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Police officers in South Australia
|Activity sectors||Law enforcement|
|Competencies||Physical fitness, sense of justice|
|Education required||Secondary or tertiary education|
A police officer (also known as a policeman, police agent, cop, policewoman, and constable in some forces, particularly in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations) is a warranted employee of a police force. In the United States, "officer" is the formal name of the lowest police rank. In many other countries, "officer" is a generic term not specifying a particular rank, and the lowest rank is often "constable". In many other countries there is no such title as "police officer", as the use of the rank "officer" is legally reserved for military personnel only and thus not applicable. Police officers are generally charged with the apprehension of criminals and the prevention and detection of crime, and the maintenance of public order. Police officers may be sworn to an oath, and have the power to arrest people and detain them for a limited time, along with other duties and powers.
Some police officers may also be trained in special duties, such as counter-terrorism, surveillance, child protection, VIP protection, and investigation techniques into major crime, including fraud, rape, murder and drug trafficking.
Duties and functions
Responsibilities of a police officer are varied, and may differ greatly from within one political context to another. Typical duties relate to keeping the peace, law enforcement, protection of people and property, and the investigation of crimes. Officers are expected to respond to a variety of situations that may arise while they are on duty. Rules and guidelines dictate how an officer should behave within the community, and in many contexts restrictions are placed on what the uniformed officer wears. In some countries, rules and procedures dictate that a police officer is obliged to intervene in a criminal incident, even if they are off-duty. Police officers in nearly all countries retain their lawful powers, while off duty.
In the community
In the majority of Western legal systems, the major role of the police is to maintain order, keeping the peace through surveillance of the public, and the subsequent reporting and apprehension of suspected violators of the law. They also function to discourage crimes through high-visibility policing, and most police forces have an investigative capability. Police have the legal authority to arrest, usually granted by magistrates. Police officers also respond to emergency calls, along with routine community policing.
Police are often used as an emergency service and may provide a public safety function at large gatherings, as well as in emergencies, disasters, search and rescue situations, and Road Traffic Collisions. To provide a prompt response in emergencies, the police often coordinate their operations with fire and emergency medical services. In some countries, individuals serve jointly as police officers as well as firefighters (creating the role of Fire Police) or paramedics. In many countries, there is a common emergency service number that allows the police, firefighters, or medical services to be summoned to an emergency. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom have outlined command procedures, for the use in major emergencies or disorder. The Gold Silver Bronze command structure is a system set up to improve communications between ground based officers and the control room, typically, Bronze Commander would be a senior officer on the ground, coordinating the efforts in the center of the emergency, Silver Commanders would be positioned in an 'Incident Control Room' erected to improve better communications at the scene, and a Gold Commander who would be in the Control Room.
Police are also responsible for reprimanding minor offenders by issuing citations which typically may result in the imposition of fines, particularly for violations of traffic law. Traffic enforcement is often and effectively accomplished by police officers on motorcycles—called motor officers, these officers refer to the motorcycles they ride on duty as simply motors. Police are also trained to assist persons in distress, such as motorists whose car has broken down and people experiencing a medical emergency. Police are typically trained in basic first aid such as CPR.
In addition, some park rangers are commissioned as law enforcement officers and carry out a law-enforcement role within national parks and other back-country wilderness and recreational areas, whereas Military police perform law enforcement functions within the military.
Entry and promotion qualifications
In most countries, candidates for the police force must have completed some formal education. Increasing numbers of people are joining the police force who possess tertiary education and in response to this many police forces have developed a "fast-track" scheme whereby those with university degrees spend two to three years as a Constable before receiving promotion to higher ranks, such as Sergeants or Inspectors. (Officers who work within investigative divisions or plainclothes are not necessarily of a higher rank but merely have different duties.) Police officers are also recruited from those with experience in the military or security services. In the United States state laws may codify state-wide qualification standards regarding age, education, criminal record, and training but in other places requirements are set by local police agencies. Each local Police agency has different requirements.
