Good Cop, Bad Cop: Power and Authority in Law Enforcement
Throughout the decades, police brutality has increased with the incorporation of new technological equipment and an individual’s abuse of power. It is said that “one bad apple can spoil the bunch,” but that should not be the case when speaking about public service operators. One bad cop should not taint the image of a police department; however, they should be trained in methods of law enforcement, crime prevention, and detection to uphold their authority to maintain the peace, safety, and order of the community without destroying the morale of themselves or others. Looking at the underlying reasons for police officers to take their authoritative power to the extreme can render serious consequence for the public.
It is true that some officers come in contact with life or death decisions and they may need to use force; conversely, they need to know the limitations of the law. Force within policing is necessary but there is a fine line between duty and brutality. When police officers use excessive force they may be feared by the public which discredits the police station. Although when officers do not present enough authority, in which they are “in charge”, then they will not receive the respect they deserve.
Abuse of Police Force
Police force can be used through verbal, mental, and physical abuse. This includes racial slurs, intimidation, and new weaponry provided by the government. A police officers utility belt consists of: a gun, handcuffs, pepper spray, flashlight, magazine pouch, baton holder, knife pouch, first aid kit, radio pouch, and a disposable pair of glove. Now that technology is always changing and improving as time passes, police officers now carry stunt guns and taser guns to subdue suspects that are not compliant. Sometimes these seemingly harmless weapons really injure or even kill innocent citizens. Just because it is not as deadly as a gun, police officers abuse their power of authority with specialized weapons to make other people around them feel less than and make themselves superior. “Whatever vestigial significance attaches to the term “lawful” use of force is confined to the obvious and unnecessary rule that police officers may not commit crimes of violence; however, the expectation that they may and will use force is left entirely undefined” (Geller, 1996, p. 1). Geller continues to note that American society has no clue of the meaning of excessive force, and in order to change that situation, we must be able to define it. We all have a broad sense of what “excessive” means and we somewhat define it as being “too much” or “over the top” in certain situations; for example, being an excessive eater or shopping excessively. Within the efforts of police officers, not all, but some use excessive force to demand authority just because they have a badge and believe they should be treated with more respect than any other human being. “A profession is commonly regarded as a special kind of occupation where technical knowledge is gained through long, prescribed training known as a systematic theory and practice. A professional adheres to a set of professional norms, in which stipulates the practitioner to perform competent work in the “client’s” interest” (Reiss, 1971, p. 122).
For officers or even doctors, there needs to be a level of professionalism when doing their jobs or they can be charged with malpractices or use of excessive force. As human beings we trust individuals to commit tasks such as “cut us open” or check and see if our “private parts” are operating properly, and these physicians have our consent to make split second decision based upon life or death. I agree that police officers have the same right because they too are put in difficult positions, but that does not give them the right to abuse the people they are meant to protect or even be a jerk about how they convey the law to the public. For instance, an example of a doctor abusing his or her authority as a medical professional could be, if said person were to rape their patients just because they knew the person that was receiving care was an illegal alien that would be deported if they reported the doctor. I am not saying that police officers rape innocent victims, but when they use excessive force in a situation where it is uncalled for, that is when the line between duty and brutality is crossed.
Causes of Police Brutality
“Every serious prescription for controlling police brutality rests at least implicitly on some theory of police behavior” (Geller, 1996, p. 23). The behavior of an officer, better yet a human being, is a tricky thing because people lie to the point that they can put on a “mask” to deceive others in believing who they really are. One can fill out an application and even have a good interview, but no one can really know if and when an unstable individual can snap. The two main theories can be shown when examining police behavior; sociological and psychological. (Geller, 1996).
First, the sociological theories can be based on the influence of police-citizen encounters whether through profiling or blatant discrimination. “Before there was racial profiling, there was criminal profiling, or just plain profiling. Criminal profiling has been described as the “process of inferring distinctive personality characteristic of individuals responsible for committing criminal acts”” (Heumann, 2003, p. 11). As a police officer it is understandable that the department will have certain procedures and categorical systems on past criminals; however, it is called discrimination when dealing with officers that have preferences to when they use force on a civilian due to their race, religion, or creed.
The second theory involving the psychological aspect of an officer’s behavior could suggest that they were predisposed to such brutality. The ultimate question psychologists ask is if nature or nurture plays a key role in how someone ends up in the world, and if so which position is more dominant? There are many reasons why people become messed up in the head; either through their childhood or genetics, but that does not give someone the right to abuse their power toward criminals or innocents. There is a certain way to handle situations, but when officers blame others for their personal problems it becomes dangerous to the people around them.
It is hard to identify the extent of police corruption beyond the presented cases, but Corsianos explains the qualification of a corrupt officer. “First it may be shown that the police powers were misused, and second, that the officer(s) misusing police power intended to misuse it. The motive, whether it is monetary or personal gain, is important only in establishing the intentional misuse of power” (2009, p. 108). By determining the causes of police brutality we can find different way in preventing excessive use.
Police and the Community
A relationship between a police department and its community is vital to make change within its society. “The notion of community policing has been designed to reunite the police with the community in order to change past views on officers.” (Peak, 2012, p. 47). However, when police officers use excessive force as means of compliance, it ruins the credibility of the department and trust with the community. Officers of the law need to obtain a level of respect from a community so that they can do their jobs efficiently. If officers did not have this respect, because they do not express their authority in a clear and concise way, they will be seen as weak throughout the community.
This does not mean that the police officers have to use the abuse of force to gain respect because that causes even greater problems for the department and community (Geller, 1996). On the other hand, there are other ways of presenting authority in which the community as a whole will respect you; like talking and getting to know the people in said community so that they can get a sense that the police care for their well being. Another one of Geller suggestions to improve community relations is by allowing community input. This can enable the community to get involved in assessing police candidates which makes the police-citizen relationship stronger by giving the community a voice on the issues.
“The importance of police to our legal processes can hardly be overestimated. The police are the interpreters of the legal order to the population; for many people, they are the sole source of contact with the legal system” (Armstrong, 1976, p. 158). I believe it would be a very high honor to become a police officer because I would be on the front line of helping people, engaging in community while building relationships, and using ethically sound techniques to make sure that I do not become a Bad Cop. Police officers need to remember that their duty is to protect the general public from criminals and not act as enforcers for a tyrannical police state. As long as duty and brutality do not overlap when officers are fighting for justice, peace and order will reside in the community and within themselves.
Armstrong, T. R., & Cinnamon, K. M. (1976). Power and Authority in Law Enforcement. Spingfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. Corsianos, M. (2009). Policing and Gendered Justice: Examining the Possibilities (pp. 95-116). Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press. Geller, W. A., & Toch, H. (1996). Police Violence: Understanding and Controlling Police Abuse of Force. New Haven And London: Yale University Press. Heumann, M., & Cassak, L. (2003). Good Cop, Bad Cop (Vol. 10, p. 11). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing. Peak, K. J., & Glensor, R. W. (2012). Community Policing and Problem Solving (sixth ed., pp. 47-48). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. Reiss, JR., A. J. (1971). The Police and the Public (pp. 121-172). New Haven and London: Yale University Press.