Policing, military ethos and territoriality

Community policing is about giving control to the individual police officer…“ethos of territoriality” but the territory is that of the well off, a consideration of economic status or resulting neighborhood class. The other style of policing, the military style of policing, is evident in lower class neighborhoods--irrespective of the status of the individual involved-- and is in fact seen as necessary, as a means “reclaim” the area for “regular” citizens. The assumption for the police, the media and the general public became one of a military style policing in lower class neighborhoods and of community police ethics in the well-to-do.

In Peel's non-military police model the individual Bobby, assigned to a neighborhood, is charged with individual initiative and responsibility. Ethical decisions of the officers are made within the broader frame of socially accepted virtues and within the general charge of his or her office: civil order and good conduct. In the military model the individual ethical posture of the officer is diminished to the degree he or she is seen as a member of a military-style organization whose ethics and goals supersede that of the individual. His or her allegiance to virtue ethics is diminished as a result, replaced with an organizational virtue that makes protection of other officers a principal virtue, loyalty to the organization a secondary virtue, and operational efficiency a third virtue.

In the first virtue ethics occurs within a territory the officer serves but does not own. He or she is a general representative of the greater society whose effectiveness is based on shared virtues with others in the neighborhood upon whom the individual officer must reply. In the second the operational goal is control of territory in a “war on crime,” a “war on drugs,” or “a war on terror,” with an ethics that emphasizes territorial control and diminishes concern over individual ethical relations with community members.

In the first model community members are both clients and colleagues; those one serves and the persons one interacts with daily in the service of good order. In the second model, community members are outsiders, outside the police force with less ethical weight. They are, secondarily, suspicious, possible criminals against whom territorial space must be protected. Typically, officers are trained to the second model, its operational priorities and ethical posture, but spend much of their career in a community context. The tension that results may explain many of the incidents currently laid at the door of unethical officers in otherwise ethical departments, the “bad apple” theory of police ethics. It similarly suggests the definition of some behaviors believed by some departments to be unethical, acceptance of minimal gratuities (coffee, a lower priced meal), may in fact enforce the second, military style ethos while diminishing the interpersonal associations that the first attempted to promote.

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