Monday, February 1, 2010

The Effect of Superheroes on Local Law Enforcement

Pay cuts for local policeUltimate Comics Spider-Man #5 by Brian Bendis and David Lafuente

A loyal reader wrote a comment on a recent post about the abundance of certain antiquated professions in comic books:

I really enjoy that, because so many comic book characters are fairly old (in our world, not in their own, because, as we discussed, they don't age while the world does), they work in jobs that are declining in significance. For instance, no offense to fighter pilots, but the increase in drones and decrease in enemies with air forces means that job isn't the daredevil prestige job, but Green Lantern, the Thing, and others had it.

Aside from the fact that many superheroes still have origins in such jobs, I also find it fascinating that there is still a prevalence of jobs declining in significance outside of the superheroes themselves. In reality, the mere existence of superheroes should have significant economic consequences on other jobs. We have discussed some of these here and here. Another important one is the effect of superheroes on law enforcement.

As shown in the Ultimate Spider-Man panels above, superhero teams, especially the government-sponsored Avengers, are putting traditional law enforcement professionals out of work. Another comic that showcases this fact is Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker's Gotham Central which depicted among other things the Gotham City's Police Department's struggles in maintaining operations under the shadow of the quicker and more efficient Bat-family. One of the negative externalities of having this network of avengers patrolling Gotham City is that demand for traditional police would likely go down. This is an aspect of superheroes not typically observed in comics.

I think Bendis really hits the nail on the head here. It's a supply and demand issue.

Now, the way it should work is as follows: the Avengers should use their comparative advantage in other-worldly matters to deal primarily with metahuman or extraterrestrial incidents, or just crime on a much larger scale. Local law enforcement, given their manpower, experience, and intimate knowledge of the neighborhoods they patrol, should deal with the smaller crimes. So while police would work cases involving robbery, arson, murders, etc., the Avengers would be free to focus all their energy fighting guys like Norman Osborn and Galactus. This is theoretically the best use of each organization's comparative advantage, which would allow them to perform their respective services at a lower opportunity cost.

Of course we know that this isn't exactly how it works. The Avengers actually don't always have a giant, world-ending crisis on their hands (though it seems that way). When they're not gathered in the Tower, um, avenging things, they patrol their own respective cities and deal with crimes of a more mundane nature. Spider-Man, for instance, splits his time fighting morphing aliens trying to take over the planet and beating up ordinary crooks on the street (and hanging out with Aunt May and Mary Jane and Kitty Pride and taking photographs and...damn how does he have time to do anything?). If Spidey saw a mugger on the street, do you think he'd stop and call the police? He would obviously do something about it. After all, great power comes great responsibility.

The problem for the local police is that these Avengers do an extraordinary job with all sorts of crimes. Even a better job than local police. In fact, the superheroes seem to overshadow law enforcement in every respect. They have more technology, more powers, more smarts, and seemingly the time to handle everything! On top of this, we've seen the population of superheroes increase over the past decade or so. Generally, this had had two consequences:

1) A steady (or maybe even increasing number) of supervillains and
2) A decrease in run-of-the-mill criminals.

Supply of criminals goes down. Demand for police goes down. Funding for police goes down.

In the panels above, the officers are complaining that their money is going towards the Avengers. We know in the Marvel Universe, the federal government levies taxes to fund the extremely sophisticated operations of both SHIELD and the Avengers. I'm not exactly sure how it works with state governments, but I'm pretty sure states pay their fair share too, especially in cases where an Avengers is known to frequently police their territories (i.e. Spider-Man in New York, Iron Man in California, etc.).

So, let me poll you guys. Say you're an ordinary taxpayer in New York City and your government is trying to balance its budget. You see the city is plagued constantly by supervillainy, but less so by average criminals. Would you want your dollars to go towards the Avengers (who also are more efficient at dealing with these regular criminals) or the NYPD?

33 comments:

Philip said...

