High Policing

I want to direct you to a term High Policing – new way to look at modern policing methods and emerging organizational changes in law enforcement. High policing of all sorts is still viewed by scholars, judges, and politicians as “corruption,” “deviance,” and or “scandal” and dealt with by illusion and impression management. If we look at harassment endured by targeted individuals as enhanced mobbing overseen by authority of the law (local, state, federal) it points to pre-existing conflict at some level (most likely personal derived from monetary or influence issues) where public resources are used to eliminate one party for the benefit of the other. No template exists as to how and why harassment was initiated or by whom as there is no viable ways to counter or expose the abuse. If it were thoroughly exposed it would certainly generate as scandal. Common man thinks about law enforcement as street policing – helping citizens, responding and solving crimes. There is another hidden side of policing. It examines the phenomena in various contexts without fear eliciting or sensational language like tyranny, police state, new world order, dictatorship, etc – it’s not something new – it’s been around for ages. It’s another way to define organized stalking – as one of the examples of high policing.

The term “high policing” was introduced into English language police studies by Canadian criminologist Jean-Paul Brodeur in a 1983. The term “high policing” refers to the fact that such policing benefits the “higher” interests of the government rather than individual citizens or the mass population. It also refers to the fact that high-policing organizations are endowed with authority and legal powers superior to that of other types of police organizations. There is no conventional designation for this category of policing in liberal democracies, however, and it should not be conflated with secret police, although secret police organizations do use high policing methods. Calling it “secret” or “political” policing is too vague since all police work is somewhat secret. High policing has an extremely high potential for abuse. There is a tendency, even in democratic countries, for high policing organizations to abuse their powers or even to operate outside the law because many organizations involved in high policing are granted extensive legal powers, including immunity from prosecution for acts that are criminal under normal circumstances.

Jean-Paul set a high standard for shaping a theory of policing and articulated important questions in this regard. The 1983 paper contained the core of Jean-Paul’s theory of policing, including the discordant themes and contrasts between the visible, legal, public face of policing and the secret, powerful, unacknowledged, hidden, quasi-legal face. Jean-Paul’s theory of policing aims to be inclusive, comparative/historical and to include antinomies or self-contradictory arguments. This includes the role of high policing in which the state as protector defines itself as a victim, or in effect works against its own claims to protect and preserve the rights of its citizens. Further, the state can be the citizen’s most powerful enemy.

We now know something about the architecture of secret policing, how it is built, but little about its actual functioning: how it is done, by whom, and why. The fact of agency secrecy, legally and by tradition or convention well protected, is well known. Nevertheless, the futile study of “accountability,” “corruption” and “police deviance” remains alive and well. There can be no accountability when the organization is shielded for its high policing functions and where the most important support, financially and politically lies with the central government of the day. The true and durable nature of high policing is unstudied.

Brodeur (1983) saw high policing as consisting of political surveillance and low policing as law enforcement (holding apart the overlaps between security services and police and the gathering of intelligence and taking action).

In 1983 he identified four features of high policing:

The preservation of the existing political regime was its primary goal (it is true for any regime or political force)

Conflation of separate powers

We traditionally distinguish between legislative, judicial and executive power. In democracies, these powers are exercised independently one of the other. In Westminster-style democracies where all Cabinet ministers also sit in Parliament, there is less of a distinction between the executive and the legislative branches of government than in the US ‘checks and balance’ model. Notwithstanding these differences of emphasis, all democracies condemn government interference in judicial proceedings. Things are noticeably different for high policing. Under the continental monarchies of Europe, the police magistrate enjoyed all three fundamental powers: he could establish penal statutes that even carried the death penalty; he would also preside at trials; finally, he exercised, by definition, all forms of executive powers. The concept of the political ‘coup’ had an original meaning from the 17th to the 19th century that directly contradicted its present sense: a political coup was a decisive action of the State against its enemies and not an action perpetrated against the State by its opponents in order to change the regime, as the concept is presently understood. The high police magistrate had the prime responsibility for such governance through executive coups. I will argue in a further section of this paper that we may be experiencing a resurgence of this mode of governance in the post-9/11 era.

