Police Roles and their Depictions in the Media


            The purpose of this paper is to elaborate on the ‘role’ of police officers throughout the United States and how this role is depicted correctly and incorrectly in the media. This paper will discuss news articles related to various police officer’s roles like crime fighter, social servant, order maintainer, and crime preventer. Information from current news stories will be provided for each role. This paper will also discuss how each story in the news media depicts the related role and whether this portrayal is a “real” or “image” depiction.

The Police Role

            Police officers do not have just one role through his or her career (Dantzker, 2003). A police officer could be an officer in one of the many branches of law enforcement work. Some of the most well known title of a police officer would be a probations officer, correctional officer, and law enforcement officer. Even officers with these various occupations continue to play even more roles in the community he or she is serving. They are all crime fighters, social servants, order maintainers, and crime preventers.

The Crime Fighter

            Oakland, California— A public transit passenger’s video of an arrest shows and area transit police officer, intentionally or unintentionally, forcing an unruly passenger’s head through heavy-duty glass. The incident happened on November 21, 2009 and the video was posted on YouTube shortly after (Associated Press, 2009).

            The video shows the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer, pushing the directing the passenger, Michael Gibson, toward a glass window along the West Oakland station platform. The two came in contact with the glass the glass shattered injuring both the officer and the passenger. The causation the broken glass is unclear, but many would assume the force of the passenger’s head was enough the break the glass when viewing the video.

            The BART’s police force has faced scrutiny since an officer fatally shot an unarmed passenger, Oscar Grant, on New Year’s Day at another Oakland BART station (Associated Press, 2009). In response to this incident John Burring, the attorney for the family of Oscar Grant, said that “He doesn’t have to be that aggressive…He didn’t even talk to the guy, didn’t give him a chance to surrender, didn’t give him an opportunity to move or comply”(Assoicated Press, 2009, para. 5).

The Social Servant

            Jersey City, New Jersey — Dozens of somber Jersey City police officers began gathering early on the 21st of July to honor one of their own, Detective Marc DiNardo (Rothman, 2009). There were more than 300 civilians, law enforcement officers, and firefighters from across the state.

            The officers we holding a blood drive at a Jersey City office building. The blood drive was in remembrance of the hundreds of pints of blood used in the effort to save Detective DiNardo’s and other officers’ lives after a shootout the previous with an armed robbery suspect (Rothman, 2009)..     The need for blood was express by the girlfriend of a city police officer, and a nurse at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, she said “It’s not just about writing tickets. There are bullets flying some days…all year long, we need to be thinking about people who need our help” (Rothman, 2009, para. 18). The drive was planned in less than 36 hours but turned out to be the second largest single-day blood drive for the New Jersey Blood Services 35-year history (Rothman, 2009).

The Order Maintainer

            Halloween Night, America—Has become the busiest night of the year for police departments across the nation. What used to be a semi-spontaneous gathering of costumed partygoers had spun wildly out of control over the years for many major cities, but smaller cities also feel the strain of this wild night (Wyllie, 2009). Small town officers find it is a night when normally well-behaved young people feel free to trash neighborhoods, schools, and even their friends’ homes. It is a particularly popular night to commit armed robbery since no one notices one more guy with a mask, who happens to be running from an all-night stop and rob (Wyllie, 2009).

            The preparations for Halloween night begin weeks in advance for many police departments. They hand out flyers for parents concerning safe Trick-or-Treating techniques and put the word out that drinking and driving will not be tolerated (Wyllie, 2009). On the big night, police departments amp up patrols to keep unruly citizens in line when out on the town. Just the presence of police officers is enough to keep most party goers under control (Wyllie, 2009).

The Crime Preventer

Broken Arrow, Oklahoma — Two Broken Arrow police officers, Ezell Ware and Greg Fall, is taking a new-school approach to an old-school message to keep kids off drugs and warn them about talking to strangers (Adcock, 2009).

