Policing without morality?


Only Forward
Jul 14, 2008
If there were beings who lived by the letter of the law, would you want one as a policeman?

I'm not talking about an artificial intelligence, as I believe the process of creating one would require hard-coded ethical imperatives. This would be an alien life force, using humanity as a template to give it form and substance.

Does society define itself by the laws it passes? Or does it only work when we supplement them with an instinctive/intuitive desire to do no harm?
reiver33 said:
Or does it only work when we supplement them with an instinctive/intuitive desire to do no harm?

I would say a resounding yes to that.

If there were beings who lived by the letter of the law, would you want one as a policeman?

Someone like that might make a good policeman, but I wouldn't like to see him/her/it appointed as a judge!
I'd think there were all sorts of grey areas in policing.

Rigidly following the letter of the law would be unlikely to produce good, merciful or effective community policing. It would depend on the law, I suppose - it could be changed to reflect the way the new police would behave?
The instant they ruin somebody for a rich person, politician or mobster they are hardly a police force anymore, are they?
Certain precincts are aware and won't do anyone's dirty work, others are like teams of attack dogs for someone or some group.
The spirit of the law is (or should be) far more important than its letter. Your alien would also have to understand and recognise the concept of mens rea -- ie whether a person has a guilty intent. A person who drops a paper hankie accidentally while pulling something from his pocket is causing litter if he fails to pick it up, but is not on a par with someone who deliberately flings down his burger wrapper.

If someone were excessively legalistic then what would happen -- what we have increasingly seen happen over the last 50 years -- is that the laws would become ever more complex and bound about with exceptions and caveats. eg "Don't walk on the grass" would become "Don't walk on the grass unless you have no alternative because the path is in some way impassable, or you are seeking to escape from some peril which puts you in fear of your life, you are seeking to safeguard your property or you are seeking to assist some person who is in fear of his life or safeguarding his property or..." That could be summed up in "Don't walk on the grass unless it's unreasonable to do otherwise" but would the alien understand "reasonable"?

And again, reiver, not a Workshoppy matter -- which is for communal exercises -- so I'm moving it to GWD.
That's one of the things I love about this country (the UK); I think we generally have a very balanced common sense approach to the law (though as TJ suggests that has maybe changed over the last few decades). One example (civil not criminal) that springs to my mind was a case in Scotland a few years back where someone was trying to sue a climbing instructor after they took a fall on a course and broke their arm. Now in America we have seen cases like this take instructors out of business through bankruptcy but the judge in this case threw it out stating that the instructor had done everything correctly and that "any adult taking a course in a sport like rock climbing must surely be aware and accept the fact that it is fundamenatlly a high risk sport".

Slightly more on the Reiver's topic, whilst I would agree with Teresa that on the face of it such a being might make a good policeman, though not a judge, I'm not sure even that is true. Again, I think, one of the strengths of our police force is that, particularly in community policing, the actual policeman or woman on the beat seems to have a considerable degree of latitude in how they should deal with many situations and the vast majority of the time they do this exceptionally well, which of course goes unnoticed in the face the occasional one that abuses it.
I do law at university and 1 thing i have come to learn...alot of the law contains no common sense. It is the judges interpretation and application that makes the common sense. Without getting too deep into it there are several "rules" judges can follow when interpreting the law these are designed to get rid of absurdities. The law can sometimes bind the judges from doing what is right, although this happens less and less nowadays because of the constant review. The concept of Mens Rea only appears, so far, in my studying of theft which is without a doubt the most ridiculous of the laws i've come across so far.

Answeing reiver33's question...no i would not. The idea itself is quite a good one but without morality and feelings it would for all intents and purposes make that "policeman" a robot. Compassion is needed to judge correctly, someone stealing to feed his family is not the same in my eyes as someone stealing to harm and make profit. Would a policeman with no morality know the difference? Intention becomes a big deal when analysing crimes, its the difference between manslaughter and murder which i think there is quite a gulf between the two.

You also have to think of the punishment fitting the crime, without morality someone who had commited what we would call manslaughter could be killed because a policeman without morality would simply view it as murder and see the suspect as a danger. Sorry if i rambled, i do it occasionally lol.
... Does society define itself by the laws it passes? Or does it only work when we supplement them with an instinctive/intuitive desire to do no harm?

