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Heroes Or Tyrants? When Good Cops Do Bad Things

Heroes Or Tyrants? When Good Cops Do Bad Things

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Law enforcement officers have an uneasy relationship with the rest of society. The police subculture, dominated by social solidarity and isolation, serves not only as a protective shell against the harsh elements of our dangerous society, but it can breed deviant conformity if not checked by good recruitment, training, management, and early warning systems. With mass cop-killings and deadly assaults on peacemakers today, tensions are running high and good cops can quickly turn to justice-through-vengeance.

In our books and movies, the term ‘anti-hero’ has come to mean a fictional character with characteristics that are antithetical to those of the traditional hero. They perform acts that are heroic but only do so through methods or manners not appearing heroic at all. Scholarly definitions of the anti-hero are few and far between.

By 1992, the American Heritage Dictionary defined anti-hero only as “a character in a narrative work without heroic qualities.” The 11th Edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defined anti-hero as “a protagonist lacking in heroic qualities.” In each account, not much attention was given to the actual performance of heroic acts; anti-heroes were only portrayed as villainous.

Superhero scholar Richard Reynolds offered, “The negotiation of a character’s heroism (or villainy) is fleshed out, as in all narratives, by the examination of moral choices made under pressure.” The first pop-culture look at the anti-hero for law enforcement came in 1971, with the film Dirty Harry.

Published in the 1985 edited work, Moral Issues in Police Work, University of Delaware professor Carl Klockars explained the character of Dirty Harry as a representation of noble cause corruption. “The Dirty Harry problem asks when and to what extent the morally good end warrants or justifies an ethically, politically, or legally dangerous means to its achievement.”

In one scene from the film, a psychopathic killer kidnaps a young girl, buries her alive, then fails to provide information as to her location after demanding and receiving a ransom. Clint Eastwood’s character, Inspector Harry Callahan, illegally searches the suspect’s room, identifies him as the abductor, and then proceeds to track him down. Upon locating the suspect, Callahan shoots him in the leg and stands on it—as if putting out a cigarette—until the man discloses the girl’s whereabouts.

In this situation, Klockars explained the problem was not what Dirty Harry should have done. Audiences polled following the release of the film actually wanted Harry to do something “dirty.” They approved of his tactics, despite the fact that the killer was released due to an illegal search and seizure. To what extent, then, does noble cause and sensitivity by law enforcement officers cross the line?

Theoretically, Callahan was justified in his actions by the goodness of purpose. A possibility that the victim was still alive in conjunction with the failure to provide information supported his actions. Criminal investigators typically use the sliding scale of criminal culpability to gain a suspect’s confidence in eliciting a confession; however, Callahan went from asking a question at gunpoint to torture. This behavior questioned the foundation of moral integrity and necessity found most commonly in the “slippery slope” argument.

Klockars further explained, “The troublesome issue in the Dirty Harry problem is not whether a right choice can be made, but that the choice must always be between two wrongs. In choosing to do either wrong, the police officer inevitably taints or tarnishes himself.” Criminologist Edward Delattre argued, however, that the incompatibility of one moral theory over another taints no one. In fact, an officer may act in accordance with two theories, both of which are seen with a measure of rightness and thus forces a decision between them.

This phenomenon is a complicated experiment in temptation, morality, and justice. A moral objective such as sacrifice or saving lives is the morality of something. While we might judge, condemn, or criticize the nature of the deed, can we destroy the heroism of what was done?