If I'm not mistaken, this was also a theme in Watchmen. The masked heroes were putting cops out of work. They went on strike in the 70s and as a result, US government banned all masked heroes.

Smooge said...

My guess is that the police would have to work out ways to adapt. Hire their own suits so to speak. Spiderman can't stop every mugger, rapist, etc. In fact even with all the NYC based super heroes they might bring crime down somewhat.. but the damage they caused etc would just as likely have people wanting them professional

Will said...

No one noted that the real brilliance of Reed Richards/Tony Stark's 50 State Initiative was the ability for the federal government to get every state to contribute to the costs of the meta-community.

I also am not sure I agree with your theory that regular crime is down in the Marvel world. The street level books show a fair bit of criminal activities from various gang entities (often run by super-villains, but not always). In fact, for all of the heroes and big brains in the Marvel Universe, it seems like crime is crazy prevalent. That being said, I would prefer my taxes go to the Avengers and similar super-teams who can deal with low-level crimes and the big threats as well, unlike the NYPD, but I do think you need some police.

colsmi said...

I would argree with Will here. There is absolutely no evidence that non-super-villian crime is declining in the Marvel and DC universes. Just because the Govt. is splashing money on the Avengers doesn't mean that the ordinary law enforcement agencies aren't still under the cosh. Governments are constantly investing in one high-media-profile project while ignoring equally-or-even-more important demands.

The arrival of super-villians doesn't in any way ameliorate any of the variables associated with "ordinary" crime. Much crime is committed by individuals who lack the capacity to control their impulses & perform rational cost/benefit analysis: these would remain. Dr Robert E. Hare ascribes much persistent & serious crime to psychopathy & rates, in the USA at least, 1 in 200 citizens as having said condition: that driver remains. Poverty, poor education, influence of peer groups, sub-cultural norms: pretty much all the standard causes of crime, including individual selfishness & choice, remain regardless of how many capes and cowls start hitting the local banks. In fact, I would expect that ordinary crime would actually INCREASE given the amount of anti-social, highly public criminal role models out there, in addition to the huge number of criminal organisations like HYDRA and AIM, which must create alternative socio-economic communities with deviant norms. Consequently, I'm afraid that Marvel & DC Earth will have to increase, or at least maintain, and not decrease, their 'ordinary' crime expenditure.

So, if your Marvel-Earth representative starts talking about lowering spending on your local police, start asking them about why spending should be going down when there's no evidence the problem is declining.

Chibithulhu said...

I realize the whole point of being a costumed crimefighter is the ability to act outside the bounds of the law, but I'd like to see the cops and capes work together. Telepaths ferreting out pedophiles, super-senses being used to find large storehouses of illegal drugs/weapons, super-strength helping with disaster relief, that kinda thing.

ShadowBanker said...

Philip - Yep. Very true.

Smooge - That's a good point. Just to be clear, I think there is room for both. You're right that the superheroes can't handle EVERYONE.

Will and Colsmi - The problem is that I was sort of trying to combine a bit of economic intuition (i.e. policing goes up, crime goes down) with psychological intuition (more superheroes leads to more supervillains). I just differentiated between the time of crime affected.

In truth, low-level crime may not be down. In fact, I seem to remember back when I read FREAKONOMICS years ago, Levitt had shown evidence against the notion that more police force actually reduced crime. There's other evidence on this too, though I don't recall where.

I guess the real way to solve this is by taking an actual random sample of comic books and collecting data on the type of crime. I would totally do this. Any suggestions on comics to use, guys (Will, you made mention of street level books)?

Chibithulhu - If only! There are some heroes that do this actually. Superman and law enforcement usually get along quite well, when General Lane or some other villain isn't trying to turn the public against him.

colsmi said...

