A Newtonian Perspective: Policing Systems

Spring 2010
Final Research Essays

Article 12 of 12

The world is a seemingly intricate sphere spiraling into inexplicable perplexity. However the intangible laws that govern the world are, in truth, quite simple. Newton once stated, “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it” (Newton’s Three Laws of Motion). The same laws can be applied to society. We can compare the “object[s]” described by Newton with individuals of society. Since each individual of society is inherently unique, it can be reasonably deduced that each individual resides on a unique path and in a unique “state of motion”. Thus, these paths lead to a variety of destinations; some may include commendable achievements, admirable deeds, and meritorious legacies. However, with ill guidance other paths may include malicious actions, poor decisions, and detestable crimes. If certain “objects” are allowed to remain in states of motion that are counterproductive and detrimental to society, society will inevitably approach its demise. Evidently, a force such as law enforcement is charged to assume the role as “an external force” to direct society in a course approaching utopia.

In this case utopia exists as a society shielded from crime with maximum efficacy and the utmost efficiency. Before the path to this utopia can be understood, we must explore and distinguish the types of law enforcement authorities. The most practiced systems of law enforcement are commonly referred to as traditional policing systems and community policing systems. The origins of the traditional policing system can date as far back as the most ancient civilizations. For instance, in Mesopotamia, commonly regarded as the “birth of civilization,” Praetorian guards were employed to police the market place from violent crimes and theft (History of Police). The traditional policing systems still follow the same concept as the Praetorian guards as their focus remains on high priority crimes such as violent crimes and theft (History of Police). However, the recent emergence of the community policing system takes a different approach in engaging crime. Satu Salmi, a psychologist from the University of Turku in Finland, defines community police as a transgression from the traditional “crime fighting police into a more co-operative, serving, and consulting police… [that] assess the expectations of the community” (2). He indicates that the community police were established with the idea that they would understand the public and patrol as the community they serve sees fit. Today, the traditional and community policing systems coexists; however advocates of each system continue to argue how their system provides greater efficacy than the other.

As society continues to mature, it is the burden of law enforcement authorities to preserve order and protect its citizens with the greatest efficacy. To achieve this efficiency, Law enforcement authorities must recognize the importance of focusing on high priority crimes and concentrate their resources on promoting a traditional policing system. If law enforcement authorities endorse community policing systems, a misallocation of resources between agencies that focus on high priority crimes and those that focus on low priority crimes is inherently rendered. Furthermore, community police programs are burdened with a lack of motivation, hindering their performance. When weighing the two systems, both citizens and the community police officers recognize the benefits of a more traditional policing system. However, advocates of community policing systems still argue the importance of proactive policing, a more cooperative atmosphere with the community, and an increased sense of police presence; all of which these advocates argue only a community policing system can provide. However, these adversaries of traditional policing systems underestimate its full capacity and potential.

While currently coexisting with a faltering economy, it is even more appropriate that authorities first analyze the allocation of resources within the law enforcement departments. Kevin Johnson, a reporter from USA Today, displays the effects of such an economy when he stresses, “once largely spared from the deepest budget cuts, some police departments are struggling to provide basic services” (18). In times of clear economic turmoil, when agencies are “struggling to provide basic services”, it is essential that resources are allocated efficiently (Johnson 18). Through his study of public safety concerns, Joseph Kuhns concludes, “the vast majority of these smaller departments do not appear to be primarily concerned with [higher priority crimes]” (21). He indicates that the “smaller departments,” referring to community police departments, will rely on the larger more traditional police departments to engage these higher priority crimes. It is reasonable to believe that the department engaging in higher demanding crimes will require more resources to operate at equal efficiency as the other departments. Additionally, it is an axiomatic cognition that larger more traditional departments will require more resources than smaller departments because of their sheer size. However, Kuhns’ study also reports that “of federal monies allocated to law enforcement, half was to be distributed to agencies serving populations less than 150,000 and the other half to agencies serving more than 150,000” (2).  The smaller departments are receiving resources equal to larger departments who must engage in countering more demanding crimes. It is reasonable to believe that a larger agency cannot operate at an equal efficiency against more demanding crime with equal resources as smaller agencies. The means in which the “federal monies” were allocated is incongruent with the ultimate goal of combating crime with greater efficacy.

Although the misallocation of resources is clear, we must further explore the benefits of a traditional policing system over a community policing system. Through his study, Yumin Wang of the Department of Justice reports that “[community police officers] do not perceive their current work as motivating” (6). He suggests that officers in the community police programs have difficulty harnessing the intrinsic motivation required to efficiently and effectively fight crime. This is in part due to the officers feeling as if they are not fighting real crimes. For instant, Wang also indicates that “[community police officers] who spend more time on [traditional police] related activities are more supportive of the methods and goals of the [community police program], more in favor of organizational change, and more satisfied with their job” (4). This suggests that the community police officers prefer a job that consists of fighting crime in a similar manner as the traditional policing system. Hence, we can logically deduce that the traditional policing system offers greater motivation and satisfaction than community policing systems. The greater motivation and satisfaction received by the police officers equates to a greater sense of duty and ultimately, a greater efficacy of the police department.