            For the past few months, the Hip Hop Cops, have gone to several Broken Arrow and Union schools to give students the law enforcement talk about safety. But as the lecture gets going, they suddenly break into a rap (Adcock, 2009). This new way of talking to the children began when the two officers were at a school giving the safety speech when one of them began rapping about staying off drugs. Officer Fall states that “It actually started off as a joke” (Adcock, 2009, para. 3).

            The next event was at a child-care center and Officer Fall began “beat boxing” while Officer Ware rattled off short, four-line rhymes about the dangers of drugs (Adcock, 2009).. They evolved what had been a joke between them into a performance and the children thoroughly enjoy the show.

“Real” or “Image” Depiction

            The story for the crime fighter role seems to be and image depiction of police who need to use force to bring an unruly citizen under control. Most of the stories in the media that grab our attention are the ones about the officers who did the wrong, or perceived wrong, thing to the arrestee.

            When watching the video the passengers are obviously relieved to have the unruly passenger removed from the train and even help the officer arrest the guy and call for emergency assistance. The remarks by the lawyer are typical of a person representing a victim of police brutality. The think to consider when seeing a video of this type of situation is how often those police officers have to deal with uncooperative persons in public. Getting the person under control as quickly as possible is the safest way for everyone concerned.

            The social servant story seems to be quite real. Officers take the death of a fellow officer very hard. They shed sweat, tears, and blood together. In a city like New Jersey relying on the officer beside you to keep you safe is not out of the ordinary. Bonds are established between the men and women in blue that many civilians cannot begin to imagine. The bond transcends race, religion, gender, and national origin. For the men and women to pull together in order to provide blood that could potentially save another officers life is a very real thing.

            The order maintainer story is another real depiction of the role officers play not just for Halloween, but for all of the major holidays in America. There is evidence of this every holiday when the commercials on the radio inform everyone that the police departments will be looking for drunk drivers even more on those nights. Patrol cars can be seen standing watch at street corners ready to break any disorderly conduct and the frequency of drive by patrolling is increased as well.

            The story of the hip hopping crime preventers can be both a real and an image depiction. Not every department takes an active role in teaching children the importance of staying away from drugs. Children are the key out America’s future and every department should understand the importance to distributing good behavior to receptive children and the only many children have of police officer are from the action pact police movies (Murfett, Powell, & Skouteris, 2008). So, while this story is a real depiction of this police department it may not be real depiction of other police departments.


            The purpose of this paper was to elaborate on the ‘role’ of police officers throughout the United States and how this role is depicted correctly and incorrectly in the media. This paper discussed news articles related to various police officer’s roles like crime fighter, social servant, order maintainer, and crime preventer. Information from current news stories was provided for each role. This paper also discussed how each story in the news media depicted the related role and whether the portrayal was a “real” or “image” depiction.


Adcock, C. (2009). Oklahoma ‘Hip Hop’ Rap Their Beat to Kids. Policeone.com. Retrieved November 20, 2009 from http://www.policeone.com/community-policing/articles/1963778-Okla-hip-hop-cops-rap-their-beat-to-kids/

Associated Press (2009). California BART Officer and Suspect’s Struggle Hits YouTube. Policeone.com. Retrieved November 21, 2009, from

Dantzker, M. (2003) Understanding Today’s Police 3rd ed. Prentice-Hall Inc. Pearson Education Company.

Murfett, R., Powell, M., & Skouteris, H. (2008). Children’s Perceptions of the Role of Police: A Qualitative Study. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 10(4), 464-473. Retrieved November 21, 2009, from EBSCO Host Database. ISSN: 14613557.

Rothman, C. (2009). Blood Drive in Memory of N.J. Officer Draws Hundreds. Policeone.com. Retrieved November 21, 2009, from http://www.policeone.com/community-policing/articles/1858539-Blood-drive-in-memory-of-N-J-officer-draws-hundreds/

Wyllie, Doug (2009). Police on Halloween: DWI, Vandalism, and Gunfights. Policeone.com. Retrieved November 21, 2009, from http://www.policeone.com/community-policing/articles/1960229-Police-on-Halloween-DWI-vandalism-and-gunfights/