Just Doing Their Job?

One of the arguments often used to defend poorly behaving police is the claim that they are “just doing their jobs.” This is such an absurdly silly argument that I am surprised that ANYONE takes it seriously.

I will not spend much time addressing the typical response to this most typical of arguments.  This response is the claim that the Nazi’s were also just doing their jobs too when they participated in the mass slaughter of innocents.  Yes, this argument is 100% true, but it hardly seems relevant in the America of today.  Furthermore, using arguments like this may lead us to fail in our attempts to convince others to fight against the arbitrary use and abuse of police power.

Agents of the Gestapo and the SS were indeed following orders when they committed their atrocities, however in many cases, they were forced under threats of violence or death to carry out these acts.  Often times people killed innocent people to prevent from being killed.  This does not in any way excuse these people or these acts, but it does provide us with some kind explanation for why some of these men participated in evil acts.

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In America, the situation is different.  Yes, the United States government continually uses force and coercion against its subjects in order to get us to act according to their desires, but America is still a voluntary society in one important manner.  In America, people are not forced to accept jobs that they do not voluntarily choose to take.  This does not mean that we are all employed in jobs that are our first choices, and it does not mean that government acts of coercion have not prevented us from starting new businesses or being employed in the field of our choice.  However, there is no longer a military draft in America and we are still free to reject offers of employment for any reason whatsoever.

This is the key fact which makes the argument that police are “just following orders” or “just doing their job” so absurd.  The police officer who arrests kidnaps a person and throws them into a prison cage with rapists and murderers  for the “crime” of growing a plant marijuana is indeed following orders from his commanders when he makes said arrest.  However, no one forced the officer to become an officer.  He did not have to choose a career which he knew would lead him to cage humans for participating in victimless activities.  Most importantly, he does not fear that his superiors will hurt or kill him if he does not commit acts of violence against civilians.  We should have no sympathy for the officer who is ridiculed when he body slams a man who is doing nothing but silently and calmly dancing in protest at the Jefferson Memorial, and we certainly should not defend him by arguing thaty he was just doing his job by enforcing the “law.”

In America, we have the right to refuse to be employed by a certain employer if we do not like the tasks that this employer asks us to undertake.  This right is not a secret; every one knows this.  No one is pointing a gun at police officers telling them they have to do things that they do not want to do–in fact, it is usually the police officer pointing a gun at an innocent person and forcing him or her to do things they do not want to do. It says a lot about a person’s character if that person willingly seeks out a job that will lead him to use violence and threats against peaceful people.

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Next time someone gets righteous with you and informs you that some police officer was “just doing his job” when he used undue force to subdue a harmless individual, remind this person that the officer chose this job and if he truly did not want to be harming people, he is free to quit at any time.

A Solution

One of the big problems with coercive monopolies is that the providers of protection (police) do not have to answer to their customers. Costs go up, quality of customer service goes down. A tendency towards reducing crime statistics and increasing arrests arises. The problem today with police initiating force is only one of many symptoms of the larger problem. Coercive gov’t monopoly of services.

It is perfectly normal for people to aspire to go into the business of protection. People that put themselves in harms way to protect and defend should be praised and compensated accordingly.  However, there is no reason why this service cannot be provided privately and funded on voluntarily. In such a system, people who commit so-called “victimless crimes” would no longer be targets for arrest.  Furthermore, officers who abused their powers would be held liable for any harm that they have done.

To quote John Hasnas (page 35):

“If a visitor from Mars were asked to identify the least effective method for securingindividuals’ persons and property, he might well respond that it would be to select one group ofpeople, give them guns, require all members of society to pay them regardless of the quality ofservice they render, and invest them with the discretion to employ resources and determine lawenforcement priorities however they see fit subject only to the whims of their political paymasters.If asked why he thought that, he might simply point to the Los Angeles or New Orleans or anyother big city police department. Are government police really necessary for a peaceful, securesociety? Look around. Could a non-political, non-monopolistic system of supplying policeservices really do worse than its government-supplied counterpart?”

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  • Drew

    Great Article Phred. I really enjoyed it. Thats a point ive long thought about putting down on paper, that the Nazis were forced and the cops are not.

