Police may be considered as that force in society that helps maintain social order. They detect crime and take corrective measures to ensure that such acts do not occur again in society. The police force may at times coerce people if they do not follow the law and order. Consequently, order is maintained in society because people know that they would be held responsible if they go against the rules and regulations as determined by law. The police have been given right by the constitution that they may reprimand people who create havoc in the city which helps limit civil disobedience. The police force forms only one part of the law enforcement agency, and there are many other agencies that also work simultaneously in order to assist the activities of the police force. The police force is responsible for a number of various activities, but the most evident of all activities is the maintenance of the law and order situation in its assigned territory (Walker & Katz, 2012).
In America during the British reign, the activities of the police were largely undertaken by the local officials. This is proven by the fact that in 1626, the New York Sheriff’s office was founded and the Albany County Sheriff’s Department was inaugurated. During this period it was the elected Sheriffs and local militias who were held responsible for conducting the traditional duties of the police force. However, the trends changed in the late 18th century as the US Marshal’s Service was developed which was followed by the establishment of the US Parks Police and the US Mint Police. According to historical data, Philadelphia was the first city to experience an organized police force followed by Richmond Virginia, Boston, and New York (Reichel). The Secret Service department carried out the duties of an organized police force for some years in American society. There has been a formation of special district units which aim to provide better security alongside the security provided by the police force. The special district units are commonly referred to as neighborhood improvement districts, or crime prevention and security districts. As outlined by the Supreme Court of US the police have lost the authority to protect people from harm since 2005.
Societies have undergone changes over the last decade or more. This change in the structure of society has altered the way societies function. Consequently, the police force has not been unaffected by the changes that the American society has undergone. The diversity of American society has increased over the years as a result of a greater number of immigrants entering US. This suggested that people needed to be more closely supervised and there was a need for a much more formal and organized police force in order to ensure that havoc and chaos was minimized (Shank & Beaver, 2013). When people from varying backgrounds, cultures, and nationalities live together then it is evident that differences would be highlighted. Furthermore, it also created greater rifts among groups in certain regions and the police was requested to intervene and take charge of the situation. The concept of self policing and individual responsibility lost their popularity as people expected the police force to undertake these responsibilities (Leadbeater). Before societies were modernized and became complex units it was assumed that every citizen would be conscientious in following law and order; however, as the variety of people increased there was a loss of belief in these values and the need of an organized police force became even more prominent. Furthermore, there are pressures from various government and law enforcing agencies upon the police to take stricter actions which have led to the change in roles of the police force as a whole. Civil matters are expected to be handled by the police which was once the duty of the army.
The changes in society have caused a change in the traditional roles of the police force, but the police may still be considered as possessing the core functions in three major categories (Cops). The first category includes crime control. The police in terms of crime control is responsible to investigate crimes by conducting regular checks on streets and ensuring offenses do not occur. In case there are offenses that do occur while the police is on their patrolling duty then they must respond immediately. As an order maintenance institution the police ensures that individual behavior is regulated, and does not break the peace of their surroundings. The police force in this role also ensures that loud parties are kept to a minimum as it causes disturbance for those living around that area. Adding on, there are several services that the police offer which includes; 24-hour availability, assistance in the search of lost persons, and providing information to people who seek information. Regardless of the changing role of the police, the most important and highlighted task of the police force is to control crime. This perception of the police controlling crime does not only persist amongst the general public, but the police force itself views them as a crime controlling agency. According to a research conducted by Griffith and Verden-Jones in 1994, the police spend less than 25 percent of their time in crime controlling activities. The emphasis upon crime control activities coupled with pressures from the general public that the police should be active agents in other facets as well has led to confusion amongst the police department. In other words, there is wide spread role ambiguity that is prevalent amongst individual police officers. A study conducted by Griffith and Verden Jones in 1989 revealed that on interviewing police officers about their roles or tasks 38 percent were unsure about the true nature of their work. The study proves the point that there is a significant level of role ambiguity within the police department.
James Q. Wilson has identified three basic operational styles of policing. The policing styles have been categorized as; legalistic, watchman, and service. The legalistic style of policing involves the police in using threat, coercion, and actual threats in order to ensure law is abided and law violation is minimized. As soon as a law has been violated the police force that adopts the legalistic style would arrest instantaneously. Moreover, the police that were working under this style were more involved in arresting individuals. The legalistic style is a common feature of police organization in bigger cities. Consequently, the police force is much more active and productive. On the other hand, the legalistic style may be considered legal in nature because of the nature and extent of the crime along with the ethnicity of the offender. The second operational style of watchman emphasizes upon resolving disputes informally. The watchman style is prominent in minority communities and among the working class neighborhoods. The aim of the watchman style is to ensure peace without using legal ways such as issuing tickets or arrest warrants. However, the nature of the crime is also not of a serious nature. One of the prominent characteristics of the watchman style is that the police use discretion while warning offenders. The third operational style known as service emphasizes upon helping the community rather than law enforcement. In the service style, the police force aims to help the community, but this is done in compliment to law enforcement because that is the prime responsibility of this institution. The major characteristic of this style is that they use community services to help the people and promote law enforcement. A prime example would be the use of drug treatment as a way of fostering a healthy and peaceful society rather than abducting drug users.
