Police and Law Enforcement


Edited by: William J. Chambliss

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    Introduction: Police and Law Enforcement

    Policing as we know it in the United States today is a relatively new phenomenon. Initially, police were established in England as what was known as a constabulary. Their job was to settle disputes on the spot, not to make arrests. “Keeping the peace” was of paramount importance, not enforcing the law. With urbanization and growing discrepancies between the rich and the poor, police were increasingly asked to punish people who did not comply with rules set down by those in power to make laws. The contradiction between imposing rules on people whose lives were not in sync with the rules laid down from above, and the traditional behavior of the less powerful, created dilemmas and conflicts witnessed in everyday practices of the police, as well as controversies over the proper role of the police in a free democratic society.

    For many, the police represent an essential law enforcement entity that makes public safety and security the highest of its priorities. However, the stories creep into popular culture: the actions of unscrupulous officers confiscating drugs to later sell themselves, statistics showing unfair racial profiling in a municipality, or an officer using unnecessary force to subdue an offender. Stories like these create images of policing and law enforcement that are far less than ideal. In this volume, authors explore many debates concerning the ways in which police and law enforcement agencies operate.

    In order to effectively assess police and law enforcement, it is crucial to examine many aspects of policing in society. The chapters in this volume largely focus on the discussions surrounding common duties that police must practice (i.e., arrests and interrogations), the legal regulations on those duties; problematic policing techniques; and law enforcement alternatives to traditional policing.

    Essential to the duties of police officers are the duties of arresting suspects of crime and interrogating the suspects to help determine if they have, in fact, committed that crime. Arrest is described as restraining a subject and stopping him or her from continuing to engage in his or her normal activities. This process is surrounded by a great deal of controversy, because detaining subjects is a sensitive issue. Broadly, this common practice of law enforcement is commended for upholding the peace and safety of the community, because it is often shared with the public through the media. Additionally, arrests provide information for crime statistics, which inform funding decisions for local police departments. Arrests also serve as deterrence for others in the community. Those who criticize arrests focus on the collateral consequences of this policing practice. On occasion, mistakes are made, and police officers arrest individuals who are later found not guilty for the crimes of which they were accused. This strains the bond between the community and the police, a topic discussed by many authors in this volume.

    There are many other aspects of the arrest that have garnered discussion in this volume. As a result of the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case of Ernesto Miranda v. Arizona, officers are required to inform a suspect that he or she has certain constitutional rights before the law enforcement agency proceeds to interrogate the individual. In Butler's Miranda Warnings, advocates for the use of Miranda warnings believe that the warnings help protect the suspect's right against self-incrimination, limit false confessions, and promote professionalism in the police force. Critics of Miranda warnings believe that these warnings discourage confessions due to a suspect's right to remain silent. Suspects will feel, according to critics, that police are working against them and will continue to remain silent. Miranda warnings have also been criticized as being more of a formality than anything, which significantly diminishes their intended effectiveness.

    The ability for police to use force is also a highly controversial topic. Boggess's Police Brutality and Sun's Deadly Force s how that there are rare occasions where law enforcement may act too swiftly and intensely, leading to a suspect's death or injury. Those who downplay the prevalence of the use of deadly force by police officers focus their discussion on the lack of a clear definition of police brutality. They also believe that data on police brutality is extremely hard to capture because of the code of silence that accompanies police work, and that there is a lack of reporting of these infractions. Those who feel that law enforcement sometimes warrants the use of deadly force believe that deadly force is the ultimate symbol of the state's power over its members, and represents an import means of social control. In addition, advocates also believe that deadly force can help protect other citizens' lives and property. However, these controversial topics carry with them a great deal of criticism. These acts have a distinctly adverse effect on the public perceptions of police and law enforcement because they typically garner a great deal of negative media attention. The chapter on police brutality focuses on rotten apple theory, which posits that the few “rotten apples” in police departments should be to blame for these negative actions.

    Police and law enforcement follow certain protocols that are also surrounded by a great deal of debate. In this volume, authors discuss these debates in Ingram's Entrapment, Oleson's Plain View Doctrine, Ratansi's Warrants, and Gizzi's Vehicle Searches. While the legal meaning of entrapment is still a subject of debate, it can be generally understood as a process by which law enforcement officials coax subjects into committing crimes they would not have otherwise committed. Those in favor of entrapment techniques believe that law enforcement officers should take whatever steps necessary to apprehend criminals. They also feel that victims of certain crimes, like white-collar crimes, are unaware of their victimization, and entrapment must be used to uncover these criminals. The extraordinary means the government may use, according to critics, may further strengthen the distrust of citizens toward law enforcement. Advocates for vehicle searches, the plain view doctrine, and warrants believe that these regulations protect citizens' constitutional rights, protect officers from liability issues, and increase the effectiveness of police investigations.

    Some actions and police customs, like the code of silence that exists among the police, further strain the relationship between law enforcement and the citizenry. Bulen's Police Strikes and Blue Flu, Martinez's Zero-Tolerance Policing, and Rabe-Hemp's Police Corruption and the Code Of Silence discuss the issues behind these often-criticized practices of law enforcement agencies, despite some benefits they may provide. Police strikes help to uphold officers' First Amendment rights and serve as a powerful tool for officers, as workers, to get their labor concerns addressed. Due to its universality, advocates for zero-tolerance policing policies believe that their “popularity and relative success is the sheer simplicity of its main proposition: make arrests.” While advocates for the police code of silence argue that it helps garner solidarity with the police force and helps protect police work, the potential for corruption that it creates may be detrimental to the public opinion of law enforcement.

    Alternatives to law enforcement are typical in most communities, and Perry's Police Privatization, Geis's Bounty Hunters and Rewards, and Hawley's Vigilantes evaluate these issues. Police privatization is seen as a means to save money and increase efficiency. Conversely, law enforcement as a private entity could increase motivations for profit maximization while decreasing their intended functions of serving and protecting the citizens of the community.

    Police and law enforcement is a topic that stirs a great deal of commotion because of the unique relationship these organizations have with the public. While many see officers as protectors of peace in society, others have the aforementioned reasons to be skeptical. This volume is intended to present these debates and offer solutions to potential and perceived problems.

    William J.ChamblissGeneral Editor
  • About the General Editor

    William J. Chambliss is professor of sociology at The George Washington University. He has written and edited more than 25 books and numerous articles for professional journals in sociology, criminology, and law. His work integrating the study of crime with the creation and implementation of criminal law has been a central theme in his writings and research. His articles on the historical development of vagrancy laws, the legal process as it affects different social classes and racial groups, and his attempt to introduce the study of state-organized crimes into the mainstream of social science research have punctuated his career.

    He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including a Doctorate of Laws Honoris Causa, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 1999; the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award, Sociology of Law, American Sociological Association; the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award, Law and Society, Society for the Study of Social Problems; the 2001 Edwin H. Sutherland Award, American Society of Criminology; the 1995 Major Achievement Award, American Society of Criminology; the 1986. Distinguished Leadership in Criminal Justice, Bruce Smith, Sr. Award, Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences; and the 1985 Lifetime Achievement Award, Criminology, American Sociological Association.

    Professor Chambliss is a past president of the American Society of Criminology and past president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems. His current research covers a range of lifetime interests in international drug-control policy, class, race, gender and criminal justice and the history of piracy on the high seas.

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