2.8.5 An Illustration of Subsidiarity: Law Enforcement

This illustration of subsidiarity uses the example of law enforcement to show how complicated it can be to implement it in practice

The concept of subsidiarity can be illustrated by this hypothetical example of how law enforcement might be arranged:

●  Budgets might be set politically at different levels: local, county, national and international (by contributions to Interpol).  At each level, the budgets for policing would compete against other public spending priorities within a total that would be constrained by people’s willingness to pay tax.

●  The management of policing might be organised according to type of crime: for example patrols and low-level crime might be treated as a local issue, traffic as a regional issue and serious crime at national level.  Counter-terrorism has an international component.

●  Political policy for policing, such as performance targets, behavioural guidelines and strategies for dealing with high-profile issues, might be set predominantly at national level.

●  A national ombudsman might be provided to deal with people’s complaints about the police.

●  Defining how to work with other agencies – including fire services, social services, ambulance services and residents’ associations – might be a local matter.

●  Where the police are unable to provide protection, supplementary forces such as private security guards or vigilantes might emerge to fill the gaps.  If these have no legal status, they would be classified in this book as Self-Protection.

The above subsidiarity of service delivery reflects a parallel subsidiarity of ‘customers’ for policing, who are seeking protection:

●  Individuals seek protection from each other.

●  Communities (which might not be co-located geographically) seek protection from interference.  Ethnic groups, interest groups and businesses are all examples of communities.

●  Countries want help in combating international crime and terrorism, and in repatriating fugitives from justice.

This illustration of subsidiarity, in just one of the powers in the Legal Dimension, shows how many power relationships must be defined, or at least understood.  It also hints at the scope for variability in the application of governance.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/285.htm.