It's an interesting point. I think of it like having to get up in the morning to get to work on time. Most people would rather sleep in, but rules is rules ...? :)
Then of course there's the partitioned-off groups who do not recognize any law, and are able to circumvent it freely for decades at a time.
Does this have any effect on ordinary citizens, or should they just ignore it in the firm belief that 'they know what they are doing' or whatever excuse you like?

The worst thing we could do would be to let Aliens have anything to do with law, particularly if they are not visible to the general public.
Sorry, it's a human thing. We don' need no stinkin' 500 IQ.
Does society want compassionate policing, or compassionate judgement, or both?

Allowing the human angle to colour/influence/mediate policing - the enforcement of law - opens the door to the entire range of human bias. In addition to "I know you're a good kid, so I'll let you off with a warning." you can have 'It's only a single joint but I'm going to have you strip searched 'cos you bullied my son at school."

The more you allow police officers to 'exercise judgement', the less justice is served.
A cop who's been out there for a while will tell you he just knows when someone is guilty. The guy comes across all casual, puts his arm around his girlfriend -- but the cop just knows ...?
What strikes me is the idea of an alien force acting as a police presence for a race that is not their own might be entirely neutral in bias. True neutrality, to me, would view any laws as arbitrary and based on the opinions of the race that made them. The choice would then be to carry out a race's laws without bias, your to-the-letter, or to see the laws as being not worth the effort.

Then I start wondering if it's a mercenary alien police force planets can hire for themselves, and what about the alien society has let them become so. THEN I start to wonder if there's a sort of inter-planetary set of laws that are enforced OVER an individual society's. Good brain fodder.
We don't need to look far for examples- Judge Dredd enforces the letter of the law, some might say with extreme prejudice. One question I woudl find interesting to explore would be that aliens might not even know what a 'law' is. Does a truly enlightened society even need laws?
I think there's a difference between exercising judgement (it's a small town, I know you've got problems at home and you're basically a good kid - so don't let me catch you doing anything like this again or next time I'll tell your mum) and taking advantage of your position (the strip search example).

My totally off-the-top-of-my-head hunch would be that the trade-off is worth it and you'd get a lot more of the 'exercising judgement' type activities than the 'taking advantage' ones (how I can even type that with the current furore about the police and the media is a bit of a mystery, but let's ignore accusations of stupidity and just say I'm terribly optimistic).

In emotionally-charged situations, though, like policing demonstrations, aliens might be a better idea.
Its a tricky question I lean more to the following the letter of the law example (not that I don't bend them every once in a while) and that an Alien race policing without morality would be fine. It would be a shock to everyone to creeps over the speed limit, or people who do things they have alwasy done but are illegal, but it would change things.
As for mens rea, the notion of intent, surely that is one of the reasons why the law is so complex and some lawyers can get reduced sentences for people who did intend to do something because they argue that they didn't.
I suppose it comes down to whether we would want to punish the accidental litterer the same as the intentional litterer in an effort to stop all littering? (even though accidental littering would surely never be eliminated without a serious redisn of trouser pockets)
There is a massive difference between manslaughter and murder, but manslaughter (which I think might be most prevalent in car accidents) would decrease if those who were found guilty were punished as murderers.

If aliens landed and subjected us all to the strict letter of our relevant laws (nationally) then we would all be in for a shock, and plenty of people would end up arrested, but it might change us, would it change us for the better? hmm, not sure.
If an alien were going to come here to enforce all our human laws to the letter, we would need to completely revamp our laws before he started; I doubt there is a single person who hasn't broken at least one law that we have on the books currently.

How many people would go to jail for spitting on the sidewalk? Sleeping in a room that is not a bedroom? Letting your dog off the leash?

This could be an interesting basis for the extermination or enslavement of the whole planet -- aliens start enforcing our laws and everyone ends up in prison or executed!
The Judges (in particular Dredd) from 2000AD enforced the law in this way didn't they? Not objectively , but to the letter of the law.

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