Category: Justice
Police Service’s Mandate in a Democratic Society

A police service is a necessary attribute of any democratic society, where such fundamental legal principals as the rule of law are guaranteed. The rule of law itself must constitute the basis of state power and reflect the philosophy of its existence and activities, especially with regard to law-enforcing bodies. Being, among other aspects, a tool for execution of the state monopoly on legitimate use of force, police service is constantly in the center of concerns of the government, lawyers, philosophers, politicians, and other actors of civil society. An outlook on connections and correlations between different major functions of police service are presented in this paper in order to research whether it is mandated to perform the functions of social service, a law-enforcement body, a guarantee of public safety, or all of the above, in a modern democratic society.

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Police service in democratic societies is now entering a completely new era, which brings brand new challenges to both governments as the whole and low-enforcement bodies in particular. This means that new progressive approaches to policing must be developed and implemented. It is worth mentioning that, since such problem as terrorism emerged and escalated, a great number of changes have been implemented by police departments of various European states, the US, Canada, etc. However, many more current challenges call for new ideas. Gun violence, drug abuse, racial issues, refugee crisis, financial inequality, and terrorism are among the problems that put the very role of law-enforcement bodies into question. Therefore, the main question to examine here is the correlation between such functions of police as law-enforcement, providing social service, and ensuring community safety. This paper aims to prove that being empowered by the authority of law-enforcement entities and existing as a social service in its essence, the main purpose and public mandate of the police is to provide safety for communities.

The Mandate to Provide Community Safety

The concept of any law enforcement body in virtually any state is usually explained through the idea of state monopoly on violence. As suggested by Acemoglu, Robinson and Santos (2013), though state capacity is multifaceted, it inevitably relies on the idea of state as a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Therefore, one can conclude that the very existence of armed forces and police services is a result of government establishing its monopoly. What is more, both fulfill their responsibilities by maintaining and securing this monopoly and punishing those who attempts to violate it.

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However, many believe that the opposite approach to the purpose of existence of police services needs to be considered too. The state power and the government with all its bodies and agencies are designed not as a legitimate incarnation of violence, but as an alternative to violence. This idea can be viewed as a reflection on the theory of social contract (political contract), which states that people collectively agree to surrender a part of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler in exchange for protection of their rights. According to Gourevitch’s interpretation (1997) of this idea of Rousseau, the most distinctive feature of the social contract and, more generally, of the social state, as Rousseau conceived it, is the moral and psychological change each person undergoes as they come to understand themselves as members of their political community. This, again, confirms that a social democratic state is a system in which government constitutes an alternative or a substitute to arbitrary violence.

Therefore, since government seeks to prevent non-legitimate violence by establishing law enforcement bodies of different kinds, these bodies are obliged or mandated to protect people and provide safety for them, acting mostly within such particular communities as districts, boroughs, municipalities, cities, provinces, and so on. So, police service’s mandate and its main purpose is the provision of community safety, which explains the fundamental nature of the term “mandate”.

According to the definition provided in the Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary (2004), this term can stand for an authoritative command; a formal order from a superior court or official to an inferior one; and an authorization to act given to a representative. It is worth mentioning that police service’s mandate has nothing to do with entitlement, because police’s responsibilities cannot be considered as a kind of privilege or right. This kind of authorization means that the execution of police’s functions is mandatory and is not a subject of either arbitrary interpretations or subjective considerations by policemen or other officials who may have an influence on police.

When it comes to what it means to be mandated to provide the safety to a community of people, it would be advantageous to examine it through the prism of Canadian Policing Perspective, because, as has been suggested by Reiner (2010), modern democratic states, such as Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, have already “reached a watershed in the evolution of their systems of crime control and law enforcement”. Geographical asymmetry and overwhelming complexity are two typical characteristics of the Canadian police system. Policing can be executed by either municipal and provincial police services or the RCMP, which stands for Royal Canadian Mounted Police, depending on a specific region with regards to whether it is an urban or rural area, a maritime area or, say, one of the First Nations communities. Despite this complexity, it is clear that the majority of Canadians live in regions served by municipal police services.

