In the face of yet another police killing of a black man, protesters raise the call to #defundthepolice. It’s a message of anger, and anger is warranted. Could there be a positive message? Yes, let’s #callthesocialcorps.
The task at hand is to reduce police violence without reducing social order. Wait, that’s two tasks. Reduce police violence and keep social order. And while we’re at it, let’s decide that every person who needs emergency help gets the right help.
The Social Corps could accomplish all those tasks. The Social Corps would be a national corps of professionals trained in the social sciences: social workers. Call them social responders. Social responders would join the ranks of first responders like police officers, firefighters, and medics. Local emergency dispatch offices would sort calls between the police force and the social corps.
To sort emergencies requires making distinctions between the threatening or dangerous and the merely antisocial. Okay, true, antisocial can be pretty bad. But if it isn’t dangerous, it doesn’t require a firearm on the scene. In fact, what it requires is someone with the social knowledge to evaluate the behavior and respond as needed.
The title Social Corps fits because the responders protect the marginal in society from losing their places altogether. Someone who sees or experiences antisocial behavior would not need to fear calling for help, because the help would not be armed. Someone who simply can’t cope with society would not need to fear being harmed. In fact, someone in crisis would be attended with respect and assistance.
Social Corps responders would be sort of Andy-of-Mayberry style responders: no gun, but good will and understanding of human nature. They would be uniformed. They would have the authority to give orders, issue citations, make arrests, and testify in court. They would also know when an emergency warrants calling a police officer.
Police violence would decline sharply, because police officers would be responding to fewer emergencies. They would be freed from the call to apply rules of force to someone who is confused or panicky or “suspicious.” It’s likely that many officers would gladly take the education necessary to cross over from the force to the corps.
Social responders would be especially helpful to parents, schoolchildren, teachers, and school administrators. An unruly child who must be transported would be escorted not by an armed officer but a social worker. Children would not be pulled into the justice system.
Creating a corps of social responders would provide more benefits than just reducing violence, keeping order, and helping people. Responders would add a leavening of social intelligence to the general public. Moreover, the Corps would be a fertile ground for first-person social science research, and for internships for social science students.
The Social Corps would reduce government budgets, not in personnel but in other outlays. The number of responders would be comparable to the number of police officers, and similarly paid. But their equipment costs, and their liability, would be far less than for a police force.
In this moment, there seems to be a popular will to make an end of police violence. Now, while this moment lasts, is the time to create a lasting institution to carry the principles forward. The Social Corps could do the job.