Protection of national security

This is the raison d’être of high policing. The mandate of many security intelligence agencies explicitly mentions that their prime objective is to protect the security of the nation. There are two quite different variants of this feature. In its democratic variant, high policing agencies are tasked to protect the nation’s political institutions and constitutional framework. In its nondemocratic variant, high policing is devoted to the preservation of a particular political regime that may consist in the hegemony of a political party or the rule of a dictator. Distinguishing these variants of national security is necessary to avoid falling into the leftist fallacy that intelligence services are by nature unpalatable to a democracy. It must, however, be understood that the immediate object of high policing is the protection of the state apparatus (e.g. protecting the head of the state against assassination), although protecting the state may also result in protecting its citizens (e.g. against terrorism).

The use of informants

In police parlance, an informant is called a human source. When the high policing paradigm was developed, human sources were the main instrument of covert surveillance . We now have created a massive arsenal of technological tools for the purposes of surveillance . All of our natural senses—eyesight, hearing, smell, touch (lie detectors) and even tasting (poison detecting devices)—now have multiple technological surrogates. Despite the fact that we use a comprehensive array of stealthy technical sources, I still single out human sources and undercover operatives as the hallmark of high policing. As shown by the public release of the East German Stasi archives, the extensive infiltration of human sources is the culmination of high policing. Not only is it the most intrusive instrument of surveillance, but it is also the most destructive of the social fabric as it thrives on betrayal and fosters mutual suspicion and demoralization.

In 2011 he noted five additional characteristics implicit in the above:

  1. The state as intended victim
  2. The utilization of criminals
  3. Secrecy
  4. Deceit
  5. Extralegality

High police reminds us that the police are above all political actors. Two meanings of this can be noted. The low police on the street were concerned with protecting individual victims and with order maintenance. High police, in contrast, were concerned with protecting a corporate entity—the political regime. A major question is whether in protecting the sovereign, police are also protecting the broader (civil) society. In a democratic setting when police protect the leader they ideally are also protecting the society’s democratic constitution and institutions. In an authoritarian or totalitarian setting high police act as a private police insuring the power of the rulers, (whether a king or political party) apart from the broader society. That does not preclude disingenuous legitimating claims about acting on behalf of the people. While knowledge can be a form of power, self-serving power may oppose knowledge, at least that which can be empirically validated. While it is a truism central to social control that knowledge is power, it does not follow that power is necessarily knowledge in any scientific and empirical sense. Indeed the contortions and denial of knowledge that can be associated with asymmetries in power is among the ugliest consequences of inequality.

Thus, many of the elements of high policing are seen in current policies such as intelligence led (data-base based) and community policing and specialized police unites such as those involving intelligence, undercover, internal affairs and planning. Detectives, and even uniformed police, make use of traditional (informers) advanced tools of surveillance (thermal imaging).

Under the US umbrella of a delusional state of war proclaimed by the George W. Bush administration, high policing combines all powers: it makes covert executive orders that supersede the law, keeps suspects in unlimited preventive custody, wants them tried by Star Chamber commissions and applies the sentence under the most punitive of conditions. Second, there is a wishful quality to the withering-of-the-State resurgent neo-Marxian utopianism, where nodal governance takes the former place of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In fact, the State has never been as arrogantly unilateral as it is now behaving in the United States, the United Kingdom and in Canada.

The police are the most conspicuous symbol of the law (indeed, they are referred to in familiar language as ‘the law’). This is particularly true in respect to its lower policing arm, the patrol persons in uniform, who use their visibility to produce a great deal of their deterrent/reassuring effects. High policing agencies symbolize the power of the state, at times in its most arbitrary aspects. In contrast with the police, the intelligence services base their symbolic power on their low visibility, thriving on rumors, innuendo and fear.

High Policing, (archive.org) Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice, By Gary T. Marx, Professor Emeritus, MIT

Jean-Paul Brodeur on High and Low Policing (archive.org)

High and Low Policing in Post-9/11 Times (local copy)


Wikipedia on High Policing


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