Policing in Implementing Social Policy

  • Damian O. OdunzeEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-31816-5_2631-1


Police Officer Crime Control Homeland Security Police Agency Transportation Security Administration 
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Policing refers to maintenance of public order by various government law enforcement agencies. These federal, state, and local agencies help to prevent and detect crime and enforce laws and regulations for the sake of public safety, health, morals, and protecting civil liberties.

A policy is a course of action and strategy adopted by a government, business, or individual in order to attain a certain goal. Social policy is a public or government policy, strategy, or program for dealing with human or societal issues. The government initiates social policies to address particular problems in the society. For instance, the War on Poverty was a social policy that addressed the social inequality in the United States in the 1960s. The Lyndon Johnson administration believed that it was the role of the government to cure and prevent poverty, especially by expanding the federal government’s role in education and health care (Weisbrod 1965; Rector and Sheffield 2014).


In the United States, policing comprises a complex medley of agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. Law enforcement agencies (LEAs) provide several vital functions such as crime prevention, criminal investigation, implementing law and order, and rendering social services. These agencies are an essential part of the society as they are the first line of defense in protecting individual liberty, the right to private property, and also serve as a bulwark against social anarchy. LEAs are part of the executive branch of the criminal justice system. As a result of their administrative and bureaucratic nature, LEAs are a political entity and thus are influenced by politics and government (social) policies and, in turn, affect politics and the social policy process.

The United States is founded on the principles of democracy with constitutional guarantees that protect the rights of citizens against government power. These civil liberties are enshrined in the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution). The constitution also ensures that citizens have rights and protections against LEAs, such as the police, who act as agents of the government. One of such protections is the Fourth Amendment, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. This is to guard against arbitrary harassment or arrest of citizens on simple suspicion and to prevent the police from usurping the power of the people. However, a dilemma arises as the police or other LEAs try to balance the protection of individual rights and the maintenance of public order. For instance, the police protect a person’s rights by ensuring that the rights of other people are not violated and, if violated, that order is restored. So, the same agency that is charged to protect one’s rights is also mandated to take away the right when it is violated. This is the quandary of policing in a democratic society (Goldstein 1977). Police officers are given a great degree of discretion in order to enable them balance these rights. In a given scenario and depending on the nature of the offense, the police may choose to do nothing, give a warning, or make a physical arrest. The use of discretion by the police is also restrained by the law. There are several landmark cases that recognized these restrictions, such as the Miranda v. Arizona (1966), regarding the famous Miranda warning, or the Tennessee v. Garner (1985) regarding police use of lethal force. There also limitations on police behavior imposed by agency procedures, policies, rules, and regulations.

Many roles the police play in society have been dubbed an “impossible mandate” or an “impossible job” (Manning and Van Maanen 1978; Moore 1990). The police, unlike other organizations, do not have an all encompassing primary goal or objective. Policing involves numerous goals, and the ability to perform these functions is basically impossible. The police are supposed to be the watch-guard of the community, looking out for criminals. In addition, they enforce any violation of the law and also perform a variety of services to the public, such as emergency medical services. The police are also mandated to produce official measures of overall crime levels (crime statistics) and to provide a rolling commentary on the relation between crime and the wider social trends. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Report (UCR) now converted to a National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is a police measure of crime from the local and state agencies. This national data series has been collected since 1930 to generate accurate crime statistics for LEAs. Over the years, the cost of policing and keeping the society safe has been increasing. This is also compounded by many government policies, such as the war on drugs and the war on terrorism since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. While policing has become more expensive and complex, LEAs are at the same time expected to be more efficient and effective. It is being debated what policing is really all about: fighting crime (street crime, white-collar crime, cyber crime), enforcing law or peacekeeping, crime control or crime prevention, and crime mitigation or reducing fear. Policing has also expanded since 9/11 to various aspects of homeland security. New policing strategies have also evolved including community-oriented policing (COP), problem-oriented policing (POP), intelligence-led policing (ILP), and data-driven policing.

