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Traditional vs. Contemporary Policing in America Term Paper

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Updated: May 24th, 2021

Policing in America

In America, traditional policing entails officers maintaining law and order by carrying out patrols within their areas of operation. Police officers respond to a variety of calls and situations. Law enforcement officers in America apply three major strategies of policing, namely legalistic, security guard, and service styles (Oliver, 2016). The legalistic style maintains law and order through arrests, writing tickets, and encouraging victims to sign complaints as soon as possible.

The security guard style focuses on maintaining order through informal methods, while the service style lays more emphasis on service to the community and fostering good relations through strategies such as community policing. In contemporary America, policing has become more challenging due to issues associated with technological advancements, as well as hostile narratives that profile police officers across mainstream media and social networking sites (Stamper, 2016).

For example, police officers find it hard to execute their duties because the media often presents them as racist and inhuman when they apprehend criminals under controversial circumstances. Contemporary policing in America is largely centered on addressing perennial challenges such as drug trafficking, money laundering, immigration issues, gun control, and homicide, among others (Brandl, 2017).

Major Characteristics of the Political and Reform Eras of Policing

One of the major elements that characterize the political era of policing in the United States is political influence (Oliver, 2016). In the past, political leaders had a great influence with regard to the manner in which appointments in the police force were carried out. During the political era of policing, politicians often reserved top positions in the police force as rewards for their supporters, who played pivotal roles in their ascendancy to power.

A number of unscrupulous politicians also used their influence to fill other vacancies within the police force with anyone who was willing to give out some money. This was also the case with promotions, where interested individuals often bought their desired positions. This phenomenon necessitated a lack of job security for police officers, which was also a characteristic feature of this era of policing in the United States.

Reports indicate that due to the strong influence from politicians, hiring and firing of police officers was done without any clearly defined procedure (Brandl, 2017). Officers did not have to meet any minimum standards in order to be recruited as long as they had money to buy and maintain their positions within the police force. In addition, those that secured various positions did not undergo any form of training.

During the political era of policing in America, corruption had developed into a culture and a characteristic feature of law enforcement in the country. Police officers across all ranks were often involved in various forms of misconduct that were clear acts of disregard to the ethical principles of policing (Oliver, 2016). Notably, police officers on patrol were most vulnerable to accepting bribes from offenders in order to avoid getting tickets, paying fines, or going to jail.

The officers were also very inefficient because they did their patrols on foot, which meant that supervision was minimal, and officers often dodged work. The political era of policing was also characterized by a high turnover rate and little respect for police officers because of the way they used excessive force on citizens (Gaines & Kappeler, 2014).

The reform era of policing in the United States is characterized by the introduction of professionalism in the police force. Unlike in the political era where the police force was known for having untrained personnel, corruption, and lack of efficiency, the new era embarked on making numerous changes that would make police officers respected professionals across the country. One of the major changes that were made was the appointment of administrators, whose mandate was to introduce reforms that would professionalize the American police force (Stamper, 2016). In order to achieve this feat, the administrators had to prioritize the need to reduce the political influence.

The other major reform that was introduced was training and education programs for officers. This was intended to improve the standards of the personnel working as police officers (Balko, 2013). Through such capacity-building strategies, policing in America quickly started to be characterized by high integrity levels that all citizens expect from law enforcement agencies. In addition, effective communication was achieved through the introduction of telephones, while efficiency was enhanced by the availability of patrol cars. This reduced the amount of time that police officers were taking to respond whenever a citizen made a call for help. Reports also indicate that a police telephone line was intended to improve the effectiveness of community policing (Brandl, 2017).

Skills and Knowledge Imparted to Police Trainees

Policing is one of the most challenging and demanding jobs across the world. Police officers require special training with regard to dealing with different people, situations, and crimes. Police trainees acquire numerous essential skills while in the academy that prepares them for their challenging work environment. First, police officers are supposed to have a good comprehension of the American laws that govern various activities.

This means that police officer should have the ability to interpret a crime and decide on the appropriate strategy to apply in resolving it (Oliver, 2016). For example, a police officer is not supposed to shoot or use force on a suspect who does not resist arrest. In most cases, police officers specialize in dealing with particular types of crimes. Second, a police officer is supposed to be emotionally intelligent and a critical thinker. This refers to the ability of an officer to understand his or her feelings and the way they are likely to affect others. Law enforcement can emotionally drain police officers, especially if they witness a traumatic crime, which can, in turn, affect their ability to take the necessary action (Balko, 2013).

Third, police officers ought to be physically fit. Policing often involves running after offenders, working long hours, and patrolling on foot. Therefore, police trainees often undergo vigorous physical training at the academy as a way of ensuring that they are ready to deal with the demands of law enforcement. In addition, mental toughness is another essential skill that police trainees acquire. This helps them to deal with some of the real-world situations that cannot be simulated during their training (Stamper, 2016).

Community Policing

In my understanding, community policing refers to a law enforcement system where police officers work in a particular community with the sole purpose of familiarizing and building close relations with the citizens. The main difference between community policing and traditional policing is the fact that the former recognizes the shared responsibility of law enforcement between the police and the communities they serve (Balko, 2013). Traditional policing involves police officers only responding to crimes and not taking time to patrol their areas of operation as a way of making their presence felt or winning the trust of the citizens.

Community policing is very effective with regard to solving various problems within a community. In order to achieve this feat, certain elements ought to be carefully considered in order to achieve the common good of having safe neighborhoods. Some of the notable elements include good communication, effective partnerships, decentralization of police authority, and individualizing the practices of officers in the communities they serve (Gaines & Kappeler, 2014).

It is important for both the police officers and the citizens to have a clear understanding of the main objective of their partnership, which is preventing crime instead of responding to it. Community policing thrives in problem-solving if the right partnerships exist. The police officers should work closely with various government agencies, non-profit organizations, the private sector, and any other interested parties with whom they share the common objective of living in communities free of crime (Stamper, 2016).

Qualities of Detectives and Undercover Officers

Detectives and undercover officers play a pivotal role with regard to achieving the objectives of policing. The top five qualities they ought to possess in order to execute their mandate effectively are good research skills, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, good comprehension of the law, and good working ethics (Gaines & Kappeler, 2014). The most important of the five skills are good working ethics.

The main reason for this is the fact that detectives are highly vulnerable to receiving bribes from offenders who want their crimes to be overlooked. It is hard to fight crime if the people entrusted with apprehending offenders are not morally upright. Good comprehension of the law, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and excellent research skills alone cannot make one an effective detective as long as he or she is not morally upright.


Balko, R. (2013). Rise of the warrior cop: The militarization of America’s police forces. New York, NY: Public Affairs.

Brandl, S.G. (2017). Police in America. New York, NY: SAGE Publications.

Gaines, L.K., & Kappeler, V.E. (2014). Policing in America. New York, NY: Routledge.

Oliver, W.M. (2016). Policing America: An introduction. San Francisco, CA: Walters Kluwer Law & Business.

Stamper, N. (2016). To protect and serve: How to fix America’s police. New York, NY: Public Affairs.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Traditional vs. Contemporary Policing in America'. 24 May.

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