The legislation gives legal provisions regulating the exact functions and responsibilities of police in Canada. Those include such obvious tasks as the preservation of peace; enforcement of the Criminal Code and other laws in the jurisdiction, such as federal laws, provincial regulations, or municipal bylaws; maintaining public peace; prevention of crime; execution of various warrants; apprehension of criminals; and provision of assistance to victims (Council for Canadian Academies, 2014). It is also evident and has been pointed out by the Canadian Police Association that while being called on to serve as “diverse as substance abuse counselors, mental health workers, marriage counselors, and youth intervention officers”, policemen are still obligated to stay devoted to their fundamental responsibility of preserving community safety (Council for Canadian Academies, 2014).

It is important that the Canadian Police Association, which is, according to its web-site, “the national voice for 60,000 police personnel across Canada”, shares the vision that the provision of community safety is not just one of several tasks of the police service, but is a fundamental responsibility and the purpose of its existence. It proves that being formed as a law enforcement body and being a social service in essence are important yet attributive features of the police’s mandate to keep people and communities safe.

For particular municipal and provincial police services and officers of the RCMP, working directly with communities of people means, first of all, relying on mutual community cooperation, building connections with its members, showing trust and respect, building a consistent and open line of communication with them, and doing one’s best to make them feel protected by law. Being familiar with local political, economic, social, and cultural affairs can sometimes gain an outstanding significance when dealing with aboriginal communities which exist in Canada. Interestingly, Ben-Porat (2008) suggests diversifying the methods of working within these communities, such as using these practices as local forums for mediation. Reasonable and wise police-community relations strategies are aimed on building trust towards a community-oriented government in modern democratic states. This is necessary to make police service more efficient when dealing with its fundamental challenge, the preservation of peace and safety within communities.

Existing in the Form of Law Enforcement Body

The term “law enforcing body” (or “law enforcing agency”) refers to the government agency responsible for the enforcement of laws. Hence, this paragraph will be dedicated to explaining why existing in the form of a law enforcing agency is by no means neither a purpose nor the mandate of police, but only a complex set of tools which makes it possible for police officers to provide community safety.

Both Canadian and international experiences allow putting an equal sign between terms “law enforcement agency” and “police”, because even though the word “police” does not always emerge in the names of those bodies (though it emerges often), their functions still resemble those of police. For example, there are sheriff’s offices in various states, including Canada and the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US is also a law enforcement body in its essence. However, it would not be fair to dismiss the fact that within many legal systems and according to various opinions, such entities as penitentiaries, courts, and sometimes even fiscal agencies are also encompassed by the umbrella term “law-enforcement bodies”. Additionally, the term may include a wide range of governmental entities which work with less serious offenses, because law enforcement does not necessarily mean an application of criminal legal norms only.

It is convenient to accept the position suggested by Weisburd and Eck (2004), who state that “enforcing the law is a central element of the standard model of policing, suggesting that the main tools available to the police, or legitimate for their use, are found in their law enforcement powers”. This statement proves the thesis of this paper, because those responsibilities in police’s disposal really comprise an instrument for police service’s activity. To be more specific, to threaten arrest, to impose punishment, or to use force are in the core of enforcing the legal provisions by police officers. These actions are usually performed in order to prevent, control, or stop criminal behavior.

When it comes to legal acts that are enforced by police officers, the variety of laws is wide and diverse. Depending on a specific legal system, they may include various international treaties, such as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969), International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999), International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005), and so on. Constitutions and/or other constitutional acts usually lie in the basis of the law enforcing process. The remaining legal acts, including codified ones, such as criminal codes and penal codes, should comply with constitutional norms of necessity. This variety of legal acts is the legal basis of police officers’ activity and an element of the law enforcement system. Without these legal norms there would not be any chance for police to protect individuals, property, and public safety under the principle of the rule of law; there would be neither legal accountability nor discipline in completely uncontrolled and arbitrary actions of armed groups of people.

