The Lapel-Mounted Camera of Gyges

Obama calls for police to wear body cameras as part of $263m reform package 

Let’s think for a second.

Pretend there is a police agency which forces all of it’s officers to wear lapel-mounted cameras. In this agency there are two police officers: Officer A and Officer B. Officer A is a just officer. In and out of uniform he is a model citizen and protector, being beyond his character the ability to act unjustly. Officer B is quite the opposite. He is unjust and cannot act justly because it is not in his nature to act justly. On their first day on the job, they realize that their lapel-mounted cameras are malfunctioning.

What is stopping them both from using excessive force when apprehending a perp if no one is looking? Is it merely the fact that they will not be punished or is it because justice has value for its own sake, without the possibility of punishment present?

If justice is to have value onto itself, Officer A must continue to act justly, regardless of punishment or praise. Suppose that Officer B, acting unjustly, is praised for being just, since his unjust deeds are unbeknownst to the other members of the police agency or the public. He won’t turn down the praise because after all, treating an unjust act as a just one is one of the most unjust things that can be done, which is completely in the nature of Officer B. Similarly but conversely, suppose Officer A acts completely justly but is treated as though he is unjust. If justice is to have value for itself, Officer A must continue to act justly. How long can a person keep this up?

Unfortunately, it seems as though our police agencies have more Officer B’s than Officer A’s. That’s not to say that the police force is unjust, but in the absence of punishment or accountability, there is very little point to be virtuous or act justly since the actions that yield results will produce praise of being just, which is in it of itself unjust. Police officers will be praised for apprehending crooks, but at the cost of categorizing justice as a byproduct of the impending doom of punishment.

Maybe at some point in the future we can have a police force that considers justice to have value for its own sake, but until we do, there is much more lost allowing the Officer B’s to continue being unjust and putting the integrity of justice on the shoulders of Officer A’s, who day in and day out get treated as though they are Officer B’s, than there is to allowing the accountability and impending doom of punishment to at least regulate the actions of Officer B’s. In our current system, too many unjust officers are being left unpunished or are being overpraised, and perhaps all just officers are being lumped with the others. Therefore it is more valuable, for the sake of society, for police integrity, and for the future of justice, that police officers are required to wear (properly functioning) lapel-mounted cameras.


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