusted institutions behind only the military and small business.
Gallup tracking polls show wide support for police, as did a 2019 Civis poll. It may well be true that now in the midst of the protests approval of police has been somewhat diminished, but this is not the first police killing of a black person to become a huge national story. And yet faith in police keeps relatively steady.
As many in the Democratic Party take aim at the nation’s police departments, threatening them with abolition or defunding, Republicans must be rock solid in their support for the institution of policing. And they should do so not just because its politically popular, but because of why its politically popular.
There are a few things that most people believe about the police and policing all at once. They know that it is dangerous work; they know that if they ever need the police the police will be there, and they know that the police have a power unlike any other force in our legal system. Pertaining to that last one, people also know that when so much power is entrusted, abuse of that power is to some extent inevitable.
Those who oppose the police, who seek its demise or abolition, exist between two utopias. On the one hand, they believe that order can be maintained without the power being used to maintain it ever being abused. On the other hand, they believe that without police power, crime would simply wither on the vine. Both of these assertions are absurd. They represent a profound misunderstanding of human nature and the role of law to constrain it.
In reality, while disparities exist in the treatment of Americans by the police, the claim that police forces are irredeemably racist is just false. Most major police forces are far more diverse, not just in rank and file but in leadership, than many of the progressive outlets and organizations that criticize them. Underlying conditions in some poor black communities make police interactions more common and sometimes tense, but this does not point to widespread racism.
So far President Trump, who held a law enforcement round table at the White House Monday, and congressional Republicans have been sounding the right note. But it must be full-throated. It cannot be stipulated to that there is some scourge of systemic racism in law enforcement. There isn’t and Republicans need to be honest about that even at the risk of being called racists themselves. They also must force candidates like Joe Biden to answer calls to defund or abolish police.
As absurd debates over what “defund the police” does and doesn’t mean happen on the left, the right must not only support but celebrate the Americans who put their lives on the line everyday and come to your house whenever you need their help. People like the police, and they should. They are the line between order and chaos. Pretending otherwise, suggesting social workers will solve crimes with feelings charts is ridiculous and unserious.
Sometimes in politics an opportunity presents itself, which is both politically popular and the right stance to take. The GOP has such a moment here. Notwithstanding the relentless assault both physical and rhetorical from the left against cops they are held in high regard. And they need politicians to have their back in order to do their job.
A certain Romneyite breed of conservative will pay lip service to the shibboleths of the left when approaching the issue of police. This must be rejected. It is not rooted in reality but rather in a vain game of virtue signaling. Republicans must be resolute in their support of the police; if they are the voters will listen. This is a gift horse they must not look in the mouth.
The two parties are poised to take very different views on the issue of the police, an issue that was once more or less bipartisan and pro-law enforcement. Now we have Democrats who take a knee in protest to those who protect and serve. Republicans on the other hand must stand tall and proud in support of the men and women of every race, creed, religion, and sexual orientation who keep our towns and cities safe, free, and functioning.