To Keep Peace, Police Need to Seek Public Support

  • June 15th, 2020
A man in jeans and button-down shirt poses with hands behind his back in front of a lake.
Dr. Luke William Hunt

Recent protests for racial justice have led to proposals for reforming law enforcement, including proposed legislation in Congress along with actions from municipal governments.

Those reform measures should emphasize community collaboration, legitimacy, and keeping the peace through a reciprocal relationship between police and the public, said Dr. Luke William Hunt, incoming assistant professor of philosophy at UA and former FBI special agent.

To be legitimate, law enforcement needs to police communities within the parameters of public authority, said Hunt, who specializes in legal and political theory.

“There is good reason for the police to pursue their role in ways that go beyond a utilitarian focus on security and crime reduction,” he said. “Competing values, principles and obligations compel the police to seek public justification for their power in order to enhance legitimacy. One practical way to do this is a renewed emphasis on strategies — such as community policing — that foster dignity and community buy-in through public reason.”

Hunt, who will teach courses on legal and philosophical problems in policing at UA, said philosophy can help clarify legal, moral and political questions, and, in turn, inform policy.

“Until we identify and clarify an ideal of just policing, we lack an objective, or aim, by reference to which our practical debates can be answered,” Hunt said.

Police lack legitimacy when there is a denial of shared public values that results in political power and coercive force based upon arbitrary authority over the diverse members of the community, he said. That can be seen in “warrior policing,” Hunt said, in which law enforcement officers demand authority through power without regard to values such as dignity and procedural justice.

“Justice-seeking policing incorporates the goal of general authority by engaging in strategies that promote legitimacy, as well as operational tactics that promote de-escalation and the sanctity of life,” he said.

Hunt recently discussed some of these issues on the Slate philosophy podcast, Hi-Phi Nation.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.