The Ethics of the Police

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Recently by Fernando Chiocca: The Ethics of the Police

     

In an era where legal positivism dominates, when intense state propaganda has tried to eradicate the concepts of justice and natural law – and impose the belief that "law" is just about anything the state says it is – people still retain some notions about what is right or wrong, just or unjust, criminal or legitimate. People readily acknowledge that some government action is unjust, although they occur under the cloak of state authority with officers merely "enforcing the law." These actions, in practice, occur by the hands of the armed forces of the state and act directly with its vassals: the police. However, people face an aggravating factor that creates even more confusion: the state has a monopoly on judicial services and security, and no one else besides this institution – one that violates countless individual rights – can combat crimes committed by other criminals. Security, vital to any society, ends up being provided almost exclusively by the state police. Therefore, how can they possibly be ethically evaluated?

First of all, I want to clarify that this article is not intended to address a criticism of corrupt cops specifically, but the police generally. Moreover, based on natural law ethics, I intend to demonstrate that in many cases, the corrupt cop is the most just and the strictly compliant officer the most criminal. Let’s imagine the following case: A shop owner hires John as a security guard in his establishment. In exchange for a salary, John starts to carry out his functions of protecting the merchant’s and his customers’ property from possible thefts and robberies by discouraging the actions of thieves through physical engagement if they attempt to commit a robbery. So far, so good – John performs one of the bravest and most noble professions, all within a strictly voluntary trading agreement and with respect for property. Now imagine that the store owner orders his security to destroy the competing stores, rendering his employer’s store the only shopping option around. Or that John prevents – through the use or threat of physical violence – customers from buying products in places other than that of his employer. Or that John starts extorting a monthly amount of money from the entire neighborhood. Well, from this point on, anyone can say that if John chooses to comply with the orders from the owner of the store, he will become a criminal even though he continues to fulfill his original function of protecting the store and its customers from other criminals. But if John is an honest person who values moral consistency, he will surely refuse to commit such crimes and will look for another job. However, all functions described above are performed by state police: not only the function of protection of individuals’ life and property against private criminal attacks, but also the criminal functions, such as preventing free competition in the market by implementing regulations, prohibitions and collection of taxes, amongst many others.

What is often claimed is that, unlike the security guard of the case above, the policeman does not follow orders from a private individual, but from a state. But this changes absolutely nothing of the nature of such actions. Human action is always individual. Only individuals act. Their actions are legitimate or criminal; and the fact that it has been ordered by a store owner, a president, a king, a dictator, or a majority of people in a particular territorial geography, does not turn vice into virtue. No one would say that the guards carrying out jus primae noctis were not criminals because they were acting on behalf of the king. Or, to use an example from a democratic state, the secret police officers of the German Nazi party executing Jews in concentration camps were not committing crimes because they were acting at the behest of a democratically elected government. These, for sake of example, are two cases in which a corrupt policeman who, in exchange for a bribe, wouldn’t fulfill the "law" would be more desirable than the incorruptible one. And since every state has committed many crimes against its subjects, must we understand that all policemen are criminals? The answer is no, because the police are generally organized into subdivisions.

Police subdivisions

There are policemen that perform only virtuous and legitimate activities, there are ones that perform only criminal activities, and there are those that perform both types. The officers of the Anti-Kidnapping Division, for example, are police officers that do not involve themselves in criminal activities of the state for which they work. Their job is solely to combat the criminals who kidnap people – one of the most heinous crimes. And every time they get a job well done, they are rightly considered heroes, not only by the saved victims, but also by society as a whole. Not even the fact that they abstain themselves from fighting the largest kidnapping group of innocent people in society, which captures and keeps innocent victims captive for years at an impressive scale – the state – makes this division a criminal organism, for the non-action of refraining from helping someone can be considered immoral, but it can never be considered a criminal act. On the other hand, an example of policemen who are nothing but criminals are the policemen of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). Their job is to seek and obstruct the commerce and usage of certain substances the state arbitrarily decides to ban, such as marijuana, inhalants, steroids, heroin, morphine, amphetamines and even creatine supplements for athletes. They use their weapons to pursue and kidnap people who are engaging in trade; to threaten life and property of sellers who are satisfying the free demand of buyers; and, to steal the goods and the freedom of innocent people. That is to say, doing nothing more than what criminals do. However, some other organs of the police are tasked to perform these and many other crimes, but also get assigned, for instance, to pursue and arrest a murderer. The FBI is an example of such a branch. It is assigned to commit the same crimes as the DEA and many other crimes like: the persecution and capturing of people who are merely trying not to be stolen from (whom they call "tax evaders"), people who are sending their own money outside the state (which they call "capital flight"), people who are entering the country with goods purchased abroad without the consent of the king (the nomenclature for which is "smuggling"), and they even have slaughtered men, women and children for just exercising their freedom of religion and their right to keep and bear arms, as in the case of Waco, TX (what they had the impudence enough to profess that these people were slaves and they represented a danger to themselves and to the surrounding community!). Finally, the lists of crimes that are committed by FBI are endless. But what if they are also entrusted with the task to pursue and arrest real criminals like murderers and rapists? How should we judge them and other police agencies that do both criminal and legitimate activities? Are they necessary and even heroic?

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