Shawdowbanker, you're right, there's a great deal of evidence that greater levels of policing, and even greater attention by the police to certain crimes, can lead to a 'real' rise in the crime rate. A classic study of this is Jock Young's study of what he labelled 'deviancy amplification' in Notting Hill Gate, London, where police stereotypes of who was and wasn't a drug taker led to casual recreational users being harrassed and taking on, for a variety of reasons, the habits and behaviour of far more hardened drug abusers. This in turn produced more drug taking & the creation of exactly the sort of deviancy culture that the police thought they were stepping down on. There's also a study by Cohen on the press outcry that followed the Mods & Rockers bank holiday "riots" in British seaside towns in the early 1960s. The papers created a moral panic, levels of policing were increased, and the problem was significantly exasperated.

Of course, greater levels of policing can be very successful in reducing crime. But the police have to be far more subtle in their attentions that operating a quasi-military surge, which is what has often happened. In the Marvel Universe, for example, a district which has traditionally been dominated by the Maggia might take a greater police presence on the streets as being an attack on their cultural identity & respond by being more sympathetic to the criminals in their midst. An excellent modern study of how subtly the economies of crime-riddled neighbourhoods operate & how they can interact negatively with standard models of policing is Venkatesh's "Gang leader For A Day". A cracking read.

colsmi said...

Shadowbanker said: "I guess the real way to solve this is by taking an actual random sample of comic books and collecting data on the type of crime. I would totally do this."

I do think that this is such an interesting idea of yours, and I look forward to the post you write & to the methodology you use. There are so many challenges before you. (For example, can crime actually be categorised into 'normal' & 'supervillian". In Daredevil, a great deal of street-level 'normal' crime in NYC is done under the auspices of super-villians such as The Owl & The Kingpin.) The real-world crime figures are easy to obtain, sure, and there's a great deal of work done on the dark figure of crime, so the controls for a non-heroic universe are in place & it'd be "easy" to measure the effect of super-villians on the rate of normal/super-normal crime. But how you could get the data of super-normal crime? What comics could show pretty much all the 'non-ordinary' crime & something of the 'ordinary' crime in a specific area/neighbourhood over a specific period of time? Bendis's 'Daredevil' could yield something of that data. The Cage series by Azzarello & Corben has a far, far more tightly controlled locale - a single street - and time frame, and has evidence of crime from dunk-and-disorderly to anti-social gangs through to super-villian smack-downs. That might yield some snapshot data. But what of the mass of America beyond the metropolitan centres? As Alan Moore had Green Arrow say in Swamp Thing 23, " ..who was watching out for Lacroix, Louisina?"

marion said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Lucy

http://businesseshome.net

Steven Attewell said...

Doesn't all of this assume that when a superhero beats up a criminal and drops them in front of the police station, that the criminal actually gets convicted and dropped off?

It seems to me from even a cursory knowledge of constitutional law that the vast majority of these arrests would be dropped due to constitutional violations - superheroes rarely read people their Miranda rights, don't use warrants, etc.

I imagine that the police should be doing fine, because they have to re-investigate these crimes to get enough admissible evidence to get a conviction.

The interesting thing is what happens when a criminal sues a superhero for blatant violations of their civil rights, to say nothing of assault and battery.

Penis Enlargement said...

I am thoroughly convinced in this said post. I am currently searching for ways in which I could enhance my knowledge in this said topic you have posted here. It does help me a lot knowing that you have shared this information here freely. I love the way the people here interact and shared their opinions too. I would love to track your future posts pertaining to the said topic we are able to read.

viagra online said...

The problem for the local police is that these Avengers do an extraordinary job with all sorts of crimes. Even a better job than local police. In fact, the superheroes seem to overshadow law enforcement in every respect.

how to grow basil said...

interesting

linkwheel said...

I was questioning what is up with that bizarre gravatar??? I know 5am is early and I'm not wanting my finest at that hour, however I hope I do not seem like this! I'd nonetheless make that face if I am requested to do a hundred pushups. lol Anyway, in my language, there should not much good source like this.

link wheel said...

Please inform me it labored proper? I dont wish to sumit it again if i would not have to! Either the blog glitced out or i'm an idiot, the second option doesnt shock me lol. thanks for an ideal blog! Anyway, in my language, there are not much good source like this.

sim so dep said...

