Updated: Mar 13, 2022
Of contemporary interest is which among the many models of policing is best suited for modern application. This year, much like 2014, 2015, and 2016, has been fraught with examples of practical police issues that drew national attention. The public has been exposed, yet again, to horrifying examples of abuse of police power. But in this debate, there exists multiple conflicting narratives. While many models of policing exist, the crime fighter model and public servant model have both faced recent scrutiny. The parties expressing frustration and skepticism with either of those models are in direct conflict. The police are skeptical of the efficacy of the public servant model and its associated subset of disciplines, including community-oriented policing and predictive policing. Conversely, the public is resoundingly frustrated with the crime fighter model that espouses police as soldiers, both figuratively and literally, that fight crime (Cohn, 2020).
The question remains: is one model superior over the other?
The crime fighter model is deeply flawed. Extraordinary examples include Chicago Police Department’s Jon Burge, who tortured over 200 suspects in the pursuit of confession, and LA’s Rampart scandal which involved numerous extrajudicial killings of gang members as part of LA’s crackdown on gangs. In this model, the ends justify the means by which successful prosecution is achieved, even if the means violate civil and human rights.
In the aforementioned cases, police discretion was abused and contorted to fit a misguided grasp of the crime-fighting model. That model deprioritizes conciliatory and collaborative policing in favor of suppression of criminality, streamlined finality, and erroneously presumes guilt (Pollack, 2019). The latter component to this model is an inverted presumption. When an individual is charged with a crime, they are presumed innocent. This is why it is up to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the charged individual is guilty and not that they are innocent. To prove that the charged is innocent is the onus of the defense. This is a fundamental breaking flaw of the crime fighter model.
Contrasted with the public servant model in which the police officer is a community mediator and agent of civility, the two have only one thing in common: keeping the peace. Problematically, the ways in which they achieve this goal are in complete opposition to each other. The public servant model is focused on collaboration, prioritization of practices that work to achieve community peace, and accepts the possibility of abuse of power (Pollack, 2019). Public servant policing models can be found in departments that focus on community-oriented policing and programs that involve the community, placing the officer as a key social services representative rather than a crime-fighting warrior.
In both models, discretion plays a central role in the effective and constitutional discharge of an officer’s duties. It is one of the heaviest burdens a police officer must bear. The seeming heaviness of this burden, however, can lead to abuse. 8In the Chicago example, discretion was used as a proverbial green light for physically coercing false confessions from suspects, all in the name of taking a criminal off the streets. Likewise, the LAPD’s Rampart division accepted their edict to reduce gang violence as a similar go-ahead to do whatever it took, including extrajudicial killings, self-dealing of narcotics, and falsification of evidence, if the end was reduced gang violence. In many ways, both the Chicago and Rampart examples are cases of discretion run amok. And in both cases civil rights were wantonly violated in the name of achieving criminal suppression.
Unfortunately, a community cannot have both models. If an officer adheres or otherwise subscribes to the crime fighter model, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile that perspective with a public servant model. Indeed, this conflict leads to great dissatisfaction for officers (Yates, 1996). Similarly, an officer that subscribes to the public servant model would likely find it difficult to reconcile this belief while employed with a department that was more crime-fighting oriented than it was community-oriented. It is difficult to imagine a successful implementation of a hybrid of the two.
In critiquing various policing models, it is easy to succumb to quarterbacking. In the end, however, there are models that work better than others. When the previously-mentioned models are compared, we must consider both preservation of civil rights and effectiveness of suppression of crime as the test by which success is measured. The crime-fighting model performs well at making it appear as though crime-fighting is occurring, albeit at the expense of civil rights, while probably also doing a somewhat performant job at reducing actual crime as a byproduct of the overt focus on numbers.
Alternatively, the public servant model does an outstanding job at fostering public trust in police, something active law enforcement professionals claim is lacking in contemporary discussions (Peyton, et al. 2019). While a complex metric to assess, it does appear community-oriented policing is also effective at reducing crime (Johnson, 2018). In modern policing, it is evident given the public discourse and contemporary research on the topic, that the public servant model is superior to achieving law enforcement’s goals.
Cohn, N., & Quealy, K. (2020, June 11). How public opinion has moved on Black Lives Matter. The Salt Lake Tribune. https://www.sltrib.com/news/nation-world/2020/06/11/how-public-opinion-has/?fbclid=IwAR0Lh6PtSbouE_6N30JQCPD_3ccxz4V2oQHZ16DSs1OQHrgkcvuyd5G
Johnson, W. (2018, May). Community Policing: Much More Than Walking a Beat. Community Policing Dispatch (11)5. https://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/05-2018/walking_a_beat.html#:~:text=There%20is%20research%20to%20demonstrate,these%20findings%20in%20our%20jurisdiction.
Peyton, K., Sierra-Arevalo, M., & Rand, D. (2019, October 1). A field experiment on community policing and police legitimacy. PNAS (116)40 19894-19898.
Yates, D., & Pillai, V. (1996). Attitudes Toward Community Policing: A Causal Analysis. The Social Science Journal (33)2 193-209.