Police Protection and Power

By:  Charles Scaliger
09/30/2011
       
Police Protection and Power

No extended society has ever existed without some form of law enforcement. However, it is important to understand that there are two very different approaches to maintaining public order.

One of them envisions the police, or whatever the law-enforcement apparatus is called, as public servants, whose job is to protect the public against violent and fraudulent criminal elements that exist in every society. This mindset recognizes that the public must also sometimes protect themselves, since a police force limited to public service by definition cannot be everywhere at once. It also contemplates strict limits on police powers, such as those embodied in civil protections against arbitrary searches and seizures and in the hallowed right of habeas corpus. Where law enforcement exceeds its carefully defined and limited powers, it is held responsible, and officers guilty of abuse of power are subject to punishment like any other lawbreakers. This view of policing is embodied in the motto “To protect and to serve,” coined by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1955, and now used by many other police departments as well.

The Police and Power
In a free society, the ordinary citizen sees the police officer as a respected and trusted public servant and his presence is welcome. The other, and withal, more prevalent view of law enforcement throughout history is that its primary function is to protect the class that wields political power. This class may be a monarchic dynasty, as in Rome under the Caesars; a tribe, as in Gadhafi’s Libya; or a gang of ideologues, as in the former Soviet Union and modern Communist China and Cuba.

No extended society has ever existed without some form of law enforcement. However, it is important to understand that there are two very different approaches to maintaining public order.

One of them envisions the police, or whatever the law-enforcement apparatus is called, as public servants, whose job is to protect the public against violent and fraudulent criminal elements that exist in every society. This mindset recognizes that the public must also sometimes protect themselves, since a police force limited to public service by definition cannot be everywhere at once. It also contemplates strict limits on police powers, such as those embodied in civil protections against arbitrary searches and seizures and in the hallowed right of habeas corpus. Where law enforcement exceeds its carefully defined and limited powers, it is held responsible, and officers guilty of abuse of power are subject to punishment like any other lawbreakers. This view of policing is embodied in the motto “To protect and to serve,” coined by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1955, and now used by many other police departments as well.

The Police and Power
In a free society, the ordinary citizen sees the police officer as a respected and trusted public servant and his presence is welcome. The other, and withal, more prevalent view of law enforcement throughout history is that its primary function is to protect the class that wields political power. This class may be a monarchic dynasty, as in Rome under the Caesars; a tribe, as in Gadhafi’s Libya; or a gang of ideologues, as in the former Soviet Union and modern Communist China and Cuba.

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Photo: AP Images

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