Historical Context of Policing

The history of law enforcement in the United States (USA) goes back to the colonial period in America. During this era, what obtained was a system of sheriffs, constables, the watch, and ward. Law enforcement was often corrupt, inefficient, and subject to political manipulation. Law enforcement officers were seen as an extension of the colonial government. They had little capacity to prevent crime or arrest offenders. Victims of crime had no expedient ways to report crime. Criminal gangs could easily bribe law enforcement officials. Consequently, official law enforcement agencies played a rather small role in the maintenance of law and order. Independence from Britain and the passage of the Bill of Rights in 1791 further minimized the role of the sheriffs and constables because the officers posed a danger to the civil rights or freedoms of citizens. Subsequently, policing was left in the hands of local authorities instead of creating a national or state police. The growth of cities also led to increase in crimes. This was exacerbated by the social disorientation of communities, as neighborhoods changed with the arrival of new immigrants. This posed challenges to keeping communities safe and would result to a form of organized policing.

Kelling and Moore (1988) distinguished three periods in the history of organized policing in the United States: the political era, the reform era, and the community era. A fourth epoch is what some scholars refer to as the contemporary or homeland security era (Oliver 2004). The first era, which started around 1840, lasted until about 1900. This time marked a wave of migration of people from various cultures to the country. The socioeconomic and political differences between the new immigrants and the residents resulted in a breakdown of law and order and even led to riots in some cities. For instance, between 1834 and 1838, Boston, Massachusetts, witnessed three major riots. New York also endured similar incidents resulting in loss of lives and destruction of property. As crime and disorder rose, there was no organized police force to respond to these problems. In 1838, Boston established the first police department in the United States. New York followed in 1945 when it created its first police department. Policing during this period was done mainly by foot patrol, and so the police became acquainted with the people, were integrated into communities, and garnered the support of citizens. In addition to crime prevention, the police also rendered social services, particularly to the new immigrants. However, the closeness of the police to politicians, inadequate formal training, and lack of supervision of officers led to corruption, inefficiency, and lack of professionalism.

The reform period (1900–1970s) was characterized by efforts to free policing from the control of politicians and to restore police professionalism. This marked the beginning of formal police training in some police departments and a centralization of the police department. Law enforcement roles were emphasized over the provision of social services by officers. This period also marked the introduction of new technology, such as the walkie-talkie (two-way radio), telephone, and the 911 emergency systems. The use of technology brought greater efficiency to police operations, as they were able to react faster to crime and respond rapidly to calls. Despite these changes, there was still an increase in crime. The reliance on technology gradually alienated the police from the people as they spent less time on the streets and lost the support and cooperation of the people. As crime rose, citizens questioned police tactics. The civil rights movement and the antiwar movement gave more impetus to the voice of citizens. Minorities, particularly African-Americans and women, demanded equal justice. From 1964 to 1968, there were riots in various cities in the United States as a result of tensions between the police and the African-American community, who perceived the police as being unfair to them.

The community era was a response to the deteriorating police-community relations, the upsurge in crime, demonstrations and street riots, and student unrest of the 1960s. The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (under the Johnson administration) set up the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) under the Department of Justice. LEAA provided federal funds for state and local police agencies to help them implement the principles of police-community relations. The 1970s marked the beginning of such programs as “team policing,” as the police tried to reach out to neighborhoods to mitigate some of their problems. Neighborhood Watch programs were also introduced to help citizens report crimes and suspicious activities to the police. The implementation of these programs was not well executed. The neighborhood watch was eventually abandoned after some time. In the 1980s, community policing was introduced. This was a policy of getting the police on the street to interact more with citizens. The concept of community policing was introduced by Wilson and Kelling (1982). They stated that disorder in neighborhoods creates fear. Communities, which are in distress such as those filled with gangs, street people, drug addicts, and prostitutes, send out crime-promoting signals. The same holds for neighborhoods with fading houses, unfixed broken windows, and graffiti. People live in fear in these places and criminals are attracted to them. According to Wilson and Kelling, the police need the cooperation, support, and collaboration of citizens in order to reduce crime and the fear of crime. To achieve this, the police have to interact closely with the people who could provide crucial information to the police. The passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 bolstered the implementation of community policing. The act brought federal support for community policing programs. Furthermore, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) under the Department of Justice provided grants to state and local agencies to recruit more personnel, provide training, and purchase equipment to enhance efforts toward community policing.

