Police culture is a recurring topic throughout the study of policing due to its paramount importance in both directly and indirectly impacting how police officers perform their duties, particularly with the use of police discretion and promotion of inequality and discrimination. Consequently, police culture has a powerful presence in catalyzing conflict between the law enforcement officials and the general public. This paper will focus on understanding police culture, its themes and attributes, as well as assessing its impact on police misconduct and discretion. Furthermore, there will be a focus on the demographic changes of Canadian police force with particular attention towards gender and ethnicity, and the possible impact these changes will likely have in shaping the landscape of police culture.
In order to analyze the impact of the police culture on policing, it is crucial to understand the characteristics and, in essence, define police culture. Simply defined, culture is a complex set of values, attitudes, symbols, rules, practices, and other social identities which emerge as people react to exigencies and situations they confront (Reiner, 2010, p.116). Cop culture is a construct used to understand the non-monolithic police practices and includes two forms: the traditional notion of cop culture which is displayed during the working hours of police officers and a canteen culture which are values and beliefs which are manifested during off-duty activities and socializations (Reiner, 2010, p.115-116; Waddington, 1999, p.105). Both forms of the police culture originate in a similar manner through the complex networks of relations created by a plethora number of institutions and processes. Police officers would find themselves interacting and interpreting these institutions and processes which include a wide array of elements such as shifts, neighbourhoods, police organizations, and etc. This paper will be dedicated to explaining the traditional cop culture, which tackles the issues relating to cop culture during work hours. Cop culture becomes beneficial for police officers by providing necessary coping resources to mitigate the tension, stress, and pressure that are often associated with police work (Reiner, 2010, p.118). The reason that cop culture is able to effectively alleviate negative elements of police work is strongly related to several key characteristics embedded within the culture.
The first theme of police culture is the sense of mission, a somewhat self-justifying belief that policing is a duty worthwhile doing. The sense of mission describes police as heroes who defend the law and public against criminals and wrongdoers. This mission, which is laced with excitement, challenge, problem solving, and thrill increases the adrenaline – a common craving among officers (Loftus, 2010, p.1; Reiner, 2010, p.120, Waddington, 1999, p.99). However, this aspect of police culture is a misleading representation of police work which, for the majority of time and resources, is spent on mundane, petty, and boring duties and paper work. It is, therefore, crucial to regard this perception of the police culture not as an accurate reflection of police work but rather a moralizing view where police officers regard their work as essential to the wellbeing of society (Reiner, 2010, p.119, Waddington, 1999, p.98). Despite this positive and popular view of police as moralizing agents, more latent and negative components of police culture also exist. The idea of police cynicism appears in a copious number of publications pertaining to police culture and is often seen as inevitable due to the social and structural circumstances that surround their everyday work. Police cynicism is especially directed towards the legal system where much of their work is being regulated through legal processes including use of force, evidence obtainment, validity of searches, and etc (Loftus, 2010, p.2; Reiner, 2010, p.120-121; Waddington, 1999, 119). According to several researchers, police cynicism includes three main forms: suspicion, isolation/solidarity, and police conservatism.