Promotion is not automatic and usually requires the candidate to pass some kind of examination, interview board or other selection procedure. Although promotion normally includes an increase in salary, it also brings with it an increase in responsibility and for most, an increase in administrative paperwork. There is no stigma attached to this, as experienced line patrol officers are highly regarded.
Dependent upon each agency, but generally after completing two years of service, officers may also apply for specialist positions, such as detective, police dog handler, mounted police officer, motorcycle officer, water police officer, or firearms officer (in countries where police are not routinely armed).
In some countries such as in Singapore, police ranks may also be supplemented through conscription, similar to national service in the military. Qualifications may thus be relaxed or enhanced depending on the target mix of conscripts. In Singapore, for example, conscripts face tougher physical requirements in areas such as eyesight, but are less stringent with minimum academic qualification requirements. Some police officers join as volunteers, who again may do so via differing qualification requirements.
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In some societies, police officers are paid relatively well compared to other occupations; their pay depends on what rank they are within their police force and how many years they've served.
Line of duty deaths
Line of duty deaths are deaths which occur while an officer is conducting his or her appointed duties. Despite the increased risk of being a victim of a homicide, automobile accidents are the most common cause of officer deaths. Officers are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents because of their large amount of time spent conducting vehicle patrols, or directing traffic, as well as their work outside their vehicles alongside or on the roadway, or in dangerous pursuits. Officers killed by suspects make up a smaller proportion of deaths. In the U.S. in 2005, 156 line of duty deaths were recorded of which 44% were from assaults on officers, 35% vehicle related (only 3% during vehicular pursuits) and the rest from other causes: heart attacks during arrests/foot pursuits, diseases contracted either from suspects' body fluids or, more rarely, from emergency blood transfusions received after being in motor vehicle accidents, shot or stabbed, accidental gun discharges, falls, and drownings.
Police officers who die in the line of duty, especially those who die from the actions of suspects or in accidents or heart attacks, are often given elaborate funerals, attended by large numbers of fellow officers. Their families may also be entitled to special pensions. Fallen officers are often remembered in public memorials, such as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in the U.S., the National Police Memorial in the U.K. and the Scottish Police Memorial, at the Scottish Police College.
In the United Kingdom, in the 10 years from April 2000 there were 143 line of duty deaths: 54 in road accidents travelling to or from duty, 46 in road accidents on duty, 23 from natural causes on duty, 15 from criminal acts, and 5 in other accidents. In the United Kingdom, police do not normally carry firearms.
The Singapore Police Force registered just over 100 deaths in a century up to the year 2000. There have been 28 New Zealand police officers killed by criminal act since 1890. Despite perceived dangers, policing has never been listed above number ten as one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. In terms of deaths per capita, driver-sales work such as food delivery is a more dangerous profession than being a police officer.
The actual presence of stress in police work is well documented and evidenced by certain statistics. Researchers typically use suicide, divorce and alcoholism rates as three key indexes of stress in a group of people. These factors paint a compelling picture of police officers demonstrating signs of significant stress, for example:
- A study in the United States, by National Surveillance of Police Suicide Study (NSOPS), showed 141 suicides in 2008 and 143 in 2009. This yields a suicide rate of 17/100,000, a figure that holds up under scrutiny and is consistent with CDC/NOMS data. The overall suicide rate in the United States was 11.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 people. There is some speculation or controversy that this official rate may understate the actual rate as it is often other police officers that report facts that lead to a cause of death determination, and death benefits, institutional image, and other factors may be incentives to misreport incident facts. It is speculated that some suicides are reported by fellow officers as accidents or as deaths in the line of duty perpetrated by unknown assailants. Also, many jurisdictions simply don't keep suicide statistics. Even though the information is incomplete, the available statistics suggest that police officers are more likely to commit suicide than the general population. However there is still controversy in the interpretation of these statistics. When comparisons are made within age, gender, and racial cohorts, the differences are much less dramatic. Although suicides may be notably more prevalent among police, it is not clear whether police suicides are the result of work stress or the consequence of other variables, such as the influence of a subculture of violence
- Police officers are much more likely to experience interpersonal relationship problems. Relationship problems are most dramatically demonstrated by the divorce rate among police officers, which is usually reported as being the second highest of all occupations. However in a 2009 study, the divorce rates of law enforcement personnel were compared with the rates for other occupations, where data was analyzed from the 2000 U.S. Census. The results of the analysis indicate that the divorce rate for law enforcement personnel is lower than that of the general population, even after controlling for demographic and other job-related variables. The propensity to domestic violence is also thought to be higher for police officers than the general population, though the statistics are very fuzzy and controversial. Police officers also seem to have relationship problems at work, typically with superiors or with political oversight, though the evidence is largely anecdotal and controversial.