    I am excited to read more of your work. Dig your style.

  • Mike

    Police arrest and ticket for things that mass society says are wrong and are unlawful. The police aren’t making the rules but enforce what the majority says is unlawful. If you feel so strongly against these laws you should do something to change them.

    With crimes like DUI and being drunk in public that victim is considered to be the state. These are crimes because they have to do with public safety. I can’t list a single victim but society as a whole says that they should be wrong so there are laws against those acts.

    Society has rules to keep people in order so we don’t have anarchy. I’m sorry you feel so strong against them but there are some people who would be uncontrollable without laws and punishment.

    This whole private police force you talk about funded voluntarily is one of the most stupid things I have ever heard. Remember that law enforcement officers pay taxes also. I’m sure they could say they pay their own salary.

    Force is often needed to get someone to comply. The thing is that the force should be reasonable. Unreasonable force should not be tolerated. That’s why departments have use of force guidelines. Don’t be one of those people who say that a cop should not have shot someone who had a knife or should have waited for the bad guy to fire at the cop first before they fired. You need to be realistic. Cops aren’t super people. Tasers vs knifes are a no go unless they are backed up by lethal force. In law enforcement most of the time you fight fire with more fire.

  • Law enforcement officers (or other government officials for that matter) DO NOT pay taxes. Yes, a portion of their salary goes back to the government, but these people are not taxpayers, they are tax receivers.

    The first municipal

    Business owners would have every incentive to make use of privately funded security. In fact, they already do–there are many more private security officers in this country than there are police officers.

    Homeowners currently form neighborhood watch associations. There is no reason to think that in a voluntary society these associations would not grow in number and would collaborate with each other.

    Additionally, insurance companies would likely contract with private police in order to protect their insured properties from incurring loss. They would have every incentive to make use of the most effective and least violent police forces available.

    The first municipal police force in the Western World operated in a small part of London and began operating in the mid-1700’s. Somehow this city managed to exist with only private protection for over 1500 years before this.

    I am sorry that you feel like this is one of the stupidest things that youve ever heard, but I suggest that you take a look at some historical evidence and do some reading on the matter.

    Check out these articles for more information:

    http://americanlyyours.com/2010/08/09/privatizing-police-and-fire-departments/

    http://americanlyyours.com/2010/08/10/privatizing-police-and-fire-departments-part-ii/

    http://mises.org/journals/scholar/hasnas.pdf

    And this free book for a great explanation:

    http://mises.org/resources/6058/The-Market-for-Liberty

  • Steve

    “The first municipal police force in the Western World operated in a small part of London and began operating in the mid-1700′s. Somehow this city managed to exist with only private protection for over 1500 years before this.”

    You mean 1500 years of slavery, indentured servitude and the Feudal system? That’s your argument?

    And most urban areas were not condensed with the human populace we see today. And the only cities that were heavily populated were Rome and those found in modern day Middle East which DID have police forces. Roman Vigiles and Praetorian Guards carried swords as a sign of their office similar to how police officers carry guns.

    If you are going to use a sophism to make your case than at least use one that isn’t so easily rebuked.

  • Steve

    Also stating that police officers don’t pay taxes is not only disingenuous, but it makes you sounds like an idiot.

  • There was slavery, feudalism, and indentured servitude in London both before and well after the introduction of government police force. The fact that these things existed during a period where there was no central police force does not mean that these things were CAUSED or aided by this fact. Slavery was everywhere in Rome too, so Im not exactly sure how you think this helps your argument.

    Im sorry if you think that suggesting that people who receive all of their compensation from the government do not in actuality “pay” taxes makes me sound like an idiot. However, regardless of whether or not certain government officials are beneficial to society, the fact is that these employees are tax receivers, not tax payers.

