Comment Rescue: Mike & The Police
> Absolute power corrupts absolutely –
> or is it more complicated than that?
It’s more complicated than that.
Social organizations of any type represent aggregated power. This is true whether you’re talking about a tribe in pre-history Europe, a community organization in the modern first world, a government, or an international corporation.
Like the man said, you rob banks because that’s where the money is. If you desire power (for whatever reason; lots of people want power for all sorts of morally justifiable reasons), you seek out positions in social organizations, because those organizations can allow you to gain more power through aggregation than you yourself currently possess.
Since the primal objectives of social organizations are usually best served when a motivated leader is providing good leadership, and since those two things are correlated with people who are willing to use aggregated power and possess the skills to apply it effectively, all social organizations have at least a subtle (if not downright celebrated) tendency to promote those who are successful in the use of power to leadership positions, where they have more power.
“(S)he’s a jerk, but (s)he gets things done and (s)he wants the job” is something that I’ve heard in all sorts of contexts. It’s a relatively cheap and easy way to make a difficult decision about putting people into positions of any sort of authority. This is a feedback cycle.
There is an embedded exception scenario: anyone who seeks power for the sake of power can very easily subsume that desire and present themselves as someone who seeks power because they are the best equipped to leverage it for the organization’s benefit… until they get enough of that power that their personal level of power-addiction is sated, and they have enough to stave off attempts to remove that power.
In the case of law enforcement officials, the entry condition is already one of enormous power. There are thousands of ways that a petty despot can get off on being a beat cop, alone. If they’re reasonably clever about it (side note: you don’t have to be terribly intelligent to be clever), you can milk that position for quite some time without getting caught. Since we generally have created a society where we believe we need a large number of law enforcement officials, we have a huge pressure to hire more bodies.
This is closely related to the problem of education and teacher competency: if you have a need for 100,000 teachers or cops, but only 40,000 people are particularly suited for those two jobs, you’re going to have 60,000 marginally-good-to-outright-bad teachers and cops. There isn’t much you can do about that dynamic, except “reduce your need for those positions” or “raise both your standards and your payscale to much higher levels so that you select both for more bodies and better trained ones”, which is extremely expensive. Outside of reducing the population you’re trying to educate or police, this is difficult to do.
Couple those last two paragraphs together and you get a case where someone who might be a good police officer (displays the physical presence of confidence and command, assumes authority easily) is going to be difficult to differentiate between someone who might be a bad cop (those two things but adding “gets off on using that power in inappropriate ways”)… and you have organizational pressures demanding that you hire people to fill spots… and since you’re strapped for cash, it’s hard to justify spending your strapped resources on auditing your beat cops.
One bad cop out of a hundred is one bad cop too many, just about anyone would agree. But one bad cop out of a hundred is probably an unrealistic goal unless you want to spend gobs and gobs more money on police than you already do.