Police Challenges – The Formula of Success


Conventionally, governments divide the public service into several sections and subsections to ensure efficiency in service delivery to the people. One of the key subdivisions in the public service is the police force. According to Raymond et al. (5), the police force is a unique set of public servants by virtue of the fact that the public vests thrust upon them and they are the only set of public servants who have the mandate to employ force against the public to deliver a law-abiding and orderly society. This aspect of the police force sets it apart from all other public servants. The police force is expected to obtain intelligence and use it to detect crime patterns, predict where crime is most likely to occur, and possibly intercept it before it actually occurs. In cases where interception is not possible until a criminal act has occurred, the police force is expected to use the available resources to incarcerate the offenders within the shortest time possible because the government and the citizenry expect nothing less. On one hand, the government uses police performance as a vital indicator of how well it is working to safeguard public security, while on the other hand, the citizenry uses police vigilance to gauge the perceived security levels. The police force thus bears an enormous obligation placed upon it by the government and the citizenry of a country. However, despite the enormity of the responsibility of the police, numerous challenges are inherent in the operation of police departments. This essay endeavors to explore these challenges in a bid to understand the dynamics underlying them.

The Staffing Challenge

Attracting and retaining adequately qualified personnel has been an inextricable part of the challenges faced by police departments across the US and other parts of the world (Wilson and Weiss 3). In fact, it is becoming a more complex challenge to the police departments due to the numerous economic, social, and political phenomena that are witnessed across the US. Wilson and Weiss (3) argue that immediately before the global recession, which was witnessed between 2008 and 2010, different police departments encountered difficulties in recruiting and were compelled to use creativity in the form of hiring incentives. Paradoxically, during the recession, there arose hiring freezes, lay-offs, and salary/benefits cutbacks among many other measures that were aimed at ensuring that the funds at the disposal of the police departments sustained them (Wilson and Weiss 3).

Apparently, the demand for and supply of adequately qualified personnel keeps on changing with changing times. Meanwhile, the law enforcement responsibilities continue to expand as the resources available dwindle. This state of affairs causes the priority of resource allocation to be given to areas, which are perceived as more deserving. Raymond et al. (3) posit that police departments often find themselves in a state where resources are allocated to capacity enhancement rather than improvement of personnel. This trend makes staffing somewhat a neglected issue among the key issues that police departments grapple with.

The neglected key question in this confusion has to do with the number of officers that a particular agency requires to satisfy the demands placed upon it effectively (Wilson and Weiss 4). When addressing this concern, it is important to approach it with caution for it may be possible to avail all the police officers that a community requires to feel safe or the number of security personnel that a community can support, but miserably fail in the quest to sustain them. Even though endearing, this kind of approach does not consider the idea of cost-effectiveness, yet in the face of resource constraints, cost-effectiveness takes center stage. The focus should thus be channeled towards determining the number of personnel that a security agency needs to cost-effectively deal with the expectations of society upon it. Unfortunately, those charged with the responsibility of making the critical decisions concerning these figures are largely lacking in access to the resources that could aid them to determine the personnel required accurately. This aspect implicitly suggests that most decisions that have been made to this effect are uninformed and thus lead to strains in the resources available or end up availing inadequate security personnel and consequently fall short of expectations.

The fluid nature of the struggle to maintain adequate numbers of security personnel is aggravated by the view that there are rapid changes in the composition of local communities (Raymond et al. 4). Changes in local communities are increasingly yielding diverse cultural orientations within communities, thus altering the features of the kind of officer that would satisfactorily serve them. Wilson and Weiss (5) note that the cultural changes within communities dictate that police departments should also follow the patterns because a given cultural grouping would only be comfortable being served by security personnel who also subscribes to their culture. This assertion implies that police departments need to consider such changes as they occur within communities and respond to them in a bid to remain effective and relevant in their jurisdictions.

The need to adjust is apparent and many police departments have endeavored to meet this need. However, there are several other factors, which make the adjustment more challenging. Conventionally, police departments place emphasis on the indebtedness, prior drug use, and physical fitness of an individual as critical yardsticks that dictate whether the individual is eligible for police duty. Trends show an upward rise in the incidence of these elements. Raymond et al. (5) report an increase in indebtedness among American youth aged between 18 years and 24 years, which is a clear indicator that more and more American youths are not eligible to join police departments. They also report upward trends in the use of drugs among the youth yet prior drug use, if ascertained, disqualifies an individual from being in a position to join any police department in the US (5). Physical fitness, which serves to decide if an individual can withstand the training programs that prepare them for the police departments, is also increasingly becoming an impediment for the American youth. This assertion hinges on the view that the US is struggling with obesity among its youth.

The coupling of these factors produces a synergistic effect that works against the police departments’ efforts to keep their staffing requirements adequately catered for. This state of affairs is further aggravated by the view that the advent of globalization and a fluid technological landscape make policing a complex endeavor that calls for an expanded array of skills. This development causes the police departments to accept applications from individuals who have reasonable academic qualifications. In doing so, police departments find themselves competing for the labor pool with other organizations, which also seek to recruit individuals with similar qualifications (Raymond et al. 6).

