Violence against Public Servants: Should It be Punished Harder?


Should ambulance personnel receive extra protection from the state?

Ambulance personnel, police officers and firemen: people that, day in and day out, prevent our society from turning into a complete chaos. They support us so that we can live our lives without having to worry about our human rights being infringed upon. But what if these servants themselves become infringed upon their basic human rights? What if they are violated, both mentally and physically? There are governments, including the Dutch one, that have made explicit their intention to punish violence against public servants harder than violence against ‘regular’ (non-public servant) citizens. But, is this decision justified? And, more importantly, why would that be so?

Let’s think about it. You could claim that abusing a public servant is more severe than abusing a regular citizen because, by abusing a public servant, the perpetrator not only violates the rights of the servant but also the rights of the other members of society who are entitled to the services of the servant. After all, attacking the staff of an ambulance not only harms the ambulance workers, but indirectly also the patient that is (supposed to be) treated by these men and women. The same goes for police officers: abusing these men and women not only harms them, but also the citizens waiting to be helped by the police officers. Thus the physical or mental abuse of a public servant not only hurts the servants themselves, but also the citizens who are supposed to be served by the servants. And therefore, you could say, should the abuse of a public servant be punished harder than the abuse of a regular citizen.

Also, by abusing a public servant you are infringing upon what might be the controlling or correcting power of the state, which might be a violation in itself. That is, public servants are appointed to guard the laws we have set as a society, including the law condemning violence against other persons. Therefore, by abusing a pubic servant, you are not only attacking a member of our society, but you also resist the authority (ambulance personnel, police etc.) a (democratic) society has decided should safeguard our rights. Hence, abusing public servants is more wrong than abusing a regular citizen, and thus should be punished harder.

One the other hand, a public servant is just as much human as a regular citizen. Therefore, you could say, should the abuse of a public servant be punished equally hard as the abuse of a regular citizen. There is no reason why the live of a public servant would be worth more than the life of a regular citizen, right? Just because he or she fulfils a certain position within our society? Isn’t someone’s profession totally irrelevant when it comes down to our most fundamental rights, including the right not the abused by others? If that would indeed be the case, then there would be no justification for punishing the abuse of a public servant any differently from the abuse of a regular citizen.

Also, you could say, the abuse of a public servant is in no way a more severe violation against the state and its controlling power than is the abuse of a regular citizen. That is to say that the violation of another person’s well-being is just as much a violation of a fundamental right as would be the violation of the state’s controlling power, and thus should be punished equally hard. After all: the state’s integrity is no more important than any citizen’s integrity. Hence, attacking the former should be punished equally as attacking the latter.

Personally, I believe that both positions are well defensible. However, I consider the first position to be more reasonable. By taking away another person’s right to be saved or defended by a public servant, more parties seem to be hurt in abusing a public servant than in the abuse of what is ‘only’ a regular citizen. And surely, it might not only be a servants’ duty to assist other people when they are in need; you and I might be just as capable in doing that. This might cast doubt on the idea of granting them an extra form of protection. But that doesn’t change the fact that a public servant is explicitly appointed to fulfil this duty within our society; and that might have to be taken into account.

But what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

3 thoughts on “Violence against Public Servants: Should It be Punished Harder?

  1. I think it’s wrong to punish violence against civil servants more severely than violence against other citizens. If anything, you could argue that violence against police officers should be punished less severely; after all, they purposely put themselves in harms way, often using violence against those they’re trying to arrest or stop. When they enter a volatile situation with a violent intent, is it really only the perpetrators fault when things get out of hand? I would think the burden of guilt in such a situation should also partly be on the police for instigating a violent situation by confronting a suspect in a violent manner (even when this violence is justified and legal).

  2. To clarify: I’m not saying police officers ‘deserve’ to get attacked or that violence against them is justified. I’m simply arguing from a perpetrator’s point of view. When attacking a normal citizen, a perpetrator usually approaches a citizen that would otherwise leave him alone. Police officers however force a confrontation. In such a situation, I think he is less culpable rather than more for any violence that may result.

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for your response. I think your argument against police officers is defensible; you could indeed say that it is part of the occupation of being a police officer that you are confronted with violent situations; hence so is the possibility of encountering – or being hurt by – a violent situation. Moreover, since a police-officer is trained for handling violent situations – and equipped for dealing with them (he has weapons etc.) – he does not need or deserve extra protection via the law.

      But what about firemen? Or, even more stringent, ambulance personnel? The latter certainly do not choose to engage in violent conflict, and are – as far as I know – not trained to deal with these situations; or at least not equipped to deal with them.

      Moreover, working at an ambulance, you are at least partially responsible for the health of the person in the ambulance. The latter is frequently not in good health – hence being in an ambulance. By attacking ambulance personnel, you not only hurt the personnel, but indirectly the person in the ambulance as well – whether this is ‘physical hurt’, by preventing him from getting care to ease his pain, or infringing upon his right to receive appropriate care.

      Would you agree with me that the situation is different for ambulance personnel when compared to the police men :)? Or what do you think?

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