The preference of a more traditional policing system by the community police officers themselves is evident; however, we must also account for the preference of the citizens. Through his study of community police, in which citizens where surveyed on police activities, Satu Salmi indicates that citizens concur with the community police officers when they recognize the benefits of a more traditional policing system. When dealing with activities such as foot patrolling, traffic patrolling, preventing disorder in public places, dealing with crowds at sports and public events, etc, less than approximately five percent of the public highly favored police activity in these areas (Salmi 6). We can infer that the citizens are not in favor of such community policing strategies. Therefore, it can be deduced that the community policing system is not satisfying the needs of the citizens. The study demonstrates further preference of a more traditional policing system when it reports that an increase of about twenty percent of respondents highly favored police activity dealing with “domestic violence and detecting suspects and criminals” (Salmi 6). Since these activities align with the higher priority crimes engaged by the traditional policing system, we can also deduce that strategies employed by more traditional policing systems are more favored by the citizens. Clearly, it is illogical to invest equal resources into something that the very citizens and police officers deem ineffective.

Some critics justify the investment of equal resources towards the community policing system, claiming that it promotes a more proactive policing system. Christine Famega, a professor at California State University-San Bernardo, defines proactive policing as police “intervening at their own initiative [and reactive policing as] policing in which citizens mobilize the police to intervene in private affairs (typically through calls for service)” (2). The idea of a more proactive policing system pleads for a more engaging and involved policing system. I am inclined to concur with their appeal towards a proactive policing as it may induce greater efficacy since the police offers will be inclined to take initiative instead of succumbing to lethargy. However, endorsing a proactive policing system does not obviate the need of a traditional policing system. Proactive policing can not be mistaken as a call for a community policing system; it is merely a challenge to the traditional police officers to take more initiative in engaging in preventing crimes. The solution to further increase the efficacy of law enforcement is not to endorse a community policing system; the solution is for the traditional policing system to endorse proactive strategies.

Advocates also argue that an important ingredient to achieve maximum efficacy is through a cooperative atmosphere between the policing system and its citizens. They justify this claim by supporting the notion that “public safety… comes in the form of community relations” (Lashley 6). They rest upon the perception that a close knit community, the policing system included, will ultimately lead to “public safety” (Lashley 6). However, it is not inappropriate to suggest that an officer from such a community may overlook evidence that criminalizes a member of a community; personal relations may corrupt the judgment of the community police officers. These advocates fail to recognize that a cooperative atmosphere may not be achieved through community relationships established through a community policing system. Nor is a cooperative atmosphere established through a traditional policing system. In truth, an effective cooperative atmosphere is not a matter of police organization. A cooperative atmosphere is established when members of a society are immune to the bystander effect. The bystander effect can be described as the “phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses” (Wagner). If citizens can overcome the bystander effect and intercede either by calling the police or offering appropriate aid, only then can we render a truly cooperative atmosphere. The benefits of a cooperative atmosphere to the policing society are clear, but its true origins lies in the field of social behavior.

Skeptics of a traditional policing system also suggest that an efficient policing system can only be mirrored with an increased police presence. They suggest that this is best accomplished through a community policing system. Their logic is that an inverse relationship exist between the police presence and criminal activity. For instance, an article from the New York Times reports that crime in the area of Central Park decreased by 27 percent due to an experiment designed by Deputy Inspector John McDermott, who parked police vans in areas prone to criminal activity to increase the police presence (Bloom 1). The police van creates a radius of an area that is less conductive to criminal activity. It is reasonable for these skeptics to call for an increased police presence. However, once again, I must argue through constructive criticism that the call for an increased police presence is not the call for a community policing system. To establish an increased police presence and a radius less conductive to criminal activity, it is only necessary that a sufficient amount of resources are available. With the proper amount and efficient allocation of resources, a traditional policing system may induce such areas of increased police presence through strategies such as the one employed by Deputy Inspector John McDermott.

The path to utopia, our world shielded from crime with maximum efficacy and the utmost efficiency, exists in parallel with the guidance of a traditional policing system. Only then may the officers assume high motivation without sacrificing the true purpose of police. With that, society may be liberated from chaos and directed in a proper “state of uniform motion.” In addition to defining the world through his laws of motion, Newton has complemented them with his vital contribution in establishing calculus and limits. It is only appropriate that we define each miniscule factor that is essential in establishing an efficient policing system as the sum of an infinite limit; the limit of that sum, the integral, as it approaches maximum efficacy can only be defined as a traditional policing system.

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