This post at Dean Esmay is really, really interesting. Especially the bits on the 'uncivilized' handling of troubles. Too good to excerpt, should be read in its entirety.
I grew up around law enforcement, and have a long acquaintance with the concept. In many sheriff's offices, some PDs and Highway Patrols, there's a long tradition of settling many matters 'off the books'. This has been everything from an officer having words with some kid heading into trouble and thumping him a bit, to some officer faced with someone about to do something really bad and telling them flat out that if they do it, they'll die.
I'm very in favor of rules of conduct in law enforcement, for a number of reasons. I'm also aware that there are countless kids kept out of trouble, or pulled out of it, by some officer giving them 'counseling'. There are people alive because some guy with a badge telling a bad guy exactly what would happen to him if he did what he planned. There's also God knows how many cases where an officer knew exactly why someone had moved, or cleaned up their act, or in some cases flat disappeared; some family member or neighbor or friend of a victim/victim-to-be had words with/beat the crap out of/killed someone. The officer knew it and did nothing. Oh, sometimes might let something drop to the someone that it would be a bad idea for such activities to continue, but usually it wasn't needed; they hadn't done it because they wanted to, but because they had to.
This is the problem with depending on courts/the law to solve everything. They can't act until someone has actually done something, and then only if they can catch the bad guy and/or prove in court they did it. Which means, if you truly believe that only the government is allowed to act, someone winds up robbed/raped/beaten/dead, and the minions of government then show up to do something.
I know, you can't go simply to 'take care of it yourself', but you cannot simply block out the right of someone to act. I'm told that one mark of a good military officer is that he knows when not to see anything when a good sergeant takes care of some types of problems; sometimes the mark of a good law officer is not seeing when someone does something essential that's outside the law by strict reading.
We've now had several court cases stating that if the police don't save you from some crime, you can't take legal action against them, because they have no responsibility to you as in individual; they are responsible only to society in whole or in general. But all too many of them will also crap all over you if you act in your own defens after being attacked; you do something about someone that you know is planning to hurt you, the cops will happily take you to prison. In all too many places, the means of self-defense themselves have been so restricted as to be out of reach of most, and too many law enforcement agencies- police, prosecutors, courts- take the position that simply owning, or wanting to own, the means of self-defense is proof that you are up to no-good. Which reinforces the attitude "you can't take care of yourself; that's OUR job, and you better not forget it!".
Surprise, surprise, the world is messy. A lot of the people who think the most of acting in the most civilized of manners have a bad habit of chopping up the freedom of people because 'they might not act in the right(approved) way'; never mind that they're helping trash the freedoms they claim to love so much, keeping the peasants acting in proper ways is much more important than that!
'Cleaning up Dodge' has never been neat. When the authorities were corrupt or incompetent or just refused to act, people did it themselves, which is how the Committees of Vigilence came to be. 'Vigilante' is a dirty word nowadays, but most forget that when the work was done, the committees generally disbanded themselves.
One thing I would love to see is an actual, no bullshit hearing on some cases. Some jurist with more concern for freedom and rights than for the 'privilege' of government to control us hearing the case of someone taking the law into their hands and saying "Why did they have to do this? Why did the officers of the law at all levels not do their damned jobs, and thus force this man to do this?" and then act on it. Serious action against those not doing their 'damned jobs' might have some good effect. Oh, the screaming and whining would be endless, partly because a lot of the officers of the law in question are scared to death of having to actually do something not 'approved of'. Approval generally breaking down to "I won't get in trouble if I follow the PC/Court/whatever approved rules, but if I actually THINK and do something, I can get yelled at!"
I'm throwing into this mess the idiocy known as 'zero tolerance' in schools. Some kid accidentally brings a pocketknife to school has two choices: keep quiet and hope not to get caught, or turn it in. If he turns it in, he's in trouble; if he gets caught, he's in trouble. Might as well try to slide through, because obeying the rules gets me in just as much trouble as getting caught. NOT a good thing to put forth as a rule. And the kid who made an honest mistake is in just as much trouble with the school as some jerk who intends to do harm.
This has kind of rambled around a bit. Basically I mean two things: 1, there has to be a respect for the law among people, and 2, the law has to understand that there are situations that really should have a blind eye turned to them.
Want a hard and fast rule about everything? Read a fantasy story, because I don't have one.