Requiem for the Police
Because it is a prerequisite for proper law enforcement that the police reflect on their own morals and can defend their actions in the light of human rights, the Police University College teaches professional ethics. However, this is of little help when the police department is permeated by a culture that opposes our constitutional heritage.
Modern society puts significant demand on law enforcement. Daily, police officers face challenges that must be solved in a professional manner and for the department to be able to safeguard the citizens’ catalogue of rights, it is important that employees reflect on the quality of the police services. At the very least, some basic knowledge of social contract thinking and human rights must be in place for the police to have a moral platform. That is why professionals at the Police University College work towards this end but, despite good intentions, the police force remains afflicted by unduly oppressive ideas.
The question that creates so much difficulty for the police is whether the persecution of drug offenders is compatible with principles such as equality, self-determination, proportionality and presumption of liberty. These principles define our obligations under international law, and when it comes to drug legislation, it comes up short as measured against these lights of human rights.
Hence, the Norwegian Royal Commission reminds us that international obligations dictate a decriminalisation of drugs. How much further the Norwegian society should distance itself from the prohibition to be on constitutional grounds is disputed, but the report’s discussions go a long way to invalidate basic premises. We already know that the distinction between legal and illegal substances is irrational, and to the extent that less intrusive methods are better suited, there will be a human rights violation.
This ethical dimension goes to the very core of the police’s work. Nonetheless, police officers have not shown any interest. Instead, the Police Directorate has abandoned all responsibilities for the persecuted groups, and the police’s own journal, Politiforum, refuses to address the issue. It is noteworthy that this arena for professional debate will publish articles in support of mass persecution while ignoring principled objections. Such leadership not only creates a brain-dead, closed mental landscape defined by totalitarian premises, but also fuels the moral panic that characterises politics.
This problem is well documented by the Royal Commission, and in continuing the status quo, the police neglect their social responsibility.
After all, there is a connection between moral panic and human rights violations. To the extent that panic defines politics, there will be a problem with human rights, and it will be up to a constitutional tribunal or a truth and reconciliation commission to rebuild the rule of law. Ideally, the police should be in the vanguard for this since it is the only way to secure the rule of law. If the integrity of the state and the police is to be preserved, nothing is more important than to accept the implications of principled reasoning, but the police remain too heavily invested in a drug-free society for human rights considerations to matter.
The dark night of the police
Instead, after 60 years in the prohibition business, our fellow police officers take for granted that they can do as they please with the drug offenders. An atmosphere has been established where officials think in completely different terms about drugs such as alcohol and cannabis, where they discriminate and demonise those who use illegal drugs and where they insist on the use of force regardless of evidence.
As giving up the power to persecute comes close to an admission of guilt, it is complicated to reconsider. Politicians have tasked the police to fight the drug war, and if punishment is ill-advised, what has the police been doing in these years? Was it wrong to invade the privacy of others? Was it fine to harass drug users? Was it reasonable to mess with their children and life prospects? Should the police have thought about this before and maybe acted differently?
No wonder decriminalisation is controversial and that thinking about a regulated market remains taboo. Discussing the bigger picture means that blaming drug dealers for the problems of the world is no longer feasible and that the law of supply and demand, which the proponents of the drug law have distorted into a victim and aggressor context, becomes obvious. Behind this trick, we find the scapegoat mechanism which connects the war on drugs to historical misadventures, making the efforts of the police problematic.
Thus, the ethical aspects of police work are intimately involved in the drug debate. Reassessing the premises of drug prohibition sheds light on long-neglected variables, and it is psychologically understandable that the police act as they do.
Still, international obligations dictate not only that society abandons the prohibition of drugs but also that the police look inside their own hearts and minds. To the extent that less intrusive means are better suited to deal with the problem, the persecution of drug offenders is incompatible with human rights, and it is the state’s responsibility to provide an effective remedy.
While this is uncontroversial, the police have closed their eyes to their social responsibility for over 10 years. The Police Directorate refuses to answer questions about human rights considerations, the Prosecuting Authority does not recognise basic obligations, and the department’s professional journal protects outdated dogmas. By denying access to principled thinking, the organisation of the police perpetuates myths and the police officer loses the only compass that can bring clarity.
This is the dance of death that now consumes the Norwegian police. It is about maintaining huge blinders and refusing to engage in principled reflection. It is about discounting that the drug war has been a costly mistake, not least as measured in human suffering, while glorifying violence, even at the expense of the state authority.
After all, if the law cannot be defended, neither can the business of the police. Thus, we are dealing with a denial of responsibility that is outright criminal and until a principled debate takes place, a diseased culture will continue to spread. This culture does not only undermine the rule of law. It must stifle all leanings towards integrity in order to survive, and as a result, the police force becomes an enemy of people rather than their protector.
This is where we are at. We are witnessing the wanton destruction of rights on an everyday basis, and we can say goodbye to the profession of the police until integrity is reinforced, a principled foundation ensured, and the rule of law restored.
(Published on 20 April 2020 in Vårt Land)