Honoring the Law
The problem of brutality, excess, and corruption comes from a lack of definition and not knowing where the line lays. Men cross over the line because they have not been instilled with a deep and intimate knowledge of what it is they are fighting for. They are not fighting individual crimes, drugs, or gangs; they are fighting for the law. They are fighting violations of the principles that make civilization civilized.
Those principles are honor, justice, and integrity. The everyday crimes of passion can and are dealt with ably under today’s methods. The failure there is with the criminal justice system that fails to charge criminals, prosecute them properly, or give them a sentence that will incapacitate them or dissuade them. Those who would be incapacitated or dissuaded under the current system aren’t because the system is broken.
When it comes to corruption, the pursuit of individual crimes or ‘evil’ (violent, heinous crimes, gangs, drugs, etc.) detracts from the actual enforcement of the law. Lesser crimes are overlooked in order to handle the bigger ones. The idea that minor crimes create a positive atmosphere for larger ones to be bred and flourish is ignored. ‘Law enforcement’ and the maintenance of ‘law and order’ becomes simply crime suppression. Keep the crimes manageable and under the radar of the citizenry, and all is well.
We don’t enforce the law. We suppress crime. The law is used as a tool to arrest and prosecute criminals and ensure that the public is kept safe and happy. We use phrases like ‘law and order’ and ‘law enforcement,’ but that’s not what we mean. The law isn’t enforced; it’s a tool. Traffic violations and minor crimes are ignored unless they are a tool to execute the larger goals. The reason most cops ignore the minor stuff is because their system ingrains them to think that it is beneath them. They are keeping the peace, fighting the war against evil. They fail to realize that evil is not crime, but the failure to do what is right.
What is lacking from this battle is a respect for the law. It is not a tool, it is the guiding principles set by our society to decide what is right. Adherence, enforcement, and respect for the law is good. The law cannot be seen as a good idea, just guidelines, or anything else. In the absence of religion, the law is good and righteousness.
The war between good and evil, cops versus criminals, cannot be fought the way it is being fought. I argue that it isn’t a war being fought, just secondary battles of attrition. Piecemeal attacks against criminals, arresting some but not others based on the arbitrary distinction of what is serious enough to merit punishment is the wrong thing. What makes one person who breaks the law different than anyone else?
We claim to be society of justice and equality based on law. We are all equal under the law. So why is a murderer any different than a drunk driver who kills someone? Both have taken lives, yet the drunk might spend only a year in jail while the murderer is executed. Whose victim was harmed more? Which is more dead? Why does one who parks illegally, with more concern for their convenience than the convenience and safety of others, often ignored while vagrant who is panhandling arrested and fined? What is the greater harm to society? An annoying, dirty man or a car that keeps others from parking or causes an accident?
Police have to make these distinctions every day. It isn’t a distinction in the sense of “do I write this motorist a ticket or do I chase after that murderer over there?” The distinction is in what can be ignored and what can’t. When one crime is looked at as lesser than another in an abstract concept for arbitrary reasons, the police officer is guilty of having contempt for the law.
Making one violation worse than another when the ‘minor’ violation could be immediately and adequately addressed is contempt of the law. Police officers are not to make the distinction of what crime is more heinous than another. If your job is to fight felonies, fight the felonies, but if it is to enforce the law, enforce the law—every last jot and tittle of it.
The Apostle James regards violations of the law (in context the Jewish law) as equal. The results and nature might be different, but the violation is still a violation. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
Why are they ignored? Because police are trained and it is reinforced by their culture to ignore the ‘minor’ violations. If you have time, if you are bored, if that is what you have to do, then do it. Otherwise, ignore it and only use it as a tool to ‘fight the war’ on crime. The mentality that exists is to seek out the worst crime occurring, even if it detracts from ‘law enforcement.’ Ignore the traffic violation that might kill someone; a felony might be occurring in your beat.
This attitude of ‘priority,’ disrespect for the law, and the idea that minor violations are not crimes is what breeds brutality, excess, and corruption. Since the police feel there is bigger fish to fry, the ‘little fish’ can break their ‘little laws’ and so can the police. ‘Little laws’ can be disregarded and broken. Certain things don’t apply to police and the police must break the ‘little laws’ at times to get their job done, but coupled with contempt for the ‘little laws’ and the bigger picture being felonies or what have you, the system of law breaks down.
Important laws, such as civil rights, can be broken to capture and convict the big, bad criminal. Corruption can be tolerated so long as the citizenry is protected and the bad guys go to jail. Of course, in the face of such ambiguity without the morality of the law, the identity of who the bad guy is flexible.
