Pavlos (pavlos) wrote,

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PTOD: Separation of police powers?

Political Thought Of the Day:

You know how church and state used to be a unified entity and gradually (at least in most of the West) these were separated. Or, in midaeval times, the king's gold and the state gold were one and the same thing. Or judicial and executive power used to be in the same hands but now we do our best to try and keep them separate.

So, is it not time to separate the three functions of the police? The police did historically, and still does, serve three very different roles, united only by the need to have a monopoly of violence over citizens:

  1. It protects individuals against violence, and takes over where the victims of violence would otherwise contemplate revenge.
  2. It protects property, enforcing laws related to tresspassing, theft, fraud, financial regulations, copyright, customs, etc.
  3. It protects the status quo, beating and dispersing demonstrators, harassing political activists, spying on people, busting for drugs, etc.
I think it would be a good idea if these three functions were disentangled, laid bare in the light, and evaluated individually. I think this would allow the amount of state violence permissible, and its democratic control, to be adjusted for each case.

For example, I as a citizen would hold the "protection from violence" arm in quite high esteem compared to the other two. I would be more willing to accept intrusion, and even forgive a small amount of heavy-handedness if it appeared that the officers were mostly committed and ethical people who served an important function. I'm not willing to do that if it's the same officers who beat up strikers, bust for drugs, or arrest you for copyright infringement.

About the "property" arm, my intutive reaction would be that it would have to meet extremely high standards of civilized behaviour. Since it would not be dealing with violence (the violent aspect of robbery would go to the first group) it would have no excuse to use violence itself. It could fine you but I'd be inclined to say it should not arrest you, and I think it should rarely, if ever, intrude into a private space. In cases of conflict the "protection from violence" arm should formally take precedence, although that would require a massive amount of political will.

As for the political, "keeping the rabble in line" arm, which is still very much maintained, there could be some public debate as to what to do with it. Obviously most people would initially say it ought to be abolished, but you might get some surprising results if you actually asked the question in a referrendum. Assumming it's not completely abolished, stringent democratic controls could be set on its deployment. For example it may require a certain majority of elected officials (councilors, members of parliament) to deploy it, whereas now the executive, or even the administration of the police itself, deploys it at will.

Apart from a distinct evaluation and possibly changes of character, such separation would also allow each arm to form separate relations with different groups of citizens, and so hopefully work better. For example, a disadvantaged neighbourhood might welcome the "personal safety" officers while disliking the "property" officers and thoroughly rejecting the "political order" squad. The financial police might be more welcome (at least at a personal level) in a business if they looked like tax inspectors than if they come in their anti-violence uniform and carry guns.



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