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A recent post on the Freakonomics blog entitled “How Cops Really Want to Police” features several interviews with retired police officers ruminating on their personal experiences with vigilantism within their own ranks (in a positive light, nonetheless!). Initially, I was frightened by the cry for a fully centralized, literal “police state” where cops would have full reign to execute their own judgments on criminals on the spot. However, I quickly began, through a perusal of the anecdotes given by the interviewees, to understand their plight and agree with their sentiments. Here is a blurb for information’s sake:

“You want to really lower crime?” Carl began. “Let cops enforce the rules. The whole way. You ask any cop on the street and he’ll tell you that he would love to dish out the punishment, on the spot.”

“You want to be the cop and the jury?” I asked, incredulously.

You laugh, but the good cops never let problems get to judges. They are judge on-site, I like to say. And, I don’t mean just for stupid things like kids shoplifting — you might get the kid by the neck, make him to apologize and work for the store owner for free. I mean for serious things.

In Chicago, back in the 1980’s, we had all these problems with drug dealers selling their dope on the street. We used to catch them and bring them in front of the older folks. We used to take their drug money and give it to all the neighbors on the block! They loved it, and the f–ing gangbangers hated it, of course. But, the people on the block always said to us, “We know you can’t get these guys off the streets, so keep doing what you are doing.”

The idea expressed here is that of exception. As long as we keep the rules the way they currently are (i.e. the courts are the sole site of justice pronounced and executed), then these sorts of acts (e.g. vigilantism) will never be formally approved. Therefore, only through the category of exception can they be utilized. This is the only way to keep the more frightening side-effects of these actions from occurring (random abuses of power, police gangs, etc.). It is akin to the notion of strict domestic pacifism. No pacifist, no matter how strict, will actually sit back and watch a beloved family member raped or killed. However, by claiming the title of pacifist (or some other like moniker), we leave this option strictly in the realm of exception, that which cannot be subsumed under theorization, ethical or otherwise. Any thoughts?

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