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What is the role of the police in America?
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The police arrest people and stop crime

The police’s role is to police – meaning their sole job is to disrupt criminal activity.


With almost 1% of Americans in prison, we are at a critical juncture in terms of how to define our correctional system [1]. Should it expand, remain as is, or be reformed? There are people on all sides of the debate, but reaching a consensus is important so as to implement cohesive, effective policy regarding the police.

The Argument

One of the police’s main job duties is to arrest people. They do this by discovering crime in action and by serving warrants. Either way, their job is to deliver people into the hands of the justice system via prisons and jails. As if this wasn’t enough to prove their job is to stop crime/criminals, much of the American police work with an organization called “Crimestoppers,” where they receive anonymous tips and follow up on them [2]. This organizations epitomizes their role in America. Consider when an officer is on patrol. Their job is to observe their community and follow up on anything that seems out of place, and thereby possibly criminal. This means the bulk of their time spent on the clock is spent preparing to make arrests or actually making them [3]. This is the standard model of policing, which dictates that the police’s job is to respond to crimes that have already occurred rather than deter them. Police with a beat have the task of spotting crime in action and making arrests via their ability to stop-and-frisk [4]. This prevents crime by interrupting it. Although this practice may also function as a deterrent, its main function is to catch criminals in action rather than prevent crime. This argument assumes that the police are effective at spotting crime rather than only relying on phone calls reporting it. Scientific data supports that this is true, just as it does the fact that “soft” community policing focused on minimal arrests is ineffective at reducing crime[4]. In order for the police to meet their main job objective – stop crime – they must arrest the criminals. No other way of policing is as empirically effective because increasing the number of cops on patrol does not reduce crime [5]. Having those officers actively seek to make arrests during their shifts does.

Counter arguments

This argument confuses stopping crime with deterring crime. The police’s job isn’t so much to arrest people, as to arrest the people they have to in order to make an example of them for the community. This reduces crime by preventing it rather than stopping it. In fact, making more arrests publicly for petty offenses does not reduce crime. Therefore, the police do not arrest people and stop crime – they merely arrest people[4]. If arresting more people stopped crime, then more stop-and-frisk arrests would result in fewer people arrested because fewer people would be committing crimes. This is (statistically speaking) not the case. Arrest rates have no effect on violent crime rates [6]. Therefore, the police may stop crime and arrest people, but their real job is to deter more crime by doing this.



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 6 Oct 2020 at 15:25 UTC

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