Police & security in Star Trek

I know what you’re probably thinking: Star Trek is a science fiction series, not a crime one. So, let’s kick things off with a brief explanation. This video grew out of drafts of a script exploring Constable Odo’s character in Deep Space Nine. While Odo is one of my favorite characters in the Trek universe, during 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests I noticed a lot of leftist Trek groups on Facebook and Reddit calling Odo a bastard cop. Ok, sure, all cops are bastards, but not Odo! Right? I mean, he’s friends with Major Kira, a former Bajoran freedom fighter. She’d never be friends with someone who had with fascist tendencies! Right?

Odo and Kira in Meridian.

At first, I tried to defend Odo’s relationship with law and justice… until I started rewatching DS9, and saw how totalitarian he was: spying on people without a warrant, using flimsy excuses to search people’s ships or to arrest people. 

ODO: Why don’t I lock them up and call the Klingons to come get them.

SISKO: Odo.

ODO: If they’re enemies of the Klingon High Council?

SISKO: They haven’t broken any laws here. You can’t just throw them in jail.

ODO: You know, Cardassian rule may have been oppressive, but at least it was simple.

***

ODO: I routinely monitor all of Quark’s subspace communications.

BASHIR: Is that legal?

ODO: It’s in the best interests of station security.

All this, combined with the already brutal nature of Odo’s people, the Founders, left me confused and trying to sort out my thoughts on Odo. Reading about the BLM protests and police brutality in 2020 made me want to explore Odo’s relationship with the law. 

Further, I want to reconcile my emotions about his character with the realities of how Odo handles police work.

However, to fully examine Odo and his problematic tendencies, I wanted to present a complete background for police in the Trek universe: what the laws are, who enforces them, and what the punishments are. Also, I think in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, it’s worth examining how pop culture portrays policing. Other shows have been evolving to reflect changing social values, like acclaimed cop comedy show Brooklyn 99. While Trek isn’t a police show, it is about an ideal future. 

So, I’ve been rewatching various Trek series, as well as reading this essay collection called Star Trek Visions of Law and Justice. These essays were previously published in various legal journals, the essays explore different aspects of law in the Trek universe. In general, I’ve found that while a lot of Trek shows talk about how enlightened, different, and just the legal system and prisons are, the way criminals are treated and the way the prison system looks is remarkably similar to the way they look now, in the 21st century.

A disclaimer: obviously, most Trek series deal with interplanetary law more often than civilian issues, or plain Federation law. This makes complete sense: stories about the Prime Directive, the law about not interfering with developing cultures, are better suited to Trek’s scope than subplots about Ferengi making noise complaints about Klingon neighbors who blast opera late at night. That’s why I won’t spend a lot of time looking at the laws or courts of alien species.

Alien laws in the Star Trek universe are generally mentioned to demonstrate how terrible, strange, or different the aliens are, such as Cardassian trials with predetermined verdicts, like in the DS9 episode “Tribunal.” Poor Miles O’Brien, alien judges seem to really have it out for that guy; in another episode, “Hard Time,” his punishment is to experience 20 years of prison in a matter of hours.

There’s also the intimidating-looking Klingon courts— which, like everything else in Klingon culture, is designed to be imposing and warlike. The animated show Lower Decks pokes fun at this trope:

Boimler: Creepy stone walls. Jagged metal bars. This has ‘alien prison’ written all over it! 

Rutherford: A prison? Nah, no way, man. This is a dungeon. 

Sometimes, the aliens aren’t weird for having scary-looking courtrooms, but extreme laws– like on Next Generation’s “Justice,” where Wesley Crusher is supposed to be put to death for falling into a flower bed. There’s also the less extreme version of “guilty until proven innocent” in the Next Generation episode “A Matter of Prespective,” where Commander Riker is accused of murder and attempted rape.

As noted in the book about law and justice in Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry never sat down and created an entire legal system, so episodes instead deal with legal issues on a case by case basis. Especially considering the layers of law at work, shown in this handy chart— Trek episodes that are about legal matters often focus on issues of jurisdiction— whose laws apply in a situation— and in terms of general ethics— what is the best moral option, without violating the Prime Directive?

