The role that police have in our society is a big issue at the moment. With more and more stories of police brutality and fatal shootings emerging, people are beginning to ask questions about what the police should be doing and the level of power that we afford them. Attitudes toward the police are changing rapidly and a lot of people are starting to see them as an enemy or an authoritarian force, rather than a service that protects the local community. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s undeniable that society is asking questions about their police force.
Often, the route to solving these problems is to look to the past and understand how our current situation has developed. When people are trying to decide what role the police should play, it’s useful to understand how policing has changed over the years and look at how they operate. With that in mind, here is a basic rundown of how policing has changed in the past.
Specialized Government Agencies
In the past, the role of a police officer was not just about stopping crimes. They were community figures that the local people could come to with all sorts of issues, not just criminal ones. There were issues with corruption and racism but, on the whole, the police were an important part of the local community. But between the 1920s and the 1940s, the government expanded rapidly and a lot of specialized agencies were set up to deal with things that would previously have been handled by a local police officer. Things like child services, housing offices, and unemployment offices all took over those support roles and police were left to deal specifically with criminal activity and nothing else.
This is an important development in the history of policing because it changed our perception of them over the years. When they handled all sorts of issues, they were considered an important figure in the community that had a good relationship with the locals. The increasing size of cities had some impact on this as well because people no longer know their police officers personally. The way that police officers operated was changed as well so they could be more efficient. More officers were stationed in a patrol car so they could drive to the location of a crime, deal with the issue and then head back out on patrol. They were covering larger areas and if people lived in an area that doesn’t have a lot of crime, they rarely ever have contact with police officers. However, people that live in an area with a lot of crime might feel as though the police are an occupying force that are constantly keeping tabs on them. Breaking that link between the people and their police force may have contributed to people’s perception of them in modern times.
In recent years, there has been some attempt to address this disconnect by putting a bigger focus on community policing. In the 1970s and 1980s, police were pushed to deal with things like domestic violence (which was previously considered a private issue) and vandalism in the local area. Officers were also encouraged to try to engage with people more often when they’re out on patrol. These initiatives have helped with a move toward the old way of policing in some senses but police officers are still primarily concerned with criminal problems and the varied and wide patrol routes mean that people don’t usually know their officers well.
Stronger Focus On Rehabilitation
Prison is a punishment for criminals and in the past, that was the only priority when handing out judgments. But studies show that a system that is only based on punishment is only going to cause people to re-offend and doesn’t do anything to tackle crime rates. That’s why policing and the justice system these days has a stronger focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society, rather than just punishment. That means there are a lot more specialized roles in policing nowadays for people that have an online degree in criminology from Laurier. But not everybody agrees that this is the right way to do things and there are two distinct camps in this debate. Some people argue that people who have committed crimes made their choice and they don’t deserve any extra help after they’ve served their times. Others will argue that it makes logical sense to help people reintegrate back into society so they don’t re-offend again because it’s more cost effective and reduces crime rates. While police brutality is the main issue that people are discussing at the moment, there is still a lot of debate about how many resources we should give to rehabilitation.
The Introduction Of Technology
Technology has revolutionized so many different areas of our lives and policing is no different. All sorts of new technology has been introduced to help make policing more effective and safer for the officers, the animals that assist them, and the general public. New technology has also had a far reaching effect on how police work is conducted. Advances in forensic science mean that DNA evidence and fingerprints are instrumental in solving a case. All of that evidence is collected behind closed doors by professionals and the public never sees any of it. Before these new techniques were developed, police were more reliant on speaking to the people in the surrounding area and looking for witnesses etc. That is a big part of it but new techniques do mean that police are spending less and less time in their communities.
New technology, namely body cameras, have a big role to play in current debates about police brutality and shootings. Having constant video footage means that there is always evidence when an incident occurs and there is argument about whether the police acted within reason or not. This means that police officers can be held to account if they do break the law but they can’t be wrongly accused of acting outside of their normal duties. However, there is a flipside to this bonus because it does encourage fears about surveillance which is also a hot topic at the moment.
The role of police in society is a complex issue and there’s no simple answer here, but perhaps the developments that led to a less personal form of policing and broke the connection with the community have had an effect on the relationship between the police force and the public.