As a society, why do we jail criminals or fire the corrupt? Why do parents send children to their rooms or referees hand out penalties for dangerous play? To right wrongs, sure. To uphold some sense of justice, no doubt. But those aren't the core reasons.
Above all else, we punish to deter. We condemn behaviours we hope others will avoid in future. A rule without penalty, after all, isn't much of a rule.
That is why it is so troubling that it remains so difficult to punish the few police officers who perform their duties with incompetence or malice.
Despite a steady flow of stories from across the country about excessive force, illegal detention and other misconduct, it remains exceedingly rare for an officer to lose his or her job, let alone face criminal charges.
A recent Toronto Star report looked at 3,400 investigations of police misconduct in Ontario over a 20-year period. In only 95 of those cases were criminal charges laid and only 16 officers were ever convicted. Only three of those went to jail.
Think about that. Three jail terms out of 3,400 investigations. It boggles the mind.
Or consider these two recent cases.
In Kamloops, B.C., a group of RCMP officers stand accused of watching a live video feed of two women have sex in a holding cell. One of the women has now sued the RCMP, alleging she did not consent to the act, which, if true, would mean the Mounties literally watched a sex assault and did nothing about it.
In any other job, the affair -- even without the latest wrinkle -- would be grounds for immediate dismissal. In the RCMP, it is grounds for an endless and opaque internal probe.
This isn't to suggest that police officers don't deserve due process. They certainly do. They just don't deserve any more due process than anyone else.
The police are regularly able to turn around homicide investigations in days. Yet anything that involves their own conduct invariably takes months and sometimes years to investigate.
In this case it should be simple. Did the officers watch the act? If so, they should be fired. Any further investigation should focus on whether or not they should be charged.
In another case reported this week, a young woman in Ottawa was arrested without cause, detained, beaten and sexually humiliated in a police station.
Last month, a judge threw out the charges against the woman, Stacy Bonds. In his ruling the judge called Bonds' arrest "unlawful," her detention "arbitrary" and her treatment at the hands of the police "an extremely serious breach of ... rights."
According to court documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen, Bonds was stopped after police spotted her drinking a beer on a downtown street. The officers questioned her, ran her name through the system, then told her to go home after she came up clean.
But when Bonds questioned why she was stopped in the first place, she was arrested and placed in the back of a police car.
At the police station, Bonds was violently strip-searched in front of male officers -- she had her shirt and bra cut from her body -- then left topless in a cell for more than three hours. She was also kneed in the back by an officer and had her hair pulled and her face shoved forward.
All of this was caught on tape.
The judge in the case called the search "an indignity toward a human being" and said the only reasons to leave her topless were "vengeance and malice."
He tossed the charges, saying it "would be a travesty" to allow the case to go on.
Again, in any other profession, in any reasonable world, if a judge ruled that someone's employees had violently attacked and sexually humiliated someone under their care, the employees would be fired. Full stop. It would be the bare minimum expected.
And yet, because these are police officers, they instead get an investigation by their peers. One that, if history is any guide, will most likely not result in a single lost job.
Police officers do difficult, dangerous work. Every day, they deal with the angry and the belligerent, putting their lives at risk to serve the cause of civil order and the safety of their fellow citizens.
But the police are also granted great privileges. They are allowed to carry weapons, arrest citizens and bend them to their will.
Officers who abuse those rights should be punished, swiftly and severely. To do any less is to invite future abuse. After all, rules are only rules if there are consequences for breaking them.