This article examines the roles played by police officers in contemporary society. The author first looks at the development of the modern police force. This is followed by an examination of philosophies of policing. The article then details the major social factors facing police in their jobs from day to day. The article is concluded by a discussion of differential treatment of suspects based on race and corruption in police forces.
Keywords Amateur Labelers; Broken Windows Policing Model; Censorship Region; Community Policing Model; CompStat Policing Model; Corruption; Evidence Based Policing Model; Hot Spots Policing Model; Laws; Problem Oriented Policing Model; Professional Labelers; Publicity Region; Pulling Levers Policing Model; Racial Profiling; Secrecy Region; Third Party Policing Model; Working Personality
The Role of the Police in Society
Early in the history of every society, its members develop sets of rules of varying degrees of severity that are based on the values held in that society. These rules, or norms, can be classified into two types: folkways and mores. Folkways are those common rules of etiquette. Violating these rules does not result in strong reprisal, but rather in a minor loss of status. Mores are stronger rules that are usually enforced by more severe sanctions. Once an elite, such as a priest class, aristocracy, or group of elected officials, comes to power in society, it will seek to enforce mores in order to ensure social order and the maintenance of the status quo. An elite does this by recording mores as official rules and setting specific punishments for violations of these rules. These set rules with set punishments that are based on mores are known as laws.
Once laws are put into place, law enforcement officers must be recruited. The exact roles of these individuals and their status in society have varied greatly over the ages. One could easily exhaust herself with the study of law enforcement officers over the ages. For this reason, we will focus our energies on the development of and the role played by the police in American society.
As mentioned above, the concept of law enforcement officers is ancient and can be found in the records of the ancient Romans, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians (Barkan, 2001). In pre-modern times, however, the stated purposes of police forces is quite different from those of ancient times. The job of pre-modern law enforcers was to guard influential nobles, protect property, and generally serve society's elites. In the grand scheme of history, the concept of a police force that serves the average citizen is still very new.
The modern model of law enforcement developed in Great Britain in the early 1800s (Barkan, 2001). Early British police, known as watchmen, were charged with security and the enforcement of religiously based morality codes. These watchmen were assigned to specific posts, and the bulk of their function was to keep order in their small farming villages. As the population of Britain became more urbanized, so did police forces (Rubinstein, 1973). During the early Industrial Revolution, England was at the forefront of industrial development and experienced an explosion in the urban population rate. This rapid increase in urban population led to what amounted to urban chaos, and police forces were formed to quell the frequent urban riots (Barkan, 2001).
Just as industrialization spread across the globe, so did urban police forces. Boston and New York were the first cities in the United States to form urban police forces. These early American police forces were notoriously corrupt and ineffective (Barkan, 2001). The departments did not hide the fact that they primarily existed to serve the upper and middle classes; their primary job was to keep poor immigrants and drunkards in check (Adler, 1994). Starting in the early 1900s, police departments across the country experienced a great influx in their numbers. This increase was caused by the use of police to protect the private property rights of wealthy factory owners. Workers of this era frequently went on strike to protest horrible wages and working conditions (Barkan, 2001). The sheer number of strikers forced police departments to greatly expand their departments.
Since the late 1960s, policing has gone through a period of significant innovation. This period was spurred on by the needs of a changing society and social strife. The populations of many cities in the United States were undergoing a crisis in confidence in the ability of the police to do their job, and crime was perceived to be increasing. In response to this crisis of confidence, police forces were compelled to reconsider the fundamental ways in which they served their communities. The traditional model of law enforcement held that police were the sole guardians of law and order; seeking civilian assistance was seen as unprofessional and a waste of time. During this period of crisis, several new models of policing were developed. These models are not so much instruction books for police on how to do their jobs as they are philosophical backdrops upon which policing occurs.
The first innovative model available to police today is the community policing model. This model states that the community should play a central role in defining the problems that police commonly address and that these problems should extend beyond conventional law enforcement (Weisburd & Braga, 2006). The broken windows policing model states that there is a link between social disorder and crime. Since unintended behavior tends to break down into the loss of mores and other social controls, under this model behavior such as loitering, drunkenness, and loud parties become a concern of police. The problem oriented policing model requires police to deal with a wide range of behavioral problems in the community, such as a high dropout rate. The pulling levers policing model calls for a comprehensive combination of multiple community problem solving strategies. Through this model, criminal justice intervention, social services, and community resources might all be utilized to resolve a single case. Through the third party policing model resources are expanded to third parties that are believed to offer significant new resources for preventing or controlling crime and disorder.
By using third parties such as civil courts, community organizations, and civil organizations, the police recognize that social control requires and can benefit from institutions other than themselves. Under the hot spots policing model, police are clustered in discrete areas that need the greatest amount of attention. The logic behind this model is that crime clusters itself is certain areas. Therefore, in order for patrols to be effective, they must be more tightly focused on the hot spots. The CompStat policing model, which was developed by the New York City Police Department in direct response to its interdepartmental challenges, states that failures stem from the fact that forces are poorly organized. This system seeks to strengthen the police command structure. Under this model, each level of the command structure, starting with the very top, takes an interest in whether its subordinates are motivated, assessed, and successful. In this way, discipline and hierarchical relationships are maintained. Finally, the evidence-based policing model states that crime control practices should be rooted in the collection of evidence and scientific analysis of that evidence. This model makes the assumption that police cannot be more effective than they already are. Rather, it argues that the reliance on evidence will lead to more effective criminal apprehension and crime prevention (Weisburd & Braga, 2006).
The Day to Day Work of a Police Officer
Police officers are endowed with extraordinary power when compared to the average citizen. They wield powerful physical weapons such as guns, batons, and Tasers, as well as social weapons like the ability to arrest individuals, the state sanctioned ability to use violence, and the power to create an official record of an event (Rubinstein, 1980). However, the modern police officer uses this power sparingly. According to Ericson, police spend relatively little time directly protecting persons and property against criminal threats (1994). In fact, they spend most of their time as knowledge brokers and expert advisors. They give directions, instruct the public on how to prevent bicycle theft, or host antidrug programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) (Ericson, 1994). Of course, they also do the "real police work" of apprehending suspects, but a single criminal event can result in hours of paperwork. In this way, police spend far more time recording an official version of an event for the public record than they do actually fighting crime (Ericson, 1994). Obviously, different activities are associated with varying amounts of rewards and prestige. Catching a crazed serial killer will merit a plaque, but most other tasks are viewed as simply part of the job (Rubinstein, 1973).
In much the same way that different policing activities are seen as more prestigious than others, so is the pursuit of different crimes. While ideally all crimes would be pursued with equal levels of vigor, in the real world this is not the case. Police departments simply do not have the resources to treat all crimes equally. Because any given force only has so much personnel time per week, low priority crimes will be pursued less vigorously to allow high priority crimes to be pursued more vigorously. More resources may be put into a case if the crime is against a police officer, especially repugnant, or one of high publicity (Rubinstein, 1973).
A large part of crime fighting is the work of rooting out liars. For this reason, officers must often work with little more than suspicions. They may be verbally and physically assaulted by individuals who were cooperative but a minute before. As a result, the average officer comes to deal with this high degree of uncertainly by holding a sense of constant suspicion (Barkan, 2001). For this reason,...
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