In the dystopian state of the UFS, or Union of Fascist States, the leaders of government reign supreme. President Jeffrey Stevenson, the highest of all oligarchs in the UFS, keeps tabs on all the citizens that look like they have suspicion tendencies from a young age. Secret police patrol the streets and make sure no one causes trouble. And when suspected rebels and dissenters, they are usually in for a world of trouble.

Police Force

The UFS’s police force often let their power over the citizens of the country get to their heads. When dissenters are caught, they often get tortured for information, which is legal in the UFS, but the police often torture dissenters after information is acquired, which is against the UFS rules. They also often have their way with arrested females, and other such things.

My question is, why might the UFS government not discipline its police force?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – L.Dutch Sep 22 at 3:04
  • You have been asking several questions on the UFS. Many fascist or totalitarian governments aim propaganda and repression towards a "designated victim minority" to whip up popular emotion and get a scapegoat for their own failings. The Nazis persecuted the Jews, the Soviets persecuted the Kulaks, the North Koreans persecute various low-Songbun groups. Does the UFS have easily recognized victim groups, or would a cop have to check police records to identify them? – o.m. Sep 26 at 15:48
  • @o.m. It is not necessary that the group is easily recognized. Though that makes it a lot easier and has fewer unwanted side effects. The US had the satanic panic as well as communist fearmongering. Like "Is your neighbor a communist?". The US is not a fascist state, but it is the same use of propaganda. – ArtificialSoul Sep 27 at 15:12
  • @ArtificialSoul, yes, both are possible, but persecuting a visible minority would have different outcomes as persecuting an invisible minority. Does the harassment start when the victim is "randomly" stopped or only after ID confirmation? The latter would force the cops to be more circumspect. – o.m. Sep 27 at 15:34

14 Answers 14

I'd suggest looking at historical examples, and two in particular.

First, the decay of the Ottoman Empire. Essentially, the Janissaries were originally conscripts taken from outlying provinces (usually Greek), forcibly converted to Islam, and used as elite soldiers. Over time, though, they managed to gather political power, and eventually reached the point where they were the power behind the throne. Even the Sultans had to step carefully around the Janissaries in the 18th century, and at least one was murdered when he attempted to push through reforms.

Second, and probably more widely known, would be the Praetorian Guard of Roman (in)famy. This force was created during the early days of the Empire to serve as the bodyguard of the Emperor. It wasn't long though, before Caligula took power and did all sorts of mad and insane things, and eventually a few of his own guards killed him off. Several factions tried to claim the throne after that, but it ultimately went to Claudius when he offered the Praetorians an award equal to several years' pay if they would serve him. The results were an object lesson for Roman politicians; the Guard served whoever had the most money.

I hope the theme here is becoming tolerably clear. If rulers try to enforce laws that limit the freedoms (or pay, or special benefits, etc.) of an elite faction, especially royal military groups (although this works in the more general case) with a disproportionate amount of influence, why, such rulers can be, ah, replaced with other candidates deemed, er, more suitable and more generous towards said faction.

Really, the Praetorian Guard is a perfect fit for what you're looking for: they essentially served as the guards of Rome, and even doubled as a sort of secret police. The Emperors could not afford to limit their privileges, else they might find themselves with the sword of one of their guards somehow finding their guts. So your plausible reason is simple: your ruler does not crack down on their police force because they fear being deposed by said police force if they try to materially restrict its power.

It appears that you have a post WWII viewpoint, you think people actually have rights and that governments can't do what they like.

Human rights was a concept invented during the WWII war crimes tribunals*, until that point a government could do what it liked to its population and nobody would say anything. The sanctity of the international borders, national sovereignty, rates far higher than any abuses you might commit against your own population, hence the continued incidence of genocide even after the "never again". The population of a country is effectively the property of the government, and anything the government does to it's own population within it's own borders is legal. What you're not allowed to do is invade the next country over and start wiping out their population. There may also be consequences for actions against citizens of other nations within your borders.

Paying mere lip service to the rules, and doing what you like as an arm of government, is a tried and tested method of repressing populations.


*In fact there were some problems introducing the concept of universal human rights. Russia wanted to continue to abuse it's population, the USA wanted to keep repressing the blacks and the British wanted to keep repressing the Irish.

