Issues in Policing

Welcome to the Issues in Policing Blog. This new feature of JusticeAcademy.org is specifically designed to provide a forum where members of the profession can address the contemporary issues of the day. This blog is hosted by Dr. James R. Walker, Ph.D. Rick’s criminal justice career spans 40 years where he served in a number of key positions that include patrol officer and deputy sheriff, investigator, and later as Sergeant of patrol and investigations units within law enforcement agencies in South Carolina and Texas. Rick is the Executive Director of the Accrediting Commission for Law and Justice Education and serves as a member of the Board of Governors of JusticeAcademy.org. You can email him with your comments at leader@aclje.org.

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4 thoughts on “Issues in Policing”

  1. Fairness, Refugees, Common Sense and Safety

    I don’t believe it is any great revelation to the reader that we as Americans are often focused on fairness, especially when we consider fairness in the legal environment. Certainly no one wants people to suffer different outcomes in the legal system due to who they are or in some cases what they may believe, and it only makes good sense to ensure that in the end the “punishment fits the crime” for those who are accused and convicted of a criminal violation of our laws. Although not entirely the reason why our country was founded, fairness was certainly important focus to our original founders, who eventually provided us with unarguably the most important document (in my opinion) to be developed in our nations short history, the Constitution.

    However, what is problematic is when fairness seems to become more important, and trumps (pardon the use of the word here) good common sense, and more importantly becomes more important than the issue of safety of our nations citizens. Of course, we can view fairness and the refugee crisis from a political perspective, where both the general left and right offer their arguments for more or less refugees to be brought into our country, but these arguments seem to be a distraction from the more important focus, which should be on the safety and well-being of our current nations residents. Again, I am going to skip over most of those comments from the political spectrum, not wanting to get “caught in the weeds” of the real focus of my discussion, however I do note the validity of points from both sides of those political perspectives.

    So, exactly when does the safety of the public become a side issue and fairness come into play in our current refugee crisis? Is it acceptable to let ANYONE in from countries in which proper vetting cannot be done, regardless if we are talking about those of the Muslim or any other religious belief? Or should we throw good common sense out the window and accept all refugees, knowing full well the possibility of someone being admitted who might cause us (or someone else) harm? Is there perhaps an acceptable level of harm we should consider as acceptable before we pull the plug on accepting new refugees?

    I personally will always side with the safety and security of the public, after all that is where I spent the majority of the last 40 years, serving and protecting the public, but I do understand that not everyone feels (or should feel) the same way on this subject. It seems there are those who want to ignore the issues of fact (or at least ignore the possibilities of safety) and think instead with their hearts, ignoring full well the possible consequences, of letting poorly vetted refugees into our country. I believe their argument would be it’s not fair we let in people from other countries while people from some war-torn areas are turned away. Fairness it seems to some will always win out over safety and good common sense of the matter.

    In closing, it is my firm opinion that we cannot always be fair when the subject of safety and security of our nations people are concerned. At some point in time good common sense needs to prevail and safety should become the overriding factor for letting in new refuges, no matter whence they originate from. Admittedly, I do not possess all the answers on this important topic, and the purpose of this missive is to promote discourse and consideration of the presented information among the reader. We cannot always agree on everything, but should we not at least agree that safety should be our main concern when it comes to accepting new refugees when the possibility of harm to our nations people exists?

  2. Deterrence- a term that needs to be dropped from the criminal justice vocabulary

    I spoke on my Blog a couple of days ago about response times, a somewhat sensitive topic (at least to the typical command staff of your average law enforcement organization today) that seems to rear its head now and then in the law enforcement community, especially when it comes to talking about organizational efficiency, effectiveness and citizen satisfaction levels with law enforcement services. Another similar topic that we see appear now and then in law enforcement is the issue of deterrence, which is what I would like to spend time reviewing in this short piece today. Just like the topic of response times law enforcement has also been judged on how well they deter crime, and the topic does have its way of materializing now and then in community conversations, as the community expects law enforcement to quickly and efficiently move to arrest the offender and to just as swiftly punish them to deter other law breakers who would consider doing some reprehensible criminal act. In this commentary, I will first be reviewing the two types of deterrence often seen in the literature and review how ineffective deterrence appears to be in today’s volatile environment, where prison is no longer seen by many (especially the chronic offenders) as a punishment to be avoided, but appears to be just another notch in the belt along an extensive career path. I will also discuss how we as a justice system should avoid relying too much on utilizing the term deterrence excessively in public when discussing the effectiveness and efficiency of our criminal justice system initiatives.

