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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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  • Fp-183_max50

    Paladin3087

    over 3 years ago

    40 Comments

    I agree with SHAMROCK. That is the main issue, no need for street justice if the courts would hand out justice properly. Vigilante justice will return if the justice system is not fixed. To prove my point this question is for police to answer. If the criminal you deal with daily finally decided to exact revenge on you and hurt or destroyed your family what would you do. Call the police and let the justice take care of him or deal with him yourself. Be honest with yourself and tell the truth, don't write down BS just for the sake of being politically correct.

  • Csi_max50

    haim357

    over 3 years ago

    72 Comments

    If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.

  • Segway-police-unit-china_max50

    foxblood

    over 3 years ago

    396 Comments

    While we are on this topic.. Have you seen UK based police? They tend to have this idea that they should lead by example and see it has a huge embarrassment if they are seen breaking the law as a police officer as they become a hypocrite. This idea seems to be breaking down in the modern day understandably. You have to fight fire with fire.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 3 years ago

    No one was disappointed that Dirty Harry took a (understatement here) unorthodox approach to save the life of the girl in the movie. Unfortunately we dont live in a movie in which we know the ending. Taking matters into our own hands going outside the law is not acceptable. Its not for us to meet out punishment but to bring them in to be tried by jury and then if found guilty punishment will be handed down at that time. But in Harry's defense; It would have made for a boring movie any other way.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    scarethemstright

    over 3 years ago

    18 Comments

    THE THING COPS SHOULD REMEMBER IS TO PROTECT AND SERVE, IT THAT HAS NO MEANING TO A POLICE OFFICER, THEN HE IS PROBALLY NOT FIT TO BE A POLICE OFFICER. BEING A PUBLIC SERVANT IS A HARD WAY TO GO AND I TOTALLY APPRECIATE THE JOB THAT THE MEN AND WOMEN OF LAW ENFORCEMENT DO FOR US ON A DAILY BASIS. YOU ALL DESERVE OUR RESPECT, SO DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN A POSITION THAT WOULD CHANGE OUR RESPECT FOR YOU. I BELIEVE IF YOU RESPECT YOURSELF, WE WOULD NEVER HAVE CAUSE TO DISRESPECT YOU. SCARETHEMSTAIGHT

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    scarethemstright

    over 3 years ago

    18 Comments

    NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW, NOT EVEN THOSE WHO TRY THEIR BEST TO DO SO. IF POLICE WANT RESPECT, THEY NEED TO EARN IT BY OBEYING THE LAW THEIRSELVES. I DO REALIZE THAT THERE IS A BOND THAT POLICE NEED TO HAVE AND I BELIEVE THEY SHOULD HAVE A BOND, YOUR LIFE MAY DEPEND ON IT. THEY BOND SHOULD NOT BE SO STRONG THAT IT WOULD ALLOW YOU TO BREAK THE LAW, TO LOSE PUBLIS SUPPORT, TO LOSE YOUR RETIREMENT OR JEPORIZE YOUR FAMILY AND TRUST THEY PUT ON YOU. STAY SAFE. GENE BASS

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    shamrockll

    over 3 years ago

    4 Comments

    The anti-hero cop is unacceptable in today's society. This kind of cop is dangerous to both fellow officers and the public. People want their police to follow the law.

    These discussions, however, gloss over the main motivation for such police behavior, which is the failure of our justice system to adequately deal with the criminal elements in our society. Our criminal justice system must be rexamined and overhauled to more effectively deal with the criminal threat to our society. If we accomplish this task, we will remove the motivation for good cops to do bad things.

  • Ramostwin4_max50

    ramostwin4

    over 3 years ago

    24 Comments

    There are good cop's and bad cop's. It all depends on the man himself, either he will have good character, with good morals, and ethics, or he will not. It is how we are raised.
    Corruption comes in many forms such as political illegal crime, which refers to unethical acts involving the power that government official possess through authority. Some government officials will use their authority illegally, or unethically, to gain material such as money or property through bribes, or for political reasons such as, gaining or maintaining political office or influence (Simon, 1996).
    Political crimes are a threat to national security which have been attributed to some government officials, crimes such as,
    * Secrecy and deception to manipulate public opinion.
    * The abuse of power.
    * Prosecuting individuals, due to their political
    activities.
    * The use of violence such as, police brutality against a
    Race/ethnicity or the use of individuals as unwilling to
    participate in scientific research (Simon, 1996).

