TAKE BACK YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD: A Case for Modern-Day ""Vigilantism by Richard Neely

TAKE BACK YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD: A Case for Modern-Day ""Vigilantism

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Chief Justice of West Virginia's Supreme Court of Appeals, author of Judicial Jeopardy (1986), etc., Neely here offers a pragmatic--some might say cynical--approach to law enforcement. Neely makes a fascinating argument that public policing is a relatively modern innovation. Using the ancient common-law power of citizens' arrest, he says, private citizens have historically performed the function of apprehending criminals (while the courts and, in modern times, the police have been concerned mostly with punishment). Neely argues that the police are overworked and underpaid, and are in any case absorbed in the all-consuming task of identifying criminals and preserving evidence. Similarly, the courts are burdened with enforcing regulatory rules and civil laws in the face of resistance by entrenched and powerful social interests. In addition, the cost of sufficient policing to reduce crime is beyond government's ability to pay. All of this, Neely convincingly contends, makes the criminal-justice system inefficient and unresponsive to the society's need to deter violent crane. Still, his argument that an unarmed uniformed volunteer police force, much like a volunteer fire or first-aid department, would deter violent crime by its mere presence will probably seem far-fetched to any urban dweller. Neely envisions a force that would politely but forcefully weed out ""undesirables"" in a neighborhood. While this approach might have some utility in a small town (Neely glosses over the questions of civil liberties), it is arguably useless in large cities in our age of vicious and pervasive social violence. Intriguing in its call for grass-roots law enforcement, but disappointing in its impractical nuts-and-bolts solutions.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1990
Publisher: Donald Fine