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In the words of Charles J. Edwards, police in the modern society not only have the lawful authority to enforce the law, but also enjoy a virtual monopoly over it (J.Edwards, 1999). They are the most visible as well as the most powerful agents of social control in a society and therefore are usually the first point of contact for individuals in most situations. (Oxford, 2009). And their enormous discretionary powers make them the gatekeepers of our present day criminal justice system (Oxford, 2009).
As identified by Evelyn B. Schaffer in the early days when the community was relatively smaller and the level of anonymity was low it was possible for police to administer law in a personal way without constantly resorting to officialdom (Schaffer, 1980) , thus the roles of police were mainly limited to order maintenance and apprehension of offenders.
But over the years as the society grew, the ordinary citizen became less inclined towards policing his neighbor and increasingly devolved this responsibility on the police (McEwan, 1986) and the police evolved with it, the scope of the functions performed by them now diversified to law enforcement, crime prevention, detection of crime, conflict resolution/provision of social services, traffic management etc.
Over the years it has been argued whether police is a 'force' in the society or is it a 'service' to the society, the answer to this question is that it is a union of both. We cannot absolutely choose either of two, as police acts as a 'force' and a 'service' almost simultaneously.
On one hand the as rightly put by Dr. Egon Bittner "police are nothing else than a mechanism for the distribution of situationally justified force in the society" (Bittner, 1973), and at the same time police are also a reactive service, playing a 'fire brigade role', functioning from their cars depending upon a lot of public-cooperation as identified by Evelyn B. Schaffer. (Schaffer, 1980, p. 19). The job of the police is people oriented and thus is very norm derivative in its very nature (Findlay, 2004).
Policing is an increasingly specialized activity with ever growing functions that are specific in nature. In order to perform these specific functions such as maintaining law and order in an efficient or rather at least in an effective manner the police have been exclusively empowered with special powers bestowed upon them by state, some of these powers include, power to arrest, to summons, to caution, to detain, to fingerprint, to search and to use such force as is necessary to enact these powers, even deadly force (Oxford, 2009). Now we need to understand that some of these police powers are forceful in their very nature.
James q. Wilson refers to police as an "army of occupation" (q.Wilson, 1972) and if we have to look at police from a structural point of view, police is a force to an extent that they share structural similarities with the military. They both have uniforms; they both are legally allowed to carry and use weapons, when necessary, they both are mostly male dominated and they have a strict organizational hierarchy and are affected by bureaucracy. The similarity in these two can also be seen by the great amount of influence the military training procedures have over the police training. (Oxford, 2009). The difference however lies in the facts that military has no or very rare interaction with the civilian population, however police are the highly visible agents of the state (Keith Bryett, 1994), and that the actions of a soldier in the military context may differ from a soldier's actions as a citizen (Alderson, 1979, p. 78).
But even though they share these structural similarities, modern times and increased community-police interaction show a need accommodating a service oriented mode by the police, where they are looked upon as professionals and are thus expected to behave as professionals. Hence we see that now along with traditional spontaneous style policing that involve reactive, repressive, punitive and passive policing. The police have also incorporated Co-operative policing, which involves preventive, proactive and most importantly community policing. (Keith Bryett, 1994, pp. 59-66)
Now we need to understand that, the use of force comes from the ability to exercise power and power has been defined by John Alderson as "the production of intended effects". Usually when we talk about police force the most common thing that strikes our mind is indeed the use of deadly force by the police, however the ability of the police to exercise their power to arrest an individual and their responsibility to enforce various legal legislations may also be looked upon as a form of force, John Alderson identifies police as "instruments of legal coercive power of the State to produce effects intended by the legislature" (Alderson, 1979).
Police represent force as a coercive power and should not be concentrated to a few powerful people or the Govt. as the police derives their power and authority from the people of the community and this may be forfeited in case the police are used to restrain or suppress the public in any way against their will. (Pike, 1985, p. 120).
