|The police’s role varies somewhat, depending on whether they are enforcing laws which are mala in se or mala prohibita: legal terms loosely meaning bad in themselves, or bad because they have been legislated against.|
Crimes which are mala in se are offences which break the generally accepted social mores of a particular society, such as murder or rape – acts which society would oppose regardless of whether or not laws exist to punish people who carry out such acts. In this case the public delegates responsibility to the police for protection from, and punishment of, offenders.
Most people are unlikely to regard the presence of a police force as the deciding factor in their choosing not to commit a particular act which is malum in se, because to do so would go against their belief system. Offences of this nature tend to have existed in common law prior to their being enacted into statute law.
Crimes which are mala prohibita are only illegal because there is a law against them. These laws, and the enforcement of them, tend to be more hotly contested, as individuals are more likely to vary in degree of support or opposition. Many crimes which are mala prohibita are not regarded as being very serious, and people arrested or punished for breaking regulatory laws often deny that any offence has taken place.
Speeding is often regarded as falling into this second category: certain parts of the media often refer to speed cameras as being a “crackdown on law-abiding motorists”, even though their main purpose is to catch people breaking traffic laws. Other examples are drug laws – cannabis in particular – and other ‘victimless crimes’.
With crimes which are mala prohibita, the role of the police is to carry out the wishes of the state, rather than the collective wishes of individuals. This differs fundamentally from their role in enforcing mala in se acts, because of the potential for discrepancy between the wishes of society and individuals. Individually, I may wish to park my car on double red lines, but doing so would hinder the flow of traffic, and so traffic wardens will fine me to dissuade me from doing so again.
Here, the police exercise power for the purpose of socially conditioning society: of preventing us from acting in a way that undermines societal interactions. Leftist anarchist theory argues that in doing so, the state disempowers individuals, by forcing them to act in a particular way rather than giving them the chance to decide to act in a socially acceptable manner.