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Police Find It Easier to Influence Public Opinion Than to Protect and Serve

by Benjamin Tschirhart

Ask the average person how the police department of a major city could best use $300,000, and they might suggest investing in de-escalation training, mental health crisis response, or teaching officers how to distinguish cell phones from firearms.

Ask the same question of a high-dollar police department public relations team, and the answer will be much different. As it turns out, it’s much easier to convince people you are making them safer than to actually do it. Recent calls to defund the police notwithstanding, cities like San Francisco still devote staggering amounts of money to their police forces. The annual budget of the San Francisco Police Department (“SFPD”) constitutes 9% of the city budget — more than $706,000,000 per year. For that expenditure, the people of a major city ought to receive some top-notch protection and service. San Francisco is not exceptional or alone in their massive police spending. And at first glance, it does appear as though the men and women in uniform are producing results. According to the National FBI Uniform Crime Report (“UCR”) database, in 2018, SFPD made a total of 13,885 arrests.

But a closer look reveals a picture that is not so reassuring. In May 2022, civil rights lawyer Alec Karakatsanis testified before San Francisco city leaders concerning their police department’s use of a very expensive public relations team to influence public opinion regarding law enforcement. According to the County Board of Supervisors, SFPD documents show that a nine-person, full-time team headed by a director of strategic communications draws a $289,423 annual check, which also pays an undisclosed number of cops to do part-time influencing “work” on social media.

Labeled “copaganda” by Karakatsanis, this social media activity pursues three primary goals. First, it attempts to focus people’s attention on crimes committed by the poor and vulnerable, shifting attention away from the crimes committed by the wealthy and powerful. For example: tax evasion and wage theft account for about one trillion and 50 billion dollars in ill-gotten gains, respectively. Compared to these numbers, all other forms of theft and robbery shrink into insignificance. But it isn’t wage theft that gets reported on the evening news.

Second, law enforcement propaganda seeks to convince the public that crime is on the rise. This is a favorite theme of mainstream news outlets, regardless of the fact that according to the FBI, all major “index crimes” are currently at a 40-year low.

Finally, the police propagandists are intent on convincing the public that the only way to stay safe is to pour even more money into the bottomless pits of law enforcement and incarceration.

The U.S. spends more money on police and prisons than any country has at any time in history. If this truly were the key to a safe society, this would be the safest country in the history of the world, but it’s not. And while crime is indeed in decline (contrary to the claims of propagandists), the U.S. is still exceptionally violent and crime-ridden compared to other wealthy, developed nations. Unfortunately, the police go to great lengths to conceal the fact that a great deal of this crime is committed by law enforcement agents against the very people whom this ravenous carceral police state claims to protect. 


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