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    NoTyrantsAllowed

    about 2 years ago

    2 Comments

    The fact of the matter is that society on a whole is held to a different standard than police officers. If a civilian were to become an "anti-hero" as the above author described, he would most likely be (rightfully) thrown in jail when he was finally caught (by police officers). Sadly, the same thing can't be said if the "anti-hero" happened to be a police officer. He/she might face termination of employment, but that would probably be about it. Indeed, police officers usually receive more leeway than their civilian counterparts when it comes to breaking the law. The important thing here, though, is that police officers should and need to be held to the same standard as the rest of society. When a police officer gets off the hook for breaking the same laws that they arrest other people for, it instills in society a mistrust of law enforcement. However, nobody is above the law. Instead, we are all created equal. There is a reason that Dirty Harry is only a movie and that The Punisher is only a comic book. It doesn't work in real life. Somebody who is innocent inevitable gets killed. As for the assumption that "good people can do bad things" idea, how is it possible to gauge if someone is bad or not? If the statement is taken to be true, it creates a undefined line between the good and bad. Perhaps, you gauge how bad someone is on how many bad things they have done, or the severity of the bad things they have done. Of course, this leads to the question of who decides. On top of that, another downside to accepting the "good people do bad things" statement is that it's tantamount to saying " the good outweighs the bad". Such a saying has been used to defend atrocities such as the Holocaust, Stalin's mass murder of his own people, to the justification of slavery in America. It would not be surprising if the "anti-hero" mentality, if accepted, would be used to beat drug users and subsequently lock them in jail for long periods of time, as well as justifying other acts of brutality, etc. "It might seem cruel, but it's what's best for society", would probably be the mantra that would be repeated by law enforcement and politicians alike when interrogated (no pun intended) by the press for their questionable tactics. And herein lies the problem, accepting such and idea justifies cruel and unusual punishment, something that is strictly prohibited by The United States Bill of Rights. Indeed, it is a very frightening prospect once the Bill of Rights is sidestepped, as it would mark the beginning of the end of freedom as WE know it. That being said, do we really need "anti-heroes" in our law enforcement? The answer is quite simple, absolutely not.

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    hhow1

    over 3 years ago

    2 Comments

    Great discussion, however, maybe the term should be 'quasi hero'. We only allow ourselves the luxary to examine such things when we have some thought and reflection. As we all know, working on the street doesn't lend itself to planned decision making processes. Like Mike Tyson said, 'everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the face.' As humans, we may be caught up in the emotion of the moment, like in the end of a foot chase in a back alley at night. We'll write the report to justify the 'resisting'. Not a big deal and let's hope there are no cameras or witnesses to back up the bad guy's complaint to IAD. That's the reality but so is this. That history is a lesson in repetiveness. Play by the rules and allow the system to release back into the community the ones who will literally get away with murder (or name your crime here). Over time the values in that community will change and a demand of justice, longer sentences, and even the death penalty will follow. You get to go home at night and will likely enjoy your pension after a long and prosperous career.

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    vegas94

    over 3 years ago

    90 Comments

    I think as society we put law enforcement officers on some extremely high pedestal, we expect them to be without fault or blemish. Then when one falls off the pedestal we crucify them for not living up to the standards we set. We are living in a much different world then we where ten or twenty years. Society has grown more violent, the clear visible line that once so easily divided right and wrong has become blurred in society where political correctness and cultural diversity have been forced feed to us. The fact is simple in order for a police officer, state trooper, federal agent etc, to do their job which is protecting society from rapist, murders and thief’s, they are going to have to get off their pedestals. Get down in the muck and mire to do what we have asked of them. Ten30code0100 said it best “Bad things happen to good people, good people do bad things, but that does not mean that they are bad people.”

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    phillipmc64

    over 3 years ago

    2 Comments

    there's the rub how to eliminate crime when police have to follow rules but criminals don't.........oh and thanx @alexy for the comment_"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing"-.one of my favorite sayings, but I never knew who thought it up,now I do!!!

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    alexy

    over 3 years ago

    3970 Comments

    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

    Edmund Burke
    1729 — 1797

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    creekcop

    over 3 years ago

    1056 Comments

    I won't have fans flocking to my statement and I won't win the political correctness award and I don't care. I agree with the "anti-hero." You can call me a bad guy or just as good as the criminal but at the end of the day I know that there is one less murderous, raping, arsonist, evil bastard walking the earth destroying the lives and community that my family and others were meant to enjoy. The bad guys don't play by the rules. Our rules only inhibit ourselves and enable them to be the infection in society that they are. I will continue to weed them out, fighting fire with fire.

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    Mikfly

    over 3 years ago

    96 Comments

    If these anti-heroes are breaking the law to perform acts of good they feel are warranted. Using their own definition of 'good' to perform illegal acts. Most criminals would say they are doing the same. That reason alone is why I'm not a fan of the anti-hero. I prefer heroes like Superman and the Green Lantern that abide by the law and defende the justice system.

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    Ashurbanipal

    over 3 years ago

    74 Comments

    Its all about the Punisher :)

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    John887

    over 3 years ago

    18 Comments

    Gezzz Dirty Harry is a MOVIE! Sure its easy to hate the villain, you KNOW who it is, but in real life this can get the cop years in prison...(depending on if they do a 'coverup').

