The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Chicago Police Department Is Not a Jobs Program

Police officers in Chicago, Ill., in 2012. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot on defunding the police:

In our Police Department, about 90 percent of the budget is personnel. When you talk about defunding, you’re talking about getting rid of officers. Most of our diversity lies in the junior officers. So when you’re talking about defunding the police, you’re talking about doing it in a context of a collective-bargaining agreement that requires you to go in reverse seniority, which means you’re getting rid of the younger officers. Which means you’re getting rid of black and brown people. Which means you are eliminating one of the few tools that the city has to create middle-class incomes for black and brown folks. Nobody talks about that in the discussion to defund the police.

A few thoughts:

  1. I know that I am the last dinosaur of my kind, but I still find the racial politics above kind of creepy, and I think they play into the hands of white-resentment entrepreneurs.
  2. The point of a police department is not “to create middle-class incomes” for people of any race. The point of a police department is to do police work. Mayor Lightfoot is here confirming a longstanding libertarian critique of bureaucracy — that the interests of the bureaucrats, including the financial interests of the staff and executives and the political interests of the politicians who treat bureaucrats’ incomes as political spoils, end up being the actual motivating force of many public agencies, with their purported mission (in this case, law enforcement) coming in a very distant second, at best.
  3. The social value of any job — public or private — is found in what the workers produce, not in the income those workers enjoy. We should think about workers as producers rather than as consumers, especially when it comes to government payrolls. If the municipal agencies of Chicago have too many employees, then they have too many employees, and the payroll should be reduced until it meets the needs of the city. (Not that this is likely to be the case, but the same thing would hold true if Chicago had too few government employees.) Government isn’t a jobs program, and jobs are a means, not an end.
  4. Talking about the police department as a jobs program is a distraction from Chicago’s failure in the matter of public safety, a failure that is comprehensive but felt most intensely in the black and brown communities on whose behalf Mayor Lightfoot purports to act. She and other big-city mayors should not be let off the hook for the state of the cities, even if the fact that they are overwhelmingly Democrats makes for uncomfortable politics for the nation’s Democrat-aligned editorial pages.

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