Staffing is thus a challenge that is likely to stay with police departments for many years to come, as the composition of communities is likely to become more diverse as the population increases. However, due to the dwindling of resource allocations to the police departments, they are likely to be unable to strike a balance between the need for diversity and the available resources. Other challenges such as obesity, drug use, and indebtedness are also likely to be part of society for some time to come. With such factors in play, maintaining a diverse, adequately staffed, and highly qualified police force at the different levels will continue presenting recruiters and administrators with an enormous challenge.

Corruption in Police Departments

Corruption is a vice that for many years haunts law enforcement officers across the world. Though thought to be rampant only in the developing world, corruption is universal and it transcends any perceived boundaries to be practiced with impunity in the developed world. Technically, the majority of law enforcement officers engage in corruption during their service. This assertion can be best understood from the definition of corruption. McCafferty and McCafferty (57) concisely define corruption as the act of using one’s position (authority) to solicit personal gain. If the assertion that the majority of law enforcement officers have engaged in corruption at one time in their career is considered in the light of this definition, it becomes apparent that some may escape the noose. However, under some legal systems, corruption encompasses the violation of any established rules, which are supposed to govern the conduct of police officers (Hagedorn et al. 1). In this broad sense, corruption includes mooching, chiseling, favoritism, prejudice, extortion, taking bribes, and perjury among numerous other activities (McCafferty and McCafferty, 58). This broader perspective of corruption classifies taking free meals by police officers as corruption because those who give such meals often expect to be treated with favoritism at some point. Additionally, “clean” officers who do not engage in any of these activities, but the failure to report a fellow officer for the slightest breach of the established code of conduct is also classified as being corrupt. This scenario makes corruption biggest challenge that police departments grapple with.

In the US, a careful analysis of news reports and other relevant documentations reveal that police officers engage in numerous unlawful activities. Hagedorn et al. (1) observe that from 1960 to the end of 2012, a total 295 Chicago Police officers have been convicted of crime, but out of these, 102 were convicted in the last one decade. This realization shows an increase in the number of officers who were convicted as criminals. Going by the figures about the convictions of Chicago police officers, the seriousness of corruption in the US can be extrapolated. Cordner and Scarborough (1) note that as of the year 2010, the US boasted of 18,000 different security agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. Each of the agencies has its own number of personnel because their sizes vary according to the magnitude of the responsibility they owe the public. Notably, the figures given about police convictions in Chicago are about cases that were reported proved beyond doubt to be true. Within Chicago police department alone, numerous corruption cases went unreported and thus they were not captured in the figures. Normally, unreported cases exceed the reported cases. In the light of these estimations, it becomes apparent that corruption in police departments across the US is at epidemic levels. The financial and social implications of this aspect on the US are enormous, but largely ignored as statistics about the incidence of crime in police departments are hard to come by (Cordner and Scarborough 3).

The Chicago Police Department is thus a typical example of the activities that go on behind the scenes insofar as police corruption is concerned. Hagedorn et al. (5) argue that police corruption thrives under a culture of general silence within the police force itself. When police officers witness their colleagues engaging in corrupt activities and fail to report the same to the seniors, both parties become guilty of corruption. Unfortunately, most officers choose to remain quiet. This trend fosters a culture of impunity among the unscrupulous officers and as such, they proceed with their criminal acts whenever opportunity presents itself. The leadership of the police has also been accused of taking little or no action at all when cases of police corruption are reported (Hagedorn et al. 3). Eventually, the corruption web captures most people within a police department, thus making a difficult problem to deal with.

The result of the culture of impunity and silence among police officers serves to dent their relationship with the public. The public develops a resigned attitude towards the police, thus making it unlikely for them to report criminal activities to the police (Cordner and Scarborough 3). This attitude stems from the view that they develop a notion that even if they report a crime, nothing much may come out of their initiative. In extreme cases, reporting a crime committed by individuals with links with the police results in victimization. Clearly, corruption eats away the public trust in the police officers, thus reducing cooperation between the two. Police corruption is thus a challenge that every police department that is out to deal with crime effectively should flash out completely. Its entangling nature makes it dangerous to the functionality of a police department because it has the potential of gagging an entire police department because its perpetrators often use it as a potential blackmail tool against anyone who might want to expose them. Under such circumstances, crime thrives instead of dwindling, thus giving the police a bad image and strained relationships with the authorities and the public.

Police Brutality

Police corruption is not the only challenge faced by police departments that dents their image and strains their relationship with governments and the public. Brutality is also an ugly aspect of the activities of police officers across the US. It is especially bad for police departments because it repels the public from the police. The result of such a scenario is reduced cooperation between police officers and the public and consequently, difficulty on the side of the police officers in dealing with crime.

