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When the Essential Value of Law Enforcement Is Obvious

by J Warner Wallace

value of law enforcementWe’ve just endured a difficult season here in Los Angeles County as the manhunt for Christopher Dorner has finally come to an end. Along the way, we lost several members of the law enforcement family. As Dorner committed murders, stole cars, attempted to hijack a boat and kidnapped a number of civilians over the past week, the nation watched eagerly in anticipation of his capture. While some seemed to be sympathetic to his motives, no rational person wanted to see him continue to kill or victimize innocent people as part of his homicidal spree. In the end, law enforcement was once again the hope of a nation.

Two years ago I was asked to design an ethics training program for our law enforcement agency. Most ethics training programs are rooted in utilitarianism of one kind or another. “Don’t do this…” or “don’t do that…” because if you do the wrong thing and get caught, you’ll be punished, lose your job or bring shame to the people you love and work with. The problem with this kind of utilitarianism is that most of us who are willing to do something we shouldn’t are also convinced we will never be caught! In the end, utilitarianism simply fails to motivate proper behavior.

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My life as a Christian has convinced me of the power transcendent moral truths rooted in a transcendent source of morality. When we recognize God as the source of truth, it’s far easier to agree on what’s righteous and virtuous. Even if we can rationalize some misbehavior from the perspective of our own utilitarian benefit, as God-followers, we recognize that the true measure of moral value transcends our own desire; it is rooted in God’s nature. As I designed the ethics project for our agency, however, I knew that only a handful of our officers understood this theistic view of morality. I knew I had to help others recognize the “transcendent” nature our profession if I ever hoped to call them to something higher than their own desire…

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