Professionalism in the Police Department
Vincente R. Baffoni
3 May 2010
Professionalism in the Police Department
Most people in workplaces are expected to be skilled and competent, and should be able to be trusted by those who are meant to benefit from their job. For many jobs, however, professionalism isn’t a requirement. Police Departments need to demand professionalism from all whom are employed, especially line officers, in order to function effectively at their highest potential. The more professional a department is, the more respect and trust it will earn from the public which they protect, making it easier to do their duty in a more cooperative community.
A police officer needs to appear friendly enough to be trusted by the citizens they protect, but at the same time, they need to be intimidating enough to hopefully gain compliance from a criminal or potential criminals without the need to engage physically. The uniform that an officer wears does both. The inherent authority that comes with the uniform is usually enough to make most people comply with the law. When worn correctly the officer commands respect rather than fear, and gains compliance in that way. ‘Officer Presence’ should be the top priority for an officer starting his or her shift.
The uniform, when worn incorrectly, has the opposite effect. A shirt not properly tucked in, boots not shined, or hair unkempt looks careless. An officer who looks careless seems neither respectable nor intimidating. In order to do his job effectively both are required. It becomes increasingly difficult for the police to perform their sworn duty when they are not trusted and respected by the citizens of their jurisdictions. The answer is professionalism. A professional police officer is an effective police officer. One officer isn't always enough. One unprofessional officer can give an entire department a bad reputation (Deleare).
Behavior in the uniform can have an even bigger impact on how an officer is perceived by the public than the uniform itself. Abuse of authority in the uniform causes several problems with the way citizens view the police. They may throw all police officers into one group and label them as “asshole cops”. In addition to the dislike of the police, there is a chance of a lack of trust and respect. There is no profession in which a job can be performed to its full potential without trust between the two parties. Police work is no exception and cannot be done as effectively as it could without a sense of trust between the protectors and the protected (Deleare).
Although people don't expect that the way that they themselves live their lives outside of their jobs necessarily reflects how they would perform while they were on the job, they tend to, for whatever reason, expect that from people with government jobs. Officers, because of that, have to act professional no matter where they are in public and even in private. If the public discovers that a particular officer is an alcoholic, they are likely to reject him, even if he has never had a problem of any kind doing his job. The rest of the department is often guilty by association of the one officer's personal problem in the paranoid eyes of the public, especially in a very small town. Sergeant Donald Deleare of the Scituate Police Department, says that one of the most difficult parts of his job is putting on his uniform everyday knowing that everything he does, whether good or bad, directly reflects on the department as a whole and that whatever anyone else in the department does reflects back on him (Deleare).
In a similar way, police gain respect and trust when they are seen in a positive light by citizens. A quality often associated with professionalism is efficiency. Although a fast response time to a 9-1-1 call generally does not directly affect the final result of the response, it is beneficial because the public greatly appreciates it. The public tends to feel safer and has a better appreciation for the police when they arrive promptly to the scene. It sends the message to the public that they care. This increases trust and respect, and encourages citizens to cooperate with them in the future.
The public tends to have a more positive view of the police when they can see them physically doing their job. In addition to the tactical advantages, foot and bike patrols increase civilian's sense of safety and appreciation because they clearly see exactly how the police are performing their duties (Menton). People have attached negative feelings with police cruisers because officers enforce traffic laws in them that almost everyone violates on a regular basis. On the other hand, an officer patrolling on foot appears to be taking a more active role against crime. Since most people aren't actively committing crime, seeing the police do this makes them more appreciative (Deleare).
Since most interactions people have with the police are negative, the police are often associated with those negative experiences. People who have had positive experiences with police officers tend to view them more positively. This is another reason why foot patrols are important. They give the police and the public more chances to have positive interactions. Of course when an officer becomes friendly with certain citizens, those individuals may expect that officer to let them or their family members go instead of writing them a ticket if they are stopped for speeding or in another similar situation. While good police-community relations may not be a good enough deterrent of crime, citizens are more likely to want to help and be cooperative with the police if there is a problem in the future (Lyman 124).
In addition to public opinion, professionalism keeps officers in line, and discourages abuse of authority. Officers in the line of duty often have opportunities to commit small crimes without the risk of being caught and punished. Officers who act professionally on and off the job are less likely to be corrupt because they take their duty more seriously. One corrupt officer often paves the road for all other officers to act corruptly. The “Blue Curtain” keeps officers from reporting each other's corrupt behaviors (Lyman 225).
It is very common for police officers to be offered free goods or services in return for the work that they do for the community. It is generally accepted as not corrupt to accept these gratuities, usually in the form of food or coffee from a fast food chain. Its not always wrong to accept, but too often can cause a few different problems. Richard Kania, in article The Ethical Acceptability of Gratuities: Still Saying "Yes" After All These Years, wrote that even a few cents to multiple officers everyday adds up and can become a massive expense. He went on to say that it can become a very difficult situation when the business can no longer afford to offer the gratuity, especially if the officers become dependent on the daily gifts (Kania).
Right away, Stephen Coleman suggests in his article When Police Should Say "No!" to Gratuities, that giver of the gift may be expecting a favor in the future. If every morning the same officer accepts a free drink from a particular store and person, that person may expect to be treated differently if they have a run-in with the law involving that officer. It may be considered corrupt at that point, if the officer in that case does indeed treat the individual differently and let them go when they should write them a ticket or even arrest them (Coleman). Kania (quoting Coleman) includes that gratuities are like tips, and that tips are only given to people who are not professionals. If the police are to be seen as professionals, then they should not accept the free gifts (Coleman).
Lastly, civilians who witness an officer getting a free coffee may become upset that they don't get the same treatment, because police work is just another job after all. This comes back to public opinion and how they view the police (Coleman).
Good public opinion of a police department is essential to its purpose. Without it there is a lack of trust and respect, and in a line of work that has the potential of turning deadly every day, a department cannot take the risk or working with that deficiency. Doing their job effectively can become much more practical with good police-community relations, keeping everyone, law enforcement and the people they protect, safer.
Coleman, Stephen. "When Police Should Say "No!" to Gratuities." Criminal Justice Ethics 23.1 (2004): 33. ProQuest. Web.
Deleare, Sgt. Donald. "Officer Presence." Personal interview.
Kania, Richard. "The Ethical Acceptability of Gratuities: Still Saying "Yes" After All These Years." Criminal Justice Ethics 23.1 (2004): 54. ProQuest. Web.
Lyman, Michael D. The Police: an Introduction. Fourth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.
Menton, Chris. "Bicycle Patrols: an Underutilized Resource." Policing 31.1 (2008): 93.ProQuest. Web. 9 Mar. 2010.