Disbanding Police Agencies

78 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2020 Last revised: 24 Feb 2021

See all articles by Anthony O'Rourke

Anthony O'Rourke

University at Buffalo Law School

Rick Su

University of North Carolina School of Law

Guyora Binder

University at Buffalo Law School

Date Written: November 18, 2020

Abstract

Since the killing of George Floyd, a national consensus has emerged that reforms are needed to prevent discriminatory and violent policing. Calls to defund and abolish the police have provoked pushback, but several cities are considering disbanding or reducing their police forces. This Essay assesses disbanding as a reform strategy, from a democratic and institutionalist perspective. Should localities disband their police forces? One reason to do so is that discriminatory police departments are often too insulated from democratic oversight to be reformed. But can localities succeed in disbanding and replacing their forces with something better? Unfortunately, the structural entrenchment of sheriffs’ offices and municipal police forces insulate them against such attacks as well. To challenge police power, localities may have to disband, and to disband, localities may have to alter the legal structure of state and local government. Reformers must use rare moments of mobilization like this one to overcome the misguided efforts of past reformers to lock in their victories. Successful reformers can best avoid repeating such mistakes by trusting in the democratic experiment, and concentrating supervision of law enforcement at one level, the most local.

Keywords: policing, police reform, disbanding, defunding, police abolition, local government, democracy, federalism

Suggested Citation

O'Rourke, Anthony and Su, Rick and Binder, Guyora, Disbanding Police Agencies (November 18, 2020). 121 Columbia Law Review (2021, Forthcoming), UNC Legal Studies Research Paper , University at Buffalo School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2020-004, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3733121 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3733121

Anthony O'Rourke (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

School of Law
528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States

Rick Su

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

160 Ridge Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
(919) 962-5106 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.unc.edu/faculty/directory/surick

Guyora Binder

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-2673 (Phone)
716-645-2640 (Fax)

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