  • Why the British. British and Irish people are basically the same? And they live less than 50 miles apart, wouldn’t it just make more sense to except each other’s differences and move on? – Robert Paul Sep 20 at 11:24
  • 2
    @Robert Paul a very complicated set of historical events going back millennia. But the same could be said of many places, the Bosnians and the Serbs for example. – Sarriesfan Sep 20 at 12:26
  • 6
    @RobertPaul Oh, ohoho. You underestimate just how much History is tangled up in Britain. – Joe Bloggs Sep 20 at 12:33
  • 1
    @RobertPaul I think you may like to read this. – inappropriateCode Sep 20 at 12:38
  • 2
    @RobertPaul if people could respect one another's differences we wouldn't be in this mess. Lots of people quite like the idea of an explicitly unequal society where they're on top and they have an outgroup to look down on. – pjc50 Sep 20 at 13:27

Acceptable Targets

Historically, the Nazis in Germany decided to free the Gestapo from judicial oversight that would have applied to normal administrative actions. They argued that "[as] long as the police carries out the will of the leadership, it is acting legally."

So as long as the cops do what the President wants them to do, minor indiscretions are forgiven. It would be a really bad idea if they treat a party official the way you describe, unless the orders to do so come from high places, but abusing the "designated" acceptable targets does not get them into trouble.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The designated target groups may be formally or informally banned from filing complaints. Either they know that their testimony will be disregarded, or they know that is will be inadmissable to start with.
  • The internal affairs department may be empowered to take cases when they see it in the best interest of the service. (For example, if a suspect gets leniency in exchange for sexual acts. It is the leniency part of the transaction that brings internal affairs attention.)
  • Many fascist societies place a high value on the "purity" of the race. That might make the sexual abuse problematic even from their viewpoint if it results in children.

And a big thing:

Formal and Informal Rules

Certain regulations may be passed so that the elites can point to the regulations on the books if they are ever challenged on their human rights record. Everybody understands that those regulations are not supposed to be actually applied to actual or suspected resistance members.

In fact, abuse after the investigative part of detention might be seen as punishment at the discretion of the police, fitting on the scale between a stern admonishment, a fine, and actual court charges. (Court charges would go into more official records than a mere detention, interrogation, and release "without charge". With a court record, the dissenter can forget about ever getting a job.)

Collecting Dirt on the Cops

As long as such abuses are part of the police culture, and as long as internal affairs keeps records and does nothing, they can later come down on the cop whenever they or their superiors want to. Collect Kompromat on everybody before they are promoted to high places.

Amon Göth, a concentration camp commander, was charged among other things with failure to feed the inmates. That's a bit strange, considering the official German policy set forth in the Wannsee protocols. Of course those charges were just the icing on the cake. The more serious charges against him from the Nazi viewpoint were embezzlement of Jewish money and letting trustees into personnel records.

Simpliest Answer

CHOICE

A government can chose what they "deem" right or wrong, based on their standards.

Take Philippines for example:

The government AND law forbids murder. But the police CAN kill WHOEVER, WHENEVER they wish (from politicians, to kids). They'll just have to present that the victim OR the culprit possesses drugs, or is/was connected to drugs. With the governments push to "End drug trade" on the country, they'll be defending the men that upholds the justice that they "deem" right, even though there are other people who are either "cross fire victims", "looks like an addict" or plain "legal murder"

Don't get me wrong though, I know justice when I see one.

Success is easily forgiven

The wonderful thing about success is that it gives you oodles of material for positive promotion campaigns. Who's going to complain against people who are actually making the world a better place? What's a few indiscretions when the country is running so smoothly?

 

They have photos of you golfing with Satan

And the problem with a really successfull intelligence police force is that they have archives with information locked in vaults behind sliding doors and beneath telephone booths. Information, not to put too fine a point on it... about you. They like to call it an insurance policy. I mean, they learned from a master, right? You probably think a better name is "an inconvenience."

 

The oversight committee is on the take

Rumors about alleged excesses are rife in any organized society... but are there any, really? I mean, where's the paperwork? Where's the video? Where's Nixon on tape when you need him? The reality is that there's no actual proof of excess because the police have the oversight committee on their payroll — and what's the value of one citizen's complaint when the investigations regularly turn up no evidence of wrong doing?

 

All the candidates are from Manchuria...

And who's complaining, really? You'd be amazed how effective the new drug-and-psychology behavioral processing program is. With the exception of one old geezer who's so jaded about life that nothing seems to work, all our "guests" actually leave interrogation counseling thanking the police for their courtesy and a fine time!

 

And this all assumes that our Glorious Dictator actually cares

And when push comes to shove, it is a facist government. All the paperwork in the world will not upset their evening plans!

Let's look at this from a practical point of view.

Torture is a lousy way to get information. If the UFS just wanted to get the maximum information possible from prisoners, they'd do other things. What it will do is scare people and form a community of guilt (or something like that) among the police, turning them into the sort of closed and isolated force that the UFS wants.

