The Law Enforcement Profession
In order to understand comptemporary law enforcemment, we should
recognize the conditions that impact our profession. It is agreed upon by many
scholars that major changes in law enforcement occur every five years. Policing
is sometimes characterize”… like a sandbar in a river, subject to being
changed continuously by the currents in which it is immersed…” (Swanson,
Territo and Taylor, p. 2). However, in recent years some major changes have
occurred in a shorter time period.
Innovations in law enforcement
During the past two decades, I have observed major changes in the
viewpoint of society towards police officer’s as the symbol of trust and dignity,
the technological advances of communication and information systems in law
enforcement, and the revision of selection and hiring practices for police
officers. Organizational change occurs both as a result of internal and
external agents (Swanson, Territo and Taylor, p. 664). These changes have
manifested both positive and negative reverberations in the way we perform our
Police officials have contemplated for years over the key to maintaining
a positive image for their organization. Unfortunately, several incidents in
the past years have altered society’s perception of police in some communities.
Police in America are no longer strangers to innovation born of scandal. Law
enforcement agencies nationwide have repeatedly been shaken by controversy and
forced to make undesirable concessions. Has law enforcement failed to maintain
the high standards required by the profession? The cost of public trust is high.
It increases each time faith must be regain.
Historically, law enforcement agencies throughout the nation have
experienced periods of low confidence in communities preceding episodes deemed
to be a breach of trust. Early pioneers in law enforcement history such as
August Vollmer (1902 – 1932). Berkeley Police Department and J. Edgar Hoover
(1924) the Federal Bureau of Investigation made numerous advancements towards
improving the professionalism of law enforcement (Anderson and Newman, p. 119 –
120). Other attempts were made in 1956 by the International Association of
Chiefs of Police adopted “The Law Enforcement Code Of Ethics” (Wilson and
Examples of several historical events locally have attributed to
society’s decline in respect for police. For example, nine members of a Los
Angeles County Sheriff’s Department special narcotics squad were charged with
misappropriating tens of thousands of dollars confiscated in drug raids (L. A.
Times, p. 4, Sept. 9, 1989). Another local incident involved 80 Los Angeles
police officers stormed and wrecked an apartment and allegedly beat several
residents on “Dalton Street.” The city was forced to settled in a civil law
suit by the resident with a settlement of $3 million dollars of taxpayers money
(L. A. Times, p. 1-2, August 1, 1988). This incident generated major outcry
from the minority community to overhaul the use of force policy and procedure
within the department.
Nationally, five New York City police officers were charged with murder
in the slaying of a suspect in Queens. All five officers were arraigned on
murder charges in the death of Federico Pereira, 21 years of age, a car theft
suspect who was punched, kicked, and strangled as he was being arrested. This
is one in a string of accusations of bruality made against New York officers in
recent years (The New York Times, March 21, 1991, p. A 1). In the south,
the incident of Officer Donald Jeffries who was honored as Mississippi’s officer
of the year in 1993. He alleged that mental stress was a factor in his robbery
of a bank, however, a federal judge in Mobile ruled that he was competent to
stand trial for the charge (USA Today, May 13, 1994, p. 8 A).
The case of Arthur McDuffie (Dec. 17, 1979) in Miami, a black male
died after a high speed police chase. The police reports indicated that
McDuffie died from being thrown from his motorcycle during the chase. The
results of an investigation disclosed that the McDuffie’s death may have been
caused by police instead of an accident. After being indicted and found not
guilty by an all white jury, riots broke out in black neighborhoods,
especially Liberty City resulting in arson and looting that left 18 persons dead
and more than 300 injured. This catastrophe forced the Miami Police
Department to reexamine and revise their use of force policies and procedures
(CQ Researcher, p. 645).
The Jeffrey L. Dahmer Case characterize a situation when the police fail
to properly handle a call of a suspicous nature. Dahmer was charged with
murdering at least 15 young males. On May 27, 1993, two Milwaukee citizens
reported a naked young male in the middle of the street bleeding and unable to
stand. The boy name was Konerak Sinthasomphone, a 14 year of laotain boy.
Dahmer was able to persuade the officer that the boy was a live in lover. The
boy was later slain by Dahmer in his apartment after the officers left the scene.
A storm of portest came from the minority and homosexual communities accused
the officers of displaying racial prejudice. The officers were also criticized
for dismissing the incident as “a boyfriend-boyfriend thing” (CQ Researcher, p.