- Alcoholism is considered another aberrant statistic for police officers. Although the statistics are fuzzy, clinically treated alcohol addiction rates are usually calculated to be about twice as high for police officers than for the general population in the United States. In contrast, statistics documenting alcohol abuse are less precise. Rates for arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, or DUI or DWI, are somewhat higher for police officers than for other drivers, but the statistics are not widely trusted outside of the insurance industry since it is other police officers that make DUI arrests. Some departments and even some individual officers tend to hold police officers to a higher behavioral and ethical standard while others will recognize a 'blue line' behind which those within the 'brotherhood' are not held to the same standards as the rest of society. Despite the controversies in the interpretation of the statistics, it is generally considered evident that police officers are more susceptible to alcohol abuse than other occupations. The same conclusions are usually made regarding the police abuse of other substances, though the statistics are even less accurate, and even though the higher rates of substance abuse may be due in part to the more ready access to drugs and the more permissive atmosphere 'behind the blue line' rather than to occupational stresses.
Hans Selye, the foremost researcher in stress in the world, said that police work is "the most stressful occupation in America even surpassing the formidable stresses of air traffic control."
Other researchers, though, claim that police officers are more psychologically healthy than the general population. Police officers are increasingly more educated, more likely to engage in a regular program of exercise and to consume less alcohol and tobacco, and increasingly family-oriented. Healthy behavior patterns typically observed at entry training usually continue throughout the career of an officer. Even though the presence of occupation related stress seems to be well documented, it is highly controversial. Many within the law enforcement industry claim the propagation of incorrect suicide, divorce, and substance abuse statistics comes from people or organizations with political or social agendas, and that the presence of these beliefs within the industry makes it hard for health workers to help police officers in need of treatment to deal with the fear of negative consequences from police work which is necessary to enable police officers to develop a healthy expectancy of success in treatment.
Even though the presence of occupational stresses appear to be well documented, though not without controversy, the causes of workplace stress are comparatively unclear or even a matter of conjecture.
Although individual policemen and institutional public relations typically cite the risks of being killed in the line of duty as the predominant source of stress for individual policemen, there is significant controversy regarding the causes of personal workplace stress due to the fact that the actual risk of being killed is so small relative to other occupations.
It is charged that the myth of the high risks of occupational mortality connected with police work is often propagated by the law enforcement community as part of its institutional advancement and a central element in its public relations. Actual homicides of police are comparatively rare, but the reports of such incidents are typically reported in the press along with quotes by police officials or police officer family members stressing the notion that police officers 'put their lives on the line for the public' or 'risk their lives everyday', making it look like individual policemen routinely place themselves in mortal danger for low pay and little recognition, and that the view of police work as 'combat' is the source of police occupational stress indications.
