Policing 101

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  • The number one goal of policing is public safety.
  • There are more than 18,000 local police departments in the United States.
  • Police departments are organized in a hierarchical structure, usually with the Chief of Police as its executive leader (in some agencies, the top official’s title is Commissioner or Superintendent).
  • Most departments have at least two sections: a patrol side and an investigations side. Typically the public interacts most often with patrol officers.
  • For departments serving large geographic areas, the service area may be divided into geographic districts, each of which is policed by a number of officers led by a district commander.
  • Community members should determine which district their neighborhood is in, and which district commander is in charge of that area.
  • The district officer may be the most knowledgeable resource regarding the details of crime patterns and other issues in a given neighborhood.
  • For many people in the United States interactions with the police are rare.
  • While there are known best practices in policing, there is no universal standards for the structure, size, or governance of police departments in the United States.
  • Each law enforcement department are subject to different state, county, and city laws and codes, and they have different policies, practices, and officer training programs.
  • The effectiveness of the criminal justice system is determined by many different agencies on the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Police are one of the most visible representations of the criminal justice system in the eyes of the public.
  • Enforcing laws is just one of many different roles of the police officer. Other important roles include availing resources and working with communities to prevent crimes and solve various livability issues, maintaining order, and conducting investigations.
  • Police are entrusted with an enormous amount of responsibility, including the responsibility to use force when necessary, and police undertake these tasks in a manner that is legal, and also is respectful to community members and is in keeping with local priorities.
  • Public trust and cooperation are key elements of effective policing.
  • There are usually multiple ways to contact the local police. For example, police departments often hold community meetings in which the police interact with the public, such as neighborhood watch meetings, problem solving meetings to address specific community concerns, or general community relations meetings.
  • Some police departments incorporate liaison officers or units in order to increase the department’s outreach to community members, and perhaps to specific populations.
  • Examples of populations that police departments may designate for specific outreach liaisons include youths, seniors, faith leaders, and African American, Latino, Asian, deaf and hard of hearing, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.
  • Liaison officers can be an important resource for involving residents and business owners in addressing public safety issues in the community.
  • The police chief and the “culture” of the department can influence patrol and community policing practices.
  • Ultimately, community members also influence policing priorities. Daily interactions between officers and community members may determine the specific issues that an individual officer pays attention to while on duty.
  • In an effort to improve relationships with communities and to improve the practice of policing, various agencies and organizations are working to prevent biased policing, especially racial profiling.
  • Positive police-community relationships are essential to maintaining public safety and order. These relationships help to reduce fear and biases, and build mutual understanding and trust between the police and community.
  • Community policing is a policing philosophy based on three core components: community partnerships, organizational transformation, and problem-solving.
  • Positive police-community relationships contribute to increased community perceptions of the legitimacy of the police to enforce the law.
  • Perceptions of police legitimacy impact the willingness of community members to support policing strategies and cooperate with police directives on a daily basis and during an emergency.
  • The police need the community’s help in maintaining order just as the community needs fair, just, and effective law enforcement. This collaboration and cooperation improve public safety and officer safety.
  • Since trust and mutual respect between police and the communities they serve are critical to maintaining positive police-community relations, many police agencies establish programs such as ride alongs or citizens’ police academies to facilitate positive interactions with the community.