    To quote Calhoun:

    “Few, comparatively, as they are, the agents and employees of the government constitute that portion of the community who are the exclusive recipients of the proceeds of the taxes. Whatever amount is taken from the community, in the form of taxes, if not lost, goes to them in the shape of expenditures or disbursements. The two—disbursement and taxation—constitute the fiscal action of the government. They are correlatives. What the one takes from the community, under the name of taxes, is transferred to the portion of the community who are the recipients, under that of disbursements….The necessary result, then, of the unequal fiscal action of the government is, to divide the community into two great classes; one consisting of those who, in reality, pay the taxes, and, of course, bear exclusively the burthen of supporting the government; and the other, of those who are the recipients of their proceeds, through disbursements, and who are, in fact, supported by the government; or, in fewer words, to divide it into tax-payers and tax-consumers.”

  • PSOSGT

    Hey Phred… what is the Mall security guard going to do when he catches someone stealing? what is the local neighborhood watch lady going to do when she catches someone breaking into a neighbors house????……. oh.. that’s right call the POLICE!

  • Steve

    “There was slavery, feudalism, and indentured servitude in London both before and well after the introduction of government police force. The fact that these things existed during a period where there was no central police force does not mean that these things were CAUSED or aided by this fact. Slavery was everywhere in Rome too, so Im not exactly sure how you think this helps your argument”

    There was feudalism during the 18th and 19th centuries?

    My point is that you are talking about a period of massive human suffering much of which was finally alleviated when strong centralized governments were put into place. With the growth of sprawling urban areas you see the growing need for a police force to protect people and property from the criminal element. British common law is of course the natural example of such a set of laws.

    With the modern world we have seen a larger need for a police force to protect people and property because lets be honest humans are animals and have no problem stealing, harming or killing each other.

    A private police force takes away the governments duty to provide protection for its citizenry. Instead of an unbiased police force paid for by the citizens you would have a corporation who only answers to its shareholders. Its a disgusting concept that will never see the light of day.

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  • Brooks

    I would expect that this article was written by a college freshman, as it is devoid of facts, a point, or any recognition of of opposing viewpoints. Which is why I point and laugh at the author and wait for the police, who ARE indeed doing their jobs, to arrest this guy when he decides to tell a cop to fuck off when he’s dancing his little Rage Dance in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

  • First time to the site, and I just stumbled across this article. I enjoyed reading it and especially enjoyed the quote from John Hasnas. When, as Hasnas points out, you stop and look around, it is pretty obvious that the current government-run protection system is not optimal.

    @Mike – There is a HUGE difference between a society having laws to maintain order and a society that allows certain members to violate human rights from time to time because they wear a badge. The point of the article, as I read it, was that it should not be viewed as morally acceptable for someone to carry out morally unjust actions in the name of job responsibility. Perhaps we as a society, and those holding the job should question what those job responsibilities are (and whether or not they are just). I am not claiming all cops are unjust, or all actions by any particular cop are unjust. We simply have a system that provides incentives and subsidies for unjust behavior.

    To quote MLK Jr – “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

    Also, Mike, I don’t think anyone would seriously argue with your last paragraph. Escalation of force for protection and defense is perfectly acceptable. I don’t think this was the point of Phred’s article (at least i hope not.)

    @Phred and Steve: It seems like there is some muddling of correlation and causation in your conversation here, which does little support either side. I don’t think you need to reach to vague historical examples to prove your points.

    The argument here comes down to two separate, but related, themes: Ethics and Economics. For my thoughts on ethics and justice, see my response to Mike.

    For the economic argument, it is important to understand that “incentives matter.” As Phred wrote, “One of the big problems with coercive monopolies is that the providers of protection (police) do not have to answer to their customers. Costs go up, quality of customer service goes down.” This is exactly what we have seen. We spend exponentially more on police “protection” today in order to do what…hand out traffic tickets and arrest over 1.6 million for drug law offenses in 2009. Additionally, as evidenced by a 167% increase in violent crime as a percentage of total population since 1960 in the US, this extra spending has done little to protect. Cost up, customer service down.

    Good conversations guys! Certainly makes me think. The solution of private protection is an interesting idea and should not be so readily dismissed. If you think about it, most of the conflicts in the world are resolved without government sponsored police force. Unless someone is blinded by some irrational Hobbesian fear, I think there could be much to be learned in studying market-based protection and adjudication solutions. In the words of John Hasnas….There is evidence of success everywhere. Just look around.