In such democratic societies as Canada, the US, and others, law enforcement performed by police services may include such responsibilities as executing certain domestic counter-espionage and anti-terrorism duties (typically done by federal or other central bodies), maintaining authority and jurisdiction for all criminal offenses, the policing itself (maintaining a social order by doing public incident mediation, pre-empting anti social behavior, dangerous event public logistics, search and rescue, crowd control), victim identification, education and awareness campaigns fighting for human rights, anti-discrimination provisions, public safety, ethical issues, gun safety, victim prevention and avoidance, police accountability, general law compliance, etc. The largest part and perhaps the most prominent side of police services’ professional activity is the investigation process, which consists of many stages and activities and engages a lot of officials and other individuals.

That being said, existing in the form of a law enforcement agency provides police with the necessary tools for providing and maintaining public safety. These include having official responsibilities and powers, having an authoritative and trustworthy image among people, acting according to the legislation, and being legally and morally accountable.

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Being a Social Service in Essence

A correlation between the perceptions of police as a social service and a social force raise the question of the fundamental nature of law enforcement. As the entire law enforcement system in democratic governments is built upon an idea of the rule of law and democracy, it is safe to state that policing is a process that is necessary to make the law serve people’s needs. Therefore, a community-oriented approach must lie in the basis of policing, as police services are perhaps the most community-sensitive element of the law enforcement system.

Being a social service in nature, police is created to assist people in different communities. Again, while performing their responsibilities, police officials sometimes act as social workers, psychologists, marriage counselors, etc. They tend to be involved in solving conflicts of various kinds, which sometimes means finding a special approach to communication with people of any education level, gender, occupation, language, ethnicity, background, health condition, ability, and other characteristics. A legal order exists for everybody, and every person can potentially break a law.

The communicational skills mentioned above are advantageous to any professional who provides police services, especially when it comes to contacting individuals with mental disorders, cases of child abuse or domestic violence, juvenile offenders, drug abusers, etc. Such sensitive areas require unique, well-contemplated approaches, which may require the assistance of professional advisors. According to Patterson (2004), the United States police departments usually hire one or several professionals trained to perform social services. While acting as comparative outsiders, these police social workers are accountable to police officers from whom they receive referrals.

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They are obliged to "provide direct services such as crisis counseling and mediation to individuals and families experiencing social problems such as mental illness, alcohol and substance use and abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse", as well as "train police officers in stress management, mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse" (Patterson, 2004). Moreover, the author suggests that they should also work with police officers’ families. Sometimes, special crisis teams are formed based on collaboration between several social workers and police officers. This measure lets police always be on alert and react quickly and efficiently when it comes to the most socially sensitive issues within given communities.

However, apart from hiring outside professionals to assist police officers in community policing, different social services are usually provided by police officers themselves. This may include a wide variety of tasks, including assisting pedestrians with finding locations in urban areas, performing the first medical aid for the injured, making urban areas more comfortable and safe by supervising parking lots, etc. It goes without saying that the fundamental social service performed by police is preventing and fighting crime, which is, once again, the main tool for providing community safety. Therefore, one should mention that providing social services for a community is not just an example of a police’s task. Instead, this is something that is done on a constant basis. Whenever a police officer polices some area or investigates a crime, they are engaged in social services.

To conclude, having briefly examined these three aspects of police’s existence and activity, one can claim that police is a truly multidimensional social, governmental, and legal institute, the functions which originate from a wide set of philosophical ideas about state, government, human rights, civil rights, freedom, civil society, violence, crime, punishment, etc. Even though its functions have gone through a lot of changes during the history of the institution, the most important goal of its existence is keeping individuals, society, and social order safe and secure. However, it is only possible if this activity is supported by certain official powers and performed by providing social services. Therefore, in democratic societies, the police mandate is to provide the safety of communities by performing social services and using official powers of law enforcement bodies.

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