Philosophy of Law Enforcement



Historically, law enforcement officers are bound to protect the community, not serve as a direct arm of the state (such as the military) for law enforcement officers are of the community not of the state. Both Thomas Hobbes, in "The Leviathan", and John Locke, in "The Second Treatise of Government", addressed the question of the legitimacy of the state governing the populace. Both of these political philosophers emphasized the necessity of the judiciary being separate from the state so as to protect the populace from oppression by the state through the laws which are enacted.

It was against this intellectual background that, in England in 1829, Sir Robert Peel created what is often referred to as the first professional police force. Viewed as being part of the community, this police force obtained its authority from the common-law obligation of the citizenry to raise a "hue and a cry" to arrest those who transgressed against the community. In comparison to the more militaristic approach to policing which is pursued by the continental countries such as France and Germany, this authority was to be tempered so as to be as unobtrusive as possible. Law enforcement personnel were to pursue their common-law obligations without unduly infringing upon citizens rights.

The exercising of authority by today’s law enforcement officer is derived from common-law antiquity as the embodiment of the communities common-law rights: right to property, right to defend oneself, right to protect ones property et cetera. These rights were first codified by the enactment of the Magna Carta June 15, 1215. This document outlined the formal obligation of the ruler, King John to the ruled (more exactly merchants, land owners and the nobility). The signing of this document was the beginning of the limitation of the intrusive powers of the state. As the centuries progressed the office of the constable transformed from that of the local nobles appointed representative to one where the constable embodied the inalienable rights of the populous to protect itself. The constable was a manifestation of the authority of the community and accordingly the constable was to protect the interest of the community and not that of the state.

These community interests (which are reflected in the writings of both Hobbes and Locke) are manifest in the common-law obligations of the present day law enforcement officer.
The examination of the philosophical foundation of policing is important for, unlike other organizations, there is no bottom line. Because policing is not a business, the law enforcement officer's number one commodity is people, the community. As opposed to profit being the bottom line, for the policing profession, it is the adherence to the common-law mandate. If it is not being met then we fail in our responsibilities as law enforcement officers. Hence, since we are in the "people business" it is imperative that we act in an ethical manner at every level of the police organization especially at the political level (a murky area at best).

It is at the political level where the obligation of senior management is to chart the path of the organization in order to achieve the common-law mandate and to provide for an ethical organization. Senior managers must bear in mind the fundamental parameters that are required for law-enforcement officers to pursue their mandate:

- strong, rational ethical/foundational statement of values

- codified organizational mandate and policy

- available resources

- management support

Thus, to accomplish this directive, the police organization itself is obligated to pursue its common-law responsibilities through:

- hiring the best qualified candidates

- providing the best possible training

- supplying the best available equipment

- r
esponding to community concerns

In light of the above this is why a cogent, coherent and well-thought out code of ethics is paramount to the law-enforcement profession. It must be a clearly articulated and an easily referred to document. The codification of law enforcement ethics is important because it ensures the transparency of police conduct i.e. what is being done and why. If there is an objection to police actions then referral can be made to the code, if the behaviour transgresses the code of ethics then steps can be taken to rectify the behaviour. But if there is an objection to police action and the action falls within the code then the code must be addressed or the action deemed acceptable.

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