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  • Morality

    Ever since I became aware of the various natures of crimes and punishments, I have been curious to see how actual police officers consider the philosophical and moral issues that are raised by many of the laws that they are enforcing as a career.

    Were I a police officer, I'd imagine that it would seem wrong and contrary to my personal common sense to go forth and forcibly remove the freedom or property of other individuals when those individuals are not physically or mentally (or circumstantially) harming or increasing the risk of harm to any living entity other than possibly their own self.

    However, this situation occurs constantly and routinely due to laws that inarguably exist. Examples of such laws include all laws banning recreational drug use, seatbelt laws, helmet laws, all laws and legislation concerning marriage, public nudity and "indecency" laws, and Sunday closing laws. This is FAR from a comprehensive list.

    Also, concerning drug laws specifically, a justification that I hear consistently is that recreational drug usage correlates with organized crime and violence, however it seems that this correlation is a direct effect of the anti-drug laws themselves. Just as Prohibition of alcohol in the 20's-30's gave rise to what we now know as the Mafia (which remains a serious problem to this day), drug prohibition has given rise to the Uzi-carrying crack dealer who kills three people a week.

    SO my open question to all you officers is: How do you personally justify exerting authority upon people who may be "breaking the law" in official terms, but in common-sense terms may be "sitting quietly in their homes inhaling aromatic smoke?"

  • #2
    Originally posted by boxcard View Post
    SO my open question to all you officers is: How do you personally justify exerting authority upon people who may be "breaking the law" in official terms, but in common-sense terms may be "sitting quietly in their homes inhaling aromatic smoke?"
    Simple enough. There are three branches of government: the legislative, the executive and the judicial. Police officers are part of the executive branch. As such, we neither legislate nor adjudicate guilt. Our duty is to carry out the will of the people as expressed by the acts of the legislature and as interpreted by the judiciary (as regards, for instance, the constitutionality of particular enforcement actions).

    The truly professional officer does not substitute his or her judgment for that of the legislature or the courts except to the extent that we must not obey an order or policy that we reasonably should know is unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful.

    It is not appropriate for law enforcement to philosophize as to whether a law is "good" or not, because then you end up with enforcement decisions and actions based upon the individual officer's whim, which would be very dangerous. If a law is "bad" and should be changed, the appropriate venue for such a change is the legislature. If it is Constitutionally suspect or believed to be in conflict with a higher law the appropriate venue is the judiciary.

    Pete

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    • #3
      *Not an LEO,* ..... but VERY well-said, Pete.

      That's the clearest description of a peace officer I've ever seen.

      Again, well-said.
      1*

      Comment


      • #4
        If cops only enforced the laws they felt were "just," it would be a kind of vigilantism.

        On the other hand, cops can critically think about laws and their ramifications on society. Unfortunately, our personal feelings don't count for much.

        On the topic that anti-drug legislation has caused more crime, I feel that a society has to take a stand against immoral/wrong behavior. Our society has decided to draw the line and will no tolerate drug use.

        To say that drug enforcement should be stopped because it makes the problem worse is like saying fighting terrorism just creates more anti-American sentiment and more terrorists. Both statements may be true, but a moral society can not exist if it does not defend whats right just because it is easier.

        The people decide whether or not something constitutes moral/ethical behavior and they elect representatives to uphold those beliefs. Those representatives makes laws and cops enforce them. That is democracy at work.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by boxcard View Post
          Ever since I became aware of the various natures of crimes and punishments, I have been curious to see how actual police officers consider the philosophical and moral issues that are raised by many of the laws that they are enforcing as a career.

          We enforce the laws as dictated by the legislators who represent the people....some laws are even passed by popular vote so their is no philosophical or moral issue raised. Now police officers are not mindless drones.....so if there was a law passed saying it was illegal to be (insert race/gender/religion) then I'm sure you would have a lot of officers quiting. We are not talking about those issues though......the issue you have brought up is drug useage which has been proven to be a burden on society. If you dont think so come do a ride along with me and I will show you all the burnout tweekers, heroin users, etc who according to you should be allowed to do what they want to their body. The problem is that when they do F up their own body and cant function who do you think has to deal with them.

          Were I a police officer, I'd imagine that it would seem wrong and contrary to my personal common sense to go forth and forcibly remove the freedom or property of other individuals when those individuals are not physically or mentally (or circumstantially) harming or increasing the risk of harm to any living entity other than possibly their own self.