Understandably, police develop suspicion as a mechanism for locating potential troubles, danger, and the like. Unfortunately, this acute sense of awareness may also lead to more hazardous outcomes including the danger of generalization and stereotyping. Consequently, discriminations on the basis of class, race, and gender may lead to self-fulfilling prophecies as individuals with specific attributes or characteristics become disproportionately arrested or detained (Reiner, 2010, p.121). Suspicion, a fundamental cause of racial discrimination and inequality, is often directed at ethnic minorities. Isolation and solidarity of the police mainly boils down to the role conflict in balancing the work sphere and family sphere. The demand of the job, combined with erratic working hours, cynicism of civilians, and etc give rise to social isolation that police officers experience outside of work. Police also experience a form of solidarity known as internal solidarity. This phenomenon is the fusion of isolation and the reliance of other colleagues during difficult situations, as well as masquerading infractions of the police force from the wary eyes of the public (Loftus, 2010, p.12-13; Reiner, 2010, p.126). Even within the police organization, police officers are not immune to conflicts and cynicisms. A clear example would be the division of police officers as ‘street cops’ and ‘management cops’. The latter must display a rational, legalistic, and reasonable face of policing to the public without a hint of tarnish or infraction, while the former is far less burdened with the task of projecting a positive police image. The confrontation between the two types of police generally arises when reform pressures intensify and the division between them becomes more visible during external investigations. Furthermore, the police culture, with its usages of jargons, including ‘them’ and ‘us’, makes a clear indication of the differences between a street cop and a management cop (Reiner, 2010, p.126,). Waddington (1999, p.99), also seeks to discover the meaning behind the terms and defines the distinction as more so between the police organization as a whole (Us) and the public (Them). In this respect, the idea of “Us” is firmly used to define a powerful group solidarity and cohesion. Consequently, it is expected that every member of the police must display loyalty, a willingness to protect colleagues from disciplines or investigations, and responding effectively to distress calls. Those who fail to live up to this expectation of loyalty will be casted aside as dangerous and untrustworthy (Loftus, 2010, p.13; Waddington, 1999, p.99-100). Finally, police conservatism also plays a vital role in structuring police cynicism within the culture. The right-wing based ideologies can be found in police culture both in a political and moral sense (Loftus, 2010, p.2). In this chicken and egg scenario, it is difficult to determine whether police conservatism is a byproduct of police work or whether the organizational structure of the police force is simply more appealing for individuals with a more conservative outlook who also tend to fit in better (Reiner, 2010, p.126; Waddington, 1999, p.97-98). Police conservatism is also characterized by homophobia, which despite certain progress, remains an issue in terms of discrimination (Reiner, 2010, p.126-127; Waddington, 1999, p.99).
Discrimination against sexual orientations is not the only form of discrimination found in police culture, machismo and racial prejudice give rise to two alternative forms of discrimination – gender and race. The presence of masculinity in police culture is unrivaled and consequently results in a copious number of obstacles for female officers. Sexism is particularly reinforced through the horseplay and harassment from male officers towards their female counterparts, which are generally of sexual nature. Furthermore, officers have stated that male police officers often experience high divorce rate due to the glamour of the job and its ability to attract women. This ambiance of machismo, when coupled with large alcohol consumption, intensifies the emphasis of a heterosexual masculine ethos (Reiner, 2010, p.128). In order to conform, female officers may be required to partially shed their femininity and embrace more masculine traits (Waddington, 1999, p.99). A more prevalent form of discrimination, generally aimed towards external parties, is racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is one of the root causes of tension between the police and minorities, particularly African Americans. A phrase had been coined to explain the overrepresentation of blacks in police traffic stops and questioning known as Driving While Black (Reiner, 2010, p.129). It had been consistently argued that racial prejudice seen in the police culture is a reflection of the racism which persists in the dominant American culture and not simply a byproduct of police culture itself. Research supporting this argument is not solely limited to the US as similar findings have been found in the UK (Reiner, 2010, p.129). The last element of police culture which is also abundantly shared amongst the members of the force is the concept of pragmatism. This emphasis on practicality and anti-theoretical perspective is mostly found within the ranks of the lower rungs of the police hierarchy. The reason is that officers are highly concerned with getting from one day to the next safely and with the least amount of paperwork and obstacles. This focus on practicality will steer officers away from innovation, experimentation, and research thus limiting their ability to interpret certain situations and their scope of understanding (Loftus, 2010, p.2; Reiner, 2010, p.132). One commonality between police culture and most other forms of culture is the fact that they are ever-changing social constructs with no permanence. Furthermore, cop culture as a core culture contains a copious number of sub-cultures that may differ depending on the position, cultural background, characteristics, and attributes of officers. It is this precisely the sub-culture of street police that generates a large amount of controversy towards the police use of discretion.