Some good examples of this are Next Generation’s “The Measure of a Man,” 2×9, where Data’s legal rights as an android are formally discussed in a hearing; ‘The Drumhead’ (4×21), where an admiral turns an investigation of sabotage into a paranoid witch hunt; And DS9’s “Dax” (1×7,) where a Bajoran arbiter is brought to the station to oversee the investigation of Lt Dax. Legal proceedings for Starfleet officers get a close look in TOS’s “Court Martial,” (1×20) both parts of “The Menagerie,” (1×11) and in Next Generation’s “The First Duty.” (5×19)

Federation law– that is, legal issues between different planets— is a focus in the film “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and DS9’s two-parter, “Homefront/Paradise Lost.”

But while this stuff is part of the Trek universe, the episodes don’t tell us much about how policing works in the Federation, as they mainly focus on court proceedings. Also, we get to see how police work on alien planets, but how do they work in the Federation?

In this video, I’m going to look at three things. First, I’ll examine what different security chiefs in Star Trek actually do in terms of law enforcement; second, I’ll look at how incarceration and the prison system work; and third, I’ll look at the punishments given to criminals, focusing on cultural attitudes towards the death penalty, how mentally ill criminals are treated, and a look at racial biases in sentencing. Also, I’ve decided to look at the Trek series in sequential order to see if they changed with society. There’s also a spoilers warning on this whole video, for spoilers, for character deaths.

To begin, let’s discuss the security chiefs. And wow, has that job changed! While you might think of Worf or Tuvok when you think about security, the job did not start that way. In The Original Series, the infamous red shirts were the security officers. Yep, that’s right: the constantly dying nameless red-shirted ensigns are the ship security.

Not to be confused with the often-dying yellow shirts in Next Gen, DS9 and Voyager. Guess what color security wears in those series?

Back to the original series: there wasn’t a main, recurring character as security chief. A few episodes have men in charge of security, like Lieutenant Commander Giotto in “The Devil in the Dark” (1×25) and Lt Freeman in “The Trouble with Tribbles.” (2×14) But while these officers did oversee security teams on planets, their job apparently wasn’t enough to warrant main character status. Plus, the security chiefs were not the ones in charge of weapons like photo torpedoes— that was the job of a bridge officer.

And I want to focus on Lt Freeman for a moment, and how minor a character he was: not only did his shirt change color partway through this episode, in DS9’s homage episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations,” one of his few speaking parts was cut and he was replaced with Chief O’Brien. 

When The Next Generation introduced a security chief as a main bridge character (first with Tasha Yar and later, with Worf), this made sense as an evolution of this position. Both Yar and Worf are in charge of firing photon torpedoes, handling security on away missions, and providing security and law enforcement on the ship itself. Worf confiscates weapons in “The Outrageous Okona,” occasionally locks people up in the brig. (like Q in “Deja Q”), and shoots intruders on the ship.

This job description—one part military weapons expert, one part ship security guard—is now the standard for all security chiefs, from Odo to Tuvok to Shax on Lower Decks.

On Voyager, Tuvok’s job is similar to Worf’s, both in handling photon torpedoes and phasers, as well as security in the ship itself. In “Ex Post Facto,” when Tom Paris is accused of murder, Tuvok investigates the allegation. Some episodes give us more insight into how Federation law works. For example, in “Meld,” we learn that Starfleet doesn’t execute people, and Tuvok suggests a murder suspect talk to a lawyer. This is also when we meet the character Lon Suder, who I’ll discuss more later.

In the series Enterprise, we get a satisfactory look at how the security post evolved, as the series is a prequel. We see Malcolm Reed handling weapons, training people, testing weapons, and rescuing kidnapped officers. Reed is also the one to develop the “tactical alert,” which would later evolve into the “red alert.” (ENT: “Singularity, 2×19”) 

There’s occasionally times when it seems like the writers forgot that this was supposed to be a utopia, or at least humankind trying to make a utopia— like when Trip mentions the electric chair in the episode “Detained.” 

However, Enterprise does suggest that Starfleet isn’t completely military. In the Xindi story arc, we see officers—Military Assault Command Operations, or MACOs for short—on board to provide additional combat officers. 

In addition, three security chiefs and main characters died while doing their job, meaning this isn’t the safest job on the ship.

So, we’ve looked at the chief of security’s job, which is basically to enforce Federation law, act as ship security, and defend the Federation via the military. Now it’s time to look at how the police system in the Federation works. Spoilers: it’s a lot less utopic than you might think.

