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March 24, 2021

"What is Public Safety?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Barry Friedman now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

For literally hundreds of years, political leaders and thinkers have deemed public safety the first duty of government.  But they have defined public safety largely in terms of the “protection” function — protecting individuals from violent harm to person or property, from third parties, but also from natural elements.  As the first duty, the protection function is privileged.  Witness today how we valorize police and other first responders, defer to their decisions without sufficient scrutiny, and even immunize their mistakes.

Yet, is protection really all there is to public safety?  For most people, being safe depends on much more: food, clean water and air, housing, a basic income and the means to obtain it, meaning education and a job.  It might include health care, health insurance to obtain it, or the freedom from discrimination.

This Article argues that if individual safety includes some or all of these additional elements, then public safety — the government’s obligation to ensure people are safe — should be understood far more capaciously than the protection function.  At its analytic core, it shows that there is nothing particularly different about the protection function that justifies treating it as government’s first job, while the other vital functions of government are relegated to second-class status.  And it explores the many reasons that despite the fact that protection is not special, we nonetheless neglect all the other elements of individual safety.

Today, many argue that funding needs to be reallocated from policing to the other needs that challenged communities face.  This Article provides a theoretical basis for those claims, establishing that we over-privilege the protection function, and under-support much else government should be doing.  It demonstrates the very tangible harms people face because we definite public safety narrowly.  On the one hand, people starve, go without shelter, die from air and water that is not clean, from the travails of living in poverty, and from the lack of health care.  On the other hand, people are harmed at the hands of the police, because we do not scrutinize the protection function sufficiently to change this, we need to think more broadly about what safety — and public safety — means.

March 24, 2021 at 11:53 AM | Permalink


you know, this abstract reveals an anti-police bias that is repellent. The several items that it claims are important for public safety? Absent is freedom from violent crime, which is or should be the prime task of police. All of the other items listed are the responsibility of other government or society than the police. The abstract also very suspiciously does not mention the lack of education the young of all races should be forced to take on how to not resist arrest when encountering the police This lack of key instruction is almost 90 percent of any problem with the police. And the other 10 percent? The War on Drugs. End the war and poof the rest of the problem goes away. Teach kids how to deal with low enforcement and there is no problem whatsoever. Aren't we all tired of these papers that blame the police, completely missing the issue?

Here's what the abstract should have said: When the police order you to do something, do it. Fight them in court not on the street. Legalize all drugs today. Put money into shelter, health care, etc., by acts of the legislature.

Posted by: restless94110 | Mar 25, 2021 3:02:41 PM

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