Another explanation often advanced is the idea that police officers will undergo some traumatic experience in their police work that they never recover from, leading to suicide, divorce, etc. However, since the effects of such traumatic stresses is readily recognized, there are usually proactive programs in place to help individual police officers deal with the psychological effects of a traumatic event. Unfortunately, there is some evidence that such programs are actually ineffective, especially group therapies, may re-traumatize the participant, weaken coping mechanisms, and contribute to the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Observations where police officers and other emergency workers, such as firemen, experience the same traumatic event, it is more likely that the police officer will have difficulty dealing with the long term emotional effects of the traumatic event. On this observation, some of the academic literature suggests that along these lines the causes of occupational stress is more complex for police officers. Stress in police work is often present in other occupations, but not in an ongoing capacity. One line of thinking is that the individual stresses of police work produce a condition of chronic stress. Police officers encounter stressors in call after call which sap their emotional strength. Debilitation from this daily stress accumulates making officers more vulnerable to traumatic incidents and normal pressures of life. The weakening process is often too slow to see; neither a person nor his friends are aware of the damage being done. The effects of chronic stresses is two-fold:
- First, prolonged stress causes people to regress. Their psychological growth reverses, and they become more immature. They rapidly become more childish and primitive, much like a person being sick for several days becoming more irritable and childish in its demands on other people.
- Second, chronic stress numbs people's sensitivity. They can't stand to continually see human misery. They must stop feeling or they won't survive. The mind has this defense mechanism so people can continue working in horrible situations. If they kept their normal sensitivity, they would fall apart. As they become insensitive to their own suffering, they become insensitive to the suffering of others. When treated with indignity, they lose not only a sense of their own dignity but also the dignity of others. The pain of others stops bothering them, and they are no longer bothered when they hurt others.
The daily work of a police officer involves certain paradoxes and conflicts which may be difficult to deal with, the predominant examples are
- Any interaction with a member of the public, whether socially or officially, such as in a traffic stop, involves a non-trivial risk of verbal abuse or physical harm. Treating a person with common respect or normal social graces requires the officer to be off guard and unprepared for an attack. Being on guard for an attack and treating every interpersonal situation with safety procedures and affirmative commands makes the police officer appear cynical, brutal, and detached, and limits his actual effectiveness with the public. Considering someone a friend or an enemy produces opposite mental states, an unnatural no-win situation engendering chronic stress.
- A police department is both a professional and military organization, and these two aspects oppose each other. As a professional, he is considered to be an expert in his field and is expected to use his expertise for the good of his public. He has much discretion in how he serves the people who call upon him. However, the dangers and complexities of the work require a military structure of the organization and a military leaning in the training. Although some are actually educated, all police officers are well trained. Policies, regulations, and procedures cover every facet of police work. Everything is expected to be done by the book with substantial repercussions, including civil and criminal liability, for varying from the expectations of operating procedures. Often the facts of a situation require a course of action that does not follow procedures. If he follows procedures exactly, he knows he won't fully help the public, and the public will think he is shirking his responsibility. If the officer follows his own judgment, he is taking a risk. The community and department expect officers to use judgment, but when they do, there is a danger they will be disciplined; another unnatural no-win situation engendering chronic stress.
- Police officers tend to become socially isolated. The reasons given for this isolation are varied and mostly anecdotal. One theory is that police work is not balanced. Most occupations involve a combination of good and bad results. In police work, almost everything is bad, and everybody you deal with is perceived either inherently bad or at least foolish. Another is that police officers develop a 'street wisdom' and by fiat possess a degree of authority that tends to make them perceive themselves as being morally superior to the rest of society. Whatever the reason, the public that the police deal with clearly perceive it and tend to reinforce the divide. Classically when a group of people are isolated, they become disoriented and confused. Their behavior changes drastically. Ironically an isolated class are usually the ones who are losing real world wisdom and tend to judge the world incorrectly from a very limited perspective, leading to interpersonal mistakes and more chronic stress.
A more colloquial view looks at specific sources of stress in police work. The sources of stress most often actually cited are:
- The fear of killing someone in the line of duty.
- Having your partner or somebody else that you feel at least partly responsible for killed in the line of duty.
- Lack of support by the department or superiors.
- The scheduling of work and irregular work demands resulting in a disruption of family time or family events or rituals.
