The term Police refers to a governmental organisation charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order in society. They are given the power to enforce the law, protect the people, property and control civil unrest. The carrying out of these assigned functions is known as policing. In order to carry out these functions effectively, the Police are empowered to use reasonable force to enforce the law especially when they meet resistance. Since they are state organisations, the Police are usually empowered through training in the use of combat methods, arms and hi tech communication and transport equipment. The term derives from the French word Polis which means polite and the Latin term Politia which refers to Public Administration (Walker, 1977).
In contemporary society, Police play an important role in primarily maintaining law and order but they have also been assigned other duties including controlling the flow of persons at disaster sites and carrying out first aid. Another change has come about because of the fact the citizens have over the years taken the responsibility of ensuring their own security through private security firms and vigilante groups formed to protect neighbourhoods (Neocleous, 2004).
The aim of this paper is to discuss the place of the role of Policing within the context of this rapidly changing modern society. The paper concludes, stating that the role of the police is still important today though like all other organisations, the Police need to change constantly to cope with modern emergent forms of crime.
Policing in Modern Society
Roles of the Police today vary from country to country or state to state in central nations. However, there are certain basic roles that have remained constant over the years. One of these roles is preventive policing. This involves the deterrence of people from possibly committing crimes and responding to emergencies to rescue those in distress. It also involves avoiding escalation of situations where crime has been committed through timely interventions to arrests criminals or stopping a crime in progress (Neocleous, 2004) Preventive policing is typically carried out by uniformed Police personnel who carry out foot patrols popularly known as beats; vehicular patrol on streets and motorways and even aerial patrols in helicopters (especially in Northern Ireland with the troubles). In any Police Force uniformed officers are usually from the majority of the personnel (Siegel, 2005).
However, preventive policing alone cannot succeed in controlling crime and serving the other purposes of the Police. The other role of the Police is to carry out investigations. An investigation is a systematic inquiry aimed at establishing the manner in which a crime was committed and the persons responsible. The aim of investigations is to find out the persons responsible for crimes already committed so as to bring them to justice. Since criminals tend to grow and with crime becoming more sophisticated and dangerous, it is a bad idea to let any crime go unpunished as the criminals only grow bolder. Being able to arrest and have them punished whenever possible also helps to grow the confidence of the public in the Police Service (Siegel, 2005).
Investigations have over the years developed into a highly sophisticated field in which a wide spectrum of specialists on a variety of subjects from within and without the police force is called upon to assist. Among the active departments are agencies and groups needed to uphold security in society. This has grown to be known as the governance of security and the pluralisation of policing. These issues first came into force in the United Kingdom in 1991 with the Morgan Report which aimed to create statutory liability for local authorities in order to enable full control of security and crime reduction to official policing bodies. Then in 1998 the well-known Patten Report took its toll on policing as a new method of policing was introduced allowing other agencies to participate in community policing whether it be voluntarily or salary paid, every form would be considered (Newburn, 2008).
It can be said that the police who are one arm of the government are allowing potential agencies to form their own method of control as was carried out historically during the nineteenth century. During this time The Municipal Corporations Act (1835) was in force, which had 'elected councils of corporate boroughs' (2008:76) taking control of dealing with offenders as they saw fit. Such are the contradictions of modern policing that have sometimes put entire police departments under the scrutiny of the public, questioning whether or not the police are capable of fulfilling the public's demands on protection and security.
Intelligence gathering is another aspect of policing that enhances efficiency in modern police organisations. This refers to the art of gathering information on intended actions by individuals bent on breaking the law. This is especially important in the modern era of international terrorism, large scale organised crime and street gangs. Regarding terrorism, the place of the public police is not enough.
Legislation has been put in place in order to deal with these atrocities such as 'Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, The Terrorism Act 2006 and the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008' (Home Office, 2010) which relies solely on external bodies to help catch criminals in aid of this as a result of nationalist and republican shoot outs during the troubles in Northern Ireland and the 9/11 attacks in America. By monitoring and gathering facts on what the intentions of such miscreants are, the police are able to prevent crimes before they are committed thus saving the public from the potentially hazardous exposure to such activities which public agencies cannot conjure.
Community Policing Another emergent method of modern Police work is Community Policing. Community policing is a philosophy based on the idea that interaction with the community and enlisting its support helps to control crime and reduce fear. Community members help to identify suspects, apprehend vandals and give tip-offs to the Police (Committee on Law and Justice, 2004). Community policing is comprised of three main aspects. The first is community partnership. This involves collaboration between the Police and the individuals and organisations they serve to build trust and develop solutions collectively to problems of crime. The second component is Organisational Transformation which involves the structural and functional reorganisation of the Police to fit in with the demands of the community.
This enables the emergent Police force to serve the community more effectively. The third component is primarily problem solving. This involves the analysis of the success of problem solving programs and adjustment to cope with any emergent scenarios. The Police tend to achieve more cooperation and success when they approach the solution of problems together (U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented policing Services, 2010). In addition, community members understand better the role they are supposed to play in this process of problem solving and give them a status in society (Beito, 1999).
The development of community policing has been steady and progressive over the years as the realisation dawned on the police that it is not effective to continue trying to monopolise security service provision. In fact the police have always depended on the general public for information on crime and provision of evidence to help in establishing the guilt of offenders and secure convictions. So the idea of community policing is not exactly something new, but is rather a way of ensuring that there is a structured and organised approach to the method (Beito, 1999).