Historically, a vigilante is a member of the vigilance committee. The vigilance committee is a volunteer citizen PoliceForce. These organizations have long been lost in modern developed societies, being supplanted by a professional police force. Thus, in these societies, a vigilante is an individual who has "taken the law into his own hands" by regulating society outside the legally sanctioned professional justice system (i.e. not through the official police). Typically this happens when individuals who live in a society with an official PoliceForce decide that the police are not doing their job. This puts the police in the awkward position of having to suppress the citizenry as well as the criminals.
Certainly, if the community is SelfPolicing, with no explicit PoliceForce, then the actions by individuals to perform police action may be considered HardSecurity SelfPolicing.
A vigilante often becomes a LightningRod. The person taking on the role of defending the community interests will be forced to speak in terms of the RoyalWe and then defend those assertions by him or herself. If that person is lucky, the community will back them up, but that is not a sustainable structure as the community will either not agree with that person, be apathetic towards the perceived danger the vigilante fights against, or is tired of bailing the vigilante out of conflicts. After a while, the community may grow unaccustomed to dealing with their own problems. That is, they cease to become vigilant.
They may grow so unaccustomed to dealing with problems, they cease to see problems. This is especially true if the best correction to the problem is to fix it or LimitVisibility. If one person goes on a vigilante raid against bad spelling, nobody will subsequently see any misspellings, and may not realise that bad spelling is a problem. Since all conflicts involve the vigilante in some way, they may see the vigilante as the source of the conflicts. This is the trope that has J. Jonah Jameson blaming Spiderman for the crimes in New York, since Spiderman is always at the scene of the crime.
A vigilante operating unilaterally fails to benefit from SocialNormalization to hold him back from going nuts. For another trope from comics, while The Punisher had comparable values to the rest of the population, he was a nutbar who shot a lot of people, which made him more of a problem than a solution.
The leader of an online community often feels the need to resort to VigilanteJustice. She may feel she has the power to stop the conflict which is hurting her community. Although the leader has a responsibility to keep the community safe, it is a violation of FairProcess to take the full burden on herself. Rather, the leader has to lead the full community to react to its problems as TheCollective. The more this is done, the more TheCollective will grow accustomed to defending itself, the stronger it will be, and the better SoftSecurity will work. Otherwise, the sense of community degrades and HardSecurity must be used, which further degrades the community. (A community that fights together, sticks together. DefendEachOther)
Of course, community leaders frequently get picked on and pecked upon by jerks. But based on their orientation of seeing all threats to anyone in the community as threats to the community as a whole (well, aren't they? What else is a community?), or perhaps their arrogant belief their personal interests and the community's interests are equivalent (it happens), they may abuse their GodKing powers to exert some VigilanteJustice.
PowerIsCriticism, perhaps, but we LimitTemptation for criticism by a PersonalDetachment? towards power. The best way to do that is structurally detach power from oneself--that is, DevolvePower. This is not an easy task, and power may accumulate if we aren't vigilant. In that case, the leader may find himself under an AngryCloud which confuses his or her actions. Never rely on the thickness of your own skin; you may have a bad day.
If you see your leader go off on a epic battle against a would-be AntiAuthoritarian, when the sane thing would be to pull back, the AntiAuthoritarian has probably struck an exposed nerve. The leader does not have perspective, although he still has the same power to act (for a while). This creates a problem, as the leader becomes malfeasant.
The long-term solution DevolvePower. The short term solution is to do some leading yourself and pull the community out the mess it is in. Blaming the leader won't help, even if you feel betrayed on confused. Everyone is human. The trick is to mitigate the impact of AnIndividual in the face of the strength of TheCollective. That is, never let your leader fly too far away from SocialNormalization.
See Dictionary:vigilante, Dictionary:vigilance+committee.
The actions by individuals to perform police action may be considered HardSecurity SelfPolicing.
Not all PoliceForces need to use HardSecurity. Are you just confused with the police in your towns? John Hays of the NYPD was in fact famous for quelling a large riot by himself, just by talking. But nevertheless, the word "police" is too overloaded these days. The original function of the vigilance committee was to just keep an eye on things (keep vigil). Criminals tend not to act when they are watched because crime is often only lucrative when it is undetected. That's PeerReview, a SoftSecurity requirement. Suppose the police force was responsible for dealing with litterers. A vigilante may just clean up after the litterer (a SoftSecurity method). However, I admit this is ridiculous. Everyone associates vigilantes with lynch mob violence. My point was simply that PoliceForces aren't necessarily HardSecurity. -- SunirShah
Vigilance committees assume the power of law enforcement; that is, again, the authority to use deadly force when necessary. It's not a quirk of history that vigilantes have a bad name; nearly every vigilance committee has ended up killing people. VigilanteJustice appears when there is a lack of a BalancingForce.
You did raise an interesting distinction: NeighborhoodWatch? vs. PoliceForce vs. VigilanteJustice.
I chose the term VigilanteJustice carefully, since "Justice" implies the power to pass decisions on the fate of other members of the community.
I added back a line defining VigilanteJustice up top. I think there should be at least some definition of the term "vigilante justice" in addition to "vigilante" and "vigilance committee". --anon.
Police forces aren't necessarily always allowed to use deadly force. At least in the U.S., the police force began with only billy clubs and they weren't authorized to kill. It was only later as crime became more lethal that guns were added to their belt. The British cops are famous for not carrying sidearms. Their guns are locked in a police armoury until the situation demands it.
It's very wrong to assume the current American police force is typifying of all possible forms of a PoliceForce. Perhaps the name of the Pattern should be changed to something other than "PoliceForce" because many people seem to be confusing the one on the street with the general concept of a separate security contingent. An office building's security guard, for instance, has more access than the office workers in that building, although the security guard is also a worker in the building. Thus the building security team would also be a PoliceForce, even if they have very limited physical force. In fact, their main weapon is calling the state police force if necessary. -- SunirShah