Change Over Time: The Role Of Police

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What do we expect our police officers to do? Historically the role of police officer has been recognized as that of a law enforcer, however, in truth the role of police is multifaceted and not easily defined (Bittner, 1974). Overtime police officers have assumed various roles and functions that are often ambiguous and conflicting, leaving officers with mixed messages on what their roles should be (Nowicki, 1998). In order to discuss the myriad of roles police officers assume on a daily basis, it is important to discuss how police organization has changed over time and where the future of policing is heading.
Change has been a constant theme from the beginning of policing history. There are three notable distinct eras that examine the progression
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Although police have assumed various roles throughout history, the community era attempted to distinguish the different roles of police and the certain expectations each role carried with it. There are three widely recognized roles of police: law enforcement, order maintenance, and service (Wilson, 1968). The most widely perceived role of police by the public is that of law enforcement, but in truth law enforcement is one iota of actual police work (Bittner, 1974). Police are also perceived to be at the forefront of crime prevention, but as researched has suggested, traditional policing strategies are simply not effective at controlling crime (Bayley and Nixon, 2010). The role of maintaining order is quite interesting because it is very similar to the role of law enforcement but relies heavily on police discretionary freedom and is much larger a piece of police work. The role of maintaining order suggests that police curtail disorder, public nuisances, or any behavior that threatens or disrupts the public’s peace however they deem necessary without invoking the law (Wilson, 1968). As with order maintenance, the role of handling all situations is another large piece of police work. Police are called upon for service ranging from traffic situations, public information, and emergencies. …show more content…
The use of force is one of those roles and it is the ability to use force against citizens. The use of force is one of the most severe and controversial types of police discretionary actions and it is defined as the amount of coercion required to controlling an unruly subject (Wilson, 1968). The ability to use of force to handle situations is a capacity found only in police work, not even in the military do service men have the ability to use force against their own citizens (Bittner, 1974). The use of force is a tool as well as a role (Bittner, 1974), but it is a tool that can lead to constitutionality issues and can have significant negative consequences if not deployed correctly or justifiable (Van Maanen, 1974). The use of force is contingent on the amount of discretion given to police officers. During the political era, when discretion was encouraged, it led to excessive use of force, police corruption, and poor community relationships. In contrast, during the reform era, when police were solely focused on the law enforcement role, the inability of police to use discretion created disorder and other problems because police had no way of dealing with order maintenance (Walker, 1992). Structuring police discretion, and with it the use of force, is extremely difficult and it paves the way for the role police officers assume when

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