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I have a fairly dystopian dictatorship with a police state.

There are two ideologies amongst the population.

The first - the more mainstream - in general support the rulers and the police and the wish to maintain the status quo.

But there is a second, smaller, rebellious part of society who wants to overthrow the government and are very much anti-police, believing them to be hard-line freedom-haters. These are not criminals and certainly not violent, but they are not happy with the current state of things.

But I've a problem. There is very little or almost no actual person-on-person type crime in this society (robbery, violence, etc.), and in fact, the police's main function is putting down the rebellious crowd - arresting people spreading anti-government propaganda and the rebellious leaders, breaking up meetings, hijacking people's individual initiatives to hand over to the government, and the like.

So how do I justify the pro-government people's love of the police? I can't exactly show them protecting the ordinary citizens from muggers, wiping out organised crime, solving horrific murders, ridding the town of drug-dealers, rescuing children from child-porn gangs, etc, because there is none of that stuff.

Edit

Thanks for all the great answers, but judging by some of the comments, etc. I realise I probably left out a lot of potentially useful details:

First of all this is a land of very scarce resources, causing poverty throughout the society. However, the government, and pro-government people believe that they are making the best of a bad situation and that the rebels will cause the structures that are there to fall apart, resulting in starvation and the potential destruction or decimation of the society.

The police are relatively "evil" by modern standards - using excessive force, arresting people for the slightest anti-government sentiments (think "thoughtcrime"), confiscating things from individuals "for the benefit of society" sort of communist style (though it usually just ends up in the hands of the high ranking officials) - which is especially jarring because resources are very scarce in this setting, enforcing what we would call slavery (in one case hauling someone into work despite him being too sick). They are also intimidating in appearance.

They have every reason to be hated, and in my personal opinion the best opinion someone could have would be indifference (if they weren't personally affected or didn't witness their evils), but in this scenario, I want the majority of the populace to actually like them, and, for example, be horrified when one of them is attacked in an uncharacteristic moment of violence by one of the rebels.

The low crime is not, in fact, thanks to the police (though I understand propaganda could be used to make it look like it was), it is in the nature of the people not to commit crime, and in theory, no crime prevention would be required at all in this society. The police were actually introduced by the dictator to help him enforce his will rather than prevent crime.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio May 6 '18 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ Insufficient information. Why would scarcity cause the rebellion? This implies that the economics of the situation were inadequately explained, such that the rebels felt they were failing to achieve their fair share of some resource. Moreover, the rebels apparently feel that their practical chances of ever doing so are sufficiently low that the whole system needs to be overthrown. Why would scarcity cause such an issue? $\endgroup$ – analystic May 6 '18 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ Also 'heavy handed police tactics' or 'calling employees into work when they're ill' fail to explain the rebellion. In the former, was the response viewed as disproportionate in some sense? And what was the reason for the latter? Was the employee unable to assess their own ability to work? Was their work so valuable that you failed to offer a convincing personal incentive? Did you simply make a mistake? I can't see that this example is in any sense useful in motivating a rebellion. $\endgroup$ – analystic May 6 '18 at 13:06

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I can't exactly show them protecting the ordinary citizens from muggers, wiping out organised crime, solving horrific murders, ridding the town of drug-dealers, rescuing children from child-porn gangs, etc, because there is none of that stuff.

You're looking at it the wrong way.

A near-total lack of violent crime is a massive selling point for your dystopian regime. Point it out to the populace, and attribute it to the police force. Tell them that the police force is the only thing standing between the peaceful, crime-free society they enjoy now, and the lawless, violent wasteland that the anti-government protestors are clearly trying to turn their glorious nation into.

Of course, it's not true. The police (if I understand your question correctly) are not responsible for the lack of crime. The anti-government protestors don't want crime to go up. But as every good dystopian regime knows, if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.

