Professor Says One Way To Reduce Troubles With Police Is To Have Fewer Arrests

Charlotte Criminal Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “Can I be arrested without evidence against me?”


Anyone who has been watching the news recently has likely come across a number of stories about problems associated with the police. The Black Lives Matter movement grew after a number of African-Americans were injured or killed by police officers engaged in questionable behavior. Even putting aside these most tragic cases, many agree that aggressive policing tactics have caused problems that our society must now address as many people feel victimized by those who are meant to protect and serve.


Fingerprint-Charlotte-Criminal-Attorney-274x300One woman, Rachel Harmon, a law professor from the University of Virginia, recently published an interesting article in the Michigan Law Review titled “Why Arrest?”. The piece discusses the issues of overly aggressive policing and recommends one unusual strategy for reducing the problem: reduce the number of arrests. According to Harmon, the tremendous number of arrests that take place in the U.S. is itself a problem and encourages other issues, such as police misconduct, excessive force and damage to the already strained relationships between law enforcement and various communities.


The first issue worth exploring is why having fewer arrests is a good thing, what makes us believe that fewer arrests equates with a more functional criminal justice system? According to Harmon, arrests are very harmful events, not only for suspects, but also for their families, the officers responsible for the arrest and the communities that must pay for them. The suspects can be injured in the process of being apprehended, families are torn apart and are often very negatively impacted financially, the officers are put in harm’s way and the communities are responsible for footing the mounting bill of incarcerating thousands of individuals.


According to Harmon, despite these many costs, no one really thinks through whether arrests are actually necessary. An arrest should be a tool of the criminal justice system, not a goal. Harmon points out that no one talks about whether arrests as a general idea are good or essential to public safety. We have all collectively assumed they’re necessary and left the subject alone. Harmon says that with more than 12 million people being arrested across the U.S. each year, it’s high time to revisit the issue.


Even if we agree that arresting someone comes with a lot of downsides, personally and societally, what’s the alternative? According to Harmon, there are several options. The easiest solution to lowering the number of arrests is to increase the number of citations and summonses that are issued. Currently, citations and summonses are limited to only minor criminal infractions. By expanding this to include additional issues, you avoid having to arrest someone and take them to jail. Summons also do the same things that an arrest does. When people respond to a summons they have a bail hearing, are arraigned and go through a probable cause hearing. They also can be tried and convicted, just like someone who has been arrested. So why do we need the arrest?


Some people argue that the arrest is important for practical reasons, it takes people off the streets and makes sure they show up in court. Harmon notes that with today’s technology it’s much easier to find people who try and flee and much more difficult for someone to evade police (and warrants) than ever before. Others argue that arrests can be useful in stopping disruptive behavior, such as breaking up unruly crowds or removing someone who is drunk and disorderly. Even in these cases, Harmon says there are other solutions. Police could make more targeted, strategic arrests to prevent disorder. They can also employ proactive policing techniques to prevent the disorder from occurring in the first place. Those who are intoxicated could be moved to a different location other than jail, such as a homeless shelter or a detox facility.


Though no one believes that all arrests should stop, the broader question about whether it makes sense to continue arresting 12 million people every year is one that deserves serious reflection. There may not be a perfect solution to the problem, but that shouldn’t prevent us from considering new and different ideas to address what is clearly a troubling reality.


If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, please contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Our attorneys stand at the ready to defend you against state or federal charges. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828   or find additional resources here.


About the Author

Brad Smith Charlotte Criminal and DWI LawyerBrad Smith is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of criminal defense, DUI / DWI defense and traffic defense.

Mr. Smith was born and raised in Charlotte. He began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney before entering private practice in 2006.

In his free time, Mr. Smith enjoys traveling, boating, golf, hiking and spending time with his wife and three children.





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