Human Rights, Those Who Are Governed, and the Legitimacy of Law Enforcement 

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life. They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted if a person breaks the law, or in the interests of national security. These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence, and they are defined and protected by law. 

Law enforcement agencies are such whose mission is to make sure people abide by the rules and regulation that guide the society. There are basically three types of law enforcement agencies, local, state, and federal. For local, we have examples like the vigilante groupsschools and university police, hospital policeetc. State we have the traffic law enforcement agencies/ highway patrol such as Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Corps (TRACE) in Ogun State, etc. For federal, there are Nigeria Police ForceNigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) among others. It is doubtful that citizens have been served (maximally) by law enforcements and that these agencies meet up to what is demanded of them, which is why this article takes a look at how legitimate law enforcement operate and how they can and should protect the rights of citizens. 

Police and Society 

The police, in no doubt is the largest and the most recognized law enforcement agency worldwide. It is a body of officers representing the civil authority of government. Police typically are responsible for maintaining public order and safety, enforcing the law, and preventing, detecting, and investigating criminal activities. These functions are known as policing. Police are often also entrusted with various licensing and regulatory activities. According to Article 1 of the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement OfficialsLaw enforcement officials shall at all times fulfil the duty imposed upon them by law, by serving the community and protecting all persons against illegal acts, consistent with the high degree of responsibility required by their profession.” This means that police officers and law enforcements have an obligation to at all times respect and protect the law AND protect the rights of individual personsThere is a remarkable historical, geographic, and organizational diversity in the activities of people who are, or have been, defined as police. Police work has developed considerably from what it was centuries ago. As populations grew and informal institutions of socialization and social control such as the family, schools, and the church decreased in effectiveness, police became increasingly necessary. However, no uniform worldwide system of policing ever emerged. 

Numerous factors help to explain the diversity of police activities and systems. The types of crime typically committed in a society and the methods used by criminals play a great part in determining a police force’s activities. For instance, if criminals use firearms, the police are likely to be armed, or if criminals use computers to commit crimes, the police may establish a special unit dedicated to investigating cybercrimes. History also helps to explain this diversity; for instance, former colonies tend to keep the policing system established by their colonizers. Population plays an important role as well; policing rural areas and villages vastly differs from policing large cities.  

 

Policing small communities 

Most people willingly obey most laws, whether a police officer is present or not. They comply with the laws because they consider them fair and because they believe that in the long run it is in their interest to observe them. In small communities in which most citizens know each other, people who live up to the community’s shared ideals are rewarded with the esteem of their fellow citizens. If they break the law or fall short of other people’s expectations, their lives often become more difficult because they are shamed, shunned, or ostracized by the rest of the community and are less likely to receive assistance in times of trouble. In all societies this system of informal rewards and punishments is the most potent aid to law enforcement, but it is strongest in small communities. The forces that order life in a small community thus make the task of the police much easier. Police action is needed only when such informal controls have proved insufficient. This is why rural and sparsely populated areas are often policed by a single centralized and often militarized police force, even in countries that have a decentralized police system. A single police organization operating under a unified command is more cost effective and more operationally efficient than a bevy of independent small town police forces. Since the territory to cover may be very large and characterized by difficult terrain, police in such regions must have the long range mobility and adaptability that are characteristic of military forces.  

Policing large societies 

In larger and more complex societies, informal institutions of social control are generally weaker, and, as a result, formal institutions are generally stronger. The relative weakness of informal controls is attributable to a number of factors. In large societies people often deal with strangers whom they will never meet again, and in such circumstances there may be fewer informal rewards for honesty or fewer informal penalties for dishonesty. Such communities tend also to be more technologically advanced, which leads to the adoption of new laws, such as those regulating the licensing and operation of automobiles and those concerned with commerce conducted on the Internet. Because some of these new laws may not have the same moral significance as older laws criminalizing violence, theft, or fraud, people may feel less of an obligation to obey them. Moreover, when new laws are created, crime increases almost necessarily. There is thus a danger that people who are convicted of having violated a new law may feel aggrieved and in the future be less willing to cooperate with the police or to obey the law when they are not being observed.  

Finally, as societies grow, it becomes more difficult for people to place the public interest ahead of their private interests in circumstances where the two may conflict. An employer who catches an employee committing an offense within the workplace, for example, may choose not to notify the police because he fears that the firm’s production, profit, or prestige would suffer if the offense was publicly exposed. All in all, the police, and also all law enforcement agencies, being a very important part of the law enforcement has special responsibility to ensure that laws are not violated by individual or groups, and that individuals’ rights are protected, and ensure these legally. 

 

Additional Sources 

https://www.nelft.nhs.uk/human-rights-act/#:~:text=Human%20rights%20are%20the%20basic,a%20person%20breaks%20the%20law 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/police  

This article was written by Lola Olajide

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