Law enforcement is a collective term for professionals who have devoted their lives to uphold and implement the laws and statutes that are currently in force in a given jurisdiction (Dowler 1). Modern police departments were created out of the desire of the wealthy to restructure society for the purpose of class maintenance and protection of private property. In every society, the police force is divided into various departments with specialized duties. In the United States, in addition to the conventional urban and regional police forces, the federal government has other police forces with specialized jurisdictions and functions.
For example, the Park police patrol national parks. In most countries the most significant division in the police force is between the detectives and the preventive uniformed police. Police work nonetheless, includes a multitude of activities in different contexts; however, the predominant ones are concerned with the provision of services and preservation of order (Finley 1). Law enforcement has been marked by various myths which in most cases mar the perception of the society.
One of the myths is the crime-fighting image of the police officers. This perception by the society is based on their understanding of mediated policing whereby they always expect something to be happening. This makes the police to attempt to mediate reality themselves. Whenever they go on call, they take into account the expectations of the public. Yet the police are individuals who are empowered to enforce the law, protect property and in evidently ensure public and social order through legitimized use of force.
For example, the preventive police, also known as the Uniform Branch, Administrative Police or Patrol, which makes the bulk of the police service personnel is tasked with the duties of responding to emergencies, enforcing criminal law, regulating traffic and protecting life and property (Dowler 1). Although the motto of the police in most countries is ‘protect and serve”, their work is mainly to enforce law in general and not necessarily to protect any individual. However, in some jurisdictions, they are entitled to protect private rights.
Ordinarily, the police are not expected to do anything other than what is stipulated in the law. Therefore the overrated public expectations as a result of media influence are unrealistic. Sociologists believe and emphasize that the greatest source of information for the public concerning what it is to be a cop and what cops are like comes from the media through action movies. Police officers also perceive that the public’s attitude towards law enforcement and crime in general as directly influenced by mass media.
In most instances the images and depictions by the media are grossly distorted and unrealistic. This social force affects not only the perception of the public towards the police but also the police and the manner in which they discharge of their duties (Finley 1). Although police officers avidly try to distance themselves from their erroneous mediated counterparts on the screen, sometimes they use these images as a guide for their own performance and accounts as well as for their own understanding of the public’s judgment of their actions.
Though the police both denounce and support the stereotypes presented by the media, they still know that they are under constant public scrutiny which expects something to always be happening. Consequently, the media influences the way that they behave and perform on the streets and they are influenced by the unreal and surreal expectation propagated by the television cop shows. Other than the media, the attitude of the police also influences the perception of the public.
The police see themselves as “outsider” separate from the rest of society because they consider that their work is unique. They believe that when they arrive at a crime scene people will see them as cops but not as human beings (Perlmutter 120). They therefore begin to develop an “us versus them” mentality which in most cases is reinforced by the symbol of wearing the uniform. The public on the other hand is categorized into a “good versus bad” dichotomy.
Over time, the influence of the media on both the public and the police creates tension between these two groups. The obvious discordance between the stereotypes and the reality creates some embarrassment for the street cops when perceived by observers. This is especially so when the public try to compare the highly active TV cop who seems to know everyone’s motives with the ambiguity inherent in real life investigations which are interspersed with bureaucratic paper work.
The media portrays the level of action for mediated police as “never a dull moment” which raises the publics’ expectation of the law enforcers (Finley 1). Therefore, the real cops’ inability to bring criminals to justice on a minute-to-minute basis makes the public feel cheated and they lose trust in the law enforcers. At the same time, the media only portrays clearly defined good and evil characters, yet the streets are characterized by “the good, the bad and the gray”; this leaves everyone in real life convinced that they are the aggrieved victims (Perlmutter 44).
Sociologists have discovered that this cycle of perpetual influence by the media may itself profoundly impact the contemporary criminal justice system in the minds of ordinary people. Therefore the only way to assist law enforcement in the proper engagement of their work is for the public to understand that the actual police work may be way different than their mediated resources give credit for. Effective community policing ought to be put in place if a crime free society is what we all espouse for.
In addition, efforts at strengthening community relations may help facilitate positive police interaction and dispel myths associated with police work and activities. Works Cited Dowler, K. 2002. American Journal of Criminal Justice. 26(2) (2002): 235-247. Finely, L. Journal of Popular Culture & Criminal Justice. 9(2) (2002): 102-104. Perlmutter, D. Policing the Media. Public Perception of Law Enforcement & Street Cops. California: Sage, 2000.
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