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Glenn Reynolds on the public safety calculation debate

Here’s a meme (“a pack not a herd”) that I’d like to see run wild. And allow me also to refer back to this and to this, a single piece by me in two fragments from the Samizdata archives (from before we had the “MORE” routine in place).

Says Glenn Reynolds (for it is he):

… After repeatedly slipping through the fingers of law enforcement, John Muhammad and Lee Salvo were caught because leaked information about the suspects’ automobile and license number was picked up by members of the public, one of whom spotted the car within hours and alerted the authorities – blocking the exit from the rest area with his own vehicle to make sure they didn’t escape. …

… So while Chief Moose and the other talking heads were holding press conferences in which they castigated the press for reporting information, they should have been figuring out how to take advantage of the vast resources that a mobilized public can command. But the officials didn’t want to, for fearof “vigilantes”. Luckily for them, a leak saved the day. …

… Rather than creating new bureaucracies, we need to be looking at ways of promoting fast-moving, dispersed responses, responses that will involve members of the public as a pack, not a herd. Even if doing so reduces the career satisfaction of shepherds. …

In other words and to extrapolate the principle only somewhat, what if security, catching bad guys, the very law itself maybe, turn out to be like the economy? What if, like the economy, the criminal justice system (and most certainly the criminal detection system) can’t be or – more modestly – works far better when not centrally planned? Oh sure, there’d be a mass of “waste and duplication of effort” in a free market in public safety, just as there is now in the electric kettle industry. But good electric kettles are not now hard to find, the way they would be in a world run by the likes of the F(ederal) B(ureau of electric) K(ettles). So …

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8 comments to Glenn Reynolds on the public safety calculation debate

  • Not to go too deep into security theory here, but the principle way to defeat asymmetric warfare is to defend with the whole populus. Self-plug: take a look at my somewhat extremist-sounding blurb.

  • Effectively mobilizing the public in pursuit of criminals and terrorists would spoil the soup of a variety of “agencies” and deprive hordes of “competent authorities” of control. “Control” is indeed the operative term here; witness the juristiction fracas that went on while the Washington D.C. sniper(s) kept killing people… I wish we could see less of “press conferences” and more of a robust engagement of the public as real-time “intelligence gatherers” — and, maybe, “coordination blogs” that would provide the necessary info that can help nail the baddies.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    “Coordination blogs”. I like that. A similar notion had already occurred to me.

    This is an idea whose time has come, not in the sense that the governments of the world will immediately surrender to it, but in the more limited but still very important sense that a lot of people may suddenly be willing to argue for it. And of course the concept has that vital property that it doesn’t need anyone’s permission to start being done.

    “COORDINATION BLOGS”. Remember that phrase. Did we all read it here first? Anyone? If so, then special kudos to Nikolaos K.

    As soon as these comments go quiet, I’ll do another posting about all this, with this superb sub-meme featured prominently.

  • “Ah” he says, head expanding to an unfeasible size, “didn’t I say something rather similar not so long ago.

    Oh yes, so I did

  • Over the years, I have been impressed by the amount of information “casual witnesses” (as opposed to “eye witnesses”) can generate. A “casual” witness is a “peripheral” intelligence source (he/she doesn’t actually see the murderer fire the gun), but may have caught significant “little things” that help putting together the puzzle.

    A “coordination blog” is just the perfect location for two-way interaction between these “peripheral” assets and investigators. But of course introducing such a blog would require some serious changes in the mindset of law enforcement agencies.

    A “coordination blog” would be less ambitious than Patrick’s “huge internet-enabled database.” It would be focused on particular incidents to make information flows more manageable. It would also pre-suppose building a model of “information sharing” that remains to be invented.

  • “The purpose of the game is to demonstrate the futility of individual effort” – Mr. Bartholomew (John Houseman), Rollerball

  • Yes. But you don’t really need government co-operation to do such a blog, as long as it is a well-known site. The Internet is great for bypassing innefficient meatspace procedures, why not these?

    I.e. “Just Do It”