Other more academic studies have produced similar lists, but may include items that the more colloquial surveys do not reveal, such as 'exposure to neglected, battered, or dead children'
Again, the actual fear of occupational death or physical harm is not high on the list of stress sources.
There have been numerous academic studies on the specific sources of police stress, and most conclude organizational culture and workload as the key issues in officer stress. Traumatic events are usually concluded to not be of sufficient scope or prevalence to account for prevalence of suicide, divorce, and substance abuse abnormalities.
Some of the more esoteric, least documented or cited, and more longstanding theories for police stress symptoms involves the interaction of the specifics of police work with the personalities of individual police officers. There has been a raging debate on the fringes of psychiatry as to whether there is something about police work that causes psychiatric symptomology and personality disorders or whether there are certain personalities susceptible to disorders that are attracted to police work. Theory holds that there are four general possibilities:
- There is something about police work, the social structure, the work atmosphere, etc., which causes stresses or presents traumas that cause personality or psychiatric disorders resulting in symptoms such as suicide, divorce, violence, substance abuse, etc. (the foundations of this possibility are outlined above)
- There is one or more personality types or people with certain tendencies or proclivities who are susceptible of developing personality or psychiatric disorders, regardless of their occupation, who because of their personality or preferences are attracted to police work, and then display symptoms of stress or disorders.
- There is a combination of the two.
- Or there is a combination and synergistic interaction of the two.
Some studies have tried to use personality traits to determine police applicant desirability,. These have generally looked at psychology's Big Five personality traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. These studies have suggested that age, cynicism and institutional culture affect performance.
There are other personality traits that are specifically not desired for police work that are equally well documented. However, there has been relatively little academic work cited regarding the personality traits attracted to police work. The nature of personality traits of people attracted to police work tends to be a matter of conjecture and anecdotal observations. The personalities of people who are actually in police work tends to be different from that which is purported to be desired by police departments. Police officers tend to be isolated and suspicious, view expression of emotions as a weakness, and find it hard to trust and confide in others. For example, police officers are often viewed by the public to be domineering, narcissistic, authoritarian, physically oppressive, and basically the opposite of the personality traits most often cited as being desirable in a police officer. There are studies that suggest that people who take risks are attracted to police work. There is a corresponding theory that police officers actually tend to be people seeking security and stability and are attracted to the job for the steady government paycheck and government pension and adverse to the risks of business, sales, or other occupations. There is ample evidence that there is something in police work that alters personality.
The theory that there is an interaction between the personality attracted to the work and the work itself is mostly conjecture. For example, people attracted to police work are thought to crave the respect and authority that they expect with a badge, gun, uniform, and commission, but most of the people that police officers come in contact with do not respect them, and their authority is strongly regulated and limited by law, policies, and procedures, setting up a conflict resulting in chronic stress.
Abuse of power
Police officers have considerable powers and are often supported by authorities who oversee them if accused of wrongdoing.
In dictatorial, corrupt, or weak states, police officers may carry out many criminal acts for the ruling regime with impunity. Examples are the Gestapo secret police in Nazi Germany, and the role of the police in the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s. Institutional racism has been found in modern police forces.
Individual officers, or sometimes whole units, can be corrupt or carry out various other forms of misconduct; this occasionally happens in many forces, but is particularly problematic where police pay is very low unless supplemented by bribes. Police sometimes act with unwarranted brutality when they overreact to confrontational situations, to extract a confession from a person they may or may not genuinely suspect of being guilty, or in other circumstances. Instances of racism occur, even when the police force as a whole is not found to be racist.
five-Oh, coppers, fuzz, the big big big, fo-fo cuff, the fritz, pigs
- Fictional police officers
- Field Training Officer
- List of slang terms for police officers
- Military police
- Peace officer
- Police brutality
- Police procedural
- Police rank
- President Grover Cleveland—former Sheriff of Erie County, New York
- President Theodore Roosevelt—Deputy Sheriff in the Dakota Territory, and New York City Police Commissioner
- The Thin Blue Line (emblem)
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