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    $\begingroup$ I thought about answering that but I didn't because it assumes the population has a point of reference. Since the society he has constructed is so alien already, i don't think that this is necessarily a good assumption. His species might be naturally crime-free. I don't even see another way. Not saying it's a bad answer because of that, just stating an issue with it the op should perhaps think about $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 2 '18 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength! Long live [name of regime]! $\endgroup$ – Draco18s May 2 '18 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35: If they were naturally crime-free; then they wouldn't have a concept of "the police" to begin with. Even if the police weren't really the cause of the low crime rates, they can still claim they are and possibly be believed by society. Without wanting to open an entire topic about religion, there are people who feel that that's how religion is popular: It is believed to prevent something bad from happening without direct proof that something bad would happen if it wasn't there to save people from it. $\endgroup$ – Flater May 3 '18 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Flater I don't think you understood my comment $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 3 '18 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35: You seem to argue that it's almost unavoidable that this species is naturally crime-free. (His species might be naturally crime-free. I don't even see another way.). I argue that a naturally crime-free species would effectively never have a need for "police", as that is what you need to combat crime. I don't quite see how I would have misunderstood. The second half of the comment argues that the police doesn't actually need to be the reason for low crime, as long as they are believed to be the reason, which would apply to a species that becomes crime-free at some point. $\endgroup$ – Flater May 3 '18 at 13:17
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The police are there to protect and serve. Protect from criminals, but also from other hazards and problems.

  • Little Timmy is missing? The distraught mom tells the police officer who is walking the beat, and within a few moments dozens of cops are searching. Happy news, Timmy wandered off from the playground to the park, but it could have been much more serious.
  • Old Granny Helen hasn't been at the grocer's today. Usually she comes every day to get food for herself and her two cats. So the storekeeper tells the officer, and the officer rings her door on his next patrol. The Granny doesn't answer, so the officer asks the building manager for the key and checks if she is OK.
  • New in town and disoriented despite the map? Ask the policemen at the street corner, they'll gladly answer polite questions like these.

And as the dystopian government puts it, the opposition wants to stop all these good deeds.

  • They argue that the officer should have gotten a warrant before he entered the granny's flat. If she had slipped in the bathroom with a broken hip, she might have died.
  • They argue that the beat officer shouldn't snoop so much that he can recognize little Timmy on sight. Well, Timmy's mom won't call it snooping.

Last but not least, the protesters can always be painted as criminals. Sure, there are not many muggings, but how about economic sabotage? At the very least, the protesters are vandalizing nice clean walls with their sprays.

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    $\begingroup$ "Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the mechanics German, the lovers Italian and it's all organised by the Swiss." $\endgroup$ – ivanivan May 3 '18 at 2:12
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    $\begingroup$ "... and hell is where the cooks are British, the mechanics French, the police German, the lovers Swiss and it's all organised by the Italians." $\endgroup$ – Paul Johnson May 7 '18 at 9:42
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Advertise them

It's as simple as that. If most of people's contact with the police is irrelevant to actual police job, their opinion will be based on irrelevant factors. So, dress your officers in cool uniforms, let them parade through the cities with their orchestras, show them in TV, on billboards and posters as helpful and smiling. You don't need to invent anything, such posters existed and exist today.

Some examples

Parade photos linked above.

USSR poster promoting militia/police. The caption says "Militia - People's servant".

USSR poster promoting militia

Polish poster promoting militia/police (a while ago). Caption says "Policeman - your friend and defender"

enter image description here

New Zealand's police recruiting campaign that went viral recently.

And yes, that stuff actually works.

Fighting with opposition may sell better then work agains regular crime!

Dystopian dictatorship should have well working propaganda. Show opposition as trouble-makers. Present them as working for enemy force. Present statistics of how their actions hurt economy (you don't need to measure anything; just make them up). Highligh police role in keeping order.

Extra points: show any opposition actions as hitting people in everyday life, like affecting the price of sugar, or anything in that vein. You goal is no less than to make people blame opposition for everything bad, especially things like hurting teeth and bad weather.

You don't need to invent much, just study a bit of history. Or even look at some propaganda today.

