Is there a role for vigilantes in society?

When it comes to low level crime is it sometimes better to have a respected member of the community deal with trouble makers? Do we rely too much on the long arm of the law these days?

On one public housing estate in Darlington in northern England, a former boxer, “Fearless” Francis Jones, charges around six dollars a week – to deal with trouble makers. Shop keepers call him when rowdy teenagers gather outside their stores intimidating customers or throwing things at passing cars.  They say he responds immediately while the police force can take hours. 

Maybe he’s providing a useful service for the community, but should people have to pay someone unqualified and with no more powers than the ordinary citizen to deal with kids causing problems on their estates?

We’ll be hearing all about Fearless Francis on Newshour on Monday

35 Responses to “Is there a role for vigilantes in society?”

  1. November 28, 2009 at 12:26

    I think you have a saying in UK ” put more bobbies back on beat” whatever their failings they are preferable to self-appointed “guardians”.

  2. 2 james (uganda)
    November 28, 2009 at 16:33

    in africa, the false sense of need for justice due to police incompetence leads to mob justice. what begins as vigilantism leads to suspects being beaten to a pulp or death. i might understand the need to scare off low level criminals but i think it would be more relevant in some cultures and not here in africa

  3. 3 Max Mahajan
    November 28, 2009 at 16:44

    YES! There IS a role for vigilantes.

    I’ve been a minor vigilante myself [in India] while threatening and/or beating up guys who had a habit of / proclivity towards either molesting girls/women or outraging their modesty in public places in the most reprehensible and Male Chauvinist Pig manner.

    The existence of vigilantes is partly a manifestation of the frustration that certain people feel towards the existing state of law & order in their country versus what should actually exist with the reference point being the ethical, moral, cultural and value-based agglomeration of what a perpetually sustainable society should be!

  4. 4 wintergreen
    November 28, 2009 at 18:31

    Appart from the lack of uniform what is the difference between this guy and the pretend police we now have in the UK?
    Neither have any authority and neither have any power but one is paid for by the government and the other is paid for by the community.
    BOTH are wrong on so many levels.
    What is needed is a police force that is not only doing the job it is supposed to do but is seen to be doing the job it is supposed to do.

    Paying a “respected” menber of the comunity (or an ex boxer who can hit you really hard) to hassle kids into moving on is intimidation, so this communities answer to being intimidated was to pay somebody to go intimidate kids, whats next do the kids pay somebody bigger to go intimidate him?
    What happens when one of the shop owners decides he doesnt want to pay, does the respected member of the comunity intimidate the kids to just move along to outside the shop of the person who hasnt paid?
    The police should be looking into what can only be described as a protection racket.

  5. 5 Kevin PE
    November 28, 2009 at 19:11

    Fearless Francis “The bruiser” will have to take out insurance with Lloyds to cover all the litigation the mammas delinquents are going to throw at him. Too bad we’ve now got so “legalized” a citizen cannot protect his own property or business. Perhaps we should have lawyers patrolling the streets. Makes me glad my teen years were the seventies, when common sense was still alive and everybody knew the rules.

  6. 6 Roberto
    November 28, 2009 at 22:46

    “” Fearless” Francis Jones, charges around six dollars a week – to deal with trouble makers. “”

    ——— Mr. Jones was a pretty fair journeyman boxer. His biggest fight was a loss to Ricky Hatton’s brother, Matthew.

    His record: http://boxrec.com/list_bouts.php?human_id=111800&cat=boxer

    Vigilantes are the origin of law enforcement. Without people needing to defend themselves and the larger community, there would’ve been no governments and criminal justice systems.

    Mr. Jones should take care as he is being paid peanuts for would could turn into a potentially nasty situation. Britain has a lot of hooliganism and petty crime that their law enforcement system never competently handles if my British buddies are to be believed.

    No different from parts of America or any of the western world. Authorities are there to primarily handle traffic problems and collect their public paychecks, not deal with day to day assaults and petty crime, which to be fair, seems endless from their perspective.

  7. 7 Bert
    November 28, 2009 at 23:26

    Once upon a time in neighborhoods, I am told, the parents of other kids would not hesitate to tell a child who is being overly rumbunctious to settle down. Was that also what today we call vigilanteism?

