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Are America’s Cities Overpoliced?

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Photo: E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

As the American public has grown more aware of our nation’s endemic police violence over the past decade, some on the left have called for slashing police department head counts and transferring various responsibilities away from cops and toward social-service workers. Democratic Party leaders, along with many left-leaning criminologists, have largely rejected this vision, insisting that police are indispensable for mitigating America’s exceptionally high rates of gun violence.

To clarify the sources and stakes of this intra-left disagreement, Intelligencer recently convened a debate between one of America’s most prominent advocates for defunding the police and a socialist opponent of that policy.

On this podcast, Alex Vitale will be making the case that our nation’s cities are overpoliced. Vitale is a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of the 2017 book The End of Policing, a foundational text of the “defund the police” movement. Vitale believes that the U.S. should seek to “dismantle policing and replace it with less harmful alternatives in as many ways as we possibly can.”

Adaner Usmani takes a different view. A professor of sociology at Harvard, Usmani argues that America is suffering from a crisis of mass incarceration but not one of overpolicing. He believes that the U.S. could simultaneously shrink its incarcerated population and reduce its homicide rate by simultaneously shortening prison sentences for criminal acts and expanding police department head counts.

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