Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kelly Wu A01: Should the police have unlimited powers when dealing with crime?

In the new movie “Public Enemies”, Johnny Depp plays John Dillinger, the 1930s bank robber and killer who gets hunted down and shot by the newly formed FBI. This seemingly suggests that the governmental department that was established to maintain order as well as to enforce the law is given a very large amount of authority in the process of law enforcement. However, this is true only to a certain extent because in reality, the police force does not have such a large amount of power to wield as they wish, and for good reason. Although some argue that the police do not have sufficient authority and that the police force should be given more liberty when faced with powerful criminals like the criminal syndicates, it is inevitable that if given too much of a free rein, the individual members in the police force might be tempted to abuse this power, or even become licensed assassins as they might become as irrational and brutal as convicts in their attempt to resolve a crime.

Indeed, the law enforcers ought to have a greater authority whilst upholding the law, especially in the face of powerful criminals like the crime syndicates. In places like Russia, Japan, Italy, Mexico and China, where the Russian Mafiya, the Japanese Yakuza, the Italian Mafia, Mexican Drug Cartels and the Chinese Triads are considered the five most powerful criminal syndicates according to the Foreign Policy online 2008, it is essential for the police force to have the necessary authority to apprehend them and bring these criminals to justice. This is especially so when these criminal organizations have the ability to reach out to gangsters worldwide. This can be seen in the example whereby wherever there is a Chinatown in the world, the Triad’s tentacles would have reached there to tap into ties – giving them an unprecedented huge network of opportunities to expand their criminal network. With such a huge reach over the many petty criminals worldwide, there is a massive potential for large-scale global crimes to take place. Therefore to prevent this, it is crucial that the police force should be able to match up to, or even hold greater powers that these huge criminal syndicates have so as to able to keep these syndicates in check or to eradicate them entirely.

Some also argue that the police ought to be given more liberty when pursuing petty lawbreakers as they believe that the police do not have enough power to uphold the law. Police power is highly circumscribed by law and departmental policies and they have very little power or control over the situations they are in or the people they encounter. They also cannot use force the vast majority of the time, and when they do, they are subjected to an enormous amount of scrutiny. In the Gallup Poll, an institution that is seen to have too little power is the local police “in your community” (31%). In addition, the poll results show that the oft-cited fear of the power of the police-type units of the federal state, state, and local governments is not as widespread as might be supposed. In fact, at the state and local levels, the prevailing sentiment is clearly that police forces either have the right amount of power or should have even more.

However, the above claim should be refuted since if given too much of a free rein, some members of the police force might be tempted to abuse it to help the criminals get away scot-free in order to reap some rewards. In fact, there have been many cases of police officers abusing their power and accepting bribes from criminals. One case in point is where a number of Colombian police officers were arrested for accepting bribes and returning seized drug to a trafficking group. Furthermore, in Tel Aviv, the second largest city in Israel, details emerged in April this year of an elaborate criminal scheme to turn police officers into informants on behalf of lawbreakers. The officers were accused of accepting cash bribes to tip off a "serious criminal" who runs brothels, and passing on intelligence in ways which are reminiscent of double agents depicted in the Hollywood film The Departed. In a situation where the police were given the right to apprehend law-breakers in order to prevent crime, they abused this right for their own personal gain. In a separate incident, Chicago Police have been accused of using pepper spray without provocation on black people celebrating Obama’s victory on election night and also of kicking in doors and running into people’s houses. They never explained what was going on and simply left when they were done with whatever they were doing. This suggests that the policemen involved in this unfortunate and seemingly racist incident simply rode on the fact that they were in the uniform and took advantage of the authority that the uniform gives them in order to carry out unexplained acts of harassment on the target citizens. Since power can be so easily made use of, it is then unwise to entrust unlimited powers to the police.

In addition, the police might become licensed assassins if they are given too much power as they might become as irrational and brutal as convicts in their attempt to resolve a crime. In the UK TV program “Worst Police Shootouts”, viewers were shocked rigid by the gratuitous legalised murder fest that ensued. Five or six cases were shown, each of which ended in the ‘perpetrator’ being shot, usually to death. In one video, a middle aged lady ran out of her house on a suburban street, obviously in some kind of distress, waving a short kitchen knife. The two attending cops panicked and shot her when she ran towards one of them, panicked and shot her, thinking that she was about to attack them. All the other cases featured followed much the same pattern. Should these cases be considered as ‘legalised murders’ then? Maybe, if the killings were entirely accidental, but if the police use their given authority to behave as they wish while patrolling or chasing criminals, then many more innocent people will be injured or killed in their reckless line of duty. Therefore, since many police force members have already harmed so many people with the current level of authority that they have, it is definitely imprudent assign even greater powers for the police to wield.

To conclude, as Karl Wilhelm Von Humboldt once said, “If it were possible to make an accurate calculation of the evils which police regulations occasion, and of those which they prevent, the number of the former would, in all cases, exceed that of the latter.” It thus can be said that with the current level of power that the police possess, it is already being abused or used in the wrong way. Therefore, the notion that the police should be given more power should not be encouraged as it may result in disastrous results.

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