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What is the role of the police in America?
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Police serve and protect

This twofold phrase accurately conveys that police must balance protecting citizens and apprehending criminals. In doing so, they help everyone in their community live in peace while letting the justice system handle law-breakers.


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 prisons and the police.

The Argument

For over 60 years, the police’s job in America has been to serve and protect. This expression originates from the extant 1955 motto of the L.A.P.D., which seeks to embody “the aim and purpose of their [police officers’] profession. [2]” This phrase also conveys that the police’s job is to do no harm while they do their job – i.e. keep communities safe. Some modern police officers are proposing that “serve & protect” is the police equivalent of the Hippocratic oath [3]. Conceptualizing the police in this way puts them in their proper place as agents of aid rather than harm. “Serve & protect” is the most succinct way of summarizing what is included in the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, which is what defines the role of a police officer much more so than their department’s policies regarding serving warrants. The American police force serves the disparate communities comprising America by doing whatever they need. They are a profession that wears many hats. Be it directing traffic, deterring crime with their presence, or doing outreach in schools, the police provide for their communities in major ways. The protecting half of their role manifests in crime prevention and investigation. They literally keep people safe by standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves! However, the police’s role in America is to keep both individuals and society as a whole as safe as possible. This role directly translates into protecting and serving communities, respective to person versus group. This argument assumes that you agree that the role of the police is to execute a broad task - to serve and protect - rather than be cogs in a bureaucracy. How exactly they do this varies, but the values behind this motto shine through in all of the many, diverse, American police departments. This argument also assumes that one agrees police’s job is to protective, rather than punitive, agents. Policies may change with the times, but to serve & protect epitomizes what the police should always be aiming to do.

Counter arguments

The police aren’t even legally required to protect civilians in danger [4]. So, how exactly do they protect and serve the public? They don’t. In actuality, they merely do the footwork of judges and prosecutors. This means they are representatives of the legal system more so than the helpers/heroes portrayed by the pastoral image of the small-town sheriff who keeps communities safe. As for the importance of the ethics behind “serve & protect,” they do not appear to have much importance. We are constantly hearing about overuse of force, corruption, and the code of silence police officers use to protect one another….rather than the American public.



Rejecting the premises


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

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