  • Jenny

    I was with you up until the last paragraph. I don’t know what the correct answer is, but I don’t believe that privatizing our police is it. Take a look at look at the private prison systems and you will see neither an increase in “customer service” (for example, both assaults and escapes have a significantly higher rate than in public systems) nor an decrease in cost (research shows at best the data is inconclusive and at worst, they are more expensive). As for accountability- I’m not sure which industry I should point to first for a lack of accountability in the private sector… perhaps the banking disaster or the BP disaster will stand out most notably, but I think it would be harder to come with a recent example of accountability than examples of a complete lack thereof.

  • Ah yes. The Nuremberg defense. Touching.

  • Ogre

    My biggest problem is with those that oppose your position, Phred, like Mike, who tell me to “change the system.” The system is so broken that it cannot be changed.

    First, there are a large majority of people in the country who honestly want me jailed if I do something they don’t like. If I were to grow the “wrong” plant, for example, despite not harming anyone else, the majority vote for me to be jailed. That’s wrong, just like slavery was wrong — but the majority don’t care, they want me jailed. So I can’t use the system to change it.

    In addition, the system is set up to oppose me. If I, for example, want to wear a hat in a courtroom, that will get me jailed. There is no trial, there is no jury, there isn’t even a law against it — but none of that matters, I go to jail. How do you change a system in that example, when one man has the power and is not accountable to anyone but others who support him?

  • jack orr

    The clowns are not immune to lawsuits while doing their job, The law to sue these cops when their supposed to be do their job is if they “knowingly violated the law” and if they were “plainly incompetent” while doing their job and breaking federal laws on you.

    Even if their investigating you for something or doing their job if they break the law you can sue them. Good luck finding a lawyer though in some state corrupt cops control all the police misconduct lawyers, you might have to go out of state to get a lawyer.

    In my case they knew the broke the laws and were retarded in doing it I have a very strong case but cant find a lawyer in over 2 years in corrupt racist Illinois.

  • “what practice or event cannot be packaged into a ‘job’ and isolated from criticism because it’s a ‘job’? give me the exception, so i can understand the underlying principle, if any. is everything permissible or impervious so long as somebody hired you to do it? let’s start with mob hit men.”
    http://saltypig.com/2010/12/give-me-the-exception/

    For the state apologists, what you advocate distills to this:
    “either I rule you or I kill you”:
    http://saltypig.com/2011/02/the-state-unveiled/

  • 901fan

    Growing a plant marijuana has been deemed illegal in most instances , like it or not. If you don’t like it work to get the laws changed. Just like MADD worked to make DUI penalties so harsh. What is the crime in growing the wrong plant? Or driving impaired (without crashing and killing someone)? Or disciplining your spouse (now its called domestic violence)? Society as a whole has decided it is a crime whether we like it or not. Keep blaming the cops, that will solve the problem (sarcasm). If you want to fix the problem of getting busted for your weed, put down the bong, move the cheetos off your lap, turn off the cartoons and get off the couch and work to change legislation to meet your needs. People do it all the time. How do you think marijuana became illegal in the first place.

  • dougo

    Read this a while ago and the more I thought about it damn whats worse the cop/bundist with a gun to his head,or the cop/bundist who goes along willingly?I don,t like either one of these punks

  • Cameron

    nope, we the PEOPLE have deemed growing marijuana illegal because of un-true scientific data gathered by people under payment and or control of the government, as well as the mythical rape rage that black men are supposed to get. dont compare it to a DUI or spousel abuse. as there is a always a victim or the possiblity of someone getting hurt or killed. arresting someone and imprisoning them on felony charges for literally growing a plant is ludacris and a complete waste of time and tax payer money. whos job is it to tell people what they can and cant do to themselves?(suicide totally understandable) maybe my mother, certainly not some guy with aggression issues.
    i only bring this up due to my own abuse from the police here in the south, two un-lawful arrests(same arresting officer, one month apart) but i was a kid at the time and i couldnt afford a lawyer. along with them giving my cell phone number out to various big time drug dealers to have them try and set me up on some kind of sting operation. thats what they devoted their time to, trying to catch people who wanted to go home and smoke a bowl instead of going to the bar and having a few beers. whats the difference? except of course that alcohol is more destructive to your body

  • Paula Parmeley Carter

    @Jenny,
    It does not count as “private” if it is funded by tax money. I addressed this here. http://www.copblock.org/4899/but-what-about-blackwater/

    As far as BP and the banking disaster, you should google Moral Hazard. The government protects big business from being accountable for their actions.