To be honest, there isn’t a lot to go on with law enforcement works in the Star Trek universe. Similar to how the Federation no longer uses money, as Starfleet officers are not paid— but it’s never explained how they acquire things— the precise nature of policing and incarceration in this world is also glossed over. On money in the Trek universe, DS9 refers to credits a few times, as in, transporting long distances uses up credits. Like many people, I assumed that once we stopped using money, class differences would disappear and a lot of crime would just vanish— at least on Earth, and on other Federation planets that also moved away from currency. Of course, not all planets in Trek stopped using money— there’s the Ferengi, who trade in gold pressed latinum. I mean, in a society with no money and no scarcity of products, there’d be little motivation to break the law to sell illegal goods, for example. Plus, all the times we see people breaking laws to make money, they’re either aliens— like the Ferengi, or this con artist time traveller who wants to steal technology to sell it in another time line— or they’re like Vaush or Mudd, general troublemakers.  We do see a bit of the legal system in different shows; I already mentioned how The Original Series shows us how court martials work. But this is the legal system for Starfleet officers, not their policing for civilians.

So, what about actual policing—that is, civilians being arrested for violating laws? Well, the most obvious example are the characters I just mentioned, like Harry Mudd, who is shown generally being a schmuck and a con artist in every series he’s been in, whether Discovery, The Original Series, or The Animated Series. Harcourt Mudd has been convicted for smuggling, transporting stolen goods, and purchasing a space vessel using counterfeit currency… not to mention Kirk trying to bring him in for fraud, swindling, and illegal drug manufacturing. Mudd is an easy one, though. In addition to being a liar, a cheat, and a misogynist, he’s clearly breaking lots of laws. No one’s going to get upset if you lock him up. We do get to see the Enterprise’s criminal record system, which does mention he received psychiatric treatment, but it didn’t seem to work.

Harcourt Fenton Mudd!

Similar is Vash, the one-time love interest of Captain Picard and artifact thief. She was kicked out of the Daystrom Institute Archaeological Council twice for selling stolen goods, 

Q: Barred from the Royal Museum of Epsilon Hydra Seven, persona non grata on Betazed. Wanted dead on Myrmidon for stealing the Crown of the First Mother.

and has made it clear that when it comes to academic research versus profit, she’ll choose profit every time. Not surprising that she often does business with the Ferengi.

There’s a few other glimpses at what policing looks like in Star Trek. We see a futuristic cop on a motorcycle trying to pull over a speeding young Kirk in the 2009 reboot movie—which honestly just looks like a high-speed chase from any vaguely sci-fi movie. You could make the same case for the other reboot Trek movies, but I won’t go into that here.

One positive about Star Trek: Miranda rights are in full force. All the series depict people being able to talk to an attorney, presumably free of charge. In the original series, we get a slightly eccentric lawyer who loves paper books. In DS9’s first season, Sisko tells someone they can get a lawyer (“Vortex”).

SISKO: I want to be sure you understand exactly what’s going to happen. There will be a trial to determine your guilt or innocence. We can assign an advocate or you can request one from your home world.

In Voyager’s “Meld,” Tuvok says that suspects have a right to counsel. 

TUVOK: I must advise you that under Starfleet Directive one zero one you do not have to answer any questions. SUDER: No. No, there’s no point in denying it anymore. I used a two kilo coil spanner. He was sitting at the impulse system control panel. Didn’t even look up when I moved in behind him and I swung the spanner as hard as I could. TUVOK: Crewman, I suggest you speak to counsel.

In the penultimate episode of Enterprise, “Terra Prime,” a journalist accused of spying asks to talk to her lawyer.

Interestingly, the brig also functions as a drunk tank in DS9.

KAINON: (in the next cell) Am I still drunk, or am I in jail with a Cardassian? Odo! You’re not keeping me in here with one of those! Odo! Odo!

There’s also the scene in “Blood Oath,” where Odo takes a very drunk Kor to the brig to sleep it off. When Koloth comes, presumably to bail his friend out, he decides to leave Kor there after he sees how wasted his friend is.

ODO: Sir, if you’ll wake up, I’ll release you into your friend’s custody.

KOR: Koloth! wIj jup My old friend. I knew you’d be here.

KOLOTH: You disgrace yourself and our purpose. I do not go into battle with one whose honour is washed away in breshtanti ale. Keep him!

A classic warrior’s pose.

Occasionally, we do get to see civilians getting in trouble with the law. In DS9, Dr. Bashir’s father agrees to a prison sentence for genetically altering his son.

Video from this episode: Doctor Bashir, I presume (S5E16)

Doctor, this is Rear Admiral Bennett, Judge Advocate General.

BASHIR: Admiral.

BENNETT: Doctor.

BENNETT: We’ve just reached an agreement that will allow you to retain both your commission and your medical practice.