A police officer’s ability to use discretion is inversely related to his/her position on the police hierarchy. In other words, the lower the police officer’s rank the more the discretion would be available at that officer’s disposal. Furthermore, the majority of the “bad apples” officers, particularly those characterized by inappropriate bias and discrimination towards certain groups, occupy the lower ranks of the police organization and when combined with their ability to use discretion may result in problematic judgments and decisions (Waddington, 1999, p.108-109). In this case, it is perhaps more efficient to focus solely on the police culture of street-level officers who have the most power in terms of discretion (Mastrofski, 2004, p.100). These officers are more likely than their high-ranking counterparts to come under fire for use of excessive force, harassment of ethnic minorities, and discretion including selective arrest practices and reluctance in dealing with domestic violence (Goldsmith, 1990, p.91). Police misconduct as a result ofpolice culture and the ability to use discretion can be mitigated through more rigorous policies and legislations which can regulate police powers. Police culture shapes police conduct to a great extent, more so than even the legal decisions made in a court of law (Goldsmith, 1990, p. 94-95). As mentioned previously, discretion of the police is also closely related to the use of force and when it is directed towards racial and ethnic minorities, generally builds onto the tension between a community and the police. Following the famous Rodney King incidence, the LAPD faced tremendous scrutiny, especially from the African American community due to the use of, what the public believed to be, excessive force (Waddington, 1999, p.98).Despite the negatives that are so often associated with police discretion, it is a necessary component in street-level policing. The practical application of legal rules should be bestowed upon officers whose understanding of the circumstances and characters involved far exceeds those of the management officers. Rather than rigidly following a set of rules, the police should be flexible during their decision making when taking into consideration all the related variables (Goldsmith, 1990, p.103).
One way to mitigate the effect of discrimination against gender and race is to hire more officers from underrepresented groups in the police force. The hiring of ethnic minority officers will dilute prejudice and increase the cohesion between members of the public and members of the law enforcement (Loftus, 2010, p.2; Reiner, 2010, p.128). Increasing the number of females will also reduce the masculinity ethos that exists in the police culture, especially if the female officers are at the helm of the organization as commanding officers (Reiner, 2010, p.133). Fortunately, this is the exact change in demographics that is currently taking place in the recruitment of Canadian police force. Rather than the traditional candidate of white male officers, police recruitment is placing emphasis on hiring more female and ethnic minority officers under the idea that officers should represent the community (Statistics Canada, 2013; Toronto Police Force, n.d.). In recent reports, the number of female officers increased while male officers decreased, especially in the years 2011-2013. The increase of female officers became evident in the 1960s, and in the period between 2002 and 2012, the ratio of female officers in the police force increased from 15% to 20%. Furthermore, women have also begun to occupy more senior ranks in the police department. The provinces of Quebec and British Columbia are spearheading this trend with the highest ratio of female officers, at 24% and 21% respectively (Statistics Canada, 2013). In response to the growing ethnic diversity that is blooming in Canada, the police forces are also actively seeking for ethnic and cultural minorities to be representatives of the communities they serve (Statistics Canada, 2013). This trend is also picked up by media outlets which states that senior officers of the RCMP set a new benchmark for recruitment which seeks to include 30% women, 20% visible minorities, and 10% Aboriginals in its recruiting class. However, without a doubt, this hiring quota also face criticism from long-serving officers who do not believe attributes should be part of the hiring decision but rather based on merits alone. Proponents of the benchmark claim that all members of the police force must undergo the same rigorous process for physical and mental tests, furthermore empathy, destroying communication barrier, and understanding the culture of a community is are vital components in progressive policing (Freeze, 2010). The Toronto Police Services states that from 2002 to 2003, the ratio of visible minorities in the police force more than doubled from 14% to 28.3%. Furthermore, female officers have increased from 13% to 17% in the period between 1996 and 2001 (Toronto Police Service, n.d.). Lastly, a new emphasis is placed on education attainment as well, which will be a strong variable in reducing discrimination and inappropriate police discretion. Another possible solution in reducing the impact of police culture is to elevate the frequency of community policing. Community policing allows the officers designated to an area to build rapport with the civilians, thus increasing mutual trust as well as allowing for better communication. Community policing, unlike traditional or “old school” policing, places less emphasis on deterring or detecting crime, but rather attempts to locate the causes of crime. As a result, officers must possess capable communication and interpersonal skills which may be arduous for officers who firmly hold onto the traditional police culture identity that includes masculinity and thrill seeking (Loftus, 2010, p.2).
The police culture is generally viewed with negativity due to its influence on police discretion and promotion of racial and gender inequality. Police culture is a powerful social phenomenon which dictates and regulates police conduct, but often gives rise to conflicts both internal and external to the police organization due to certain cultural characteristics. The police culture promotes cynicism and discrimination through suspicion, isolation, and conservatism. In turn, the result would include tension between the police and the public, as well as tension between officers of different ranks who have their own individual sub-culture. Through recent recruitment trends, a noticeable demographic change has taken place as police forces in Canada began hiring more female and ethnic minority officers to enhance the relationship between the public and the police, in hope to offset certain negatives of the traditional police culture.
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