    So first, what is a good working definition for both general and specific deterrence? More likely you have heard of the term deterrence before, perhaps even before beginning service in the justice field (if you have served). Typically, it would be the type of subject that came up in a conversation with a friend or family member, who may have been commenting on how someone they knew or discovered in a news or TV review had committed some criminal act. Typically, the comment would go something like this, “That’s exactly what is going to happen to you to if you break the law, you will end up in prison too if you get in trouble with the law”. As a child, of course this may have even had some positive effect on your behavior (both criminal and non-criminal) and even may have stuck with you throughout your adulthood. However, as quite a number of us aged this lesson regarding deterrence and spending time in prison for committing a criminal act may have been lessened, and we may have even swayed by numerous other negative events we were subjected to along the way. These life events that could eventually affect our thoughts on criminality are many, and range from family risk factors (child abuse and neglect, family violence, family conflict and hostility, divorce etc), peer risk factors (association with deviant peers), school and community risk factors (poor performance in school and exposure to family poverty), and even mental health risk factors, just to name a few. While some may avoid the risk factors and choose to follow the community expectations and the law, many do not. For this group the sway that deterrence may have on their decisions to get involved criminal activities or misdeeds I would suggest is likely poor indeed.

    The other type of deterrence is called specific deterrence, which can quite simply be illustrated as the individual who has been placed into the penal system (prison or jail) after arrest and adjudication, who therefore may no longer be available to prey on the public because they are “not available, or at least we can say they have temporarily being taken out of the pool of possible criminal offenders”. Of the two types of deterrence this one seems to be most plausible, and there have even been some indications of effectiveness of specific deterrence as some researchers have pointed to the decline in crime during the mid-90’s as being attributable to our increased focus on punishment and incarceration of offenders. However, even when we review this type of deterrence I think we should not forget the possible long term implications of specific deterrence, as it is a well-known fact that the vast majority of those who are released from prison or jail eventually work their way back into our community once again. While we really cannot argue the short-term implications regarding criminal offending and specific deterrence I think it’s all to possible to lose sight of what happens to many of those who are released who continue on a career path once released, far too often only to have learned more tricks of the trade while in custody of our correctional system. This may also affect the way in which they view criminality once released, as the chances of getting caught and returning to custody just may not hold the same influence as before they entered the correctional system.

    In closing, while the subject of deterrence is not something that is likely to disappear anytime soon in the criminal justice vernacular I do believe we need to take a closer look at our uses of the term and tread carefully as we navigate through using the term in our daily responsibilities in the justice system. I believe we should, as law enforcement and the justice system as a whole, reflect on the fact that far too often in today’s changing society, as expectations, values, and mores have changed, the term deterrence may no longer serve as a useful descriptor for the affects the justice system may have on someone’s decision to engage in criminal acts. Furthermore, in terms of using the term to gauge such issues as effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system as a whole it is my suggestion that the term use should be dissuaded in our discussions and conversations in public. Advising the public of someone’s arrest and the person was brought to justice should suffice (if anything is stated at all), trying to make points utilizing a term that has little accuracy and value for some in society benefits no one in the long run and may be misleading.

  3. Expedited Response Times – The Irrationality of Getting There Quickly

    I feel fairly confident that if you have been engaged in law enforcement for any length of time that your agency has, at least at some point in time, had a laser like focus on reducing response times to calls for police service. You might even have noted the issue of improving response times may be especially of interest to the command staff right around budget presentation time, given this issue is likely to appear in budget talks with their city council or commissioner’s courts. I can hear it now, if you want quicker response times then give us more funding and we will deliver with more arrest, more crimes solved, and a happy public (who put you in office by the way). For those who pull out these points to support their efforts to receive more public funds they should be ashamed of themselves, for if this were a regular business establishment and not a public entity they would likely be called on the carpet by leadership for trying to pull a fast one on the organization to increase their funding with questionable facts. There are of course other good reasons one might bring up to address law enforcement organization budget needs, but response times in my view should be left out of any requests for public monies.

