The Nature of Police Work

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The Nature of Police Work
The myth of police as crime-fighters has been conveyed to the American people through television dramas, comic strips, and newspaper articles. It conjures up in one's mind an image of a police officer doing a dangerous job that requires him or her to outshoot, outpunch, and outwit dangerous criminals. For most American police, there is little correspondence between this image and reality. In a major metropolitan area (where crime rates are the highest), half of the officers in the local department will not make a felony arrest during a given year. The total annual rate of weapon discharges per hundred police officers is in the range of two to six. What do the police really do?

Three functions
Even though we refer to the police as law enforcement officers, the enforcement of criminal law (in other words, investigating crime and apprehending criminals) is only one of several functions that the police perform. The functions of the American police include providing basic social services, maintaining order, and controlling crime. * In the area of social service, the police help people who need emergency assistance, whether it is giving first aid or finding lost children. Typically, over 50 percent of the telephone calls to the police requesting assistance involve social service as compared with less than 20 percent relating to crime. * Among the order-maintenance activities are traffic control, crowd control, resolving domestic disputes, and moving prostitutes from the streets. The focus of order maintenance is on handling situations to preserve the peace rather than enforcing the letter of the law. The appropriate order-maintenance solution may be making an arrest (for example, in case of domestic violence), but it often consists of some less formal action (for example, getting an illegal panhandler to move on). * In the area of crime control, the police engage in a range of activities, such as patrol and criminal...
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