  • 901fan

    Jack Orr, If your rights were violated and you cannot find a lawyer to take your case its beucase your rights probibly were not violated. You are aware of USC 42 1983 right? The largest money making section of law for lawyers is civil rights violations. Law firms have paralegls sitting in at nearly all suppression hearings handing out business cards to peoples whos cases have the evidence suppressed beucase there is butt loads of money to be made in civil rights violations. I remember one case in Denver where an officer found a garage open in he middle of the night and entered the garage and left a note on the car reminding the home owner to close his garage at night. That is an illeagl search and the city paid a large sum and by the way, when an officer is found to have violated USC section 42 1983 they can be sued individually not just as an officer. That is why officers work very hard not to violate your civil rights. Beucase if they do the best they can hope for is qualified imunity, which is unlikley. The fact is most people, especially most posting here do not understand legal proceedings. If you in fact had a case, lawyers would be jumping at it.

  • 901fan

    camron, people imparied by THC kill people in DUI collisions just as easy as ETOH. Personally I think weed should be treated the same as ETOH (Alcohol) and use it all you want just dont drive and if you do go to jail or as so fun to say on this site, get put in a cage for a crime.

  • dougo

    901 fan how many bad cops are there?

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  • Levi

    As far as the job excuse goes if you commit a criminal action regardless of uniform you should be punished such as having weed it’s illegal, and you were wrong there legally is it fair or right no its not but if you were to punish a cop for leaving a note saying hey your garage was left open you are the criminal there nobody says I want to be a cop so I can fuck people up they protect theirself in seemingly dangerous situations are they 100% infallible no they are human they deal with a violent criminal effort every day and it’s hard to turn that switch on and off if you don’t believe that ask a veteran also like you said your job coice is voluntary so your solution of an entirely volunteer security force is here today also the same portion of their paycheck goes to taxes even though cops and us as soldiers volunteered to protect you a person that was the victim of the enforcement of a law

  • Ryan J

    wow. some people on here are rediculous. police rarely get immunity?! what country do you live in?! here in the good old USA, its damn near impossible to sue police individually. dont try acting like your a lawyer, bc i have attorneys in the family and all attorneys i know, know its not worth the time to try and sue cops unless its for an absurd amount of money bc you almost always lose. also, when police go on trial for criminal offenses, they are rarely found guilty regardless of the weight of evidence. if they are, they get a slap on the wrist. what a joke

  • Ryan J

    and to suggest that police work HARD not to violate ppl civil rights is an absolute joke. if you dont know your rights, the cops will intentionally trample on them; hence, people being searched without warrant constantly. they hope ppl dont know their rights bc they can do their job better by violating rights.

  • WhiteHart

    Oh yeah, lets just trust ourselves to corporate security conglomerates and insurance companies, who’s ethos is dictated by the bottom line. your line of thinking and reasoning is simplistic and naive. If we follow you line of thinking then Mad Max here we come.

  • Good article.
    Actually made something in the same kind of way and had an argument with a so called objectivist a month or so ago.
    I agued that people have the moral right to react with force to a police officer who initiates force.

    They told me “keep the eyes on the ball”In which i replied, the person did not have to become a police officer… it’s his choice to take away my freedom when i pass a red light and did not harm anyone, or smoke a blunt, or anything where no victim is made of my acts ( or no other than myself)

    tOOK THEM A WHILE, AND STILL TO TO GET IT THROUGH TO THEIR HEADS.
    Yes the laws are wrong.. but they lose sight of people not knowing that the laws are wrong and willingly uphold them eventhough they are immoral.

    Against initiation of force, no matter what uniform you wear or do not wear, any ammount of force is morally justified to break the initiation of force and make amends. ( if you steal someone can use force to take it back again)
    If your freedom is beeing taken, use any force needed to get free.