    Regarding the issue of response times in general I have always found it a bit troubling that we focus so much on getting to a crime quickly when in fact 70-80% of reported calls are those that do not involve a crime in progress and are usually for non-emergency calls for service, such as discovery crimes where the incident has already occurred. Interestingly enough, it has also been reported that only 19% of calls involve crime at all, and only two percent are reported violent crimes. So, why is it that law enforcement for decades now has possessed such a high expectation of their officers to get to a scene quickly, given these facts I just presented that they are likely aware of? Should we seriously take the expectation of getting their quickly for approximately 2% of the in-progress crimes and extrapolate that same expectation to the rest of the 98% that we do that is not of an emergency nature and that does NOT need an enhanced response time?

    How did we get to this point regarding response times anyway? Well, let’s briefly discuss some possible reasons we are where we are today regarding why fast response times are needed in the typical law enforcement organization. If you do a little research on the topic of response times I think you will find that the biggest reason is that we in law enforcement has actually precipitated the problem by convincing the public that a quicker response times will result in more arrests (which is a bit ludicrous) and second offered that quicker response times will improve citizen satisfaction (and whose not for that, right?). In essence law enforcement and our politicians I might add have communicated to the public through its media and communications campaigns that if you call we will come (and we will get their quickly I might add).

    Yes, it is my opinion that law enforcement has no one to blame but themselves regarding the setting of irrational expectations regarding the value and need for expedited response times. Expectations have become so ingrained into the minds of those in the positions of influence (both law enforcement and politicians I might add) and the typical law enforcement organization itself that it will take a change of paradigm proportions to engender some sanity back into the issue of response times. One suggestion that I might offer is that the expectations can be changed over time by having dispatch (the first ones usually to talk to the public about needed police services) advise the public of any delay in responses to a call for service and also perhaps even offering a possible time of arrival by the officer. The second thing that can be done is the department should make efforts to advise the public through something like an ad campaign or similar communication effort made in the local newspaper or by radio of the true value of getting their quickly. I don’t think this will happen because of the focus on public relations, however public relations fears should not really be a concern if the efforts are done slowly over time and with some forethought behind the campaign.

    In closing, I think it is past time we dealt with this important issue and at least make an attempt to change long term public perception and opinion about the need for expedited response times. How about you?

    Cheers,

    Rick

  4. Civil Process and Law Enforcement

    I recently had the opportunity to attend a civil process in service class , which I took on a whim if you will, as it seemed to be a challenging topic and one that quite frankly I knew little about. In my past law enforcement officer career whenever I was approached by a citizen with a question of a civil nature I always either pointed them to a lawyer or asked them to call the local magistrates or constables office for more information, not wanting to mislead them for one, and two, I was unwilling at the time to just admit to them quite frankly I did not have a clue about the civil side of things very well. After all, who in a position of authority like a law enforcement officer likes to admit we don’t know something, right?

    In addition to learning the “process” if you will (the nuts and bolts of service and return) of civil process we also learned about the interesting background of civil process and the many uses that these tools afforded people like you and I for civil redress in our courts. Issues we reviewed , for example, were landlord tenant suits, subpoenas, protective orders, restraining orders, writs of attachment, writs of reentry, distress warrants, eviction suits, etc. While much of the class was spent in explaining when and how to make service and the many challenges and dangers that one can face when performing these court duties as a constable or sheriff deputy the time spent on reviewing the tools themselves was also very informative.

    If you ever have a chance to take a civil process class I highly recommend it, as I think you will be surprised at the tools that are available for us for civil remedy in the event that we or someone we know may be civilly injured by someones actions or in some cases inaction and we suffer a loss as a result. I now wonder why I waited 40 years to take a civil process class quite frankly, perhaps it was because i felt it was the courts or the constables job to explain the process to the citizenry or it just was not my responsibility. After all, I was a police officer who enforced the criminal laws of my state not a civil process officer who needed to worry about such things. I now know that was a mistake on my part, as it was indeed a part of my job functions, even if I did not actually perform those duties or have those responsibilities.

    Cheers,

    Rick

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