TIle role of the police in the criminal justice system continues to expand. The police are responsible for crime control and maintenance of order. but local police departments now serve numerous other human service functions. including improving community relations. resolving family disputes. and helping people during emergencies. It should be remembered that not all "police officers" are employed by local police departments; they are employed in more than 25.000 governmental agencies ranging from local jurisdictions to federal levels. However. we will focus primarily. on metropolitan police departments because they constitute the vast majority of the law enforcement community. Metropolitan police departments are made up of a chain of command (similar to the military) with ranks such as officer. sergeant. lieutenant. and captain. andeach rank must follow specific rules and procedures.
However. individual officers maintain a degree of discretion in the decisions they make as they respond to calls and try LO apprehend fleeing or violent offenders. The problem of police discretion is most acute when decisions are made to use force (such as grabbing. pushing. or hitting a suspect) or deadly force (shooting and killing a suspect). Generally. deadly force is allowed only in situations ill which a suspect is engaged in a felony,is fleeing the scene of a felony.or is resisting arrest and has endangered someones life. Although many police departments have worked to improve their public image in recent years. the practice of racialprofiling-the use of ethnic or racial background as a means of identifying criminal suspectsremains a highly charged issue. Officers in some police departments have singled out for discriminatory treatment African Americans. Latinos/Latinas, and other people of color. treating them more harshly than white (Euro-American) individuals: However. police department officials typically con!end that race is only one factor in determining why individuals are questioned or detained as they go about everyday activities such as driving a car or walking down the street. By contrast. equal-justice advocacy groups argue that differential treatment of minority-group members amounts to a race-based double standard. which they believe exists not only in police work but throughout the criminal justice system (see Cole. 2(00). The belief that difl'erential treatment takes place on the basis of race contributes to a negative image of . police among many people of color who believe that they have been hassled by police officers. and this assumption is intensified by the fact that police department's have typically been made up of white male personnel at all levels. III recent years. this situation has lowly begun to change. Currently, about 22 percent of all swom officers-those who have taken an oath and been given the powers to make arrests and use necessary force in accordance with their duties-are women and minorities (Cole and Smith, 2004). The largest percentages of minority and women police officers are located in cities with a population of 250.000 or more. African Americans make up a larger percentage of the police department in cities with a larger proportion
of African American residents (such as Detroit). and Latinos/Latinas constitute a larger percentage in cities such as San Antonio and EI Paso. Texas. where Latinos Latinas make up a larger proportion of the population. Women officers of all races are more likely.to be employed in larger departments in cities of more than 250.000 (where they make up 16 percent of all officers) as compared with smaller communities (cities of less than 50.000). where women officers make up only 2 to 5 percent of the force (Cole and Smith. 2004). In the
past. women were excluded from police departments and other Jaw enforcement careers largely because of stereotypical beliefs that they were not physically and psychologically strong enough to enforce the law: However. studies have indicated that as more females have entered police work. they receive similar evaluations to male officers from their administrators and that fewer complaints are filed against women officers. which some researchers believe is a function of how female officers more effectively control potentially violent encounters (Brandl. Stroshine, and Frank, 2001). In the future. the image of police departments may change as greater emphasis is placed on community oriented policing-an approach to law enforcement in which officers maintain a presence in the community. walking up and down the streets or riding bicycles. getting to know people. and holding public service meetings at schools. churches. and other neighborhood settings. Community-oriented policing is often limited by budget constraints and lack of available personnel to conduct this type of "hands-on" community involvement. In many jurisdictions. police officers believe that they have only enough time to keep up with reports of serious crime and life-threatening occurrences and that the level of available personnel and resources does no avow officers to take on a greatly expanded role in the community.