    Law enforcement has two main strategies available which is reactive and proactive, which is used for dealing with conventional crimes. Part I Crimes; murder, rape, burglary, robbery, theft, and assault, are likely to be reported or discovered by the police, whereas proactive law enforcement requires officers or agents to seek out the indications of criminal activity or criminal behavior, crimes such as drugs, prostitution, or gambling that are not reported to the police.
    When officers go undercover to seek out criminal activity or behavior, they are exposed to opportunities such as, accepting money or favors, rather than do his or her duty which is required. An officer may alter or conceal information concerning crimes already known about an organization. Undercover officers who are buying and selling drugs may be doing so for their own use, and not as their duty. It is hard to supervise undercover officers; therefore it would be difficult to tell if the undercover is giving all of the information or not to his or her superiors (Wilson, James Q. 1978).
    New York City had 96 drug cases in the year 1996, which were thrown out by the prosecutor; due to the defendants were police officers from the Uptown Manhattan 30th Precinct, which thirty three officers were convicted of drug corruption charges (Kocieniewski, 1997).
    In the year 1997, in the city Chicago, Illinois, prosecutors had to drop one-hundred twenty drug cases because the police officers that were involved in the drug cases had been indicted for taking payoff’s and extorting the money from the drug dealers (Warnick,1997).
    In the year 1998, forty-four police officers from five different law enforcement agencies in Cleveland, Ohio, were charged with taking bribes. The forty-four police officers were protecting cocaine dealers from northern Ohio (Belluck, 1998).
    There is also a big problem concerning corruption in foreign countries that grow, process, or serve as transshipment stations for illegal drugs. “The corrupt official,” notes the President’s Commission on Organized Crime (1986), “is the sine qua non of drug trafficking.” (PCOC, 1986).
    “The commission concluded that corruption is linked to drug trafficking, and it is widespread among political and military leaders, police in every country are touched by the drug trade, and there is a large amount of money that is generated through drug transactions, and temptation is hard to resist (PCOC, 1986).
    References
    Simon, David R. (1996), Elite Deviance, fifth edition, Boston: Allyn, and Bacon.

    Wilson, James Q. (1978), The Investigators, New York: Books.

    Kocieniewski, David (1997), “New York Pays a High Price for
    Police Lies.” New York Times (January 5): 1, 16

    Warnick, Mark S., (1997), “City Cop Scandals Dash Drug Trials.”,
    Chicago Tribune (December 25), Section 2: 1, 2

    Belluck, Pam (1998), “44 Officers Are Charged After Ohio Sting
    Operation.” New York Times (January 22): 14.

    President’s Commission on Organized Crime (PCOC) 1986, America’s
    Habit: Drug Abuse, Drug Trafficking, and Organized Crime,
    Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

  • Segway-police-unit-china_max50

    foxblood

    over 3 years ago

    396 Comments

    Great article!! I like where you went with it. I’d also like to see one about BAD COPS giving GOOD COPS a BAD name… We all know about the Blue Code of Silence but it’s sad to see by good by-the-book cops have to catch heat for the punk rookie that cant keep his hot head on straight and abuses the amenities of being a law enforcement officer. I also think that folks who like to murder in cold blood that made it to the ranks shouldn’t get a lighter sentence because they made it in to a uniform. It’s situations like that – that put the police force as one entity in the media and cause public distrust of all cops and there’s so many out there just trying to do the right thing.

  • Me_max50

    dan34smom

    over 3 years ago

    36 Comments

    What about when good cops are accused of something bad they did not do everything proves they did not do and they still are given the maximum sentence.The juge even admitted they were a vet and with the coep and police service had an exemplary record. But due to attorney bullying him to take a plea his life is over. Attorney and ADA have both been turned into the bar but.....

  • Csi_max50

    haim357

    over 3 years ago

    72 Comments

    I agree , NOT all cops are good cops , I will personally feel much more comfortable working with someone who has a military background than someone who just comes to College, with respect to everyone.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 3 years ago

    Brian -- email forthcoming.

  • Hogstand

    Forceology1

    over 3 years ago

    20 Comments

    Sgt. Williams: At your convenience, float me an email at brian.kinnaird@gmail.com. I'd like to pick your brain about what I'm writing about on my next article. I think you'd have some valid input for it. Thx...BK

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 3 years ago

    No, NOT all cops are good cops. What is the basis for our morality? Are we to decide for ourselves what the standard is? Even if you want to believe that 2+2=5, the Bible, wholly inerrant and never disproven (never has there been more sound evidence) gives us the always-correct answer of "4." Romans 13 gives us our authority and commission. IT is our standard and perfect policy and procedure manual and through it God tells us that we must all come to Him in the same way (meaning that there is no "get out of hell, free" passes for us based on our badge of office). "Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!" (Joshua 24:15).

    Det. Sgt. M.C. Williams
    Director, www.TheCenturionLawEnforcementMinistry.org

  • Skull_max50

    DenverHammer

    over 3 years ago

    94 Comments

    "TN_LAW_DAWG EXCELLENT ARTICLE...AS DENVERHAMMER SAYS....DOING THE RIGHT THING ISNT ALWAYS THE RIGHT THIING!! ALL COPS ARE GOOD COPS....EVEN THE BAD ONES!!!"

    I know bad cops and they are not good. I would rather work without them. I don't mean bad as in corrupt, we have those too. I mean the ones who are too lazy to do their jobs. I mean the ones who tell you to not work after a certain time because they want to relax before the end of the shift. I mean the ones who don't cover their area of response because they want to get something to eat.
    Yes, I work with bad cops too. The ones who need to be supervised constantly. The ones who you don't want on your log sheet or attached to your cases.

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