Regardless of the operational styles of the police department, there are some functions which are common amongst all styles. The first common function is patrol. Many administrators refer to patrol as the backbone of the police department. Patrolling is time consuming and officers spend most of their time carrying out this duty. There are sub-categorizations of police patrol which includes; preventive patrol, directed patrol, aggressive patrol, and foot patrol. In preventive patrol, officers conduct regular searches of the surrounding area between the times they get radio calls. In other words, these are steps taken by the police to ensure any illegal activity does not take place. Directed patrol focuses the police force towards certain illegal acts such as thefts from automobiles. In areas where certain types of crimes are common the police direct its attention towards minimizing those crimes. Aggressive patrol results in arrests for crime regardless of its intensity. It may be difficult to convince police officers to use aggressive tactics, but it is still used in many situations. Foot patrolling has led to improved relationships between officers and citizens. It has given a chance to interact with officers at an informal level and has helped towards building trust amongst citizens about the police department.
The value system of a community may have a profound impact upon the styles of policing that may be implemented in that particular community. Therefore, it is not surprising that the styles vary across communities and there is no unanimously approved style. Some close knit communities portray a significant amount of trust in its citizens. In such communities, the police may not conduct stringent checks and aggressive patrolling may be minimal. For instance, in Dublin it may be a rare sight to see police patrolling, but in case any unforeseen event takes place then the police is available instantaneously. This suggests that they have a strong police network, but it is the trust in their citizens that has led them to be on a back foot. In some parts of America people are still sensitive towards Afro-Caribbean’s despite the anti-racist movements taking place at an increasing rate. In the areas of residence of the Afro-Caribbean’s the deployment of police force is heavier as compared to other localities. The reason for heavy deployment of police in these localities is that this group is considered to be more involved in delinquent behavior. However, critics of racism suggest that the reason for greater crime rates reported in these neighborhoods is because they are under continuous check. There are communities where all groups are living together regardless of their race or ethnicity and crime rates are still low. Therefore, it may be unfair to blame any particular group for causing chaos and havoc in the neighborhood (Caless, 2011).
In some communities where the operational style of the police is service oriented the profession of the officers is viewed in a positive light. The police is considered as a helping agent rather than simply working to abduct criminals (Zhao & Hassell, 2005). The viewpoint of those citizens is that the police may cause more harm than benefit if they simply arrest those involved in illegal activities. Hence, the police aim to improve the lives of people who have gone astray by guiding them in the right direction. By admitting drug addicts to rehabilitation centers, the police are able to help the substance abusers and actually give them a chance to improve their lives. The values of people in these societies are mostly based on humanitarian grounds because they are able to forgive people and show empathy towards those who require it. On the other hand, communities that have a zero tolerance policy do not allow even the slightest of deviancy slip by. Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or social background all individuals are treated same if they break the law in any way. For instance, in Saudi Arabia anyone who is caught in stealing even for an item of minimal value the person would be held responsible and abducted according to the Saudi law. The people of the Saudi community place strong emphasis upon following law; therefore, they do not tolerate any deviation of the law (Community Based Policing).
Values are subjective and may vary across cultures, areas, religions, and communities. Values shape the belief system of societies and no area of society is unaffected by the value system. Henceforth, the police department is also under strong influence of the values of any particular society. It is not a surprise that the police force is influenced by values because the police officers are a product of that community; hence, they are under the influence of their external environment. However, none of this suggests that the police in general differ across communities. The role of the police force is to maintain the law and order of a community, but the methods adopted by various police forces can vary and in reality they do vary. People generally expect the police to safeguard them and their belongings and the police are working up to the expectations of its citizens. The police may not have the authority to take legal actions against people; thus, it is safe to assume that the police are working in concordance with other law enforcing agencies. Just as no business can function without the assistance of other departments of the company, similarly the police force also cannot function without the assistance of other law enforcement agencies. The police officers may be the first source of identifying crime or illegal activities; thus, their role in the entire law enforcing process is very crucial. The police department across communities has similar roles of ensuring peace in society and this role cannot be ignored at any cost for the smooth function of society.
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