RICHARD: I’m going to prison. BASHIR: What?

RICHARD: Two years. It’s a minimum security penal colony in New Zealand.

BASHIR: You can’t do this.

BENNETT: It was your father’s suggestion, Doctor. He pleads guilty to illegal genetic engineering and in exchange you stay in the service. BASHIR: Well, I want no part of it. I’m not going to just stand by while my father

RICHARD: Jules. Julian. Listen to me. This is my decision. I’m the one who took you to Adigeon Prime. I’m the one who should take responsibility for it.

 BASHIR: Two years? Isn’t that a bit harsh? 

The admiral goes on to explain that the harsh laws against genetic engineering are a result of the Eugenics Wars, as a safeguard to make sure that no more brilliant but homicidal dictators like Kahn Noonien Singh are created.

We eventually get to see the Federation’s penal colony in Voyager, when Captain Janeway goes to get Tom Paris. He’s serving 18 months for his involvement with the Maquis, the splinter group of rebels slash terrorists. While I first flinched at the idea of outdoor labor for prisoners, the shots don’t look too bad: there’s plenty of shade and trees, and looks more like people picking up trash alongside a highway for probation than a chain gang. But this is still a prison, and Paris is wearing an ankle bracelet, presumably to monitor him. There’s still the same stigma attached to serving time, evidenced by how the Voyager crew reacts to serving with a former criminal.

PARIS: There, you see? I told you it wouldn’t take long.

So even in the Federation there are still jail sentences given out for breaking laws. There is some type of rehabilitation program… but said rehab doesn’t sound the greatest. There is a mention of a “Starfleet Rehab” in the episode “Non Sequitur,” but it’s a throwaway line in a lame episode set in an alternate timeline.

PARIS: Oh, yeah. Captain Janeway asked if I’d help her track down that Maquis ship in exchange for an early release from the penal colony. KIM: But you said no? PARIS: What? Are you kidding? I said yes! It sounded better than Starfleet Rehab. Anyway, I got as far as Deep Space Nine, where I got into a bar fight with a Ferengi, and I was thrown into the brig by a very unpleasant shapeshifter. Janeway tried to get me released but my parole was revoked by Starfleet Command. 

That’s why I don’t think that policing and incarceration are as utopian as the rest of the Federation appears. It’d be nice to think that Earth has abolished jails, and instead relies on an extensive program of rehabilitation, social workers, and mental health services, with security chiefs only used to enforce ordinances or arrest violent or white-collar criminals. In fairness, the admiral’s role in the interrogation scene in “Non Sequitur” was originally written for Marina Sirtis, who plays counselor Troi, but she was unavailable for the episode. To me, having a counselor on hand when dealing with suspects seems like a definite step toward a more equitable justice system— if this addition were a regular, recurring thing, which it is not.

It’d be nice to think that even high-profile criminals like Admiral Leyton, who ordered armed Starfleet security to patrol Earth’s streets after a terrorist attack by a shapeshifter in DS9, attended some high-security rehab facility after he was arrested. These two-part episodes, “Homefront/Paradise Lost,” do confirm that a lot has changed on Earth: the armed Starfleet officers in the streets aren’t greeted well, and Captain Sisko voices concern about the overreach of the law.

SISKO: With a Starfleet officer on every corner, paradise has never seemed so well-armed.

This episode does show a marked difference to how armed patrol are viewed. But other shows and films confirm that, when it comes to prisons, humankind hasn’t advanced that much. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, McCoy mentions that the penalty for being court martialed is forced labor as a miner. “It’s bad enough to be court martialed and spend the rest of our lives mining borite…”

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: McCOY: You’d think they could at least send a ship. It’s bad enough to be court marshalled and spend the rest of our lives mining borite

The show Discovery gives a nasty confirmation of this with the treatment of character Michael Burnham. When she’s locked up in the brig in “Battle at the Binary Stars,” we learn that if you’re locked up, you can’t ask the computer for any information. 

BURNHAM: Computer, how badly have we been hit?

COMPUTER: You have been confined to the brig. Query denied.

After Burnham is convicted for mutiny, she’s conscripted “to be a miner in the war effort.” So, we know what one of the harshest punishments is for Starfleet officers.

Prisoners are regarded badly as well, shown in the way security chief Ellen Landry reacted to prisoners on board the ship.

My name’s Commander Landry. I’m Chief of Security here. I see we’re unloading all kinds of garbage today.

