Moral Issues in Police Work
The policeman was beset by the same profound questions of moral philosophy as any other member of mankind.– William K. Muir, Police: Streetcorner Politicians, 1977
, published in 1985, opens with this observation:
The police are among the most powerful agents of the state. They can disrupt the daily routines of citizens more than any other public official by deciding who shall be stopped, who shall be detained, who shall be arrested, and who shall go free. Not even the President of the United States has their immediate and direct power over life and death. Yet despite their awesome capacities, until recently they have been studied little by social scientists or philosophers.(Elliston & Feldberg, 1985, p. 1)
There has since been much progress, at least where social science is concerned. There have been many systematic studies of police behavior and its effects. Criminal justice and criminology have grown into popular, although often vocational, fields of inquiry. Legal scholarship on the intersection between policing and the American justice system thrives. The ethics of policing has also seen considerable growth as a result of fruitful research by John Kleinig, Seamus Miller, and John Blackler, among others. John Kleinig’s (1996) work consists of sustained and nuanced thought about issues such as discretion, deception, coercion, and the institutional culture of policing’s ethical challenges. Seamus Miller (2016) takes up the police use of deadly force at length, and along with former police officer John Blackler (2017) has examined the role of the police and its practical implications as an exercise in applied philosophy. At present, the cutting edge of the philosophical tradition is represented by Luke Hunt’s 2018 book, The Retrieval of Liberalism in Policing
. It looks at policing through the lenses of dignity and a liberal conception of personhood, seeking to ground the issues that concern Kleinig and Miller in the concepts of political philosophy. Hunt offered his work in response to what he perceives as a receding of liberalism in policing, and perhaps society at large, over the last several decades (2018, pp. 1–2).