    I have nothing against the community participating in keeping itself a nice place to be. Obviously, within the limits allowed by law. I don;t think people need to knee-jerk oppose community involvement, by labeling it “vigilanteism.”

  8. November 29, 2009 at 01:12

    Yep, When a society loses faith in their law and order system there really does need to be a temporary option to set things right. With jungle rules in effect, usually the authorities take stock of themselves and adapt to regain the role of protective and corrective action.

    Note what happened in New York City when the vigilanti Bernard Goets took charge of his fate after he got mugged twice and the authorities to take corrective action took a holliday.

    Options do have to unfold. Justice is like water always seeking a certain level.


  9. 9 archibald
    November 29, 2009 at 02:57

    Cynically, I think that there is a greater use for citizens’ justice and could be used to set a higher standard for police conduct by making public accountability a more visible and respected reality. The easily dodged legal system, tending toward protection of those who enforce over those being enforced, could be greatly affected by the potential of public justice being meted out by private citizens. When you say “unqualified”, are you referring to training or life experience, because, it seems that Fearless is more than qualified, regardless of whether or not he is a proper copper. Bottom line,though, a hired thug is a hired thug.
    Judging by personal human observation, however, this would seem a simple minded solution to a much deeper problem that comes way before justice and exists somewhere within the ethics of force over others and how we justify what is “right” and “wrong”.

  10. 10 Ronald Almeida
    November 29, 2009 at 14:05

    Not only is smaller more beautiful but it is also more efficient. Not only a member of a comunity knows the problems and the people involved but no: 2 works harder than the policeman.

  11. 11 Miriam from USA/Israel
    November 29, 2009 at 14:29

    Cops are rendered useless by mobs as is usually true in India when Islamic mobs storm police stations or they are over powered by savagely violent youths. Then, citizenry and their strongmen need to step in. This is the sort of riot that is common in India.

    Riots in India for
    * Saddam’s hanging in Iraq
    * Reverend Falwell’s foul remarks in USA
    * Cartoon in Denmark
    seem oddly out of place in distant India since these outside events have absolutely no connection to any Indian or India. Yet they all took place and Hindu shops were looted and Hindus got killed. For one building in ruins and lying unused called Babri mosque, more than 2000 were killed when that was regained by people of the native indigent culture of 9500 year old historic ties to that site.

    The international community need to step in, other wise mobsters will take vigilante violence against the unarmed innocent civilians. Yet such riots inspired by Pakistan’s thugs are being encouraged by the international community by donating billions to the evil regime over there. Is it just or fair? Indians are waiting for social justice, economic equality and indeed true independence from their Islamic neighbors who turn into mobsters at the drop of a hat. So, vigilantism is not a solution.

  12. 12 T
    November 29, 2009 at 14:52

    This ties into the feeling in the States of everyone having the right to carry a gun. Do we also then say that we can do whatever we feel like to “uphold the law”?

    The second something goes wrong, every one of these shopowners would be calling a cop.

  13. 13 Phil K
    November 29, 2009 at 16:11

    Arrogant, corrupt PC types who spend more time shouting about “human rights” for those who prey on society from teen thugs to psychotic islamic fanatics or terrorists, while ignoring the concerns of people trying to live their life LAWFULLY will obsviously attack this man, and it’s no surprise the PC-infested BBC side against him
    But the teen thugs only understand force.
    Its all they respect.
    Unlike the middle class PC Guardian-readers, I know whereof I speak, because my job means I have to deal with them constantly – rather than lecture others on a subject i know nothing about, and am comfortably far away from, or giving public money to the ones CAUSING the public problems in the jobs they get from the similarly corrupt PC friends.

  14. November 29, 2009 at 17:55

    Police are redundant in today’s society. They concentrate on investigating crimes rather than preventing them. As less than 20% of the police are involved in detection work, the remaining 80% should be disbanded and financial burden reduced on the society. Vigilantes can very usefully perform the task of preventing crime. In the olden days every elderly person was respected and they acted as the guardians who deterred the youngsters from committing crimes. The young dare not even smoke in their presence. Yes, bring on the vigilantes if you want safe streets and crime-free neighbourhoods.