          That is why you would never be a police officer. If you commonly use drugs or advocate the use of drugs you would not be a police officer...plain and simple. And you are wrong and the "increasing the risk of harm to any living entity"... do you know how many DUI drug collisions there are, how many burglaries are done by dopers to score money for some more dope, the tweekers so high they have no idea what or who they are fighting, and so on. Once again...take a ride along some day where the focus is drug enforcement...... if you are a sane person it will open your eyes to what really happens as opposed to this "i just smoke some herb" not hurting anyone idealogy.

          However, this situation occurs constantly and routinely due to laws that inarguably exist. Examples of such laws include all laws banning recreational drug use, seatbelt laws, helmet laws, all laws and legislation concerning marriage, public nudity and "indecency" laws, and Sunday closing laws. This is FAR from a comprehensive list.

          All laws that have been passed for a reason...... if you dont like them you need to vote for legislators who share your view and when you have a majority you can fashion the laws in your liking.


          Also, concerning drug laws specifically, a justification that I hear consistently is that recreational drug usage correlates with organized crime and violence, however it seems that this correlation is a direct effect of the anti-drug laws themselves. Just as Prohibition of alcohol in the 20's-30's gave rise to what we now know as the Mafia (which remains a serious problem to this day), drug prohibition has given rise to the Uzi-carrying crack dealer who kills three people a week.

          You could use that same argument for any crime....lets take auto theft. In your opinion it is the auto theft laws that have caused organzied car thiefs to form auto theft rings/chop shops so if you remove the auto theft laws nobody will steal cars anymore????? It doesnt quite work that way.... certain laws are necessary for the safety of society....and certain groups will prey upon those people who are too weak to give into temptation.

          SO my open question to all you officers is: How do you personally justify exerting authority upon people who may be "breaking the law" in official terms, but in common-sense terms may be "sitting quietly in their homes inhaling aromatic smoke?"
          If all you are doing is "sitting quietly in their homes inhaling aromatic smoke" then I dont think many officers are going to be breaking down your door to throw you in jail. I'm sure there are quite a few recreational marijuana users...yes marijuana since you seem to want to avoid the word....who use and do not get caught. The problem is they do not stay at home....they use drugs and then drive, go out in public causing problems, etc which attract the attention of the police or a concerned citizen. When that happens I have no problem exerting my authority upon people who have broken the law.

          Comment


          • #6
            If you don't like the law, work to change it. If you are going to be a police officer, you enforce the laws on the books whether you personally like them or not.
            Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. - Ronald Reagan

            I don't think It'll happen in the US because we don't trust our government. We are a country of skeptics, raised by skeptics, founded by skeptics. - Amaroq

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            • #7
              +1 to what Pete Gould said. We live in a majority rule society. Our laws reflect the collective will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives, the Legislature. If society wants to ban drugs, or require people to wear seat belts, or limit the drinking age to 21, it is within their right to do so.

              Those who disagree with the law have the freedom to try and sway the opinion of the majority and convince them to change the law. However, should they fail to do so, they are obligated to live within the law.
              Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by boxcard View Post

                SO my open question to all you officers is: How do you personally justify exerting authority upon people who may be "breaking the law" in official terms, but in common-sense terms may be "sitting quietly in their homes inhaling aromatic smoke?"

                Breaking the law shouldn't be "quoted"; breaking the law is breaking the law. In general terms I can "personally justify" arresting you because I ENFORCE the law, every law. There is not much black and white just a lot of grey, hence: discretion.

                Police officers have better things to do than go looking for and arrest good, hard working people that "sit quietly in thier homes" and "inhale aromatic smoke". However, If I come across you doing it... I'm going to deal with it. I may arrest you, I may confiscate it and give you a warning, I may write you a citation... I would do this because it is illegal and no other reason. If next week they legalized pot, I wouldn't give you a second look.
                Certified troll.

                Comment


                • #9
                  It's kinda like implied consent....

                  If you choose to live in this county, within this state, within this country, then you are required to follow the rules.

                  If you are incapable of following the rules, then maybe you should find somewhere to live outside of this county, and outside of this state, and outside of the country.
                  Officer Down Memorial Page

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Fuzz View Post
                    That is why you would never be a police officer. If you commonly use drugs or advocate the use of drugs you would not be a police officer...plain and simple. And you are wrong and the "increasing the risk of harm to any living entity"... do you know how many DUI drug collisions there are, how many burglaries are done by dopers to score money for some more dope, the tweekers so high they have no idea what or who they are fighting, and so on. Once again...take a ride along some day where the focus is drug enforcement...... if you are a sane person it will open your eyes to what really happens as opposed to this "i just smoke some herb" not hurting anyone idealogy.

