Pinker notes what happened when a police strike occurred in Canada (a pretty civilised country by all measures):
“Those who prefer real-world experiments to sophisticated statistics may take note of the Montreal police strike of 1969. Within hours of the gendarmes abandoning their posts, that famously safe city was hit with six bank robberies, twelve arsons, a hundred lootings, and two homicides before the Mounties were called in to restore order.” (Pinker 2011: 122).I am sure some people (perhaps not just libertarians) might scoff at the notion that Western societies would descend into anarchy if police services were temporarily suspended, but the interesting real world experiment above makes you wonder. Obviously, one can point the finger at petty hoodlums or professional criminal classes who are normally deterred by the police, but what would happen as law abiding people were forced to defend themselves as this sort of disorder continued?
For example, some libertarians point to episodes where traffic lights go on the blink and (they claim) some kind of spontaneous order develops in traffic flows. Well, maybe that happens, but what would happen if the police were to disappear? I doubt whether “spontaneous order” would result.
Nor is the Montreal example the only instance of a real world experiment in what happens when the Leviathan state’s provision of law and order is taken away: in 1923 half the police force in Melbourne (Australia) went on strike, and within days the city had riots and looting. In Brazil in 2012, a police strike set off a crime wave.
If nothing else, the lesson is: the labour disputes of the police should be taken seriously!
Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. Viking, New York, NY.