And this comment as Landry’s  guiding prisoners to the mess hall.

LANDRY: Mouths shut, eyes ahead. All right, Starfleet says we have to feed the animals. Who’s hungry?

Ouch. We could justify this by saying, “Well, Burnham DID commit mutiny on a Starfleet vessel…”, I‘m still very uncomfortable learning that the Federation uses prison labor at all. I don’t care if there’s a war on, that’s not how prisoners should be treated. And nothing justifies that type of dehumanizing language. This is hardly the enlightened humanity we were promised, focusing on rehab over punishment. Worse, this is in Discovery, one of the newest Trek shows.

Which leads me to my first main point: policing in the Federation doesn’t seem to be that different from policing on Earth today… minus the poverty, racism, classism, and police brutality, of course. While there are some gestures to having psychologists and mental help professionals involved in the justice system, like on Mudd’s record, that sentiment isn’t exactly consistent over the different seasons. This is especially true if we look at where suspects and criminals are kept— in the brig. Which is really just another word for jail cell. 

You just earned an extra day in the brig! 

Joke’s on you, man… I love the brig! I’m going to my favorite place! 

Despite Mariner’s jokes, the brigs aren’t the greatest place to be locked up. In TOS, Next Generation, and DS9, ships and space stations have brigs that lock prisoners in with force fields. Occasionally, people are handcuffed or otherwise restrained. No matter what the series, timeline, or universe, the brigs are spartan. The brig on the TNG Enterprise is similar to the one on DS9: little rooms closed off with force fields and presumably a bathroom behind a panel. The brigs from the show Enterprise are similar. In the film “The Final Frontier,” we do get to see something that’s presumably an actual toilet. In TNG’s “The Hunted,” we get to see that the sink is also similarly hidden. But there’s absolutely no privacy in those cells. You’re also left in the cell alone, unless the script calls for someone to be in the cell with you— like in DS9’s episode “Rivals.” In Voyager, we get to see how prisoners are fed— through a hole in the force field. The brigs from the show Enterprise are similar.

In Voyager’s “Random Thoughts,” it’s a relief to find I’m not the only one who’s surprised that the Federation still has brigs:

NIMIRA: Your brig, it’s a puzzling concept. Shutting someone away as punishment. Do you find that it rehabilitates the prisoner?

TUVOK: The brig is primarily used as a means of ensuring the safety of others.

NIMIRA: In what sense?

TUVOK: For example, if we find ourselves with a hostile alien in our custody, we may need to confine the individual until we can locate the proper authorities.

NIMIRA: I see.

TUVOK: And on rare occasions we have been forced to incarcerate a crew member who has committed a serious infraction.

NIMIRA: I’m surprised that one of your people could be capable of doing something serious enough to warrant imprisonment.

TUVOK: It’s extremely rare. In any case, the brig has been occupied for less than one percent of our journey.

NIMIRA: Forgive me, Tuvok, but it seems barbaric.

TUVOK [telepathically]: If all species were as enlightened as yours and mine, there would be no need for prisons.

Tuvok explains that the brig has only had people in it… for less than one percent of Voyager’s journey… but, she still calls it “barbaric.”

The final thing I want to talk about is punishment, and in particular, the death penalty. Because this is one thing that has definitely changed in Trek to reflect cultural attitudes.

In the original series, the Federation still has the death penalty, for only one crime: any contact with Talo IV, a planet inhabited by advanced telepaths. Known as General Order 7, this law was designed to keep people away from the Talosians, who wanted to keep people in a type of zoo or cage.

MENDEZ: Oh, I’m certifying I ordered you to read it. Know anything at all about this planet?

KIRK: What every ship Captain knows. General Order 7, no vessel under any condition, emergency or otherwise, is to visit Talos Four.

MENDEZ: And to do so is the only death penalty left on our books. Only Fleet Command knows why. Not even this file explains that. But it does name the only Earth ship that ever visited the planet.

 In “The Cloud Minders,” we see a member of the Federation that has both the death penalty as well as torture, for political dissidents. And in “Turnabout Intruder,” we hear about a General Order 4— which is the death penalty for mutiny.

CHEKOV: Starfleet expressly forbids the death penalty.

KIRK: All my senior officers turning against me?

SULU: The death penalty is forbidden. There’s only one exception.

CHEKOV: General Order Four. It has not been violated by any officer on the Enterprise.

However, in the years since— from Picard in “Justice” to Janeway in “Meld”— the franchise has made it very clear that the death penalty is no longer practiced in the Federation. 

