Saturday, 29 October 2016

A Good Government Provides Police


It goes without saying that in any human group, if there are to be effective rules or taboos these must be enforced by some means. It is also obvious that as the size and extent of the group increases, the means of maintaining and enforcing will become more complex and likely institutionalised.

Take the simple case of a family. Most parents set rules for the children. These may be quite arbitrary like “brush your teeth before bed”, “wash behind your ears” “eat your vegetables” or any of a host of domestic policies. As every parent knows, if these are not enforced – they are not obeyed! Even if the enforcement is a simple “you don't get dessert until you've finished your vegetables”.

Issues can also be much more serious. In Genesis we read that after the entry of sin into the world it soon produced the worst crime: murder, when Cain killed his brother Abel.

In modern times cities have grown exponentially, bringing new demands in crime prevention. So the first professional full time police force in the world, as distinct from military units protecting the state, was the London Metropolitan Police in 1822. Interestingly, this force was distinctively non-military in character, and police wore numbers to identify them so that they were individually accountable for their actions. This really was starting the tradition of policing to “serve and protect” even if that slogan had not been invented.

In modern large scale populations, life as we know it would not be possible without an effective police force. For those who may think this is exaggerating, let me give you an example.

In October 1923, police in Melbourne Australia went on strike for six days. I think the number of police on strike was about 600. During that time social order quickly broke down. There was widespread looting and mobs took to the streets overturning trams and causing general mayhem. Order was only restored when some 2,000 citizens quickly sworn in as special constables and armed with cartwheel spokes cleared the streets by force.

Human beings are sinners. For some: internalised morals aided by fear of social disgrace will keep them mostly on the straight and narrow. Though even for upright citizens the knowledge that there are radar speed cameras about has a noticeable calming effect on their driving! However the spectrum grades from there right down to violent sociopaths indifferent to law, morals or human suffering.

A mantra drummed out from about the 70's has been “violence achieves nothing”. It is of course nonsense! Violence stopped Hitler and Hirohito. If men and women of that generation had not taken up arms the world would have all become slaves of one or the other. However like much nonsense it gains credibility by repetition. We need to remember that modern mass society is impossible if we do not have police able and prepared to “out violence” the gangsters and the sociopaths in order to serve and protect the population.

Do we need systems to weed out corrupt police? Yes of course, all humans are sinners so there will be bad police. Do we need limits on police activities. Of course, there will always be a balance required between what would promote suppression of crime and what is necessary for individual freedom. On the other hand it is easy for armchair critics – the “Black lives matter” movement is a current example – to forget the “fog of war” problem. It may later transpire that it was only a toy gun that was pulled and aimed at police. For the officer looking down its barrel there had to be an instant life-or-death choice.

For anyone wishing thought provoking discussion of problems surrounding modern policing I thoroughly recommend watching a few seasons of the TV series “Blue Bloods” which features a (fictional) three generational family of New York police.

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