Daniel, yea I can see what you probably did there. I actually appreciated that part, but hehe I am not that harsh like my dad with these things. He always tells me loopy stories back in the day and calls me a loser. I guess it's time I transfer out of my dad and mom' basement LOL. Aaanyways, what about you? what does your dad assume xD" Anyway, in my language, there are not much good supply like this.

quality backlinks said...

Incredible submit! This might help lots of folks discover out about this matter. Do you wish to incorporate video clips along with these? It could undoubtedly help out. Your purpose was spot on and owing to you; I probably won't have to explain all the pieces to my pals. I can merely direct them here. Anyway, in my language, there aren't a lot good supply like this.

sim so dep said...

Daniel, yea I can see what you probably did there. I actually appreciated that part, but hehe I am not that harsh like my dad with these things. He always tells me loopy stories back in the day and calls me a loser. I guess it's time I transfer out of my dad and mom' basement LOL. Aaanyways, what about you? what does your dad assume xD" Anyway, in my language, there are not much good supply like this.

bp claims said...

Daniel, yea I can see what you probably did there. I really appreciated that part, however hehe I am not that harsh like my dad with these things. He at all times tells me crazy stories again in the day and calls me a loser. I guess it's time I move out of my dad and mom' basement LOL. Aaanyways, what about you? what does your dad think xD" Anyway, in my language, there are usually not a lot good source like this.

bp claims process said...

Properly, this is bp claims process my very first go to to your weblog! We're a bp claims process gaggle of volunteers and bp claims process starting a brand new initiative in a bp claims process neighborhood throughout the same niche. Your weblog bp claims process provided us helpful info to work on. You bp claims process will have carried out a marvellous job! Anyway, bp claims process in my language, there aren't much good source like this.

Maria said...

Nice post

men's trousers said...

Thanks for sharing this I love reading comics especially when I'm bored.

Viagra Super Active said...

I guess it is the human nature that can't except super heros. The human brain of most people can just not accept the super natural. Or is afraid of it.

A.J. Jacksoon said...

Stumble on not in how with the aim of execute a invert cellular phone lookup otherwise a cellular phone search reverse phone lookup even a mobile phone number search lookup that discover elsewhere who is losing to facilitate ego with the aim of has been calling you this entire point in time ok.

pharmacy said...

great site, keep it up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Overturn phone search pages akin to this individual self-control give you both kinds of telephone search particulars so with the purpose of you be capable of sooner or later stumble on absent their name, address, where they be alive, reverse phone lookup their current age along with much new. So as soon as you need with the aim of squander a cell phone number search nowadays, simply get amazing done clear in your mind that throw away this ready en route for lend a hand tool with the purpose of hit upon away both kinds of swap cellular phone lookup information behind to personality now.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy this nice reorder telephone search or else telephone lookup otherwise telephone number search spot. I know how to discover a momentous deal of reverse phone lookup bits and pieces on change telephone lookup here at the moment what time I check out this guide here.

Mark said...

san antonio nightlife

modern baby names

new home

Caribbean real estate

middleman

dwarf trees

requirements

traffic los angeles

bed and breakfast newyork

Anonymous said...

Fritter this cell phone lookup place to facilitate discover not in cell phone lookup is losing this mysterious cell phone number you have questions about. Along with nowadays you be capable of splurge the equivalent cell phone search with the aim of get those answers ended designed for you at present quickly and easily.

Rummy Online said...

Hi , i got this Article , i was searching some thing relevant to this, And i am feeling lucky, as its the perfect one for what i am looking for. I will share this link on face book.

Anonymous said...

phone number lookup

pharmacy reviews said...

There are a lot cliche in that area, I don't know whey they don't try something new and different. It is one thing that manga has. There are few amount that they go way from normal cliches.

Online pharmacy reviews said...

What a bizarre comic and what a bizarre superhero, I'd like to know more about these comics because it has been something really new for me.