Whether it’s police officers, firefighters, first responders, or 911 dispatchers, many dedicated Americans work long hours, and often in difficult conditions, to make sure that when someone’s in need, they can help. Ajit Pai
Yet, within the last two years, police officers have been on the public’s radar, with them receiving the brunt of societal negative attention and publicity. Crime, particularly violent crime, has risen throughout our country, and attacks on police have also risen (Tucker & Krishnakumar, 2022). Calls for defunding and even abolition of the police have increased, specifically, in certain cohorts in the United States.
Let’s consider, for the moment, another perspective – whether instead of advocating the defunding of police, we ought to consider creating relationships between communities and police officers.
The objective of this article is to explore and contemplate the value of police in our society. What do they bring to our communities?
In 1920, the police were recognized as a professional organization. The suggestions that were adopted throughout police departments include the following: the hiring of exclusively experienced and educated officers, the establishment of a mission, and the development of specialized units (e.g., vice, traffic, etc.). Furthermore, police have also been credited with possessing the skills of a craftsman or expert in their field. This rather compelling viewpoint is presumed to have developed out of the following two conditions: First, a sixth sense that develops in officers after years on the job, which has occasionally led to surprising perceptions and arrests in police work. Second, rather predictably, the majority of police characteristically live their jobs 24 hours a day. Police work is not simply just a profession, but a way of life as well. Understandably, police work is stressful, and places an enormous challenge on officer’s families. Ostensibly, then, their dedication is unequivocal. Let’s turn the lens for a moment and contemplate necessity and the evidence of their efficacy.
In our contemporary society, are we more or less in need of police services? The population of our country can unquestionably be used as one evaluative need, and as a country of approximately 330 million, it is imperative that we have an institution that offers formal control, that is, policing. Additionally, more Americans live in metropolitan areas today than ever before. The institutions of informal social controls, that were so integral in our smaller communities, that offered neighborhood residents informal babysitting services and mentoring when needed, are no longer as prevalent in our communities. (Johnson, 2022; Gallup Poll, 2021).
The queries that predominantly center on police work consist of the following: Do police have a positive effect on the apprehension of criminals and the reduction of crime, and is the knowledge acquired in training and on the job beneficial to communities? Investigator skills that are learned on the job are imperative to quality police work. These skills generally consist of conducting interviews and interrogations, knowledge of the law and testifying in court, writing police reports, conducting surveillance, developing informants, and securing physical evidence. What is even more noteworthy than these skills, is the intuition and professional knowledge that results from years on the job. Officers commonly develop perceptions of suspect deceit and use this to their advantage (and ours) during the interrogation process.
The task of reducing crime is a major concern when considering and addressing police work. Police are able to reduce crime in their patrol area, but how this is accomplished is typically more nuanced. As a general rule, police are more successful when they target high crime areas during their patrols. Designated as hot spots policing, research has found that police who target these high crime areas, are able to successfully reduce crime (Kochel et al., 2015). This shouldn’t be startling, as findings provide evidence that a small number of criminals commit the majority of the crime (Ingraham, 2015).
Considering policing efforts throughout our history, police have shown enhanced efforts in the building of community relationships and reducing crime and fear of crime through community policing. When people reflect on their memory regarding community policing, what most predominantly comes to mind is the memory of police passing out baseball cards. Nevertheless, community policing is so much more than this common ideation. Community policing officers develop community relationships and partnerships with both the adult and youth age cohort. Additionally, they mentor youth, reduce fear of crime, and improve relationships between themselves and community residents. Ironically, at a time when advocates of anti-police rhetoric propose removing police from the community, it is the findings of solid research that suggest firmly that we need to do the opposite. We need police in our communities, and the closer these relationships are, the healthier the community becomes (Johnson, 2018; Zencity, 2021).
Rebecca J. Siehr, Ph.D.