The terrorist attack in the United States on September 11, 2001 (9/11) marked the onset of the homeland security era (Oliver 2004). The government set up the Office of Homeland Security as an institution to focus on antiterrorism (prevention mechanisms) and counterterrorism (to actively respond to terrorists). In addition, it serves as a command center for responding to natural disasters. The passage of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 gave law enforcement greater surveillance powers, enhanced punishments for crimes related to terrorism, and greater communication between federal and local law enforcement. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 further confirmed the critical role of the police with regard to homeland security. The document emphasizes the role of the police in such issues as intelligence gathering, domestic counterterrorism, protection of critical infrastructure, emergency preparedness and response, and information sharing.

The complexity of policing in the United States shows that law enforcement officers operate at many different levels that embrace various agencies. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are about 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies (LEAs) with over 1.1 million full-time employees. Local police departments account for 60 % of the total number of sworn personnel in law enforcement. The various LEAs have different jurisdictions, responsibilities, and powers. Although there are federal LEAs, there is no national police force in the United States. The federal LEAs make up about 10 % of all LEAs in the nation. These federal agencies which number over 50 deal with federal offenses. The Department of Justice has the largest federal law enforcement agencies. The major LEAs under its control include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US Marshals Service (USMS), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). There are also the Department of Homeland Security law enforcement agencies, which are outside the purview of the Department of Justice.

The FBI is the main investigative arm of the federal government. The FBI is charged with a wide range of responsibilities, including combating organized crime and drugs, terrorism, white-collar crimes, cyber crimes, foreign counter intelligence, and violent crimes. The FBI also helps other agencies with important services such as fingerprint identification, laboratory/forensic examination, and police training. It also collects and publishes a national crime statistics through its annual UCR/NIBRS program. The FBI is headed by a director who is accountable to the attorney general of the federation for its operations. The US Marshals Service, which is the oldest federal law enforcement agency, was created by the first Congress in the Judiciary Act of 1789 (US Marshals Service 2004). The agency has the responsibility of providing judicial security and services for the federal courts, such as serving writs, and is also in charge of fugitive investigation. The marshals work in tandem with other LEAs at the federal, state, and local levels as well as international agencies in tracking down fugitives. In addition, the agency is responsible for housing federal prisoners who are awaiting sentencing. The president appoints the director of the Marshals Service who supervises the operations of the agency throughout the United States and its territories. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was created in 1973 during the Nixon administration. The DEA is primarily responsible for the enforcement of federal laws concerning the use, sale, and distribution of narcotics and other controlled substances in the United States. It also regulates the distribution of legal narcotics and drugs and investigates drug seizures by the US customs agents at border points. The DEA cooperates with local and state LEAs and foreign governments in efforts aimed at combating illegal drug use and the circulation of opium and other harmful substances.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is an offshoot of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has a number of federal law enforcement agencies under its organizational chart. The major agencies that report to the DHS include the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the US Secret Service (USSS), the US Coastal Guard (USCG), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). There are also other agencies that the DHS oversees, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Agricultural Quarantine Inspection Program, the Chemical and Biological Defense Programs, the National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Federal Computer Incident Response Center, and others.

In addition to the federal law enforcement agencies, there are many state and local LEAs, which vary from state to state or from county to county. State LEAs include state police, highway patrols, and state investigative agencies. State LEAs exercise jurisdiction in a particular state, and some share responsibilities with local police agencies. They enforce traffic regulations, conduct criminal investigations, arrest criminals, and provide a variety of law enforcement services. Local law enforcement agencies include county sheriffs, municipal police officers, and special police (such as transit police, airport police, public school police, public housing police, university and campus police, and park police). The jurisdiction of these police agencies is limited to specified boundaries. Local police officers, particularly municipal police departments, play significant roles in crime prevention and investigation, since most crimes occur at the local level.

