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The Arm of the Law? Thoughts on Modern Policing

The men and women who keep us safe, who enforce the laws deserve our respect and appreciation. They face danger, long hours and harsh conditions so we may sleep in safety. But respect must also be earned, and unfortunately too many cases of police excess dominate the media. Where is the problem?

I'm from South Africa. And recently, South African police were videoed handcuffing a suspected drug smuggler to the back of a van and driving off. Meanwhile, a Seattle police officer was recorded making heinous remarks about a person killed by a police car. While these reports were not verified, and while I do not have all the facts about these events, there is often doubt about police impartiality. 

Modern policing is based largely on the principles set out by Sir Robert Peel, in 1829 London, England. Most significant is that "... the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them."

But then policing is only a part of the issue. Nobody will trust laws that are patently unfair, or unfairly enforced. An exhaustive study of attacks and murders in the South African farming community pointed out that very few cases were prosecuted, and even fewer resulted in convictions. 

It goes further. The regional political instability in West Africa is as much an effect of religious separatism as it is linked to trans-national crime. And there is ample evidence that the events of 9/11 were fueled by organized crime. 

Politicians are quick to posture in favor of order, to threaten the strong arm of the law. But if laws are unfair, unfairly applied, then it becomes an exercise in futility. Peel's most quoted principle: "The police are the public and the public are the police." 

In 'The Prophet' Khalil Gibran discusses crime and punishment, saying that "... the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all." And again, of those who delight in making laws: "They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws."

Is it not time to re-examine the basis of our laws, our modern policing and our criminal justice system?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


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