LIATOR: Do you execute criminals?

PICARD: No, not any longer.

RIVAN: But you did once?

PICARD: Unfortunately, yes. But since then

RIVAN: But when you did, was it believed necessary to do so?

PICARD: Some people felt that it was necessary. But we have learned to detect the seeds of criminal behaviour Capital punishment, in our world, is no longer considered a justifiable deterrent.

Here is Janeway talking about what to do with Ensign Suder, who killed one of his crewmates:

JANEWAY. What do we do with him?

TUVOK: If we were home, he’d be sent to prison.

JANEWAY: The brig is the closest thing we have. But I don’t think we can just leave him down in our dungeon for the rest of the trip.

TUVOK: Nor would it be appropriate to leave him in the custody of someone in this quadrant.

JANEWAY: I agree.

TUVOK: Captain, he is prepared to die for his crime.

JANEWAY: An execution? You’re not seriously suggesting that we …

TUVOK: I only mention it because of the extenuating circumstances, and because he feels it would be an appropriate punishment.

JANEWAY: I don’t. I prefer to rehabilitate him, not to end his life. We’ll confine him to quarters. Work with Kim to install maximum security containment.

TUVOK: Pardon me, Captain, but allowing him the comfort of his own quarters doesn’t seem an appropriate punishment for murder.

JANEWAY: If we don’t get home soon, he’ll be in that room a long time, Mister Tuvok. I think this is the best we can do under these circumstances. T

TUVOK: Crewman Darwin’s three sisters might not agree.

A final thing I want to discuss about sentencing, and that is racial profiling. The episodes that deal with this topic A final thing I want to discuss is sentencing, and in particular, racial profiling. The episodes that deal with this topic usually frame it in terms of species profiling, making the obvious message a little more relevant for a scifi show. In the original series “Let that be your last battlefield,” we get an obvious stand on racial equality, as the episode features two characters, half black and half white— but not on the same side of their faces. This racial divide has consumed and destroyed their entire planet. And in case you weren’t paying enough attention, the episode literally ends with the two characters running until they’re exhausted while stock footage of burning buildings bombed during WWII flame in the background.

There’s also the blunt condemnation of police brutality in DS9’s “Far Beyond the Stars.” I love this episode, though it’s difficult to watch, as Sisko is transported back to the 1950s to live as a struggling science fiction writer, and dealing with discrimination in trying to publish stories with a black captain…

PABST: Oh, I like it all right. It’s good. It’s very good. But you know I can’t print it.

BENNY: Why not?

PABST: Oh, come on, Benny. Your hero’s a Negro captain. The head of a space station, for Christ’s sake.

BENNY: What’s wrong with that?

\PABST: People won’t accept it. It’s not believable.

HERBERT: And men from Mars are?

… as well as police profiling. 

​​BENNY: Can I have my drawing back?

RYAN: Hey boy, I’d watch that tone of voice if I were you.

MULKAHEY: What are you doing around here?

BENNY: I work here.

RYAN: Yeah? Where?

BENNY: In there.

RYAN: What are you, the janitor?

MULKAHEY: Awfully well dressed for a janitor. RYAN: How do we know that picture’s yours?

You’re getting off with a warning this time. Next time, not so lucky. Now get out of here.

MULKAHEY: You heard him, move on.

When he tries to intervene in a police shooting of a black man, he is brutally beaten by two white police officers. Having the actors who play Gul Dukat and Weyoun cast as the bastard cops was a wonderful touch.

Two Voyager episodes look at racial profiling in more detail. In “Remember,” Torres experiences vivid dreams from an Enaran, a race of telepaths— and in this way, learns about a breakaway group of Enarans known as the “Regressives.” This group shuns the use of technology, and while the Enaran government claims they’re relocating the Regressives to an offword colony, in reality, they’re killing them. This bloody history is covered up and the Enarans teach their children that the Regressives killed each other. After Janeway learns of this, she ends contact with the Enaran people.

I have much more mixed feelings about the seventh-season episode “Repentance.” Voyager offers to ferry some I have much more mixed feelings about the seventh-season episode “Repentance.” Voyager offers to ferry some prisoners back to their home world— the catch being, these prisoners will be executed. Worse, the prison guards are brutal, beating the prisoners for talking back and suggesting that Neelix not feed the prisoners.

YEDIQ: These men don’t deserve such an elaborate meal. Take it back.

NEELIX: Federation guidelines are quite clear about the treatment of prisoners.

TUVOK: He is correct.

