Khalid (2012) describes one incident in the ongoing conflict between American law enforcement and minority communities. Recently, the FBI hired an informant to pose as a Muslim in order to spy on the Iowan Muslim community in search of terrorist ties. The imposter went to mosque and forged ties with local Muslims. When the espionage was exposed, the Muslim community public expressed utter betrayal, according to Khalid (2012). In a diverse society, minority and immigrant communities must be especially trusting of law enforcement. When trust is eroded, as with the case in Iowa, public safety may suffer. However, the situation also reveals the delicate balance that law enforcement must play when it comes to preventing acts of violence, terrorism, or any crime. Law enforcement treads a razor's edge between infringing on the rights of individuals while attempting to protect those very rights.
Another incident involving law enforcement highlights the problem with excessive use of force. Since the Rodney King incident, use of force in African-American communities has been in the spotlight, showing where law enforcement is failing to protect and to serve. Baker & Stelloh (2012) report on a police who shot and killed an18-year-old, who was apparently not posing any physical threat to officers. To make matters worse, the grandmother of the young man was harassed and "forced" to give a statement to officers, who used "overly aggressive questioning," (Baker & Stelloh, 2012). Officers were most certainly under stress, but there is no excuse for the excessive use of force and the ill treatment of an innocent witness.
The story also brings to light a major issue in law enforcement now: the futility of the war on drugs from a criminal justice perspective. The victim in the police shooting was apparently flushing some cannabis down his toilet before the police shot him. When a young person is so afraid of going to jail because of drug possession, law enforcement needs to seriously consider its heavy-handed approach and divert attention towards more important crimes such as burglaries, rapes, and homicides. There is no reason why law enforcement should intimidate persons in possession of small amounts of marijuana. The war on drugs has been a major political issue in law enforcement and criminal justice since the 1970s. Like the war on terrorism, the war on drugs reveals the tricky balance of protecting public interests without impinging on civil liberties.
Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began, law enforcement responses to the peaceful protests have peppered the mainstream news media. The pepper spray incident at the University of California at Davis campus showed an excessive and unwarranted use of force. Law enforcement is being called upon to harass protesters, who are exercising their civil liberties. Simon & Meeks (2012) report on the latest attempt to break up an Occupy sit-in in Washington, D.C. The incident shows that law enforcement officers are only following orders from their superiors, who are in turn acting on political pressure.
Every day, police officers make politically charged decisions in the line of duty or behind office doors. Politics is inherent in every facet of policing. Some of the current challenges faced by law enforcement include diversity within the force and within the community. Diversity presents communications challenges as well as political ones. Law enforcement also involves a balance between a relatively low-paying work with one that entails being endowed with more power granted to ordinary citizens. Police officers can potentially strip away the rights of citizens temporarily, or even inflict harm in the line of duty. Because of this, many citizens mistrust law enforcement. A lack of trust for law enforcement leads to a breakdown in the ability of law enforcement to do its job. In order for law enforcement to be effective, citizens must be able to divulge warning signs, report crimes, and talk openly with police. Community policing has been one of the proposed solutions to this particular problem. On the job stress accounts for many mistakes and human errors within law enforcement. Therefore, the current sources of stress for law enforcement include diversity, relatively low pay, violence, pressure and being pulled politically in many directions.
Most law enforcement departments also cultivate an organization culture that is not conducive to stress relief. There are few organized, meaningful methods of dealing with on-the-job stress. Counseling may be offered, but is rarely considered a part of preventative stress maintenance. Access to healthy food, exercise, and healthy relationships with coworkers is sorely lacking within most police departments. Sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry continue to plague police forces. Some can be genuinely hostile environments to work in. Women and minorities are needed now more than ever on the police force in order to rekindle trust within the community. Therefore, law enforcement agencies need to pay closer attention to human resources management and organizational culture.
When officers are stressed out, they can too easily make mistakes or take their aggression to the streets. Overly aggressive policing methods are political debacles for the police. The pepper spray incident at the University of California at Davis is one example of why the public may mistrust law enforcement. Abuses of power erode community trust. Use of excessive force is a major but known problem among law enforcement. A police officer recently shot and killed an 18-year-old, an incident that is all too common (Baker & Stelloh, 2012).
Policing ethics need to be tidied up in order to improve the image of law enforcement personnel. Law enforcement officers should never lose sight of the core goals of their profession: to enforce just laws. When police officers use unethical means to achieve personal fame or to please egotistical supervisors, law enforcement is failing. Bad ethics and poor decision-making is not just the problem of the individual officer but of management too. Management-level decisions are often the root cause of the problem, as with the recent FBI scandal involving an informant who went undercover to infiltrate and spy on a Muslim community. To pretend to be a Muslim and feign praying at a mosque is a sign of great disrespect (Khalid, 2012). This incident shows that the entire culture of policing needs to change entirely, to focus more on protecting the inalienable rights of citizens. Anti-terrorism political rhetoric is no excuse for infringing on the rights of citizens.
Politics embedded in every aspect of policing, such as the determination of which crimes are prosecuted, and how; which neighborhoods receive greater police patrol and support; the relative role of community policing in any given area; how officers are disciplined in cases in which foul play or excessive force are suspected; how white collar crime is addressed; the root causes and endemic issues such as poverty. Anti-terrorism policies are inherently political, too. The allotment of funding to specific police efforts likewise reflects politics. The list of how politics infuses law enforcement is practically endless.
Contemporary concerns impacting criminal justice professionals include those related to civil liberties and the engendering of trust. The abuse of power among officers remains a core concern in all law enforcement agencies. Whether use of force or condescending behavior towards citizens, police officers must take care that they are forging, not breaking, ties with their respective communities. Community policing is one tenable solution, albeit an imperfect one. With community policing, law enforcement officers help residents feel more comfortable with police presence. Residents are also encouraged to report suspicious behavior, rather than taking the law into their own hands because police officers are too often hostile or aggressive.
Law enforcement agencies also need to do their part in creating a healthy organizational culture that promotes ethics and quality of service. When female and minority officers feel comfortable on the force, then female and minority residents of the community are also more…