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Policing in colonial America was influenced by the English system of policing. The maintenance of law and order within a community was the sole responsibility of its members. The first policing system was referred to as the “watch” (Maguire, 2003). The “watch” comprised of several volunteers, one constable, and six watchmen who patrolled the streets to maintain law and order. Boston created their first night watch in 1636, then New York followed suit in 1658 (Maguire, 2003). However, this system was more reactive than preventative. This meant that they only reacted to criminal behavior after it occurred, usually when requested by the victims or eyewitnesses.
According to Maguire (2003), a population boom in the 1700s necessitated the formation of a new law enforcement system that could effectively cater for the rapidly growing population. The increasing population saw a rise in crime rates, which required a preventive rather than reactionary approach. Consequently, the concept of a federal metropolitan police unit in the United States was implemented in the 1830s after the successful implementation of a similar new and reinforced police system in England in 1829. This system was solely designed to dissuade rather than counter crimes after they had occurred. The new structure was first implemented in Boston in 1836, which marked the implementation of the first American police force (Maguire, 2003).
Taking into account the focal role of the police force in the criminal justice system, this paper seeks to explore the roles, the culture, ethics, and the aspect of community policing among the police force.
Role of the Police in the Criminal Justice System
The administration of justice and crime regulation in America is handled by the criminal justice system. In America, the criminal justice system is comprised of three components namely, the police, the courts, and correctional facilities. These three components are inter-connected and co-dependent with the aim of achieving a common goal – the prevention and reduction of crime rates. This is illustrated by how police activities influence the working capacity of the court system one the countrywide level, which in turn has an effect on the correctional facilities if one is incarcerated. Therefore, the police are the center of this system.
According to Kokemuller (n.d), the roles of the police in the criminal justice system entail serving and protecting citizens, investigating crimes, community involvement, and response to emergencies. Serving citizens involves making arrests to deter deviant behavior, aiding citizens during emergencies, protecting communities and ensuring road safety. Community involvement refers to police participation in public safety awareness campaigns, public speaking, and community projects that create a good rapport between the public and law enforcement officials. Crime investigation involves the analysis of crime scene evidence and witness statements to solve a felony (Kokemuller, n.d). However, the most important role of the police lies in the protection that they offer to citizens. It is in the line of duty that police officers interact with both citizens and criminal offenders. As the first point of contact with offenders, police decisions set into motion the wheels of the criminal justice system. Kappler (2012) sums up this aspect of the police when he argues that the police are the “gate keepers” of the criminal justice system in that they represent the first point of contact with suspected offenders.
The Impact of Police Culture on Policing
According to Cochran and Bromley (2003), police culture refers to the organizational customs that encompass undocumented roles and societal policies of the force. Therefore, police culture gives rise to the factors that dictate how members of the police force perform their daily duties and establish relationships with their fellow officers. This is in addition to their overall opinion of the law, other aspects of the criminal justice system and the public. Unfortunately, loyalty to the police culture will mould an officer’s career in the police force.
Cochran and Bromley (2003) state that the police culture builds negative attitudes within the force. The effects on the police force can be characterized in terms of the “3 S’s”, which are honor, loyalty, and individuality. In terms of honor, policing is affected by the police culture in that the integrity of officers and the force at large has been compromised. This is seen by how police culture has made it easy for certain behavior to be acceptable by officers. For example, protection of wayward officers by their colleagues and the abuse of power vested in police officers. In terms of loyalty, officers are devoted to their fellow officers instead of looking out for the welfare of society that should be their first priority. Culture has also made it difficult for a police officer to retain their individuality when it comes to matters pertaining to their job. Mob mentality is common, and an approach to a situation has to be in line with the culture an officer abides to (Paoline, 2004)
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Police subculture denotes a fixed set of opinions, convictions, and behavior exhibited by police officers. It is impossible to change the subculture because the mentality of police subcultures has become the norm in the police force. This subculture is engrained in police officers during their tenure in police academies and their formative years in the force. Therefore, it is impossible to change or overhaul the whole system as it is the accepted mode of operation by officers. An attempt to change the subculture will be met by resistance from the officers as this subculture is tailored to their benefit. Hence, change needs to begin with the current crop of officers right down to recruits in the academy and their administrators if the impunity of subcultures needs to be eliminated (Cochran & Bromley, 2003).