Is it the corrupt cop, who murders, tortures, and steals, but got rid of the serial killer and busted the major drug ring? Do we let this corrupt cop prey on the citizens he demands bribes from and are we okay when he lets a powerful or rich person get away with a crime? Is it then alright for him to ignore the law in his personal life, so long as he becomes our protector?
When the respect for the law, all of it, is replaced with contempt for the ‘lesser’ portions of it, the system breaks down and heads for the slippery slope. Our law is thrown out and perverted. It is then used as a tool of oppression. Look at most of the modern dictatorial regimes. They had laws and frequently used them to oppress their enemies and suppress the citizenry. The law was their tool to keep order; the order they power they wanted. The law is supposed to be the guide for life established by society to keep order and define what is good and evil, right and wrong.
Honor and integrity makes the law effective. Equality and justice under the law means that the law is equally and fairly applied to the major and minor violations. Police cannot ignore what they want to, based upon their own ideas, a desire simply to keep society out of chaos, or because they are lazy. As the Broken Windows theory demonstrated, little violations lead to big ones, and when the police determine what is a crime and what isn’t (outside the law) the law becomes ill-relevant.
The law as a tool, the law as just a set of ‘nice guidelines’, or the law as just rules for the lesser people is what the darkness is. The darkness that society faces is the lack of law. We can lack it absolutely or we can lack it in enforcement. When the law is something to win a ‘game’ with, and not the foundation of civilization, we are better off without ‘law enforcement.’
In extremely corrupt police agencies, the police don’t protect anyone except the aristocracy and themselves. Chaos reigns, policing is pointless, the law simply a joke, and humanity has become savages battling one another as they have since antiquity. The law cannot be taken in context of crime or evil; it must set the context of crime and be the bedrock of what is good so that we might know evil.
The problem with modern policing is it fails to acknowledge human nature and views the maintenance of peace and order as paramount. It is called ‘law enforcement’ but it is not because too much of the law is ignored when it is inconvenient or does not suit the maintenance of peace and order. The law is used as a tool useful for accomplishing the foregoing, instead of being the foundation of policing.
Enforcing the law is secondary, as we see police doing every day. Traffic violations and minor infractions are ignored in pursuit of more serious crimes, whether or not such serious crimes are happening at the moment or the arrest of those serious criminals would make a difference.
The public at large does not care if every little violation of the law is being properly addressed or not. They want to be safe and live in a world where danger is as predictable as can be. The fact is, serious crimes do not happen to the majority of people. What they want is not to be burglarized, come in contact with the unpleasant addicts, vagrants, and gang members, and to have their complaints immediately and fully resolved by the police.
The public sees the police as law enforcement. Most people obey the law, even the ones that they disagree with or are inconvenient, because of a fear of the law. No one wants to get in trouble and this is enough of a deterrent for most people most of the time. The police are the people who will get one in trouble if the law is broken. One might think that a vigilant cop is hiding behind every bush and stop sign. As society, this is what we want. It keeps us honest, at peace with our neighbors, and our life is orderly. The law cannot give us this fear on its own, but that is why the police are “the long arm of the law.”
In some communities, this isn’t the case. The priorities are not any different, but the idea of the law and its enforcers are. People hate the police because of actual or perceived harassment. Naturally, areas with a high criminal element will see the police as a threat. Even when the police are doing their job as they ought, places with low respect for the law will not respect the police. The existing values are contrary to the values of the police and the “law and order” society. The law and police can’t change this
But the attitudes of criminals and those that empathize with them are not the problem. Nor is it the fact that the law cannot control passion, mental illness, or stupidity. Crimes will still occur even with the best, most complete policing and law enforcement, and criminal will still hate the cops and disrespect the law.
The problem is with ‘law enforcement’ itself and the criminal justice system. Law enforcement fails to adequately focus on enforcing the laws and rather on keeping people safe and society orderly. Yes, this is their duty and the whole purpose of police, but in a society of laws, the police must perform law enforcement.
What is the distinction between ensuring peace and order and law enforcement? In ensuring peace and order, the goal is to keep people feeling safe, whether they are or not, and to maintain order, that is to prevent anarchy from taking over. The law defines prohibited behavior that would breach the peace and cause disorder. Unfortunately, the problem with policing today is that the law is seen largely as a tool, rather than a bedrock.
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Note: this an adaptation from my non-fiction book Suburban Warfare: A cop's guide to surviving a civil war, SHTF, or modern urban combat, available on Amazon.