Chapter 7 – Policing America: Issues and Ethics

Chapter 7 – Policing America:
Issues and Ethics
Public Attitudes Toward
the Police
What do people think of the police?
It depends on:
• whom you ask
• people’s prior experience
Qualities of a Successful
Police Officer
Police officers require a rare combination of
qualities and abilities:
• Motivation for a police career
• Normal self-assertiveness
• Emotional stability under stress
• Sensitivity toward minority groups and social
Qualities of a Successful
Police Officer
Collaborative leadership skills
A mature relationship with social authority
Integrity and honesty
An active and outgoing nature
Qualities of a Successful
Police Officer
Particularly important qualities are known as
the three I’s of police selection.
Nearly as important are common sense and
three I’s of police selection
Three qualities of the American police officer that
seem to be of paramount importance are intelligence,
integrity, and interaction skills.
The Police Selection Process
• In many communities, selection of police
officers is through a merit system.
• Officers employed under such a system are
hired and tenured (theoretically) if they meet
and maintain the employment qualifications
and performance standards.
• They cannot be fired without cause.
merit system
A system of employment whereby an independent
civil service commission, in cooperation with the city
personnel section and the police department, sets
employment qualifications, performance standards,
and discipline procedures.
The Police Selection Process
The police officer selection process often
• Short application
• Detailed application, including complete work
history, references, and medical profile
• Medical examination
The Police Selection Process
Physical agility test
Written examination
Background investigation
Psychological testing
Oral interview
The Police Selection Process
The final steps of selection are:
• Academy training
• Probation, usually between six months and
one year, which includes formal field
Issues in Policing
Many areas of policing remain topics of
debate, particularly:
• Discretion
• Use of force
• Police corruption
No list of policies and procedures could
possibly guide police officers through all the
situations in which they find themselves.
Police routinely must use their own
The issue of police discretion is very
controversial, particularly because some
officers abuse their discretion.
The exercise of individual judgment, instead of
formal rules, in making decisions.
Patrol Officer Discretion
Patrol officers routinely use their discretion in
• Where to patrol when not answering radio
• Whom to stop and question
• Which traffic violators to stop
• To ignore a minor violation in pursuit of
something more serious
Patrol Officer Discretion
• Patrol officers cannot provide full
• Instead, police officers usually practice
selective enforcement.
Factors Affecting Discretion
A number of significant factors affect
• The nature of the crime
• Departmental policies
• The relationship between the victim and the
• The amount of evidence available
Factors Affecting Discretion
The preference of the victim
The demeanor of the suspect
The legitimacy of the victim
Socioeconomic status of the complainant
Discretion and Racial Profiling
Racial profiling is of growing concern to law
enforcement officials and to the public.
Often stops are “justified” by minor equipment
or moving traffic violations that might
otherwise be ignored.
At the root of the practice is racial
Discretion and Racial Profiling
Methods aimed at stopping racial profiling
• Racial and cultural diversity training
• Strong discipline for errant officers
• Videotaping of all traffic stops
Discretion and Racial Profiling
• Collecting data on the race of stopped motorists
and pedestrians and the disposition of the
• Having police officers distribute business cards to
all motorists and pedestrians they stop
Factors Limiting Discretion
Several methods are employed to control the
amount of discretion exercised by police
• Close supervision
• Policies covering behavior in certain situations,
such as the use of force
• The threat of civil liability lawsuits
Excessive Force
Police use force in order to control suspects.
These encounters have caused police to
sometimes use excessive force.
excessive force
A measure of coercion beyond that necessary to
control participants in a conflict.
Excessive Force
The persistent use of excessive force by the police:
• is unethical and criminally illegal.
• exposes the police to criminal and civil
• builds up resentment by citizens against police.
• costs law enforcement agencies millions of
dollars in legal damages.
Deadly Force
In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court greatly
restricted the conditions under which police
can use deadly force.
Tennessee v. Garner
Deadly Force
• The officer must believe that:
• The crime for which the arrest is made
involved conduct including the use or
threatened use of deadly force.
• There is substantial risk that the person to be
arrested will cause death or serious bodily
harm if his apprehension is delayed.
Police Corruption
Nothing is more distasteful to the public than
a police officer or a whole department gone
Throughout history, police officers have
bought their positions and promotions, sold
protection, and ignored violations of the law
for money.
Police Corruption
Why is policing so susceptible to corruption?
• Police have authority to enforce law.
• Police also have the discretion to not enforce the
• Police receive relatively low pay, but have
important responsibilities.
• Police become cynical about the courts’ soft
treatment of criminals.
• Society in general is ambivalent about vice.
Types of Corruption
The Knapp Commission in 1972 identified
two kinds of corrupt officers:
• “Grass eaters”
• “Meat eaters”
grass eaters
Officers who occasionally engage in illegal and
unethical activities, such as accepting small favors,
gifts, or money for ignoring violations of the law
during the course of their duties.
meat eaters
Officers who actively seek ways to make money
illegally while on duty.
Types of Corruption
Ellwyn Stoddard identified a more complete
list of police misconduct:
• Bribery: accepting cash or gifts in exchange for
nonenforcement of the law.
• Chiseling: demanding discounts, free admission,
and free food.
• Extortion: the threat of enforcement and arrest if a
bribe is not given.
Types of Corruption
• Favoritism: giving breaks on law enforcement to
family and friends.
• Mooching: accepting free food, drinks, and
admission to entertainment.
• Perjury: lying for other officers apprehended in
illegal activity.
• Prejudice: unequal enforcement of the law with
respect to racial and ethnic minorities.
• Premeditated theft: planned burglaries and theft.
Types of Corruption
• Shakedown: taking items form the scene of a theft
or a burglary.
• Shopping: taking small, inexpensive items from a
crime scene.
Controlling Corruption
Some of the ways to control and reduce
corruption in policing are:
High moral standards
Police policies and discipline
Proactive internal affairs investigations unit
Uniform enforcement of the law
Outside review and special prosecutors
Court review and oversight

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