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The Dirty Harry Problem

Carl B. Klockars
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Vol. 452, The Police and Violence (Nov., 1980), pp. 33-47
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1042758
Page Count: 15
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The Dirty Harry Problem
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Abstract

Policing constantly places its practitioners in situations in which good ends can be achieved by dirty means. When the ends to be achieved are urgent and unquestionably good and only a dirty means will work to achieve them, the policeman faces a genuine moral dilemma. A genuine moral dilemma is a situation from which one cannot emerge innocent no matter what one does-employ a dirty means, employ an insufficiently dirty means, or walk away. In such situations in policing, Dirty Harry problems, the danger lies not in becoming guilty of wrong-that is inevitable-but in thinking that one has found a way to escape a dilemma which is inescapable. Dire consequences result from this misunderstanding. Policemen lose their sense of moral proportion, fail to care, turn cynical, or allow their passionate caring to lead them to employ dirty means too crudely or too readily. The only means of assuring that dirty means will not be used too readily or too crudely is to punish those who use them and the agency which endorses their use.

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