The United States of America is one of the countries in the world with a highly organized and advanced criminal justice system. One of the major components of the country’s system is law enforcement, which is primarily carried out through police agencies. Policing in the United States is carried out in three major jurisdictions, namely federal, state, country, and local (Means, 2014). The main purposes of law enforcement agencies in the country include investigation of suspected or reported criminal activities, temporary detention of suspected criminals, referral of investigation results in courts, and deterring criminal activities, among others.
Policing in the United States also entails engaging law enforcement officers in providing first response to emergencies, protection of public facilities, maintenance of public order, as well as offering protection to public officials (Oliver, 2016). Over the years, the have been raging debates over the level of policing standards in the country, with major controversies revolving around the use of deadly force, lack of accountability, and high degrees of misconduct. The standards of policing in the United States have been compromised by the fragmentation of law enforcement into three levels, which has, in turn, led to a lack of uniformity in recruitment, duplication of efforts across jurisdictions, as well as ineffective communication and sharing of information across the agencies.
This study will involve the use of both qualitative and quantitative research tools. The focus of this research will be gathering enough and accurate information to develop an in-depth comprehension of the nature of law enforcement in the United States and the factors that influence the varying degrees of standards across various jurisdictions and agencies. In addition, it will further delve into answering the “why” and “how” with regard to the issue of law enforcement officers using deadly force while executing their duties and the measures taken by relevant stakeholders to enforce force procedures relating to policing.
The research will examine this phenomenon by reviewing past studies, use of questionnaires, interviews, and close observation of police officers on duty. The sampling process for the filling of questionnaires will be done randomly as a way of ensuring the results will be scientific enough to represent police officers working in the country across all jurisdictions. For the purpose of this study, senior law enforcement officers across the three levels of jurisdiction will be interviewed.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, police officers have one of the most demanding jobs in America. One of the greatest challenges crippling law enforcement in the country is the need to improve the standards of policing. A notable effort that has been made to address the problem has been the introduction of educational requirements for aspiring police officers (Rodgers & Frevel, 2018). A minimum of a college education is required for candidates. Law enforcement experts argue that such moves have played a pivotal role in increasing the retention rates within the police force (Gaines & Kappeler, 2014).
In addition, it has improved the efficiency of police services because of an inclusive decision-making process. The three levels of jurisdiction for law enforcement agencies have made it easier for citizens across the country to access security services at all times. Police departments in the country are highly structured and subdivided into numerous divisions that specialize in dealing with various elements of the criminal justice system.
At the federal level, law enforcement officers work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Customs Service, as well as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (Oliver, 2016). At the state level, officers work in agencies under the departments of state police, highway patrol, and criminal investigation. At the local level, law enforcement officers work in local police and sheriff departments.
Over the years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been considered the face of law enforcement in the country. Since World War II, the FBI has been involved in gathering intelligence and counter-intelligence work. However, the reputation of the FBI as a crime-fighting organization was tarnished when it started being used to gather information on politicians, civil rights leaders, and anyone who was perceived to promote anti-American ideologies (Means, 2014).
Community policing is one of the approaches that some police departments have adopted in a bid to improve the standards of law enforcement in the country. A common strategy used in community policing is foot patrols by police officers (Means, 2014). This is often aimed at forming close relations between law enforcement officers and the community. This helps a lot in improving the policing standards because officers develop a cultural sense of the communities they work in.
However, studies have shown that the community policing approach is highly successful only in communities that exhibit high levels of social organization (Gaines & Kappeler, 2014). In this context, social organization entails the ability of a group of people to hold activities that promote community policing, such as neighborhood watch. Research has shown that police officers with a college education have a better output with such programs compared to those without post-secondary training (Rodgers & Frevel, 2018).
One of the most effective strategies for improving the standards of policing in the country is through education. Graduate police officers are highly motivated and have greater exposure, thus making it easier for them to access opportunities for career advancement within the police force.
One of the main factors that have compromised the standards of policing in America over the years is the high bureaucratization of police departments. This model affects the operations of police organizations in various ways. Studies have shown that it often retards the ability of police officers to grow and develop in their careers (Means, 2014). In addition, the model deters innovation and creativity among police officers because of the group mentality it creates. Bureaucratization also does not provide a functional system that is required in the due process when it comes to policing. The main reason for this is the fact that the model inhibits effective communication (Oliver, 2016).
Another factor that has compromised the standards of policing in the country is increased militarization. This model is common in jurisdictions where the population exceeds 50,000 people, thus requiring the creation of paramilitary units (Gaines & Kappeler, 2014). Proponents of this model believe that it is an important element of policing owing to the fact that it prepares police officers to use force at any time. In addition, they argue that it enhances professionalism because it reduces cases of corruption and political influence (Oliver, 2016). However, this model has been criticized for creating a leeway for police officers to use excessive force during the execution of their duties.
In order to understand and improve the standards of policing in the United States, comprehending the composition and diversity of law enforcement is crucial. Over the years, the challenge of gender equality and inclusion of minority groups in critical areas of governance such as law enforcement has been highly politicized (Gaines & Kappeler, 2014). However, with the dynamic nature of contemporary society, cultural diversity and competency are crucial qualities that ought to be integrated into law enforcement strategies.
A highly diverse law enforcement agency has an expansive collection of tools that can be used in controlling and preventing crime, as well as building peaceful communities. Studies have shown that the number of African American police officers has been increasing over the years, albeit not to the expected numbers (Means, 2014).
One of the reasons for this is the fact that very few members of the community have managed to hold senior positions such as supervisors since they were first included in the police force. African American law enforcement agents cite barriers such as limited opportunities for recruitment as one of the major factors that discourage members of their community from having a career as a police officer (Oliver, 2016). In addition, the high levels of discrimination also discourage members of minority groups from taking up the profession.
