Last weekend I read Michael Ignatieff's excellent book The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (you can read my review of the book here). In the first chapter of the book, he makes this point:
Fairness in policing is the absolute sine qua non of the moral economy of the global city.
Before any other problem can be addressed or before virtue can be cultivated, a population needs to trust the police. He writes that for the diverse city, the site where the moral order is most contested is policing. He adds, "Police abuse is an affront to basic moral expectations: it makes a mockery of the creed promoted in every citizenship class, school civics lesson, and Fourth of July speech."
He adds that in America it is precisely in policing where our highest ideals are most in contention.
What helps to create a more moral police force, according to Ignatieff, is a robust civil society, with strong social institutions. One chapter of his book is about Los Angeles, which focuses on the good and difficult work that city has done since Rodney King in order to build a civil society. He writes that policing must be viewed as "politics in action" and as "maintenance of a shared moral operating system."
Victory is achieved when people no longer feel that they are "prisoners of impersonal forces." He adds, "To have a moral community in a city is to recover some semblance of sovereignty over life as it is lived. It is to have the sense that you can work together with others to shape common life to humane ends."