Analysis and Conclusion: Policing and the Intersection of Social Policy

The operations of the various law enforcement agencies are guided by government policies and legislation. When these agencies implement a particular program, they are carrying out a program that is most likely part of a larger crime policy. The police and other LEAs also help to shape social policy as the crime problems they address daily in cities and counties help policymakers to respond to these issues and in passing legislation on crime. For instance, the federal government’s “war on drugs” and the various antidrug abuse legislations had the goal of reducing drug abuse in the United States. The various programs by law enforcement, such as crackdowns on the open-air markets, boot camp for drug addicts, and school seminars on dangers of drug use by the police, have the same policy objective of diminishing the use of drugs. Technological advances, changes in the law, and court decisions can also affect the way LEAs exercise their duties. For example, many incidents of police-on-citizen homicides, especially following the US Department of Justice investigations on Ferguson (2015) as a result of the death of Michael Brown, have led many police agencies to opt for the use of body cameras during encounters with citizens. Some police departments have even gone further to review their policies on the use of deadly force by police officers. There have also been calls for more transparency and greater accountability by police officers. Furthermore, the events of 9/11 brought new changes in homeland security, protection of the nation’s critical infrastructure, and counterterrorism. New strategies of policing and intelligence gathering have been introduced.

The traditional method of policing assumed that the police were able to deter crimes by patrolling the neighborhoods, acting swiftly to arrest suspects, and using technology and investigative skills to solve crimes. This reactive approach was questioned in the 1970s as crime rates increased. New initiatives were put forward for a more effective policing aimed at keeping communities safe. There has been a gradual shift from the “traditional” policing to policies such as community-oriented policing, problem-oriented policing, zero-tolerance policing, and intelligence-led policing.

Community-oriented policing (COP) can be traced to Wilson and Kelling’s (1982) “broken windows” theory of what works in policing and how to make the police more effective. The authors pointed out that disruption in the social order can lead to serious crime incidents. They underscored the importance of police-community partnership in crime control. COP is not a program, but a law enforcement philosophy or way of thinking about improving public safety. It emphasizes building good police-community relationships for effective long-term solutions to crime and enhancing police legitimacy and trust among citizens. Contrary to what some critics argue, COP is not softer on crime but seeks “smarter” ways of controlling crime. Some of the programs adopted include fear reduction, organizational transformation, and promotion of police-community partnerships, problem-oriented (focused) policing, and zero-tolerance policing.

A successful community-oriented policing strategy involves transformational changes in the organizational structure and operation of a police agency. The aim is to transform the management policies, structure, personnel, culture, and resources, including information technology systems to address the concerns of communities. Community policing also entails a decentralization of operations, which means devolution of power and decision-making that is less hierarchical. In other words, local officers are given more authority and discretion in finding creative solutions to specific, individual neighborhood problems without strict adherence to very rigid policies (Diamond and Weiss 2009; Maguire and Wells 2009). Community partnerships are equally critical for effective community-oriented policing. This goes beyond frequent contacts or sharing information with citizens. It involves ongoing efforts to work together with communities to address their problems. Law enforcement officers try to engage neighborhoods through community leaders, neighborhood associations, faith-based groups, tenant councils, business organizations, local government agencies, social service providers, and schools. LEAs also utilize information technology to improve communication with citizens and have websites (including e-mails) where citizens can get information on crime alerts, provide crime tips, give feedback, and share their concerns. Partnerships with communities help to build trust and mutual respect between the police and citizens, which is very vital for effective policing. It is also a prerequisite for a more proactive problem-solving or problem-oriented policing (POP).

Problem-oriented policing brings together law enforcement officers, analysts/researchers, and community members to identify the root causes of a problem and to find creative ways to address them. Goldstein (1977) criticized traditional police practices that were primarily reactive and incident (means) driven. He advocated a paradigm shift to a model that required the police to be proactive in identifying the underlying problems that could be targeted to reduce crime. He termed this new approach “problem-oriented policing” to emphasize the need for the police to focus on problems instead of single calls or incidents. The police have to deal with a range of problems in the community, including not only crime but also social and physical disarray.