                    You could use that same argument for any crime....lets take auto theft. In your opinion it is the auto theft laws that have caused organzied car thiefs to form auto theft rings/chop shops so if you remove the auto theft laws nobody will steal cars anymore????? It doesnt quite work that way.... certain laws are necessary for the safety of society....and certain groups will prey upon those people who are too weak to give into temptation.
                    All of the activities you cite as justification for anti-drug legislation and enforcement, while they may be related to drug use, are themselves crimes separate from the crime of possessing and using a drug. Obviously it should be illegal to drive while on PCP or to hold up a store or break into someone's home. The very order and livability of our society is dependent upon the fact that the average individual will choose not to act in such an antisocial manner.

                    The ones who do decide to act violently or steal are dealt with, as they should be. The exception to this would be "the tweekers so high they have no idea what or who they are fighting," who are, in my opinion, directly victimized by the current law enforcement scenario. Drug addiction is not a crime, it is a serious mental and physical illness that differs from most other ailments in that to contract the illness one must make a personal choice to do whatever drug. The attitude of the drug war is one of presumption. It is impossible to protect the people from themselves in the form of law enforcement, and costly and painful to attempt. People who find themselves in a state of psychosis due to drug use must be subdued in order to protect others, but the buck stops there. Grotesquely sick people are being imprisoned instead of hospitalized, and the ones who do manage to get excused for their violent actions on account of their sickness should count themselves lucky.

                    The parallel you draw between drug laws and auto theft laws in refutation of my argument is riddled with flaws. People do not steal and traffic in stolen goods because anti-theft laws exist, they steal because malevolent or indifferent people will always be trying to take advantage of those who are not criminally minded, just as you said. Underground drug rings and violent or otherwise unacceptable activity related to drugs DO exist specifically as a result of drug prohibition, because if drug were officially allowed, then a market that has for years been forced to remain illegitimate would become mainstream. Obviously a mainstream market is safer and more agreeable than an underground one!

                    If stealing cars WERE legal, then just as many people would be stealing cars as there are now, because someone who seriously decides to steal a car is going to commit that act whether it is legal or not. Thankfully stealing cars is not legal because it is an act that is injurious to a person other than the one stealing the car. If doing drugs were legal, just as many people would be doing them because, again, whether it is legal or not, when one seriously decides to do a drug, they're going to. Inexplicably, this act that is not in itself injurious to anyone other than the lone participant remains unacceptable.

                    Lastly, the overall response from all of you is that you enforce the laws because they are the laws, and it is not your job to act upon your own philosophy, the bigwigs on Capitol Hill can legislate and dictate the will of the people (as those individuals see it). This seems to me a breakdown in the moral fiber of society. You in particular, as police officers, and secondly everyone else, as citizens of their country, should see yourselves as personally responsible for every human interaction you are involved in. The very reason you are tolerated as officers of the law is because you are (in general) reputable, good people, is it such a stretch to believe that you are qualified to question authority? This is not to say that the democratic system of government is unnecessary, but rather that we should hold ourselves accountable for our actions. The ideology "I do it because it's my job, mandated by an authority," is a lazy excuse to act without thought, and frankly it is dangerous, I refer you to the Milgram experiment. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

                    Much thanks for all these responses, it feels great to be able discuss this sort of thing with the people who are actually involved.
                    Last edited by boxcard; 05-25-2008, 04:40 PM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by boxcard View Post
                      Lastly, the overall response from all of you is that you enforce the laws because they are the laws, and it is not your job to act upon your own philosophy, the bigwigs on Capitol Hill can legislate and dictate the will of the people (as those individuals see it). This seems to me a breakdown in the moral fiber of society. You in particular, as police officers, and secondly everyone else, as citizens of their country, should see yourselves as personally responsible for every human interaction you are involved in. The very reason you are tolerated as officers of the law is because you are (in general) reputable, good people, is it such a stretch to believe that you are qualified to question authority? This is not to say that the democratic system of government is unnecessary, but rather that we should hold ourselves accountable for our actions. The ideology "I do it because it's my job, mandated by an authority," is a lazy excuse to act without thought, and frankly it is dangerous, I refer you to the Milgram experiment. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment
                      I think your assumption here is that society has abdicated its responsibility and left everything in the hands of dictatorial politicians. That's far from correct. I suspect it's more that you just don't understand how the system works. While society is sometimes slow to act, that is more the nature of the process. Your have to remember two things. First, society gets what it deserves, because it gets only what it is willing to put up with. When law become too oppressive, or too weak, or no longer meet the needs of the people, a stink is raised and change is made, either through the courts or through legislation. It may not happen overnight, but it does occur. Similarly, when a politician loses the public trust, they get recalled or replaced at the next election. When that politician violates the public trust, they get indicted and then replaced.