If citizens know that they can avoid torture by just babbling out everything they know when hauled in, they can keep quiet if they happen to know something incriminating. Under this system, they know that, if brought in for questioning, they'll be tortured. If done right, it becomes safer to volunteer possibly seditious information as soon as possible, making the job of the police somewhat easier.

Fascist police states do not generally enforce the law when it's inconvenient to do so. The law against continued torture would be for some sort of public (perhaps foreign) consumption, but as long as violating the law keeps order the authorities will not care.

In Brazil, where I'm from, the police get away with lot of killing, torture and corruption. Mostly of the time they don't even investigate and when they do, usually it end up being archived. The main reasons are:

  • The average citizen is tired of drug dealers, robbers and outlaws, so they support the police violence: "a good robber is a dead robber"
  • If someone die in a favela (slums), the first thing they check is if it's a "worker" (law abiding citizen) or a drug dealer. In the first case there is going to be a quick investigation and they will point to a "mistake" from the victim or unlucky. If it's the former, they will just say that they were defending themselves and nobody will care. There are policemen with more than 30 "self defense" kills.
  • The politicians explore the illegal business, and give a cut to the police (and vice-versa), therefore they all have a incentive to protect themselves from any investigation or law that could change the status quo.
  • In some states the policemen in service are go to trial in special military courts (police is subjected to the military in Brazil) where the corporation tends the shield itself.
  • The media don't really care when poor people die, so lot of people that could be doing something to change this situation are completely alienated and think that whatever the police does, must be right, because they are the good guys. If the police say that the torture and killing was done by a rival gang, no journalist is really interest in investigate.

There are two plausible reasons that I can think of to this conundrum...

They are members of the Inner Party
To go Orwellian, these police get the job by virtue of their fervour for the UFS, and their absolute devotion & willingness to serve the state. Sure, they can go overboard from time to time in that pursuit but those incidents are isolated and excusable given that for the most part, these officers live in the service of the state and as a consequence often don't properly understand the balance between the rights of the state and the rights of the individual. They are not trained in such understanding, and would actually struggle with the torture pre-information if they were more cognisant of the individual's rights. Ultimately it's a fine line between legal and illegal torture in your world; why risk making your officers less effective by pointing out that there's a line in the first place?

We who are about to die...
The fact that you have a police force that is sanctioned to commit torture for information tells me that there is by extension a resistance. People living in peace and happiness don't see the need for such an invasive force, with such sweeping powers, and the only reason that you would invest your money in such a force (dictator or not) over more useful endeavours is if there is an actual threat to contain.

If that's the case, your police have probably signed up for a death sentence and know it. They're already expected to die within a decade of signing up. Why would you (especially publicly) make the life of a policeman less attractive to potential candidates? The last thing you need in a disciplined force living in a constantly quasi-combat environment is a morale problem. So long as it isn't too large scale or seditious, you let it go. The policeman only has a few years left in all likelihood, especially if the public knows what that particular officer has been getting up to; more likely he or she will be targeted by the resistance.

Of course, the answers above assume that sanctions are the only method of behaviour control available to you. If you have a rating system for your officers (like ebay sellers) then perhaps the police can only access certain benefits (like better weapons) once they reach a certain star rating. Do things right, you get more stars. Do things wrong, you don't lose stars but you don't get them, either.

Perhaps the simplest possible answer is that you don't have to sanction your officers because that's the one group in your society you manage with carrots instead of sticks.

Because punishing those involved implies wrongdoing

Punishing those involved means that you admit your police force has been in the wrong. But how could the unsung heroes of the state ever be wrong? This would be very detrimental propaganda-wise, and might even lead to litigation (although I would suspect a regime like this has other means to deal with that)

For examples, look no further than the ongoing controversy surrounding police brutality in the US. Of course here the litigation argument has more weight than the propaganda argument, but both are in play.

You'll need to think carefully about the philosophy of this nation. Fascism is often used just as a synonym for bully, but it has its own intellectual tradition which is completely unique and weird. You need to make an effort to really see beyond the cliches and into the soul of their beliefs. That will help you create believable reasons why the police are behaving so oddly.

The functionality of the Nazi state was for the most part anarchic. Which is funnily enough how your police are behaving! For example... Hitler's office in Berlin received mail in five different rooms, and the person occupying each room would respond to letters, effectively forming policy according to their own design, signing the letters implying Hitler's approval. After all, it was a letter from his office.

Hitler almost never actually visited his office, and didn't care for details. Meetings with his senior staff would involve him rambling about any given topic, and his subordinates listening intently before leaving to try and put these ideas into action. He cared only for what he thought were ambitious, brave, or radical ideas being implemented quickly and effectively.

