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Chapter 7 – Policing America: Issues and Ethics. Public Attitudes Toward the Police. What do people think of the police?. It depends on: whom you ask people’s prior experience. Qualities of a Successful Police Officer. Police officers require a rare combination of qualities and abilities:.

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Public Attitudes Toward the Police

What do people think of the police?

  • It depends on:
  • whom you ask
  • people’s prior experience

Qualities of a Successful Police Officer

Police officers require a rare combination of qualities and abilities:

  • Motivation for a police career
  • Normal self-assertiveness
  • Emotional stability under stress
  • Sensitivity toward minority groups and social deviates



Qualities of a Successful Police Officer

  • Collaborative leadership skills
  • A mature relationship with social authority
  • Flexibility
  • Integrity and honesty
  • An active and outgoing nature

Qualities of a Successful Police Officer

Particularly important qualities are known as the three I’s of police selection.

Nearly as important are common sense and compassion.


three I’s of police selection

Three qualities of the American police officer that seem to be of paramount importance are intelligence, integrity, and interaction skills.


The Police Selection Process

  • In many communities, selection of police officers is through a merit system.
  • Officers employed under such a system are hired and tenured (theoretically) if they meet and maintain the employment qualifications and performance standards.
  • They cannot be fired without cause.

merit system

A system of employment whereby an independent civil service commission, in cooperation with the city personnel section and the police department, sets employment qualifications, performance standards, and discipline procedures.


The Police Selection Process

The police officer selection process often includes:

  • Short application
  • Detailed application, including complete work history, references, and medical profile
  • Medical examination



The Police Selection Process

  • Physical agility test
  • Written examination
  • Background investigation
  • Psychological testing
  • Oral interview

The Police Selection Process

The final steps of selection are:

  • Academy training
  • Probation, usually between six months and one year, which includes formal field training

Issues in Policing

Many areas of policing remain topics of debate, particularly:

  • Discretion
  • Use of force
  • Police corruption


No list of policies and procedures could possibly guide police officers through all the situations in which they find themselves. Police routinely must use their own discretion.

The issue of police discretion is very controversial, particularly because some officers abuse their discretion.



The exercise of individual judgment, instead of formal rules, in making decisions.


Patrol Officer Discretion

Patrol officers routinely use their discretion in deciding:

  • Where to patrol when not answering radio calls
  • Whom to stop and question
  • Which traffic violators to stop
  • To ignore a minor violation in pursuit of something more serious

Patrol Officer Discretion

  • Patrol officers cannot provide full enforcement.
  • Instead, police officers usually practice selective enforcement.

Factors Affecting Discretion

A number of significant factors affect discretion:

  • The nature of the crime
  • Departmental policies
  • The relationship between the victim and the offender
  • The amount of evidence available



Factors Affecting Discretion

  • The preference of the victim
  • The demeanor of the suspect
  • The legitimacy of the victim
  • Socioeconomic status of the complainant

Discretion and Racial Profiling

Racial profilingis of growing concern to law enforcement officials and to the public.

Often stops are “justified” by minor equipment or moving traffic violations that might otherwise be ignored.

At the root of the practice is racial stereotyping.


Discretion and Racial Profiling

Methods aimed at stopping racial profiling include:

  • Racial and cultural diversity training
  • Strong discipline for errant officers
  • Videotaping of all traffic stops



Discretion and Racial Profiling

  • Collecting data on the race of stopped motorists and pedestrians and the disposition of the encounter
  • Having police officers distribute business cards to all motorists and pedestrians they stop

Factors Limiting Discretion

Several methods are employed to control the amount of discretion exercised by police officers:

  • Close supervision
  • Policies covering behavior in certain situations, such as the use of force
  • The threat of civil liability lawsuits

Excessive Force

Police use force in order to control suspects. These encounters have caused police to sometimes use excessive force.


excessive force

A measure of coercion beyond that necessary to control participants in a conflict.


Excessive Force

The persistent use of excessive force by the police:

  • is unethical and criminally illegal.
  • exposes the police to criminal and civil prosecution.
  • builds up resentment by citizens against police.
  • costs law enforcement agencies millions of dollars in legal damages.

Deadly Force

In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court greatly restricted the conditions under which police can use deadly force.

Tennessee v. Garner


Deadly Force

  • The officer must believe that:
    • The crime for which the arrest is made involved conduct including the use or threatened use of deadly force.
    • There is substantial risk that the person to be arrested will cause death or serious bodily harm if his apprehension is delayed.

Police Corruption

Nothing is more distasteful to the public than a police officer or a whole department gone bad.

Throughout history, police officers have bought their positions and promotions, sold protection, and ignored violations of the law for money.


Police Corruption

Why is policing so susceptible to corruption?

  • Police have authority to enforce law.
  • Police also have the discretion to not enforce the law.
  • Police receive relatively low pay, but have important responsibilities.
  • Police become cynical about the courts’ soft treatment of criminals.
  • Society in general is ambivalent about vice.

Types of Corruption

The Knapp Commission in 1972 identified two kinds of corrupt officers:

  • “Grass eaters”
  • “Meat eaters”

grass eaters

Officers who occasionally engage in illegal and unethical activities, such as accepting small favors, gifts, or money for ignoring violations of the law during the course of their duties.

meat eaters

Officers who actively seek ways to make money illegally while on duty.


Types of Corruption

Ellwyn Stoddard identified a more complete list of police misconduct:

  • Bribery: accepting cash or gifts in exchange for nonenforcement of the law.
  • Chiseling: demanding discounts, free admission, and free food.
  • Extortion: the threat of enforcement and arrest if a bribe is not given.



Types of Corruption

  • Favoritism: giving breaks on law enforcement to family and friends.
  • Mooching: accepting free food, drinks, and admission to entertainment.
  • Perjury: lying for other officers apprehended in illegal activity.
  • Prejudice: unequal enforcement of the law with respect to racial and ethnic minorities.
  • Premeditated theft: planned burglaries and theft.



Types of Corruption

  • Shakedown: taking items form the scene of a theft or a burglary.
  • Shopping: taking small, inexpensive items from a crime scene.

Controlling Corruption

Some of the ways to control and reduce corruption in policing are:

  • High moral standards
  • Police policies and discipline
  • Proactive internal affairs investigations unit
  • Uniform enforcement of the law
  • Outside review and special prosecutors
  • Court review and oversight