5.2.5 Law Enforcement

Law enforcement functions include the keeping of order, crime prevention, crime detection, arrest, and preparing prosecutions.  

Laws must be enforceable if they are to be able to protect people.  They need adequate resources:

●  The resources and capabilities of the enforcement agencies, including the police and prosecution services, can become a constraint in the formulation of new laws – a problem that is exacerbated by the pace of change in society and technology.

●  The cost of policing can be reduced if the public takes more responsibility for protecting itself, which is the subject of a later chapter (7.2.3) – but the existence of alternative forces reduces people’s reliance upon, and undermines the authority of, a country’s national police force.

The performance of law-enforcement agencies is important, as they are the only point of contact with the law for most people.  Policing can become a high-profile matter of public concern for two main reasons, which pull in opposite directions to some extent:

●  A perception that levels of crime are too high can lead to public pressure for more effective policing. Politicians feel obliged to respond with measures to toughen law enforcement, as reported in November 2023 for example:

“Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has put law and order at the centre of the King’s Speech as he sets out his priorities ahead of the next general election.

Tougher sentences for the most serious criminals and measures to force offenders to appear in the dock are among those to feature in the government’s plans for the year.”

●  In a pluralist society police should do their job with sensitivity and comply with human rights, otherwise the law can be seen as a tool of oppression.  When the police use excessive force, there is public pressure for reform.

Law enforcement agencies constantly need to update their techniques as new types of crime and new types of criminal emerge.  There are several areas of concern about their methods, as explored in the following sub-sections:

●  The policing of terrorism is a politically sensitive issue ( There is an increasing role for gathering intelligence, which needs to be shared with other countries, but there is public concern about intrusion on personal privacy.

●  Policing must conform to legislation, which has become politicised ( Politicians suggest eye-catching measures which are ineffective in practice.

●  There have been public demands for fairer policing (, including the Black Lives Matter movement. Police have been accused of being overzealous, discriminatory, and of using excessive force.



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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/edition04/525a.htm.