5.2.5 Law Enforcement

Laws have to be enforceable if they are to be able to protect people.  Enforcement functions include the keeping of order, crime prevention, crime detection, arrest and preparing prosecutions.

The behaviour of law-enforcement agencies is important, as they are the only point of contact with the law for most people.  In a pluralist society police have to do their job with sensitivity and comply with human rights, otherwise the law can be seen as a tool of oppression.  The Department of Justice Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, for example, revealed that the police in this Missouri town (population 12,000) were oppressive:

“City officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for Ferguson’s law enforcement activity” (section 3);

“Ferguson law enforcement practices violate the law and undermine community trust, especially among African Americans” (section 4);

“Between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2014, the City of Ferguson issued approximately 90,000 citations and summonses for municipal violations” (section 2).

Ferguson shot to prominence when there were riots in protest against police behaviour, as described in a Guardian interview: DeRay Mckesson on Black Lives Matter: ‘It changed the country’.

The legitimacy of law-enforcement and national security forces depends partly upon them being seen to be representative of the population at large in terms of ethnicity.  The Crux newspaper, for example, commented on the importance of this issue in connection with the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’: Catholics underrepresented in N. Ireland police, quotas being considered:

“The old Royal Ulster Constabulary was only 8 percent Catholic and so had an unselfconsciously Protestant ‘ethos’, from which most Catholics felt estranged”.

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.

Enforcement agencies constantly need to update their techniques as new types of crime and new types of criminal emerge.  Policing can develop in different ways, as described below:

  • Terrorism poses new law-enforcement challenges (
  • Policing has become politicised (
  • A softer approach to policing might be preferable (



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This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/525.htm