Backing the Thin Blue Line

Backing the thin blue line, at least in Minnesota, is an expensive proposition:

Over the past 11 years, at least $60.8 million has been paid out statewide to people who have made misconduct allegations, according to data compiled by the Star Tribune.

From 2007 to 2017, jurisdictions in Minnesota have made at least 933 payouts to citizens for alleged misconduct. And they’re on the rise. The average has grown from about 50 payouts per year to around 100.

It’s just a few bad apples though!

If so much money is spent on police misconduct, why hasn’t the government made efforts to restrain its law enforcers? I think history can illustrate the core problem here. Let’s rewind to Ancient Rome. Ancient Rome, like pretty much every regime throughout history, declared that individuals within its territory owed it taxes. Unlike the modern United States though, Ancient Rome had no government tax collectors. Instead it contracted the job out to publicani. Tax collection contracts required collectors to raise a specified amount of money to send to Rome. What made these contracts lucrative was that the collectors were allowed to keep any additional money that they raise for themselves. If, for example, a contract required collectors to collect 1 million sestertii and the collectors collected 1.5 million sestertii, they were allowed to keep the extra half million. As you can imagine, this system was rife with corruption. Tax collectors squeeze every sestertius they could from the population. While the populations being bleed would often complain to Rome, Rome was reluctant to restrain its primary revenue generators so the abuses continued.

The same holds true for modern governments. Law enforcers are a major revenue generator for governments. While $60.8 million may sound like a lot of money even spread out over 10 years, it’s certainly a paltry sum compared to the amount of revenue generated by Minnesota law enforcers in the same span of time. Until the amount being paid out for misconduct allegations exceeds the amount being generated by law enforcers, that status quo will continue.