NEELIX: I can quote the protocols if you like.

When the doctor treats the beaten prisoner, he accidentally “cures” the man’s violent tendencies, and after he’s cured, the prisoner starts an unsuccessful attempt to appeal his sentence.

I have really mixed feelings about this episode, for a couple reasons. One, another prisoner we meet seems to be unjustly accused, as Neelix discovers hard evidence that his species is arrested more often, charged more frequently, and executed more often. 

NEELIX: Did you know the Nygeans govern a sector of space occupied by several different humanoid species? PARIS: If we say yes, will you feed us?

NEELIX: One of those species is the Benkarans. They occupy just ten percent of Nygean space, but take up nearly eighty percent of the space in Nygean prisons.

PARIS: Maybe they commit more crimes. NEELIX: Not according to Joleg, one of the prisoners.

TORRES: You think he was given a harsher sentence because of his species?

NEELIX: According to this, Benkarans are ten times more likely to be executed for their crimes than Nygeans. TORRES: Where’d you get that?

NEELIX: I contacted the Nygean government. Told them I was interested in a cultural exchange. Among other things, they let me access data on their criminal justice system. It all supports what Joleg told me.

PARIS: Neelix. NEELIX: I know what you’re thinking.

PARIS: That you’re the softest touch in the Delta Quadrant.

NEELIX: These are the transcripts from Joleg’s trial. He was convicted on circumstantial evidence. PARIS: Let me guess. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time? NEELIX: Apparently.

PARIS: Neelix, when I was in the Federation penal colony, everybody had a story. I never put much stock in them. Neither should you.

NEELIX: How many of those people were sentenced to die?

Despite this, Paris dismisses this as “everyone has a story,” and in the end, when the accused man tries to escape, Neelix feels betrayed. Personally, I completely sympathize with the man’s attempt to escape. Prime Directive or no, Voyager is knowingly transporting these men to their deaths… and to me, that makes them complicit in the death sentence. Janeway could just as easily say no, and continue on her way. And how can anyone condemn a man for trying to escape the death penalty, when the justice system is clearly rigged against him?

While it’s not the death penalty, I do need to mention the Voyager episode “30 Days.” After ignoring Janeway’s orders, Paris is demoted to ensign… and sentenced to 30 days solitary confinement in the brig. While it is refreshing to see a Starfleet officer actually punished for flouting the rules, this punishment seems incredibly… harsh. 

NEELIX: Sorry. No non-essential conversation with the prisoner.

PARIS: Did the words cruel and unusual mean anything to her?

PARIS: Come on, Doc, you don’t understand what it’s like being down here all day, every day. I’m going crazy.

EMH: Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that the idea? 

Watching Paris’ mental state throughout the episode is difficult to watch.

It’s easy to condemn things like 20th and 21st century police brutality, like in the DS9 episode, but it’s harder to acknowledge the role that economics and mental health play in crime. Between details like the ankle bracelet we see on Paris and people’s overall attitude towards criminals, it doesn’t seem like policing has changed much.

I also need to mention The Original Series’ bizarre focus on trying to “end” mental illness. While I do think it’s definitely worth discussing how mental illness would be addressed in a utopia, Gene Roddenberry seemed to favor… well, getting rid of it. 

The first-season episode “Dagger of the Mind” explored the dangers of this idea, with a mad scientist-esque character using a device called a “neural neutralizer” to “treat” patients.The neutralizer seemed to only suck all the emotions from them. We also get a description of how prisons have been changed:

KIRK: Bones, are you aware that in the last twenty years Doctor Adams has done more to revolutionise, to humanise prisons and the treatment of prisoners than all the rest of humanity had done in forty centuries? I’ve been to those penal colonies since they’ve begun following his methods, and they’re not cages anymore.

MCCOY: Jim

KIRK: They’re clean, decent hospitals for sick minds.

MCCOY: Jim, listen!

We also get our first psychiatrist in this episode– Doctor Noel. Worse for anyone with a mental illness, in the third season episode “Whom Gods Destroy,” we get this introduction to an episode:

Captain’s Log, stardate 5718.3. The Enterprise is orbiting Elba Two, a planet with a poisonous atmosphere where the Federation maintains an asylum for the few remaining incorrigible criminally insane of the galaxy. We are bringing a revolutionary new medicine to them, a medicine with which the Federation hopes to eliminate mental illness for all time. 

Well, that doesn’t sound at all ominous. It’s also worth noting that both these episodes have penal colonies on planets with deadly atmospheres, making escape impossible.