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    $\begingroup$ This. Propaganda is easy to do, if majority of people support the regime anyway. It would be quite enough to paint the dissenters as enemies of the state - which they are, after all. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff May 3 '18 at 6:55
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    $\begingroup$ Also if you got the money make some (holywood) movies where cops are awesome and you got a lot of little kids wanting to join them $\endgroup$ – jean May 3 '18 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ Great-looking uniforms is an old (and effective) trick of dystopian regimes - the best-known example was the Nazi Wehrmacht uniform: elegant, beautiful and impractical. To go the extra mile, give them cavalry boots. Make sure your uniform designers never have to actually try their designs themselves, though! $\endgroup$ – Eth May 9 '18 at 11:51
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Police are people. They have barbecues and children, they go to basketball games and churches. It is easy to chat with one without realizing or caring they are a cop in social settings. If 90% of the time they are Andy Griffith most of the people won't have to know that they are also Jack Bauer.

If the police are fairly effective at shutting down dissent the people happy with the status quo might not have an accurate picture of why there is dissent. "Rebels are anarchist looking to have freedom to kill, steal and rape." regular people will rather have a burger with a sheriff they went to school with than pick a fight with the men with guns.

If the police are actually giving the security and safety they are billed as without too much corruption or abuse keeping a counter movement going seems harder to explain than people liking cops.

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Police are also fire and rescue.

police fire truck

There is already a lot of overlap between these functions as is evidenced by this NYPD fire truck. In your society the same group of people serve all these functions. People love their firefighters and ambulance folks because they come and save you. If those people are the police too, they love the police too.

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    $\begingroup$ I would argue that there is less overlap as evidenced by the NYPD fire truck, as there is apparently need for a distinction between NYFD fire trucks and NYPD fire trucks. You can infer that the two exist specifically because there is a meaningful difference between them. $\endgroup$ – Flater May 3 '18 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Flater That difference might simply be that different departments like to maintain a distinction from each other. Managers with territorial thinking are reason enough. $\endgroup$ – Brilliand May 3 '18 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Flater If the police are not the same as the fire service, I'd like to know why they have a fire engine in the first place. $\endgroup$ – Pharap May 6 '18 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Pharap Not sure if the case for the photo above, but a reasonable explanation: It's built as a riot water cannon instead of a fire extinguisher. Also, having the same tool does not make them equal across the bord. A carpenter and a forester both have a saw but they don't do the same job. $\endgroup$ – Flater May 6 '18 at 6:34
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A image is worth a thousand words

So, we star with the uniforms, your police officers should be elegant and refined, their uniforms may not be the most pratical, but it sure will be the most elegant. You want even your enemies to look at your uniforms and say: I mean, they are an evil dystopia, but they uniforms are stylish as hell!

Moving pictures are worth even more

You have the cool uniform, now it's time to show it around! You pump the entertainment industry full of that sweet bribe/incentive money. In short, any movie that decides to portray your police officers in a more... elegant light will receive lots of helps from the government.

Just give a read about what the US Department of Defense does with their financing of Hollywood movies.

Action on the Streets

As it has already been said, your cops should be the friendly type, they are not going around carrying automatic guns and threatening péople, they will help kids set up a lemonade stand or old ladies to cross the street.

But, you will also want your cops to look like badasses, so make sure to "find" a few terrorists safe-houses here and there and have the cops in full gear march inside to save some poor 10 year old blonde girl that was kidnapped by the evil terrorists.

Friend of the people, enemy of the people

Finally, criticizing the cops should be considered impolite in extreme.

It don't matter if you are a kid protesting against the closure of your school, if you say shit about the cops, then you are Satan and deserve to swallow a whole bottle of pepper spray.

The media will be your best friend here, just make sure they always spin any incident in favor of the cops.

Say these cops just plowed trough a bunch of high-school students, just make sure the media focus on how the students were in fact evil commies out to kill blonde babies. If you can't spin the story in favor of the cops, just disappear with it.

What, you still believe in the Downtown massacre? That's some paranoid bullshit! Why do you hate the cops?