Despite the view that police brutality has the potential to affect the functionality of the police adversely, cases of brutality against citizens continue to be reported in the US, some of which are extreme. Examples of such cases include incidents such as the 2005 video taping of police officers beating a sixty-four year old retired schoolteacher, Robert Davis, in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (Holmes and Brad 3). In the same incident, the police ordered one of the camera crews that were covering it to stop taping. On showing his documents to prove that he was a journalist, the police turned to him and slapped him while forcing him into a nearby car (Holmes and Brad 3). In a different incident, Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant was reportedly sodomized using the handle of a toilet plunger by a police officer in New York City (Brown and Benedict 544). Another New York City incident features a Guinean immigrant, Amadou Diallo, who was shot by four police officers 41 times yet at the time of the incident; the victim was unarmed (Brown and Benedict 544). In other incidents, Arthur McDuffie was brutally beaten to death by Miami police yet during the trial, the police officers who were involved were acquitted (Holmes and Brad 3). The same trend was observed when Rodney King was brutally beaten by Los Angeles police (Brown and Benedict 545).

These incidents are just but a few cases that make it into the media houses. There are numerous other cases, which might have been reported, but were not bizarre enough to elicit reactions as these ones did. Although the highlighted incidents are scattered through history, it is clear that police brutality is a reality that haunts the American police departments with varying implications for various people. All the cases end in riots in which the police again turn violent, thus causing deaths of protesters and unprecedented damages to property. For instance, the beating to death of McDuffie and the subsequent acquittal of the four police officers involved sparked violent protests, which led to the demise of 18 people, numerous injuries, and damage to property worth millions of dollars (Holmes and Brad 2). Similarly, the beating of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the perpetrators sparked riots that left over 50 people dead, over 1000 injured, and devastating damages to property (Holmes and Brad 3). Concisely, police brutality instigates outrage among the minority Americans because they are the most often targeted groups.

For the police officers, Brown and Benedict (545) observe that the hostility that such incidents of brutality spark interferes with the execution of police mandate, but on a general perspective, police brutality leads to a loss of confidence in the police force. In fact, it casts a cloud of doubt on the legitimacy and integrity of the police officers. Such a scenario is not good for both the police and the public because for the police, it makes their job much more difficult due to reduced cooperation from the public while for the public, crime rates are likely to soar because criminals can act with impunity knowing that the chances of being reported by a civilian are slim. However, these are not the only casualties of such occurrences as administrators and politicians fall victims of police brutality. In the shooting of Diallo, protests by the public targeted the New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (Brown and Benedict 545). Although he did not resign immediately, the issue came back to haunt him later when he wanted to run for a senate seat, and thus it messed up his career as a politician. The same riots also rekindled the age long debate on the American constitutional problem by laying bare the unfair treatment of minorities within the American society and more so, the African Americans (Brown and Benedict 545). It is arguable that through such occurrences as police brutality, the minority groupings find a chance to vent their frustrations hence the violent pattern they often observe when the police who are perceived as the instigators again show up to disperse the protestors.


Police departments are no doubt marred by numerous challenges of which some are systemic while others are self-instigated. The staffing challenge is to some extent beyond the direct control of individual officers, but corruption and brutality directly affect the police at the lowest end of the chain of command. This assertion implies that individual officers in their lines of duty instigate and perpetuate these vices to become problems to the entire police departments and agencies. These challenges have several negative consequences on the police departments, the public, and other prominent figures in society and as such, they should be dealt with decisively. The economic and social implications of the challenges are at times devastating as they propagate destructive cultures among the police as well as the public thereby eating away at the social fabric that holds society together. These challenges are undesirable and they should be addressed judiciously for the benefit of posterity of the police department. The success of the police departments at curbing issues of corruption and brutality will mean success to the society in fighting crime, as there will be improved cooperation between the police officers and the public.


Brown, Ben, and Reed Benedict. “Perceptions of the police: past findings, methodological issues, conceptual issues and policy implications.” Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 25.3 (2002): 543-580. Print.

Cordner, Gary, and Kathryn Scarborough. “Information Sharing: Exploring the Intersection of Policing with National and Military Intelligence.” Homeland Security Affairs 5.1 (2010): 1-19. Print.

Hagedorn, John, Bart Kmiecik, Dick Simpson, Thomas Gradel, Melissa Zmuda, and David Sterrett. Crime, Corruption and Cover-ups in the Chicago Police Department. Anti-Corruption Report Number, Chicago: University of Illinois, 2013. Print.

Holmes, Malcolm, and Smith Brad. Race and police brutality roots of an urban dilemma, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008. Print.

McCafferty, Francis, and Margaret McCafferty. “Corruption in Law Enforcement: A Paradigm of Occupational Stress and Deviancy.” Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry Law 26.1 (1998): 57-65. Print.

Raymond, Barbara, Laura Hickman, Laura Miller, and Jennifer Wong. Police Personnel Challenges after September 1: Anticipating Expanded Duties and a Changing Labor Pool, Arlington: RAND Corporation, 2005. Print.

Wilson, Jeremy, and Alexander Weiss. A Performance-based approach to Police Staffing and Allocation, Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2012. Print.

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