Make Policing a Profession

The key difference between a trade and a profession is simple. Trades are regulated externally. A profession is self-regulating. Trades have unions. Professions have bar associations and medical boards.
The nature of unions is that they protect the weakest member of the labor group. That’s a powerful concept when a junior auto worker is protected from being fired unfairly, but it’s a corrosive one when it’s protecting a bad teacher from being fired for misconduct. In both cases, collective bargaining is used to guarantee better conditions of employment and protections from firing or discipline being imposed by the bosses against the workers.

The nature of a professional body like a bar association or medical board is to maintain the high standards of the profession and ensure members of the profession behave ethically and properly. When a bad lawyer is brought before the bar association for an ethical complaint like lying to a court or stealing from a client, it is other lawyers who determine whether there is enough misconduct to disbar the bad lawyer, removing him/her from the profession.

A bad tree does not yield good apples.

When a group is regulating itself, the incentives are there for the good apples to get rid of the bad apples before they spoil the bunch. When a union is defending workers against the bosses, the incentive is there to protect all apples from being disciplined or fired, regardless of whether they are good or bad.

In the law, members of the bar pay dues into a fund for clients who are harmed by bad attorneys. This is in addition to the mandatory malpractice insurance, where each lawyer has to provide insurance against any future misconduct they may have in their career. Bad lawyers cost the entire profession, and if a lawyer is bad enough, they become uninsurable and are unable to practice law.

In policing, police unions negotiate protections against disciplining and firing bad officers, qualified immunity prevents them from being sued in their individual capacity, and the members of the community pay the civil rights damages awards for police brutality.

If we want to address the structural problems with policing in America, police don’t need more regulation from outside, they need to regulate themselves. Policing should be a profession, with standards set by a professional body, and liability for professional misconduct coming out of a fund that members of the profession pay into. Each officer should carry their own malpractice insurance, with premiums set based on training and disciplinary history, as well as based on departmental disciplinary history

Nicholas Sarwark

Nicholas Sarwark

Nicholas Sarwark is Executive Director of the Libertarian Policy Institute. He has been Chairman of the Libertarian National Committee since 2014, and after re-election in 2018, is the first person to be elected to three consecutive terms in party history. As a deputy public defender in Colorado, he tried more than 30 cases before a jury and argued in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. After five years as full-time Vice President of an independent car dealership and loan company based in Phoenix, he stepped away from day-to-day operations of the family business in early 2019. In August 2019 he relocated to New Hampshire with his wife Valerie and their four children to fulfill a commitment as a Free State Project participant and be closer to legal, political and media opportunities on the East coast. His media appearances include Reason magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Slate, Salon, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as on “Kennedy” and “Stossel” on Fox Business, “Stossel on Reason,” the “Glenn Beck Program,” MSNBC, NPR, and many more.