This was question being explored on the most recent episode of the BBC’s Moral Maze podcast. Given that I have been studying criminal procedure this past semester, this has been a particular relevant question.
Here is a description of the podcast:
“Plebgate”, the Hillsborough disaster, evidence of blatant fixing of crime statistics – by any standards our police have come under searching scrutiny lately and haven’t exactly come out with flying colours. So this week’s report by a former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, John – now Lord Stevens – on the future of policing is certainly timely. But this is more than just a debate about numbers, structures and complaints procedures, this is a fundamental question about what our police should be for. Lord Stevens says it’s time to accept that police “are not simply crime fighters”, but they should also have a “social mission” that should be enshrined in law which would incorporate improving safety and well-being within communities. We’ve come a long way since the days of the Sweeney catchphrase “get your trousers on – you’re nicked”, but do we want our police to take on the mantle of social workers as well as crime fighters? Is this mission creep by the police, or an abdication of our own responsibility? By widening the scope of what we expect our police to police are we in danger of turning them from law enforcers, in to enforcers of social norms? And that this will lead to a subjective understanding of what society regards as right and wrong and blur the moral line between what is and isn’t a crime?