One of the most celebrated cases in recent times was the beating of a
black motorist by several white police officers in Los Angeles. It stirred
nationwide concern about police brutality. On March 3, 1991, Rodney Glen King,
25 years of age, was severely beaten by Los Angeles police officers after being
stopped at the termination of a vehicle pursuit, which was originally started by
the California Highway Patrol. A videotape of the incident is shown repeatedly
on television over the next few days. The aftermath of the trial that acquitted
the officers involved in the Rodney King beating speaks highly of the sentiment
felt in the minority community (ICLAPD, p. 14-15).
Another discouraging sign that little has changed is the continuing
pattern of police abuse. Most recently on July 29, 1994 Compton Police Officer
Michael Jackson was captured on videotape striking a 17 year old male in the
head with his baton. This scene did not win sentiment from the public nor
revitalize the compassion felt by many after the Rodney King incident. While
this incident appears unjustified and even later deemed to be justified, it
will not help the image of law enforcement.
Some citizens truly believe the police represent the wealthy and not the
poor. Two researchers Geoffery P. Alpert and Roger G. Durham (1988) examined
different ethics diversed communities in Miami. There, they discovered much
more negative and suspicious attitudes toward the police and regard them as
“representatives of the majority class”, not “agents of social control” (CQ
Researcher, p. 650). The media have also contributed to the fracturing by
playing up dfferences and tensions.
As citizens spend more time working with the police, they learn more
about the police function. Experience has shown that as citizen’s knowledge of
the police increases, their respect for the police increases as well. This
increased respect, in turn, leads to greater support for the police. The
image of the police might benefit from the implementation of Community-Involved
Programs in today’s organizations. The Los Angeles Police Department and many
other agencies are exploring Community-Based Policing to help heal the wounds
left by conduct perceived by the public as police brutality (Los Angeles Times,
April 17, 1994). Police administrators must be aware of public opinion
because… Public confidence in a police department is directly related to the
image that citizens have of their police, and these images are formed from the
impressions people gain about law enforcement…” (Earle, p. 20).
As society changes, technology changes to address the enormous demands
of the world. Police managers across the country are faced with the dilemma of
decreased fiscal resources and the same responsibility to maintain high service
levels. In order to be effective, law enforcement agencies must aggressively
exploit the new technological advances in radio and telephone systems. For the
last two decades several technological advances have aided law enforcement in
becoming more efficent and effective in serving their communities.
For example, in November 1992, the Morgan Hill Police Department’s
implementation of mail-out reports were handled by the computer system. The
department made minor modifications to their PC network-based Computer aided
dispatching (CAD) system. The process begins when the police dispatcher
receives a call from a victim and types the basic report information into the
computer. The computer automatically generate a partially completed, pre-
addressed incident report form, which is then mailed to the victim. After the
victim completes the form, he or she returns it to the police department. The
department received a favorable response from the community on its Citizen
Assisted Reporting System (CARS) (California Peace Officer, p. 15).
The new technology and equipment available to law enforcement is only
limited by the imagination. Several years ago California was the poineer in the
use of mobile data terminals (MDTs) in its patrol cars. These low-band radio-
driven systems allow officers to access all of the available law enforcement
database systems to receive and send messages. Officers could type messages
meant just for the dispatcher, and they could send typed messages back and
forth to other mobile units (California Peace Officer, p. 13).
With the introduction of radio and satellite driven system on the market,
law enforcement agencies will be able to link each patrol unit through a laptop
computer to a broad array of databases and systems which include NCIC, DMV,
CLETS, CJIS, PIN, county records, departmental databases and more. Some
systems are capable of displaying a geopgraphical map depicting all previous
crimes in an area by type and where they occurred. The reports of all crimes in
the last 48 hours can be called to see what was written about the occurrence.
These Personal Data Terminal (PDTs) or Mobile Data Computer (MDCs) can also be
used to input, transmit or download reports at the station (California Peace
Officer, p. 13).
The more advanced mobile computer terminals feature built-in peripheral
devices such as mobile printers, automatic vehicle locator (AVL), fingerprint
scanner, mobile camera, magnetic stripe card reader, and bar code scanner
with a color display screen.
In summary, the profession of law enforcement is continually changing
because of the demands placed on it by society