Policing versus Law Enforcement: Part 1

July 11, 2011

Effective Policing, Ethics

The Story

We are careful at Guardian Leadership to use the term policing for what we do as opposed to law enforcement.  Many consider the term law enforcement to be more ‘professional’ or prestigious but the term can be self limiting in the way we think about ourselves or the expectations we set in the minds our community.  In terms of what the public expects of us – they demand much more than the term law enforcement implies.

Law Enforcement

The law enforcement paradigm is that we lock up the ‘bad guys’ and take them off the street.  In this vision we arrest people and they go away.  The public expects that we will remove all the ‘bad guys’ and as result the community will improve.  The reality is somewhat different…

We have all experienced the frustration of having a miscreant released from custody before the paperwork has been finished.  To make matters worse, when the ‘bad guy’ hits the streets shortly after the public has seen you cart them off in cuffs their perception is that you haven’t done your job and they are seldom hesitant in telling you so.  People don’t want to serve as witnesses because they have no faith in your ability to keep the bad guy locked up and they fear retribution.  This makes the job even more difficult – no witness, no case.

Environmental Reality

The stark environmental reality of the “Crime Funnel” is described by Jerry Ratcliffe in his outstanding book, Intelligence Led Policing. Jerry’s “Crime Funnel” documents that for every 1000 crimes committed (read: public’s perception of their quality of life), 410 are reported to the police and we put 287 of them on paper (read: what we report as performance). We will actually charge someone in 37 of those cases and in the end there will be 4 sentenced to terms of incarceration.  So much for taking ‘bad guys’ off the street.

Our Mistake

When we limit ourselves to the law enforcement paradigm we set ourselves up for failure.  Our ability to take people off the street is dependent on a myriad of factors that are well beyond our sphere of control or influence.  We can’t compel witnesses to come forward and testify.  We can’t compel prosecutors to prosecute the cases we bring them and we certainly can’t compel judges to sentence people to incarceration.  Yet we place the measure of our success on taking ‘bad guys’ off the street.

The reality is that our community is looking for quality of life and that they probably couldn’t care less how many people go to jail as long as they can have that quality.  We need to recognize that we have very little control over how many people go to jail for any significant amount of time.  We can have a significant impact on the community’s quality of life if we choose to expand the way that we think about ourselves and our Mission.

Path Forward

For me, the term ‘police’ is a prestigious term describing a street smart officer who understands the reality of most situations, capable of taking credible, effective and proper action to resolve an issue. (Proper means that the solution must be ethically sound, in keeping with our Oath, Values, Laws and Departmental Rules.)  We all have known officers who we have described as not being ‘real police’ and they do not get much respect in our culture.  ‘Police’ know that there are often more effective tactics that may not necessarily include enforcing some provision of law.

What are these tactics and strategic mindset? – More to follow another day…

Please offer comments on how you view the job. Do you feel limited by the term law enforcement?

As Always THANK YOU for your service and BE SAFE!


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