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Columbia Law Review




Colum. L. Rev.

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Since the killing of George Floyd, a national consensus has emerged that reforms are needed to prevent discriminatory and violent policing. Calls to defund and abolish the police have provoked pushback, but several cities are considering disbanding or reducing their police forces. This Essay assesses disbanding as a reform strategy from a democratic and institutionalist perspective. Should localities disband their police forces? One reason to do so is that discriminatory police departments are often too insulated from democratic oversight to be reformed. But can localities succeed in disbanding and replacing their forces with something better? Unfortunately, the structural entrenchment of sheriffs’ offices and municipal police forces insulates them against such attacks as well. To challenge police power, localities may have to disband, and to disband, localities may have to alter the legal structure of state and local government. Reformers must use rare moments of mobilization like this one to overcome the misguided efforts of past reformers to lock in their victories. Successful reformers can best avoid repeating such mistakes by trusting in the democratic experiment and concentrating supervision of law enforcement at one level, the most local.

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