German policy in Poland is a perfect example of this organised chaos, with similarly horrible results. Occupied Poland was divided into three regions, roughly speaking; north, west, and east. Each had its own governor, and they were all told to Germanise their regions. Hitler said he wanted it done quickly, and would not ask questions about how this was achieved.

While the governors of the west and east began genocides, the governor of the north decided that the quickest solution was to give everyone German citizenship. Even though officially the Nazis believed the Poles to be subhuman. True to his word, Hitler didn't ask, and was delighted that the governor had achieved a successful Germanisation so quickly. This led to the horribly warped reality that half of one family living in the north became Germans, while their relatives living in the south were sent to death camps.

The even stranger aspect of this was that Heinrich Himmler threatened the governor, saying that as just one drop of bad blood would contaminate the master race, his policies were unacceptable. The governor however told Himmler that if he had a problem with it, he should speak to Hitler.

This organised chaos was a direct consequence of fascist ideology, and Hitler's beliefs in particular. Timothy Snyder is a history professor and world expert in this field. In his book "Black Earth" he argues that Hitler's ideology has been misunderstood, and makes no sense as a traditional nationalist philosophy... but makes perfect sense when Hitler is considered to be a 'racial anarchist'. Hitler considered laws and ethics meaningless formalities, which prevent violent competition between 'races'.

One core fascist belief is that each nation provides an opportunity to transcend its people into their own race, which is not the means to an end, but the end in itself. Uniquely, fascists also believe that violence is a moral good in itself. Underlying the bizarre anarchic practices of the Nazi regime was the belief in a social darwinist principle of the survival of the fittest. If a Nazi official thought he should be promoted to replace his superior, he should prove himself fit for the role by seizing power from his superior one way or another.

Police officers behave viciously, because members of the regime truly believe that the laws they follow are at best transitionary restrictions on achieving racial supremacy through violent competition. If you can make violence in your fictional nation consistent with the beliefs and practices I have outlined, and not simply bad because fascism is bad, then you will create a very potent work of fiction that has strong historical and ideological precedent.

For further reading on fascist beliefs, here is an informative article on why Donald Trump is not a fascist according to five domain experts. I would also recommend you try and watch an old BBC documentary, The Nazis: A Warning from History.

Simply put, they don't need to. They seek loyalty rather than rule following.

If the high power wants people to do dirty work for them, often they need to turn a blind eye. This lets less savory individuals into positions of power, such as the power of a police uniform, and you reap the results.

The trick is to make sure every policeman knows they can be jettisoned if they ever become a liability for the UFS. A policeman who abuses their power can rely upon the UFS to come to their aid. However, a policeman whose abuse has become a liability can find themselves hung out to dry. A known torturer who does something to put UFS in a bad position may suddenly find themselves without backup at the most inconvenient of times.

This encourages loyalty among the police force. The police know that their survival is dependent on the UFS finding their presence acceptable. A policeman who is known to be ready to die for the UFS will find that they can get away with just about anything. A policeman who merely bribed the right people to make things go away will find they can only get away with so much before acknowledging their connection to the UFS is more trouble than it's worth.

Look at south Africa - they don't have state police in the way that many other countries do, but it's contracted out to private firms, who then will have open fights when they try to police the other firms territory ... in short, it's legal gang warfare.

There's absolutely no interest of the state to get involved with this, because the law is enforced - kindof, and the average person won't get involved in this gang warfare (in the same way most average Joe's don't get involved in other gang warfare) and it has the same concept as the purge - it's legal as long as it's kept between the firms.

It's happened many times and still does to various extents. Underlying reasons are fear, apathy, collusion and greed or a combination.

When people are trained to do dehumanising things... they become dehumanised and for some it will feed on itself. So if you have a bunch of trained killers getting out of control you have two choices which most olden day armies dealt with. You either give them rein and ignore it as much as possible or you discipline them. The only way to discipline a bunch of trained killers is to have another bunch of trained killers. You don't send them an email telling them to cease and desist unless you can back that up with force, and if they know force is heading their way they may decide a preemptive strike is a better option than bending over.

Incompetence.

Your government is comprised of total and absolute hopeless bungling bumblers. This includes the police force and extends down to the meter maids and dogcatchers. The endemic halfassedness of government structures in this society has many reasons including poor education, venereal diseases, graft, addiction and inbreeding. The result is that people (including but not limited to wrongdoing police officer) who should be punished are often not punished, because their offenses are not recognized, or are recognized but the records lost, or the person set to carry out the punishment punishes someone else. Or they might be punished. Possibly for an offense committed long ago.

The saving grace of President Stevenson is that his malignity and evil designs are thwarted by his near-total lack of executive function and absence of any competent help, not only in his inner circle but in any circles nearby.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.