A Summary of Skolnick's 'Working Personality'

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A Summary of Skolnick’s “Working Personality”


In “A Sketch of the Policeman’s Working Personality,” Jerome Skolnick discusses and analyzes how a police officer’s personal outlook is affected by his or her involvement in police work, creating an “us versus them” mind-set, as well as the frequent inability to “turn off” the police mentality outside of a work environment. While he states that a person’s work has an impact on his or her outlook of the world according to a recurring theme in the sociology of occupations, police work has a particularly strong impact on those cognitive lenses (Skolnick, 1966, p. 2). Because of the nature of their job, police have a tendency to look at the world in a way that makes it distinctive to themselves. This can be associated with the danger that they face on a day-in, day-out basis, how their position as a police officer affects their social relationships, as well as how they are generally perceived by the public. Contributing to the overall working personality of a police officer is the need to be efficient, the continuous presence of potential danger, and the need to establish authority in the face of ever-present public relations issues. Skolnick (1966) likens a police officer to a soldier, a school teacher, and a factory worker because of the dangers he faces, his issues with establish his authority, and the need prove his efficiency, but points out that this overwhelming combination of tasks is unique to police culture. Thus, the “us versus them” mentality begins to take shape, making officers feel the need to separate themselves from civilian society. The propensity now is that police work is no longer a job, but a way of life. Janowitz refers to the military profession as a “style of life” because the duties of the job extend pass occupational boundaries, and that any position that performs “life and death” tasks furthers such claims (Skolnick, p. 3). These split-second decisions that police officers have to make also contribute to their separatist way of thinking. It is also clear that the intensity or lack thereof of a police officer’s assignments can help develop his working personality. Basically, experience corroborates one’s outlook. The threat of danger is continuously present, which contributes to the officer’s constant suspicion in trying to identify a potential danger or a law being broken (Skolnick, p. 4). Because of this constant mode of thinking, many people find themselves not wanting to establish a social relationship or friendship with police officers. The danger element isolates the police officer from citizens that he finds representative of danger as well as isolating him from the more predictable people that he might ordinarily identify with (Skolnick, p. 4). The police officer’s requirement to enforce morality laws such as traffic laws usually leads to citizens denying his authority and raising his threat level (Skolnick, p.4). Skolnick states, “The kind of man who responds well to danger, however, does not normally prescribe to the codes of puritanical morality.” Because of this, many people view police officers at hypocrites, which gives the police community further reason to isolate as well as further reason to build strong rapport between themselves (Skolnick, p. 4). Skolnick points out that it appears that British police are better about following procedural guidelines than are American police, but that the reason is that they face less dangers than do the police officers of the United States, thus they are better at creating the appearance of conformity (Skolnick, p.4). Police officers develop a perceptual shorthand that allows them to identify symbolic assailants. This identification can come through the use of certain gestures, language, and even a type of clothing that police have come to associate with particular crimes or violence. Even if the a person has no history of violence or no criminal record, that is...
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