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Let's not just think of the police as a force that catches criminals

If you really think about it, crime is nothing but a definition (L.Dutch is dead on about that). What the police are actually doing is protecting the average citizen from the inconvenience, discomfort, offense, damage, or injustice caused by someone else.

And in your world the only people appreciably causing inconvenience, discomfort, offense, damage, or injustice are the protesters.

Why wouldn't the population love the police? They don't interact with them on a daily basis, they're courteous when you do meet them, whenever you hear about a protest you also hear about how effective the police were at stopping it. What's not to like? What? What about my neighbor, Marty? Well... he's on extended vacation. No I certainly didn't see the police enter his house. Marty's never comitted a crime in his life! Well, the door's locked. How do I know? I watched the police check, just to be sure he didn't leave the stove on or something. A very courteous thing for the police to do, too!

Anyway, if you're worried about the traditional definition of police: a group that enforces the law, then make laws. Your dictatorship certainly has them. The last thing it wants is to be perceived as lawless or simply brutal. You want trials. You want justice! You need laws — dicatators simply ensure they're the laws they want and those of no one else.

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    $\begingroup$ In addition to this, the corrupt and self-serving force would regularly trot out particularly ill-behaved "rebels" in front of the media as much more heinous criminals (say they were accused of molesting children, etc). In a society where such crimes are nearly nonexistent, the average media consumer will find such alleged crimes particularly vile and be very happy that the police are "protecting" them from these disgusting menaces. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J May 3 '18 at 16:43
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Crime is not a "bad" action per se. Crime is what the law defines as such.

Just have your government ruling that spreading anti-government propaganda is a crime, and those who do it will become criminal.

As such most of the population will appreciate the police getting rid of the criminals, who with their action endanger the peace and prosperity of the almighty nation.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm talking about the type of crime that people would be afraid of and want police protection from - i.e. violence, robbery, drugs, child abuse, etc. which don't exist here. Anti-government propaganda is a crime, but it would be hard to get the gratitude of the general public for an arrest for it. $\endgroup$ – colmde May 3 '18 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ @colmde What most dystopias (and lots of actual real places do) is arrest them for anti-government behaviour but officialy say they are arrested for <generical_villany> $\endgroup$ – jean May 3 '18 at 16:54
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As @F1Krazy, no crime can be a selling point.

One side benefit of a well run tyranny is stability.

After the somewhat recent chaos in Romania, there are many who wanted Vlad Tepesh back: because there was no crime. And that's true. One story is of a foreign merchant who ask Tepesh for some guards to protect his goods. Vlad was incensed by this saying that no one would dare steal it. He then ordered the merchant to leave his goods on the street corner for a few days. After those days were up, upon inspection, nothing had been touched.

As long as the police don't dare commit crimes against the populace, they will be seen as a social positive.

Now, lets take the question title into account: How to have a competent police force in a low crime society. Competent compared to what? The criminals won't have a lot of practice. Sol the police simply have to be better than the criminals and get them off the streets before the criminals have a chance to gain experience.

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You write:

The first - the more mainstream - in general support the rulers and the police and the wish to maintain the status quo.

And then

the police's main function is putting down the rebellious crowd

Now you ask:

So how do I justify the pro-government people's love of the police?

So the Police maintains the status quo. Ergo all People who wish to maintain the status quo, and believe they already live in the best possible "system" would love the police. Simple as that, don´t even need to stress propaganda.

You even have enough examples, if you look into other regimes like Gestapo in East Germany or even SS in Nazi Germany there where always supporters who liked the current regime to stay that way.

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    $\begingroup$ Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei -> secret state police) was in Nazi Germany; in East Germany it was the Stasi (Staatssicherheit -> state security) $\endgroup$ – Julian Egner May 7 '18 at 12:13
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If there is little or no crime (and the police aren't stopping any), people must be pretty happy in general--the other option is fear and if your people were in fear, the police wouldn't be an issue, they would have to be active to cause the fear and lawfulness.

So they are pretty happy, perhaps there isn't enough work to keep everyone busy and one of the things the government does as a "works" program is rotate citizens through the police force (Kind of like our military reserves). This would give them a large, strong police force with a reason that people would empathize with and support them.