According to John Alderson superior police would always try to achieve their goals by "true authority and persuasion". Force should only be used to maintain public peace and safety, and when implementing a forceful solution the police should always try to exercise minimum force, as force can be dangerous for both user and object and may result in only adding fuel to the fire. (Alderson, 1979, pp. 12-13).
We need to understand the fact that police force is basically a reactive force and their reaction(s) depends upon the outside pressure (Schaffer, 1980, pp. 16-17). And this pressure may depend upon the community they are serving in, or a particular situation that they are dealing with, and depending on the situation the police may decide upon the degree of force required stay in charge of the situation and simultaneously perform the role of serving the society, by restoring law and order.
To further explain this point we can take the example of an ongoing riot where the police may decide to react to the rioter's action with force, but while they are dealing with the rioters in a forceful manner, they are simultaneously serving the other members of the society by restoring law and order in that community.
Having emphasized upon the need for the police to use force in certain situations, we also need to realize that use of police force is not unlimited. According to Egon Bittner there are three formal limitations to the freedom of policemen's use of force (Bittner, 1973, p. 37):-
The use of police deadly force is restricted in most jurisdictions.
Policemen may use force only in the performance of their duties and not to advance their own personal interest or private interests of other persons.
Policemen may not use force maliciously or frivolously.
Since crime prevention cannot happen in isolation it is very important for the police to have approval from the people to co-exist in the society. The limitation of manpower and other resources reduces the chances of detecting and/or preventing crime, the police have realized that they cannot maintain law and order without considerable public support and co-operation. , these issues have made the police to incorporate the concept of community based policing, and even though community based policing is a "plastic concept", having different meaning for different (Rosenbaum, 1994) , today we see police encouraging the members of the community to participate in helping them maintain law and order (Schaffer, 1980).
John E. Eck & Dennis P. Rosenbaum have identified community policing as the "new orthodoxy" for the cops , according to them community policing is a simultaneous ambitious and ambiguous plan, that promises to radically change the relationship between public and police (Rosenbaum, 1994)
Community based policing is also important because today general members of the public want the police activity to address their concerns and address difficulties that have been brought to the attention of the police by them. (Library). And as cited earlier in this essay crime prevention cannot happen in isolation, police needs members of the community to act as their eyes and ears to a certain extent. So not only is community based policing beneficial from both, the police and the public, it is also a necessity for both.
The most important aspect of a successful community based policing program is the constant involvement from the members of the community, if the involvement from the public is not stimulated the project would not be successful (Schaffer, 1980, p. 74).
This has led the police to develop crime prevention techniques in two directions, first physical crime prevention panels, such as neighborhood watch, consisting members from the public. And the second one involves social crime prevention which aims at getting the police more closely to the community and stimulating community response. (Schaffer, 1980, pp. 21-22)
An example of community based policing in Australia could be the 'crime stoppers' phone line. It is a perfect example of community based policing where the members of the public can inform the police about an ongoing crime or any other anti social activity happening in and around their community . It is a perfect example of how the cooperation from the public compliments the roles performed by police, its also very interesting how this service oriented phone line may result in a forceful reaction from the police.
Another example of police service in action is seen while the police are conducting an investigation, while conducting an investigation the police provides information to all the parties involved and especially to the victim who is constantly updated by the police about the case. Here we can also say, depending upon the case the police, while performing their service role for the victim , may choose to approach the accused with force.
The discussion above very clearly explains why force and service are two very essential attributes of a successful police, and how to important it is for the police to maintain a balance between the two in order to deliver effectively and efficiently to the society, and even though the priority of the police is always to enforce the law and no matter how disruptive and invasive policing might be to an individual's freedom and privacy respectively, yet the democracy depends heavily on it for a sound functioning (McEwan, 1986), and as suggested by Michael S. Pike that despite the police's task of regulating and to some extend controlling individual freedom, the police are held in high regard by majority of the public (Pike, 1985).
The normative nature of this job provides enough room for police to use their discretion in terms of deciding what role they wish to adopt when, thus re-emphasizing on the initial argument that police cannot be an absolute force in the society and nor can it be a complete service to the society. It is a complex union of both.