In part one of this blog (you can read it here) I looked at some of the jobs Police Officers deal with which they are legally obligated to do but which often clash with their own personal beliefs and morals. I used real examples given to me by serving Police Officers.
In this blog I want to look at the consequences of the Police Officer going against a lawful order and standing by their morals rather than their lawful order as defined by Government.
A lawful order is an instruction from a supervising officer that is not unlawful and pertains to your duties as a Constable
When a senior officers gives a Police Officer a “lawful order” they are as you might expect LEGALLY obliged to fulfil it without question. I believe the only order that can not be given by a senior officer is to take somebodies life, that is at the sole discretion of the officer behind the trigger. If I am wrong there than I am happy to be corrected.
If a senior officer tells a Constable to move kids from a street, then the Constable must move the kids from the street or have a reasonable explanation as to why he/she did not. If a senior officer tells a Constable to arrest an individual then again, unless there is a lawful, reasonable reason to do the opposite the Constable must obey.
So if the Constable in my previous blog who didn’t want to police the fox hunt had told his supervisor “Actually Sergeant, I don’t agree with hunting foxes and quite support the people wanting to stop the hunt so I’d rather not do that”, that Constable would have been left without any doubt that he will conduct the required duty with impartiality as sworn to in his attestation
If an officer deliberately goes against a lawful order he can expect anything from a bollocking or being picked for some not so pleasant jobs in future to dismissal for neglect of duty.
Twice in my career I refused to follow a lawful order because it went against my morals and each one ended differently but thankfully did not end with me being sacked.
The first time I was still in my probation period and my eldest daughter was only 8 months old. I was told to go to custody and babysit a prisoner who was a suicide risk. This filthy creature had sexually abused a baby and killed her. I didn’t give a damn what he did to himself and certainly didn’t want to spend 8 hours sitting in his company. I asked my Sergeant if somebody else could do it as I could not guarantee that I would keep my cool, the victim was the same age as my daughter. I know this was a selfish thing to do but it struck close to home with the age of the victim and being a new dad and I personally would have handed the bastard a noose. I was pushed into the Sergeant’s office and told to get a grip of myself and do my job and warned never to question orders again.
The second occasion happened towards the end of my career when I was told to go and move a homeless man from a secluded spot under a bridge in some woods because an affluent member of the community had been walking her dog and was “horrified” to see a “grubby tramp” sitting by a fire and insisted he be moved so she can walk her dog there again. I asked why we were moving him on. I was told “because we have to”. I refused and suggested I conduct a welfare check on him instead but was told that I would “do as I was told” and move him in. I refused and headed out on patrol. I was “advised” and faced a few weeks of hard labour dealing with all the tedious jobs, sent out on foot patrol in crap weather etc but I didn’t care because I had stood by my morals and that was more important than some antiquated oath.
There have however been incidents where officers have gone against their duty and subsequently been sacked, demoted, faced disciplinary action and sometimes even charged with neglect of duty. An Officer got in touch with me recently who has asked to remain anonymous and told me how he had refused to Police a march against our troops because he was ex Army and he was told he had no choice and so he told his boss he did have a choice and went off sick. He was suspended, investigated by professional standards and barely kept his job.
The fact is, Police Officers face loosing their career, their pensions, their life and health insurance, their financial security that of their family and so it is not as simple as just refusing to do something they don’t agree with. I was a lucky one as I had something to fall back on and so when I realised my personal beliefs and morals clashed to much with my expected duty as a constable I was able to jump ship and be safe. However, for most they don’t have that luxury. With very little transferable skills acquired in the Police and very little job availability out their putting up and shutting up is quite often the much easier option.
But a question I have often heard asked and pondered over is where would a Police Officer draw the line at “just following orders”? Obviously a an order can only be followed if it is LAWFUL. But the Police do not make the laws as I have already mentioned in Part 1, they simply enforce them. The laws are written by Parliament, by people right at the very top of the hierarchical tower. So what would happen if those in charge decided to make it LAWFUL for the Police to use lethal force on protesters and for senior officers to ORDER a constable to do it, for example? Would they blindly follow orders or would their morals come into play and make them refuse to follow orders regardless of the risk of being sacked?
It is of course a hypothetical question but one that I feel needs considering. If Police Officers are expected to put their morals and beliefs to one side and follow lawful orders with impartiality, at one point does moral right and wrong supersede the lawful duty of a constable?