                      So, our system does reflect the will of the collective. It just may not reflect your philosophy. As far as us questioning authority - we do that all the time. However, there is a process for doing that. If we feel a law is problematic we approach the Legislature, usually through our police associations, or police departments and make our concerns known. We may also take our case to the public and the press and ask them to contact their legislators as well. If our concerns are legally sound, or we gather enough support (remember that will of the majority thing) then we often prevail. And I can assure you the system works. Before I retired, one of my duties involved enforcing some very obscure laws. Someone in the Capitol decided to update those laws and my department sent me copies of the proposed legislation to review. I saw numerous flaws that would have created serious inequities and proposed rewriting around 15 sections of the proposed legislation. When the new laws were finally passed, all but a few of my recommendations were included because I made a sound case for change.
                      Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

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                      • #12
                        I guess I'll go odd man out, here. I don't enforce every law. I've never written a ticket, or even stopped someone, for walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk. Never. Its a city ordinance, though. A bike on the street from an hour before sunset to an hour after sunrise is required to have a tail light and headlight. Is anyone here going to stop and cite a 10 y/o on a bicycle 30 minutes before sunset? How about sounding a horn in a manner that is likely to frighten a horse?

                        Checks and balances is there to preserve the citizen's freedoms. The legislature must agree that X is enough of a problem to enact a law against it. The executive branch must agree that X is enough of a problem to enforce the law. The judicial branch must agree that X is constitutional and does not interefere with individual rights, and a jury of your peers must feel that it is enough of a problem to convict you. The executive branch is not a mindless tool of the legislative branch.

                        I disagree its 'vigilantism' to enforce certain laws and not others. Enforcing the law against some and not against others on a systematic basis is obviously wrong, but refusing to enforce an unjust law completely is not vigilantism or any other negative -ism.
                        I miss you, Dave.
                        http://www.odmp.org/officer/20669-of...david-s.-moore

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by CruiserClass View Post
                          Enforcing the law against some and not against others on a systematic basis is obviously wrong, but refusing to enforce an unjust law completely is not vigilantism or any other negative -ism.
                          Then by boxcard's reasoning, if you don't think possession of marijuana (or heroin or LSD) is that big a deal, you could choose never to prosecute someone for it. Moreover, a chief of police or a sheriff could decide that such laws would not be enforced in his jurisdiction, regardless of the will of the people, the legislature, or the judiciary. What would be the logical conclusion, do you suppose?

                          Pete

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by boxcard View Post
                            The ideology "I do it because it's my job, mandated by an authority," is a lazy excuse to act without thought, and frankly it is dangerous, I refer you to the Milgram experiment. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment
                            Milgram addressed the issue of an individual authority figure. The United States system of justice is a carefully orchestrated system of checks and balances. The two simply cannot be compared. Police do not "act without thought," rather, they understand their role within the system and act accordingly -- which, itself, involves a great deal of thought.

                            Pete

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                            • #15
                              Well, personally, I can't say that I've ever been in a position to enforce a law to which I was morally opposed. I've likewise never been in a position where I belived that I was violating the spirit of the US Constitution and the individual freedoms which it protects. I would daresay that most of the officers on here see things in a rather similar light. I'm also confident that, if the vast majority of us were in such a position that placed our duties as police officers in contradiction to our individual "moral compass" or we were ordered to violate the freedoms which each and every one of us swore to protect, that we would have the courage to question those orders.

                              Individual morality and points of view vary. As police officers, it's our job to work within the confines of the larger framework for freedom upon which this nation was established while enforcing the laws that the People (not individuals but as a collective) have decided should be the laws of the land. That some of those laws may be in opposition to an individual's personal beliefs is a side-effect of living within any society. Be grateful that, at the very least, you live within a society where the laws of the land are (theoretically) created to mirror the will of the majority, as opposed to other governmental systems where the rules are based upon the ideas of a small, elite group or ever a single individual.
                              Last edited by Bing_Oh; 05-26-2008, 01:50 AM.
                              "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
                              -Friedrich Nietzsche

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