  15. 15 David Turner
    November 29, 2009 at 19:44

    I support the community in its efforts to protect itself. Paying this chap is no more than an expression of direct democracy.

    Obviously, it is not the ideal solution to the communities problems…but it is practical and it is available. Clearly, the various Institutions are failing in their duties towards the local citizens.

    Good on you for taking control of your own lives.

  16. 16 NSC London
    November 29, 2009 at 21:57

    I think this says alot about the poor state of policing in Britain. As an American living in the UK I’m pretty shocked at both the weakness of the police force and the degree to which the justice system favours the attacker over the victim.

    I sometimes watch “Street Crime UK: Zero Tolerance.” It should actually be called “Street Crime UK: Quite A Lot of Tolerance Actually.”

    The stuff UK cops are willing to put up with, being called “boy,” being pushed, being swung at, is enough to warrant a serious beat down in the US. It is unsurprising chavs and trouble makers don’t respect the police, they seem really soft.

  17. 17 Mike in Seattle
    November 30, 2009 at 00:31

    Why don’t the police deputize Mr. Jones so that he can act as a legitimate peace officer?

  18. 18 Dennis Junior
    November 30, 2009 at 05:05


    Yes, there is an role for vigilantes in society since, this way….Society will have a sense of security and safety in their homes and neighbourhoods….

    =Dennis Junior=

  19. 19 Tom K in Mpls
    November 30, 2009 at 07:51

    The fact that the general public are willing to pay, says the service is good and there is a need. It also suggests that the officials need to be replaced. They just need to be very careful about putting this need into laws. In the US, some still exist from the wild west days, because the law created a license that is still available. They are called bounty hunters, and they are above certain laws. They are typically military and police rejects, a nasty lot.

  20. 20 Suresh in New Jersey
    November 30, 2009 at 08:16

    This only means that the faith on the cops is not as strong as it used to be.

    Also this means that cops have become more bureaucratic, bound by legislation and open to being charged with violations and are therefore reluctant to do what is neccessary.

  21. 21 JanB
    November 30, 2009 at 10:20

    There’s always the possibility of the vigilante going too far, or (unknowingly) choosing the wrong side in a conflict. Then again, hiring vigilantes does become awfully attractive when it takes the police hours to arrive, if at all.
    I do not know why police seem so incapable in 21st century Europe (though it may have something to do with all the bureaucracy they have to plow through), but it’s not surprising this drives people into the arms of vigilantes.

  22. November 30, 2009 at 11:07

    Is there really a case, or a cause to answer here, the laws of our land have been designed to cover all eventualities, and when they don’t fit a scene properly they get tweeked a bit, too often today by the police themselves who are often not just as accountable to law themselves as they need to be.

    Interference to our established system creates weakness in many instances and giving police powers to untrained, uncontrolled civilans allows gangsters to take over areas of our cities.

    Should a civilian prove to be interested in such matters and be acceptable, the way ahead is clear, apply to be a police officer, a special or a police
    asistant, vigilantes are not to encouraged, but the law apertaining to self defense or defending family and possessions most certainly need a lot more than just a bit of tweeking.

  23. 23 wintergreen
    November 30, 2009 at 12:13

    It would seem there is a fair amount of support for vigilantes in the UK.
    How many of the supporters would have been happy with the situation which arose around here a couple of years ago?
    On release from prison a rather prominent criminal with delusions of being a gangster decided he would “protect” the comunity.
    The result was gangs of teenagers knocking on peoples doors each week asking for £5 to stop their windows being broken.
    This kind of vigilanteism is nothing more than a criminal offence and anybody who supports this needs to take a step back and have a good think about what they are supporting.

  24. November 30, 2009 at 15:03

    I endorse NSC London.The only respected member of society I want to see on the street is a police man in uniform.A very noble effort by Mr.Smith,but one that could easily spiral out of control.Would the next step be for vigilantes to punish offenders?

  25. November 30, 2009 at 16:05

    Can we not quote the lessons of gangster type wheel clampers as an example of what not to encourage, or make legal.

    There has always been plenty of warnings of what will happen if such practices are openly encouraged,

    World famous Manchester United attracts thousands of fans who need parking space, shops and garages and works places are often closed at match times, and that is when the illegals move in.

