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Democratic Policing – Human Rights and Ethics

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The protection and preservation of life must be the highest priority of the police. Now this may sound like the obvious, and it is to those police in democratic societies that practice democratic policing. However, it is not obvious to many police from many different countries. They prioritize things like maintaining order or protecting the government far above that of preservation of life. That is why you have police from countries that routinely indiscriminately fire guns into crowds and cause widespread death and injury. Iran is one of the obvious recent examples but this has also recently happened in India, Nepal, Kenya, and Zimbabwe to name a few. The populace rarely will put up with this for long before uprisings or even insurgencies appear.

Police should always work with integrity and professionalism. This simply means that the police should do the right thing in an acceptable and transparent manner even if they “know” no one is watching. If they continue to operate this way they should have no problems.

It should be clear what the police should (can) and should not (cannot) do. Clear cut policies and guidelines, particularly concerning use of force and when you can and cannot search are so important in policing. See the “Maintaining the Rule of Law” section for a further description of this topic.

All police at times can temporarily detain citizens. It should be noted that all police have the authority to temporarily detain citizens. In most counties some type of reasonable suspicion is needed to temporary detention of movement. However, this may simply be a suspicious person in a suspicious place under suspicious circumstances. Once again – the policies and rules and laws should be clear to the police and citizens when this can take place.

On occasions police can limit other rights of citizens; such as traffic movement where people can and cannot go. Often there are times when police make need to cordon areas off where the public cannot go, but normally they can go. This can be because of natural disasters, traffic accidents or jams, criminal activity in the area, perhaps for security of special events or even public events like rallies or sporting events. Once again – the policies and rules should be clear when they can and cannot do this.

Police have authority to use deadly force in specific circumstances. Police have the authority to use deadly force in certain circumstances. As a matter of fact, police are expected to use deadly force in some situations. Each country has its own definition of deadly or lethal force. Usually it is considered deadly force when the force used can cause loss of life or limb to another. Police are often expected to used deadly force to protect the lives of innocent civilians. The most common justification is when a police officer feels that his or her own life, or the life of another is threatened. There are other possible justifications, but once again this should be clear in the law of the land and the policies of the police department.

Police must perform their duties within accepted standards of human rights and democratically acceptable civil rights. Basically we are talking about no unreasonable detentions whether it be in deplorable conditions or for an unreasonable length of time. Also, detainees must be treated with decency and humanely and not be tortured or mistreated. Detainees that are in need of medical attention should receive medical attention.

Without working within human rights and ethics, the police may not have any support from the citizens they serve. It is rare when a police force can maintain order whenever the citizens give them no support.

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