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Easy...

Manufacture terrorism or crime.

If there is no one you can order to do it directly, or you do not want to actually do it, then "radicalize" a depressed youth by entrapping him. Convince him to carry out a terrorist act and provide him fake explosives. Arrest him just before he does it. (Example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amine_El_Khalifi)

The other answers are good too, and if you have control over mass media (and know how to use it), propaganda can achieve anything. But if you have a free press, then you need to do some work.

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Dictatorships often define themselves and achieve popular support by using the threat of an external enemy. For example North Korea, Iran and Cuba have all used the United States as this enemy, and claimed to be defending their populace from American aggression.

The violence of the police can then be justified by the magnitude of the threat that they are protecting against - terrorists, saboteurs and fifth columnists introduced by this enemy. They will be popular because the alternative (as shown in government propaganda) is seen as much worse.

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Social Anxiety can be a persuasive force

Many developed nations today invest enormous resources into police, anti-terrorism forces today even though crime rates are quite low compared to both history and with other countries with higher rates. Why?

When you are affluent, you are more afraid of society losing cohesion and devolving into lawlessness. This fear increases when crime rates decrease, and is essentially societal anxiety. This could actually result in broad support for your dystopian dictatorship, and justify costly expenditure on internal security.

As wealth and income is accumalated in society, there is more to lose, and more reasons to justify more expenditure and police presence. It is the same feeling that is capitalised on by insurance companies. Eventually the risk alone would make it hard to justify a reason not to increase spending in such a manner.

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Government mind-control television signals have convinced the populace to like their police force. The signals don't work on a small subset of the populace.

To put it another way, people love the police because "they love Big Brother."

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How your rebels and pro-government fractions feel about each other? Do pro-government people fear for their life and future because of what those rebels are stirring up? Do they feel like they need protection? Do they think that police is the only thing that keeps the order, keeps the entire civilization from collapsing? Sure those people in uniform are the finest and deserve all respect.

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Give the police a threat to deal with, but make that threat external.

State that there are villainous forces beyond the loving walls of your distopian utopian society. The police must occaisionally deal with one of these threats.

What's that lassie? There's some horrible villain from some foreign country trying to damage our glorious walls? In go the police to thwart the scoundrel.

The added benefit is that by implying the world beyond the city walls is unsafe, you don't have any citizens wandering off to other cities and discovering things that could threaten your society's existance. A couple of good lies and probaganda pieces can also help there, like "the country next door has a system where the leaders change hands every 4 years; as a result of this 'democrazy' policy their government is horribly unstable and their laws keep changing back and forth".

Also, if you do have any visitors or people wishing to join your glorious society, the police can be there to keep an eye on them and squash any attempts to cause trouble. Or as you will tell the people of your society, they police are "enforcing morality" (a humourous nod to the "morality officers" of Toronto).

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If the majority is pro-government, wouldn’t they appreciate the police preventing the loss of that government?

If you also have them do nice things for the cooperative whenever they get a break from doing mean things to the uncooperative …

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  • $\begingroup$ Apologies—saw after posting that someone else had said nearly the same thing. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau May 3 '18 at 13:11
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Pax Romana was Pax Romana because everyone who wasn't peaceful was killed. That's peaceful relative to rome though. So that's this society. This society is like rome. There is no crime because everyone who commits the slightest infraction or even thinks about it is quickly and quietly removed from the rest of society and killed. The people who are left love the police. Government propagada takes care of the rest.

Another thing you could do is to make the people believe the police are demigods,or maybe agents of God. The police could be led by some one thought to be a god. Bring religion into it. It has been done before.

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In a society facing large issues with scarcity then it can be seen as government bringing stability and revolution bringing chaos. People may be worried that a revolution could mean interruption to their already meagre supply of resources. If food is scarce then that means revolution could bring starvation. This would set people against revolution out of fear and make them praise the police for shutting it down. A dictatorship could carefully control its image with propaganda and restricted areas to ensure any wealth officials had is not seen, and therefor not a motivation to revolution.

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