Prioritizing objectives by the police
Ayaz is dead, and the investigator is searching through the items left in his apartment. With each discovered item, the investigator begins to piece together the story of Ayaz’s death. A show like crime scene investigation would maintain its focus on this search and puzzle solving. But the focus suddenly shifts in a dramatic way from the corpse and onto the man searching the apartment, audience might believe that the investigator himself is partly guilty in Ayaz’s death. The story, then, becomes about the emotional consequences of his investigation. The mystery and sensationalism are the trademarks of all crime scenes, always aptly handled by the police officers often seen as a hero in such dramatization of events.
Certainly, people largely think of police officer as a crime fighter or a macho. The concept is further reinforced while reading fictional stories produced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Adventures of Sherlock Homes” the films produced in Hollywood and TV serials portraying detective heroes, plays up this image since many years. They know that audiences won’t be terribly interested in watching films and shows about police as service providers, traffic controllers, and conflict managers. Audiences want action and they want stories about the fight between good and evil.
Police officers themselves like and perpetuate crime-fighting self-image, even though they understand it represents but a partial truth about real policing. Real policing is, of course, at least partly about crime-fighting. But it is about much more, and it is inescapably complex. In addition to dealing with better-known crimes like murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, and theft—which are only about 10% of all police business—police are routinely expected to deal with other offenses such as drug dealing, prostitution, nuisances such as excessive noise, panhandling and safety hazards as traffic crashes and crowd control, to name but a few. By some counts, police routinely deal with hundreds of types of public safety problems, each one different from another, each calling for different and multifaceted responses.
The police have multiple objectives that must be balanced one against another. Police objectives include the prevention and controlling the conduct threatening to life and property and serious crimes. Police must aid crime victims and protect people in danger of physical harm. Police is also supposed to protect constitutional guarantees, such as the right of free speech and assembly. They are also burdened to facilitate the movement of people and vehicles and help those who cannot care for themselves, the addicted, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, the old, and the young. Police is often called to resolve conflict between individuals, between groups, or between citizens and sometimes their government. While performing in a proactive mode they are assigned the duty to identify the problems that have the potential for becoming more serious for individuals, the police, or the government. Their prime responsibility is to create and maintain a feeling of safety and community security.
The overburdened police and enormous functions and complexity may well frustrate some citizens—as well as some police and government officials—who desire simple and straightforward police action. The reasons why police might not be able to take certain popularly supported actions might be because police simultaneously are obliged to try to achieve other objectives. For example, about public demonstrations and gatherings, police must balance the right of the public to assemble with the need to ensure that other citizens can move about freely. About investigating crime, police must balance the search for evidence against citizens’ civil liberties. And so forth. Much of police work entails balancing and prioritizing objectives. These competing objectives should not paralyze police into inaction, but good policing demands that the various objectives be reconciled.
In trying to achieve their multiple objectives, police have at their disposal a wide variety of tactics and strategies. Although many people think that the main way police achieve their public safety objectives is to enforce the law, in fact, police commonly do things other than just enforce the law. Sometimes strict law enforcement is neither fair nor effective. Indeed, sometimes it is counterproductive to public safety. For instance, when it provokes such widespread public hostility as to produce even more widespread disorder and lawlessness. Essential to fair and effective policing is the need to expand the range of viable alternatives to criminal law enforcement so that police have multiple tools from which to fashion effective responses to quite varied public safety problems.
Examples of alternatives to criminal law enforcement police commonly use to address particular public safety problems may include the mobilizing the community, may request the citizens to exercise informal social control over one another, by using mediation and negotiation skills to resolve disputes, by conveying information. No doubt, police can achieve its goal even by altering the physical environment to reduce opportunities for problems to occur and by enforcing existing civil laws. They can play their part while recommending and enforcing special conditions of bail, or parole. Mostly importantly they must raise their voice for the enactment of new laws or regulations to control conditions that create problems.
Police could achieve a sense of harmony and peace by concentrating attention on people and circumstances that account for a disproportionate share of a problem. When one views policing considering the objectives and methods described above, it becomes more sensible to acknowledge that enforcing the law is not an end in itself, but rather is one means among several available to the police toward the objectives previously described.