The history of policing in the United States is also characterized by discrimination against women police officers. Women were first introduced into law enforcement in the country as part of the crime prevention philosophy that was geared towards patrolling areas where young people spent most of their time. The nurturing nature of women was used as the main element for recruiting female officers to implement the philosophy (Oliver, 2016).
However, inequality and discrimination of female officers have compromised the quality of policing in the country because they have to overcome several barriers to achieve any form of recognition. According to law enforcement experts, one of the biggest challenges that women police officers in America have had to deal with over the years is the perception that they are not physically and emotionally suited for a career in policing (Oliver, 2016).
Other notable barriers, such as high entrance standards and a separate promotion track to that of their male colleagues, have highly compromised the contribution of women police officers to the objectives of law enforcement in the country for a long time. Although the Equal Rights Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 acted as a reprieve for many women in the country, several years later, the country is still struggling to attract a high number of female recruits into the police force (Means, 2014). The reason for this is that female police officer are still subject to various forms of harassment that include sexual, organizational, and environmental. Studies have shown that female police officers often complain of being subjected to silent treatment and punitive supervision by their male colleagues.
Sexual orientation is another element that has influenced the standards of policing in the country. According to law enforcement experts, it is hard to determine the number of gay and lesbian police officers because many fear revealing their sexual orientation for fear of discrimination. Studies have shown that the challenge is bigger for gay officers compared to lesbian officers owing to the fact that people associate policing with masculinity, thus have to keep their sexuality a secret (Oliver, 2016).
The nondisclosure of one’s sexual orientation by police officers has been deemed a major obstacle with regard to improving the standards of policing. The reason for this is that gay and lesbian police officers are thought to be in a better position to help to deal with safety issues affecting marginal groups such as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities.
Use of Force in Policing
The use of force by police officers is one of the many controversies that have been linked with law enforcement in the United States. In the context of law enforcement, the use of force by police officers refers to the amount of effort that an officer requires to coerce a reluctant suspect to comply (Miller, 2016). According to the National Institute of Justice, police officers can use force under certain permissible circumstances. One such circumstance is self-defense. When a police officer is at risk of death or serious injury, the use of lethal force is allowed. It is important to note that police officers working under various jurisdictions use the same self-defense laws as the people they serve.
According to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner in 1985, police officers are also allowed to use force is when one has a reason to believe that a suspect poses a threat to harm or applies deadly force to launch an escape (Miller, 2016).
In most cases, police officers apply force depending on the guidance provided by the agencies they work for under specific jurisdictions. One of the most important elements with regard to the use of force by police officers is situational awareness (Rodgers & Frevel, 2018). This refers to the ability of an officer to comprehend that two situations that can be the same, thus the need to think swiftly whenever a situation arises.
The amount of force that an officer uses is determined by the complexity of a situation. Therefore, the guidelines used are often dependent on two major factors, namely intensity of training and level of experience (Prater, 2018). It is important to note that the objective a police officer seeks to achieve whenever they use force is regaining control of a subject. Since such situations are highly confrontational, the chances of those involved suffering injuries are often very high. Therefore, the police officer involved should ensure that the injured receive medical attention and their family notified.
Over the years, human rights groups have questioned the number of innocent people that have been killed by police officers who use excessive force in unwarranted situations. Most of them argue that many unarmed people have lost their lives at the hands of police officers, who in their defense argue that they were under serious threat from their subjects (Means, 2014). However, law enforcement experts argue that the challenges of policing associated with the use of force by police officers are mainly driven by political agendas and historical injustices. In contemporary American society, members of minority groups tend to feel targeted whenever one of them is a subject of a police killing (Prater, 2018). This observable fact worsens in situations where the officer involved in the killing is white.
This is closely related to the need to promote high levels of police ethics and accountability as a way of improving the standards of policing in the country. Law enforcement experts argue that the importance of increasing the admission qualifications for individuals interested in training as police officers is best explained by the value of high ethical standards in policing (Oliver, 2016).
Studies have shown that police officers with high levels of academic qualifications such as college education have essential qualities such as critical thinking and emotional intelligence, which allows one to make a sound decision with regard to when the use of force is necessary. In addition, having a high number of graduate police officers creates an environment to build a progressive agency characterized by high levels of professionalism and the ability to build strong relations with the community (Rodgers & Frevel, 2018).
Police officers are an integral part of law enforcement in the United States. Just like the citizens who rely a lot on their training, dedication, and expertise to achieve the common good, law enforcement officers have rights that ought to be promoted and protected. For them to deliver, they need to have good working conditions and get the necessary support from the community. This will play a crucial role in improving the standards of policing in the country.
In addition, there is an urgent need to eliminate all forms of discrimination in order to increase the levels of efficiency. Engaging law enforcement strategies such as community policing will help in earning the trust of citizens. Although police officers have been accused of overstepping their mandate with regard to the use of force, it is important to note that they have prioritized their safety and the need to be in control of their subjects at all times.
Gaines, L.K., & Kappeler, V.E. (2014). Policing in America. New York, NY: Routledge.
Means, R. (2014). The law of policing: Federal constitutional principles. New York, NY: Labor Relations Information Systems.
Miller, S. (2016). Shooting to kill: The ethics of police and military use of lethal force. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Oliver, W.M. (2016). Policing America: An introduction. New York, NY: Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.
Prater, L.P. (2018). Excessive use of force: One mother’s struggle against police brutality and misconduct. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Rodgers, C., & Frevel, B. (2018). Higher education and police: An international view. New York, NY: Springer.