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Ironies of American Law Enforcement

NCJ Number
Public Interest Volume: 1980 Issue: 59 Dated: (1980) Pages: 45-56
D H Bayley
Date Published
12 pages
The paper explores 11 ironies in American life which hamper the crime prevention activites of the police and exemplify the loosening of the American moral fiber.
Consideration of the criminal justice system in the U.S. leads to the discovery of several ironies regarding the scope of criminal activity among the poor and racial minorities; the power of the individual police officer relative to his or her education, training and status; the nature of police work; the lack of informal moral controls on American society; the confusion of morality with legal liberty; the intrusion of the criminal justice system into the area of the moral responsibilities of small-scale groups; and the relationship of the American form of freedom to the power of the state which must ensure that freedom. In Japan and China, which have much lower criminal activity than the U.S., informal mechanisms such as the family, the schools, and professional groups, are relied upon to constrain the behavior of their members. The criminal justice system serves as a last resort after informal corrective sanctions have failed. Such a situation no longer exists in American society, which relies upon legality to enforce a morality no longer strongly advocated by families, teachers, or peer groups. Reliance on formal processes of social ordering comes in part from American emphasis on individual freedom and a corresponding undermining of the informal discipline which comes from a tradition of mediating groups.