    Remember the FBI trying to setup the guy that they THOUGHT had placed a bomb, and then "discovered" it. Richard A. Jewell's life was destroyed by the FBI and only after he died did they find the REAL bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph.
    This is what happens when cops make mistakes, people's lives are destroyed, sometimes by accident & sometimes on purpose.
    The problem comes when 'bad' cops abuses are covered up by the 'good' cops...the small percentage of bad ones needs to be removed, they make all the rest look bad too when they aren't.
    Its cops like these that make the rest of the cop's jobs at least harder, if not more dangerous.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5hf-aDEAr8

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    tybabs0926

    over 3 years ago

    60 Comments

    Great article! This is fascinating stuff from a sociological standpoint. Movies and comics like The Boondock Saints and The Punisher really put this question to task. We've all seen cases where a girl is too scared to testify against her rapist, so he walks, or the chain of custody is broken, so a murderer walks. Where is the justice in those cases? The system is imperfect. It's unsettling, but it's what we have to work with.

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    DirtyBarry

    over 3 years ago

    20 Comments

    You can believe in the system all you want, fact is it's broken. Broken mostly due to liberalism, political corectness and the greater erosion of our society and morals. When something bad is happening to you and your loved ones - do you take action or call 911? Remember when criminals would never even think about killing a cop? Now, it's almost a badge of honor for the criminals. Hiam357 - really? That's why people with multiple counts of drug trafficking and illegal weapon possession, etc are out in the streets doing exactly what they were arrrsted for again...because no one is above the law? Foxblood - great example! How's the crime in the UK, no armed citizen, nanny state, multiculturalism works just fine world? Shamrockll - true but just one question - when it happens to you...you want dirty harry and Jack bauer coming? Or perhaps Jon baker and 'Ponch'? Be honest! Guys, be safe and remember that criminals do not play by the rules. Do whatever you have to do or you may be the next name on a wall somewhere.

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    swc985

    over 3 years ago

    4 Comments

    Thx for the advice gman. I normally don't point at what others are doing but I'm just frustrated. I mean the process is so inefficient and time consuming. All I'm saying is theres no telling how many great potential officers have been turned away because of the hiring process. Smart and talented people will only put up with so much before moving on to other things. Yeah you can argue that then they aren't commited or didn't perservere but I don't think thats the case. Months of paperwork and testing on my part comes down to a guy in a swivel chair hooking me to a machine, asking me about smoking pot in highschool, and giving his best "scientific guess" on whether or not the squiggly lines on his monitor mean I would make a good officer. Sorry but I can't help but be cynical at this point. I've passed some background checks and failed others without changing any information. It's a game and the best liar wins.

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    gman3858

    over 3 years ago

    318 Comments

    This is to answer Paladin's question. If we stoop to the level of the criminal then we are no longer any better than they are and we have lost. Criminals have come after me but we learn to work within the rules and laws and we take care of business. Remember we are not alone. We have our brothers who will take care of us but in the right way. If my family is in danger all I have to do is let my brothers know and they will deal with him (criminal) in the right way. Any mistake he makes which violates the law will be dealt with. He (the criminal) will no longer be able to focus on me when he has hundreds watching out for him, but it is done in the right way.

    swc985, a word of advice from someone who has been around for a long time. Don't worry about others, be patient don't loose faith and work hard. When you get your chance and I believe that if you truelly want to be an Officer it will happen. Do your best to learn the job to the best of your abilities and you will raise to the top. Remember only 10% truelly know the job and can do it. The rest just get by.

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    swc985

    over 3 years ago

    4 Comments

    I've been trying to get hired with a department for two years now after I finished school. While my background isn't that of a choirboy, I've maintained a clean record and moral lifestyle. However, the people being hired are not the most qualified or honest. It's ALL WHO YOU KNOW. I attended school with many cadets and officers and have seen their behavior "when no one is looking." Deparments really need to examine their hiring processes as it has caused me to lose alot of respect and enthusiasm towards a career in law enforcement. Expect to see some of those hired on the 6 O'clock news embarassing their department because they knew Jimbo in Human resorces.

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    ten30code0100

    over 3 years ago

    20 Comments

    Bad things happen to good people, good people do bad things, but that does not mean that they are bad people..

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