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Many communities need some sort of police presence. It seems kind of anti-social to impose force from "above", seemingly external to the community, but a PoliceForce provides a BalancingForce to a community. It balances the explosive power of disrespect for fellow citizens' rights and freedoms.

However, since a PoliceForce is typically sanctioned more power than the average citizen, the PoliceForce itself requires a BalancingForce to keep it in line.

Some online communities are SelfPolicing, like Wikis (in theory). Others use a DistributedOligarchy?, like FidoNet. Others like SlashDot use RandomPeerPrivilege.

PoliceForces corrupt easily too. And they are typically at the centre of all important power struggles in any community. -- SunirShah


The role of the police is ideally very limited. They do not create new laws, they do not determine guilt, they do not pass sentence, they are not the executioners. What extra powers would an online police actually need, especially in the context of a Wiki which already gives enormous power to everyone?

How does an online police force differ from VigilanteJustice?

Does a private, or corporate owned, police force still count as a police force? The word "police" has lots of overtones that I'm not sure are appropropriate.

Wiki is SelfPolicing. FidoNet is/was not. --ss

Police Abuses: [Extracted from above for further discussion.]

Examples of real policing: (a) patrols by religious police... with their canes! (b) "How many times have I told you to keep out of the town center? Piece of shit!" (said by white officer to black 'suspect').

I'm not familiar with the first example of religious police patrolling with canes. Were they recognized by a larger community as fulfilling a "police" role? Certainly some groups will claim police powers without proper authority.

The second example is still far too common. I have known people who have been stopped several times for the crime of "Driving While Black". Various forms of stereotypical profiling can get ridiculous at times. (For instance, driving a new car could get you profiled as a criminal, but driving an old car might be suspicious because you're obviously trying to avoid suspicion.)

However, a formal PoliceForce has some advantages over informal methods. Police are required to have formal training, are expected to follow certain procedures, and can be dismissed if they abuse their authority. Sometimes the police make errors, but at least it is possible to correct many of the problems in a fair and open manner. For instance, a recent investigation of the New Jersey (USA) State police force found that they were using/abusing "racial profiling" techniques extensively and making many unwarranted searches. I expect there will be some changes made, and more frequent investigations to ensure that the profiling doesn't continue. This reform is possible because of the rules and regulations a formal police force must abide by.

A key element of a legitimate PoliceForce is that they are the ones who immediately enforce the law. People are not (generally) allowed to "take the law into their own hands" and punish people who break the law, even if the infraction is obvious. The exceptions tend to be for self-defense, and sometimes defense of property. Reliable local police are a key element of the "rule of law", along with a strong (preferably independent) judiciary and a responsible legislature.

In the example of evicting someone from the town center, a non-police individual could tell someone to leave, possibly even using the unpleasant words above (which might be legal as long as they aren't considered threatening), but only a police officer would be allowed to physically restrain or forcibly evict the person. (Sometimes on private property a non-police "security" force will be allowed to evict or restrain people.) This is a huge advantage over the age-old "community" solution of rounding up a few "good old boys" and "teaching a lesson" to the outsiders.

Most online communities place the entire burden of policing, judging, and punishing (eviction) completely on their administrator(s). These administrators may choose others to help, but the process is rarely open or responsible to the larger community. Wikis invite a community-policing approach, but I have seen problems (and possibly abuses) emerge from this approach. People who don't "fit in" can get quite a bit of public and private pressure to fit or leave the community. (Consider Wiki:IsChristianityOnTopic. One reason the topic was so controversial was that no clear statements were made by the only commonly-accepted authority in that matter. Some people claimed authority, but others disputed their authority.)

I am strongly in favor of limited and responsible "police" power for online communities. Often "self/community policing" seems to presume that all members of the community will be as mature and capable as the founders, ignoring hard issues of conflict and even abuse of power. Regardless of who should do the policing, however, explicit guidelines seem essential to me, including some thought of how to deal with those who break them or disagree. Perhaps we could discuss those guidelines, before dealing with who should implement them? -- CliffordAdams (who should get back to writing wiki code to support his ideas)

The website [Strange Justice] contains examples from around the world of policing and judicial systems going terribly wrong in particular cases. It includes many cases of amazing official incompetence.

Off-duty Police Officers.

It's important to remember that police officers are entrusted with the same power whether they are on the job or not. That is, they are given access to the privileges used to keep the peace whether they are in the role of police or civilians at the time. Thus, when those police officers attempt to interact with civilian society as civilians, they are given more privileges than normal citizens. For instance, it is fairly common for police officers to be given free meals at restaurants or free drinks at bars in their off-duty time. Similarly, they have the ability to abuse their position to gain access to information they wouldn't normally have access to as civilians, such as records on acquaintances or partners. In the worst case, they can use their physical force for their own personal reasons. In this [story], the police officer allegedly used his weapon to murder his ex-girlfriend. Whether or not he is guilty, the story illustrates how police officers are "more equal" than civilians in their off time. (Note that handguns are illegal in Canada, so civilians wouldn't normally have access to a revolver.)

You don't need a cop for every citizen if the majority of citizens can act as cops if need be.

Maybe, but history has shown that is an unstable proposition. VigilanteJustice, lynch mobs, etc. show why it's possibly unwise to let citizens "take the law into their own hands." It depends on the law being enforced. Some laws depend on citizen action to enforce (many eyes principle). Some laws are too emotional for citizens to enforce, so some institution with rigorous rules, regulations, procedures, and self-investigation may be necessary, particularly when you cannot count on a BenevolentDictator to provide the necessary Davidic leadership.



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