    Motorists about to leave their cars parked up are approached by mini gangsters, with the words, “Look after your car mister.” and even the hard guys pay up, because they know exactly what the veiled threat means. The option being to pay up or move off to another area.

  26. 26 patti in cape coral
    November 30, 2009 at 16:42

    I basically agree with Suresh. If there is a need for this and people are willing to pay, there is something wrong with the way the police force is operating.

  27. 27 Gerry S
    November 30, 2009 at 16:52

    I hate to bring up the sensitive subject of handguns, but here in America many citizens take responsibility for their own security by owning and in many cases conceal carrying handguns. I do this myself in Texas where I’m from as do thousands of my fellow Texans, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety there are over 70,000 Texas residents who have a Conceal Handgun License.

    Since President Bush reinstated the Conceal Handgun License in Texas during the 90s when he was Governor, we did not experience a sharp increase in murders or aggravated assault crimes unlike Washington D.C. who banned handguns during the 70s. Their murder rates rose sharply while the rest of the country’s murders dropped.

    There are cultural differences between our nations but I would think a modern and intelligent people of the UK would be responsible enough to at least own handguns in their home to protect themselves and their families from criminals who don’t care about banns on handguns. When the UK placed a ban on handguns the only people the punished is law abiding citizens, not the criminals.

    Does the UK feel comfortable with the fact that now criminals and police are the only ones that have handguns?

  28. 28 Roberto
    November 30, 2009 at 17:17

    RE “” If there is a need for this and people are willing to pay, there is something wrong with the way the police force is operating. “”

    ———– Plenty of criticism to go around what with most voters continuing to put the same old dreary status quo into power who control how the police will operate.

    The problem goes to the root over everyone’s culture since every culture known to man has systems in place to deal with wrongdoers.

    I would also point out that the right to self defense is an inalienable right that everyone holds. As in every right, the devil is in the details of how this is supposed to be carried out. The various states have been moving to take away the right to self defense by often bringing expensive and time consuming charges against those daring to protect themselves.

  29. 29 Tom D Ford
    November 30, 2009 at 19:10

    In the US we call such people who charge shopkeepers for “protection”, gangsters, or “mafia”.

    So has England legalized gangsterism?

  30. 30 David Turner
    November 30, 2009 at 19:45

    This is not an example of “gangsterism”…if the shopkeepers decide that they no longer want to pay the boxer, he will not show up with a firebomb or crowbar.

    Besides, we pay our regular police force. How does that differ from paying this boxer, or a store’ security guard?

  31. 31 Ibrahim in UK
    December 1, 2009 at 12:47

    Police are accountable if they exceed their limits and abuse their powers. What are the limits for vigilantes? How far can they go in dealing out justice, and what kind of special protection/rights are they afforded if someone fights back against them?

    I think the attraction of vigilantes points to other issues:

    1. A generation of parents failing to instil respect to others. The parents are the first to blame and they should be the first ones to be on the scene to discipline their offspring.

    2. A general fear in society to act against troublemakers. If someone even drops litter on the street, very few people would challenge it.

    3. A shortage of deterrants, either in the case of sentencing or police numbers.

  32. 32 John in Ireland
    December 1, 2009 at 13:14

    The professional police haven’t been around for ever — they go back to the “Bow Street Runners” founded in 1749, and the Met in 1829. Before that, it seems that it was up to the citizenry. Interestingly, it is reported that when the Peelers (Met) were set up “It was also feared that the police force would be used to arrest opponents of the government, stop protests and destroy free speech” — concerns which many political protesters of today would say turned out to be well-founded!

  33. 33 Maroclement
    December 1, 2009 at 16:20

    Obviously they do not have a place in the society because they perpetrate more crime than the ones they curb in the society;have we lost confidence in our trained security organizations such as the police,army etc in maintaining law and order?

  34. 34 Elias
    December 1, 2009 at 19:23

    No not at all, Vigilantes are against the law, better they keep out of politics.

  35. 35 vijay pillai
    December 1, 2009 at 20:48

    Noat all prefer more police force and not vigilaties. what happend to newyork style vigilaties in tubes a decade ago? They may be over zealous like private land car climbers and traffic wardends catching innocents for a minor offence like thowing a chocklete wrapper on the pavement and so on.

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