The role of police has changed over the past decade from one where political entities are in control of the duties of the police to one where the emphasis is on the needs of the community. As the control mechanisms have shifted, so have the duties and roles of the police officer. Community policing means taking a more active role in crime prevention, rather than focusing on making arrests. The modern police officer must have analytical and critical thinking skills. They must have a passion for what they do and empathy for those in the community that they serve.

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Policing can be divided into three distinct historical eras. The eras are distinguished from one another by the dominance of one particular strategy over others. The first era of policing is the political era. It is named as such due to the close ties that existed between the police and politics (Kelling & Moore, 1998). This era began in the 1840s when urban areas were divided into municipalities. It continued through the progressive period through the early 1900s (Kelling & Moore, 1998). The Reform era began in the 1930s through the 1950s and 1960s (Kelling & Moore, 1998). The Reform era began to degrade during the late 1970s. As of 1988 this era seemed to be giving way to a new era that emphasizes community problem solving as the primary job of the police officer (Kelling & Moore, 1998).

These eras do not have clear cut boundaries, but reflect gradual shifts in thinking and philosophy. The defining characteristics of these eras are how standards of competence and professionalism were defined (Kelling & Moore, 1998). The early American police were governed by municipality, rather than by a strong central governing body. The law was the guidance on which powers they could use and when. During the political period, the police were sometimes at the whim of the local authorities. They had a reciprocal relationship with the local political agendas (Kelling & Moore, 1998). They performed the normal services such as maintaining control and order in society, but they also served as a means to deliver social services, for instance running soup lines, finding housing for new immigrants, and helping immigrants find work (Kelling & Moore, 1998). Their duties extended beyond maintaining the law.

During the reform era during the 1920s and 1930s represented a struggle between the citizens and politicians for control over the policing actions. Reformers rejected politics as the basis for legitimizing police as more than tools for the local political leaders (Kelling & Moore, 1998). There was a movement to insert fairness into the mix. For instance, the police were no longer allowed to live in the beats that they patrolled (Kelling & Moore, 1998). This prevented developing a close relationship that may sway police decisions. The officer would make decisions based on the law, rather than personal preferences. Control was taken from the political leaders. For instance, in riot situation, police officials would make tactical decision, rather than the local political leaders (Kelling & Moore, 1998). During this era, other agencies had been established to perform social service functions. Policing became focused on law enforcement and the deterrence and prevention of crime (Kelling & Moore, 1998). This new focus allowed them to become more professional in their administration of the law.

The most recent era in policing is the community problem-solving era. This began in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Foot patrols continued to be popular with a higher demand for officer presence (Kelling & Moore, 1998). Foot patrols could enlist the help of citizens in obtaining information about crimes. Foot patrols reduced fear in neighborhoods that were at risk for gangs, prostitution, and drug activity (Kelling & Moore, 1998). The officers instilled and worked to gain community trust. In terms of defining what was considered disorder, police officers not took their lead from the citizens. Communities placed pressure on the police to solve what were considered to be priorities within the individual communities. This new era represents collaboration between police and the community to solve problems. It is no longer about simply solving crime and making arrests. The emphasis is on conflict resolution and building supports that result in safer communities. It has also meant a move from centralization to moving back into communities through opening neighborhood precincts and local beat offices (Kelling & Moore, 1998). The relationship between the community and officers is more intimate than in the past (Kelling & Moore, 1998). As one can see, the main shift in policing activities has been who is in control of the police force and the functions that they perform within the community.

The role of the modern police officer requires a different set of skills from their historical cohorts. Police officers of today do more than simply take orders from their superiors. They must utilize critical thinking skills and analysis in their everyday work environment and interactions with the community. The new community relationship based model of policing means that officers not only need to learn hard skills, such as law enforcement, and how to make arrests, they need soft skills as well. (Baker, 2006). Soft skills can be defined as communication and people skills, an understanding of the community that they work in and an ability to interpret socioeconomic standpoints in their work. Modern police officers also have to possess an ability to stay physically fit in many cases, as this is how they can perform the hard skills of the job (Baker, 2006).

Many of the core competencies that officers must possess cannot be taught. The person must have a certain degree of these skills before they enter into the academy. The academy can help to build on these natural traits, but they cannot development many of these traits through training. For instance, the officer must be able to multi-task. They must have empathy and compassion for the victims and for the circumstances that they encounter (Baker, 2006). They must demonstrate courage, responsibility, and assertiveness (disocverpolicing.org, 2015). They must have a sense of integrity and the ability to work as a team and as an individual (Baker, 2006). Many of these soft skills can be enhanced through academy training and through experience on the job, but the officer must have them before they enter into the academy. Finding candidates that already possess these skills is the key to developing an effective police force.

Traditional policing means responding to a crime after the crime has already occurred (Scheider, 2008). It involves response to service calls, making arrests, and patrolling activities. Community policing means taking a more active role in crime prevention. For instance, community policing means increasing the means for reporting crime, such as using online crime reporting and responding to crime in a strategic manner (Scheider, 2008). It means sharing information and collaboration in investigations.

The goal of community policing is to prevent crime and to create safer communities. My idea of community policing goes beyond making arrests and investigations crimes that have already happened. The officer on the street cannot be everywhere at once. However, their continual visual presence can help to deter criminals. They need to bring a wider variety of responses to crime, such as attempting to spot those with social issues that may be in need to community service and getting them in contact with the help they need. Preventing crime in communities’ means more than making arrests and creating a threat for would-be criminals. It means helping to eliminate the social conditions that create a high level of criminal activity. This is what community policing means.

The process of community policing is an evolving issue. Several models have been developed that suggest a staged implementation of the community policing model. A seven stage model has been developed that includes the stages of Non-Use, Orientation, Preparation, Mechanical Use, Routine, Refinement, Integration, and Renewal (Fleissner, 2002). A four stage model includes Initiation, Contagion, Control, and Integration (Fleissner, 2002). Regardless of how the formal stages are divided, they involve an introductory stage, an awareness stage, a commitment stage, as stage where proficiency is built, and regular assessment of the program. The literature did not mention the establishment of clear goals and objectives in the plan, but this is one element that needs to be included in the preparation and implementation of the plan. Clear measurable goals will make the most effective community policing program. In terms of problem solving, finding the root causes of problems is the best way to solve them long term. The traditional policing model tends to rely on deterrence through punishment after the fact. However, unless the root of the issue is discovered and addressed, the problems will continue to return.

The five most important characteristics for a detective or undercover officer in order of importance are; dedication and a passion for protecting the community and making it a better place, the ability to critically analyze problems and devise appropriate solutions, empathy and understanding of people and their problems, be a good listener and observer, be organized and able to keep track of the progress of problems and their solutions.

Of these characteristics, number one is the most important. Without a strong commitment and sense of purpose a detective or undercover officer will find themselves burned out quickly. Being an officer is tough mentally and physically. Most people are thankful for the job that they do, but there are also some that are less than appreciative. They must be able to interact with a wide variety of people with different attitudes and backgrounds. They must have a thorough sense of caring not only for the victims, but for the perpetrators in helping them to obtain the resources and experiences that they need to turn their lives around. The ability to do this depends on being a good listener and a good observer. Organization is also an important quality in the ability to stay on top of cases, and to make certain that cases are moving towards a solution. An officer that has the right qualities, enhanced by proper training will be a valuable asset to any community policing and crime prevention strategy.