- This article is for RoboCop's set of rules. For the TV mini-series, see RoboCop: Prime Directives.
Fundamental to his operational limits are RoboCop's Prime Directives, a set of rules, unbreakable and unbendable, that RoboCop is firmware bound to uphold.
They are as follows:
- "Serve the public trust"
- "Protect the innocent"
- "Uphold the law"
- (Classified) (In RoboCop 3: "Never Oppose an OCP Officer" and later deleted)
The fourth directive, which he was programmed to be unaware of unless it became relevant, rendered him physically incapable of placing any senior OCP employee under arrest: "any attempt to arrest a senior OCP employee results in shutdown". Senior Vice President Richard "Dick" Jones stated that Directive 4 was his contribution to RoboCop's psychological profile, for obvious reasons.
Jones informed RoboCop that he was an OCP product and not an ordinary police officer. In the first movie, The Old Man, after being enlightened about the Fourth Directive by RoboCop, fires Jones from OCP, which nullifies the directive. After thanking the president, RoboCop promptly shoots Jones, who then falls out the window to his death.
In RoboCop 3, Directive Four is rewritten as "Never oppose an OCP officer". Directive four has been erased twice, in each of the sequels. RoboCop 2 sees the deletion of all of the directives—after he was rebuilt with so many sub-directives that he was practically incapable of taking action, forcing RoboCop to subject himself to a potentially lethal electric shock to clear his database. During RoboCop 3, Directive Four, which was not classified but instead read "Never oppose an OCP officer," was solely eliminated, so that RoboCop could avenge Anne Lewis's murder by OCP. By the time of RoboCop: Prime Directives, Directive Four, in regard to OCP, was not present at all, but a saboteur instituted a fourth directive to "terminate John T. Cable." In RoboCop: The Series, Directive Four was also not present. At the end of Prime Directives, all his directives were erased, but RoboCop stated to his son that he would do "What I do: Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law," noting that he would keep his directives by his own will, not through the imposition of programming.
Bob Morton designed Murphy's programming to single-handedly bring down Detroit's high crime rate substantially in order to start construction on Delta City (in the series, he succeeded in this goal as Delta City is built by the time three years pass). As such, Murphy was allowed to utilize what some would consider with average police officers excessive force (beating and fatally wounding perps who did not surrender to his initial standard warning to stand down) dictated by the on-board computer and lifetime law enforcement built into him. Also, as OCP owns and runs Detroit Police, (taking into the fact the highly dangerous criminals running roughshod on the streets and overwhelming cops) they can adjust the law as they please, thus excusing Murphy's perceived excessive force as perfectly legal. In RoboCop 2, there were two occasions where Murphy assaulted two individuals connected with the drug Nuke and its creator, Cain (although note that the first fired on him with a machine gun, clearing Murphy to use said force, and the second was a corrupt cop named Duffy). In the series, Murphy no longer has this pacification programming and is apparently reprogrammed to act as an average police officer abiding by traditional law (Murphy had apparently done away with most of the rampant crime seen and mentioned in the first movie, thus rendering pacification obsolete). He rarely if ever kills criminals and is instead equipped with gadgets backed by programming consisting of non-lethal alternatives to apprehend criminals, with lethal force listed on his HUD as a last option.