Essay: Law Enforcement the Police

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Law Enforcement

The police are the most visible sign and symbol of authority in government and society (O'Connor 2008). They exist because they fulfill the role and perform the tasks, which citizens do not want to take. Citizens rely on them to hunt down criminals, prevent crime, maintain peace and order, interpret the law, protect citizens and, in general, keep things in order in the community. Someone said that a police officer has to be a "lawyer, scientist, medic, psychologist, athlete, and public servant" in one. The police are a conservative and fundamental institution because their function is directly linked to maintaining equilibrium in society. They are often expected to do the impossible and to do it efficiently despite limited resources. They are also expected to wield their power judiciously. How they do this depends on how free and open society is. Quite importantly, they are the guardians of human rights (O'Connor).

Per 2000 statistics, the U.S. had approximately 18,760 total police agencies with 940,275 employees and an annual budget of roughly $51 (O'Connor 2008). Most of the 60 different federal police agencies are within the Departments of Justice or Treasury. There are 26 highway patrol agencies and 23 state police agencies. The U.S. has 3,088 sheriffs' departments and 15,000 municipal departments. It has the more numerous types of police departments and no two are alike in structure and function. Federal agencies are specialized and enforce certain types of federal laws. These now have agents overseas to manage transnational crime. The largest agencies are the Immigration and Naturalization Service or INS, Bureau of Prisons or BOP, Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI, Customs, and the Secret Service. The INS police monitor and control the flow of immigrants by patrolling borders and territories and arrest and deport those who violate illegal entry and naturalization laws. The Federal Aviation Administration provides necessary security and profiling on aircraft. FBI police lead investigations in terrorism, espionage, organized crime, white collar crime and federal drug offenses. They also help both state and local agencies through training, information dissemination, finger-printing, DNA and laboratory services. They also operate legal attache offices in 57 countries (O'Connor).

State agencies assist local Law Enforcement, investigate cross-county crime, provide enforcement in places without a police force, break strikes and control labor clashes (O'Connor 2008). These agencies are connected to federal computer systems. Most of them focus on criminal violations on state jurisdictions, such as roads and highways. An elected sheriff runs a county agency, which consists of sworn deputies, civilians and special deputies. Their functions include crime investigation, traffic enforcement, civil process paper service, courtroom security, and confinement and transport of prisoners. County agencies have no jurisdiction over cities and towns. They assert control over unincorporated areas or small towns, which have no police forces *O'Connor).

Municipal agencies, on the other hand, include specialized groups, such as campus and transit police (O'Connor 2008). Every incorporate municipality in the U.S. is authorized to create its own police force. Small ones without their own forces come to an agreement with a private security or sheriff's office. These agencies are the most depended on. They are authorized to apprehend suspects, maintain order and extend community services. They investigate homicides, burglaries and thefts, intervene in domestic fights, and respond to complaints of noise. The municipal police protect life and property, enforce the law, prevent crime, maintain peace, arrest violators and serve the public (O'Connor).

Police duties are primarily to fight and prevent crime, keep peace and order and provide service (O'Connor 2008). These responsibilities require that they be very knowledgeable about human nature and the criminal nature of man. They should also be able to detect threats and prevent these from occurring. They should be able to make reliable, responsible and effective decisions to handle difficult situations and provide help in areas beyond their official function. On the whole, they should be able to protect themselves and others from harm. The truth is that police spend more time performing miscellaneous tasks than actual crime fighting. A lot of their time is unsupervised and open for discretionary decision-making. Unfortunately, the lowest-paid employees who have the least authority are the ones making important day-to-day decisions (O'Connor).

The police have been generally unreceptive to reform (O'Connor 2008). Among attempts at reform were a change of the military structure and removing political interference from public officials. The military structure is not conducive to police work in that it arouses fear, blocks communication and hampers good community relations. There has been strong resistance to change the military structure, however. And ridding the police of political influences has not met with any success. One more reform needed has to do with educational qualifications. Experts say policemen should possess a graduate degree. But, on the average, policemen only have high school degrees. The rest have only some years in college. The goal is to develop better educated policemen and to have more women and minority officers in the force. If this can be done, the force can come close to fulfilling its mission (O'Connor).

Certain problem areas or areas of concern in police work possess a characteristically high potential for violence between the police and the citizens (Community Relations

Service 2003). These are use of deadly force; arrest situations; response to disturbance calls; traffic stops and pursuits; investigation of suspicious persons; the handling, custody and transporting of prisoners; the handling of mentally impaired persons; hostage and barricade situations; and drugs and gangs. The police possess the legal right to use force, including deadly force, as an extreme measure in maintaining peace and order. They make the decision to use this right under a highly stressful situation and in a very short span of time, which allows minimal margin for error. This is allowed only in the extreme circumstances on account of the risks for serious injury or death it entails. Statistics reflect that the police use force in only 1% of the cases, police officers most resort to this ultimate measure with great discretion. The use of deadly force spreads far and wide through the community and can be damaging to police confidence. A police officer also faces criminal and civil liability if the deadly force was used improperly. A thorough understanding of police responsibilities, rights and limitations to the use of deadly force is absolutely essential (Community Relations Service).

Arrest situations have figured prominently in recent times, particularly among minority groups (Community Relations Service 2003). A person who is being arrested is subjected to a very stressful experience. He often resists it or does something out of the ordinary to stop it. An arrest means a complete loss of his freedom and may use some weapon to resist it. The arresting officer may be compelled the use force as well

(Community Relations Service).

Responding to disturbance calls exposes a police officer to potential harm or loss of life (Community Relations Service 2003). He may have to intervene in a conflict between two persons without prior knowledge about the trouble and with almost no resources to deal with the conflict. Both parties may expect the officer to take their sides and he ends up arresting both. When this happens, he may need to use force against them or they against him (Community Relations Services).

Traffic stops and pursuits are routine tasks, which increase the likelihood of procedural mistakes (Community Relations Services 2003). The mistakes can open the police officer to assault or induce him to use superior force to solve a problem. It is his duty to resolve a problem without causing undue fear in the people, who tend to over-react to an otherwise un-threatening situation. Police departments reconsidered policies in high-speed chases following court decisions against them for negligence. Besides negligence, the potential for inflicting serious injury or even death and damage to property increased if the police pursued the violator with force. Both may behave in a way, which would not otherwise occur under normal circumstances. Pursuit situations are specifically difficult for the police. A change to a no-pursuit policy would not solve the problems. It could encourage future violators to elude the police. It would neither reduce police liability because not giving chase would be tantamount to a failure to protect, which is the fundamental function of the police (Community Relations Service).

A particularly sensitive area of concern in police work is investigating suspicious persons (Community Relations Service 2003). Until recently, the notion of "suspicious" referred to a person of a specific race who happened to be in the neighborhood of another race, especially in the late hours. Police training was not adequate in this problem area. The police reacted either too aggressively and developed hostility towards a group or with seeming laziness and ambivalence. There is clear need for the use of discretion in daily operations to balance the community's need for protection and respect for individual freedom (Community Relations Services).

The handling, custody and transporting of prisoners present a risk greater than generally known or expected (Community… [END OF PREVIEW]

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