In the Next Generation, mental health is brought to the forefront with a main character, Counselor Troi, likely reflecting social attitudes at the time about therapy. While Troi did have some good moments dealing with Picard’s trauma of being assimilated by the Borg, overall, she’s not the most effective character… and she rarely works with Yar or Worf to deal with suspects or prisoners. On DS9, there isn’t a counselor until the seventh season, when Ezri Dax is introduced. While the franchise does do a good job of individual characters dealing with trauma, such as Picard dealing with his experience with the Borg, the franchise doesn’t deal well with people who have a lifelong mental illness. In DS9, we meet a group of genetically altered people, who unlike Bashir, did not turn out as well. All four suffer from different mental issues: one is catatonic, another is violent, one is childlike. They live at a place called “The Institute,” which isn’t mentioned before or since.

In the aforementioned Voyager’s “Meld,” we deal with a murder on board, and are introduced to the violent character of Ensign Suder, who killed one of his crewmates. As Suder killed for no reason, Tukok is deeply troubled. Looking for a motive, Tuvok mind melds with Suder, which only destabilizes Tuvok and gives Suder a sense of In the aforementioned Voyager’s “Meld,” we deal with a murderer on board, and are introduced to the violent character of Ensign Suder, who killed one of his crewmates. As Suder killed for no reason, Tukok is deeply troubled. Looking for a motive, Tuvok mind melds with Suder, which only destabilizes Tuvok and gives Suder a sense of peace. In the end, Suder is confined to quarters, and Tuvok helps to rehabilitate him. In “Basics,” we see Suder’s progress: he’s been breeding orchids in his quarters, and wants to use his techniques to help the ship’s hydroponics bay… though he’s a little too forceful when asking Janeway for the equipment. A Kazon attack derails his progress, and as he and the EMH are the only ones left on Voyager, he is forced to return to his violent roots to help retake the ship from the Kazon. Watching him unwillingly regress is painful to watch.

I think he would’ve been a fascinating character to watch develop and heal. However, with writer and producer Michal Pillar leaving the show, and Jeri Taylor not interested in developing the character further, it was decided to have Suder die. It’s a pity, because his redemption comes not by real change, but by reviving his violent past, killing Kazon, and ultimately giving his life to save the ship.

However, we don’t actually get to see much of how Star Trek handles policing, whether it’s ordinance enforcement, burglary charges, or anything else. For the most part, everyone in TOS and TNG are either well-behaved… or they’re obvious bad guys. Nurse Chapel never presses charges on Spock for throwing a bowl of plomeek soup at her in Amok Time. We never see any issues with drunk people in Ten Forward, or even a Klingon blaring opera too loud for their neighbors. Everyone just sort of… obeys the law.


Which is one of the reasons why I think people react badly to Odo: his character is the first time we see a security officer regularly enforcing rules. DS9 is not a Federation spaceship, and so there’s always lots of people coming and going, from countless races and cultures— and specifically cultures that still use money. And thus, have the motivation to break the law for financial reasons. At one point, Worf complains to Odo that it’s easier to enforce security on a starship than a space station (“Crossfire”).

WORF: I would recommend clearing that entire section of the Habitat Ring.

ODO: I’m afraid that isn’t feasible. There are over twelve hundred people living there.

WORF: Providing security was difficult enough aboard the Enterprise. It appears to be next to impossible on this station.

ODO: It isn’t easy.

WORF: I prefer a more orderly environment.

ODO: We have that in common. My people have an innate need for order.

II’m not going to defend Odo’s many breaches of privacy, surveillance and other issues. But I do think it’s worth remembering that he’s the only space station security chief we really get to see in action in all of the franchise, and the only space station security chief.    

Part of the draw of police shows is the just-world fallacy— that is, the idea that people guilty of a crime will be punished, that the universe will give out some type of cosmic karma. Like many people, I hope that when biases are taken out of making laws, from law enforcement, from juries and from sentencing, then law enforcement will  become truly fair.

But I think this “just world fallacy” is part of the issue I see in law enforcement in Trek. When we see Worf shove Q into the brig, or see Maquis in prison, or Gul Dukat locked up, we’re ok with it. These men are simply getting what they deserve. The Star Trek universe is just.

In reality, most people who break laws aren’t cartoonish villains, and the realities of police work and the legal system are not always clear.

Again, this video is an introduction. I’ll take a more in-depth look at Odo’s character and problematic behavior in future episodes. Stay tuned!

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