Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means … would bring terrible retribution.
—Justice Louis Brandeis. Dissenting opinion in Olmstead v United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).
Police should be held to a high standard and understand that it is better to let a criminal go than lie to convict him. There is a good reason for this. Even if a policeman believes the accused is guilty, he may be wrong. Any trial lawyer will tell you of cases where he believed his own client was guilty, only to be proved wrong as the evidence unfolded. The courtroom, with all its rules of evidence and procedure, which took hundreds of years to evolve, is much more qualified to sort truth from falsehood than a policeman.
Sir Robert Peel, who introduced the legislation which established the first modern police force, always maintained that police do not gain the support of the community by currying favor with public opinion, but by rigid adherence to the rule of law. If police manufacture evidence or bend the rules to convict drug dealers or other deserving criminals, they are not making society safer, they are rotting its very fabric by bringing corruption to the heart of the justice system. The criminals who are caught and convicted, guilty though they may be, spread the word that the police are not impartial, inscrutable guardians of the law, but rather cheats and perjurers like themselves. Though the convicts may be disbelieved at first, eventually the reputation of the police is tarnished. Moreover, once policemen take the attitude that it is acceptable to do wrong in a good cause, they soon come to count themselves as the ‘good cause’, and before long they are taking bribes to protect drug traffickers.
The police can be vastly assisted in their work by having their activities video recorded, whether on patrol or at the police station. Both the public and the police are thereby encouraged to be scrupulously forthright in all their mutual dealings. Moreover, encounters with the police are far less intimidating for the public when recorded, which is as it should be.