Police agencies that adopt this method focus more on creative and active crime solving and prevention, rather than merely reacting to crime and deviance. One of the most common methods used in problem solving in policing is the SARA model (Eck and Spelman 1987). SARA (scanning, analysis, response, and assessment) is a four-step problem-solving model. The first step is for law enforcement officers to scan their environment for problems and identify and define the problem. The next step is to analyze the problem by identifying the persons involved, determine the scope of the problem and the causes, and describe the setting and social context. By talking to members of the community, the officers can collect valuable data. The third step is the response. The police officers develop an action plan with the community to solve the problem. Finally, the process is evaluated to assess its effectiveness. POP approaches have been successful in implementing effective responses to identified social problems. In recent years, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also tried to put into use some of these policing models. It has incorporated the SARA model into its incident command system (ICS). The ICS is a management system designed for use by multiple agencies from the same sector or multiple agencies across sectors, to manage large-scale events, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters.

Another method of policing that was created in the 1980s was the zero-tolerance policing. The idea was derived from Wilson and Kelling (1982) article, “broken windows.” While COP aspect of the article focused on police-community partnerships in addressing crime and social disorder, zero-tolerance focuses on the article’s postulation that minor crimes and disorder eventually lead to serious crime. By enforcing minor crimes and removing signs of disorder (such as graffiti), the police sends signals that crime will not be tolerated in the neighborhood, and this helps to restore order and reassure citizens of their safety. This strategy utilizes aggressive means of law enforcement by focusing on “hot spots” of crime and disorder. This tends to be effective in communities that have experienced decay and high crime rates, and citizens’ level of fear is already high and so they are unable to collaborate with law enforcement officers. It is a controversial method of policing and has had mixed results in cities where it was implemented.

Another concept of policing that has practical application to LEAs and has been a focus of many agencies is intelligence-led policing (ILP). This British system of policing was adapted to American policing in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks. ILP is mainly a tool for information sharing among LEAs that allows for the formulation of intelligence, which can be used to identify security threats and develop responses to tackle those threats. The police have expressed concerns of the shifting of resources from community- and problem-oriented policing (COP/POP) to intelligence-based policing as a result of increased homeland security responsibilities (Carter and Carter 2009). This raises an issue of how to integrate community policing and ILP. These models of policing depend on strong relationships with the community. Both homeland security and other LEAs need to have greater collaboration with each other and dialogue with the community in order to successfully combat crime. Problem solving, environmental scanning, effective communication with the public, fear reduction, and community mobilization to deal with social problems are among the crucial attributes COP brings to effective policing.

Data-driven policing which is closely related to ILP is another model that many LEAs have adopted in the post 9/11 era. In this case, information is gathered not necessarily for the development of intelligence, but rather to help the police officer on the street to more effectively respond to calls. Information can consist of records of past calls for service or criminal activities or the presence of any threats such as guns in a particular location or residence. In contrast to ILP, which drives information up to the strategic level, data-driven policing primarily pushes information down to the tactical level (Oliver 2009).

Finally, it is important to recognize that many law enforcement agencies are not diametrically opposed to each other. Rather, they are focused on achieving the same goal: reducing crime and maintaining public safety. The various models or approaches in policing and in implementing social policies are not competing against each other. They work at various levels of policing and in different contexts. Policing has always been a dynamic process responding to new challenges to public safety and adopting new strategies in order to be more effective in combating crime and social disorder. Police agencies and other LEAs can increase their organizational knowledge about the science of crime control by forming partnerships with local universities and colleges to utilize the services of professors, graduate students, or interns. They can also hire their own in-house criminologists. By connecting science to the development and evaluation of crime control approaches or models, there is an inherent understanding that local knowledge and experience must be blended with scientific evidence to create operationally sound and socially realistic programs. Such a balanced approach will help decision-makers to adopt the best scientific evidence regarding strategies to achieve desired outcomes. Law enforcement agencies have proven to be tough on crime; it is time to demonstrate they can be smart in fighting crime.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Texas Southern UniversityHoustonUSA