Becoming a Police Officer

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Abstract

The career of a police officer is one that is widely admired across the world. The media plays an important role in how society views this field. Often times, popular culture will romanticize the roles of police officers. This leads to a distorted view of the field through the eyes of society. When looking into having a career in this field it is vital to do the necessary research. After the research has been conducted, an interview should be conducted to grasp the differences between the research conducted and the reality of the field. Taking these steps when career searching will better ones understanding of the job.

Introduction

The job of a police officer has many parts. It is more than just attempting to keep the peace. Police officers deal with a variety of different assignments and goals from day to day. Becoming a police officer makes for an important career within society. However, it does not consist of an easy job. When thinking about becoming a police officer it is important to conduct research on all aspects of the job.

Part One

Becoming a police officer is a dream of many individuals. However, everyone has his or her own preconceived notions of what the job of a police officer entails. Many of these ideas are formulated through different media outlets. “Presentations of police are often over-dramatized and romanticized by fictional television crime dramas” (Dowler, 2003). This often influences people who watch crime television when they think about what it means to be a police officer. Another example is the news, “news media portrays the police as heroic, professional crime fighters” (Dowler, 2003). The mixture of these two outlets can make for a false view of how police officers are looked at in society.

In modern society, people think of the police working the streets as what it means to be a cop. “The police officer on the streets, the representative of an institution known as ‘the police’ is a concept that is familiar to most citizens of modern societies” (Newburn, 2011, p.17). Typically, people in society believe that police officers are the law and will listen and follow what they say. People usually believe the police to be an authority figure. “Legitimacy implies that the police are granted some degree of monopoly within society by those with the power to authoritise” (Newburn, 2011, p.17). In addition, there has been research that focuses on how and why society feels a certain way about the police.

When studying the field of law enforcement, it is important to understand how the field is truly looked at by society. Through research, it has been suggested that the way an individual looks at a police officer depends on many parts of his or her own life. “Research in the United States finds that contact with the police, neighborhood, race, and age affect attitudes toward the police” (Walter & Waterman, 2008, p. 339). The way people see the field of policing will depend on how their past experiences with police worked out. “It is widely believed that people evaluate legal authorities in terms of the favorability of the outcomes provided by the authorities” (Tyler, 2006, p.71). Overall, the way that society views the career of a police officer is determined on a personal basis. The media also plays a vast role in how the public views police officers.

Popular culture today plays an enormous role in society’s day-to-day lives. You can’t go anywhere or even turn on the television without having popular culture in your face. This is especially true when it comes to how “pop” culture has influences society’s views on police officers. Specifically, it perpetuates the idea that there is departmental corruption within all precincts. “Research indicates that the majority of public knowledge about crime and justice is derived from the media” (Dowler, 2003). The media is in constant communication with the police department. When covering news stories, it is important to have a good relationship between the media and the police department.

It is through the media that police officers are able to interact directly with the public. A goal for law enforcement is to seem honest and hardworking in every case followed by the media. “Respect for the law takes a second place only to the need for honesty in dealing with the public. The public typically reacts with initial shock and subsequent pleasure when a police official is refreshingly forthright in his or her public pronouncements” (Goldstein, 1963, p.146). The media provides an open forum between the public and police officials. There has been much research to indicate that society’s opinion of the police is dependent on the events that are highly publicized by the national media (Walter & Waterman, 2008, p.339). All in all, the view that society has towards the field of policing is highly dependent on popular culture outlets and news coverage.

Now, when looking at how society is impacted by the media, it makes me wonder about how it influences me. I view the role of a police officer as a highly respectable position within society. I do not live in a bad area where police often visit and have not had any bad run-ins with the police. My view on the field is positive and I hope to have a career in the field for my future. I want to help people and have the responsibility associated with the duties of being on the job. The media has played some part in this.

The media, and how they portray police officers in a positive light has increased my ambition to become a police officer. However, when I think about what my career as a police officer would entail, I do not see bright flashing lights. I imagine a humble career where I start as a beat cop on the streets and move up through the ranks. I have my own opinions on what it means to be a cop, and that will not change.

Part Two

Research is an important part of the field of policing. Most of the research focuses on how media influences the views of police officers. However, there are new hot topics that are being focused on. A majority of these topics look at how the life of a police officer can impact the individual’s health or future health problems. Also, research has concentrated on what the culture of a police officer entails. Both stress and police culture stand out the most.

When looking into becoming a police officer it is vital to get an understanding of what you will be getting into. The culture of a workplace is one of the most important questions you need answered to determine if this job is a good fit for you. As with any field, there will be positives and negatives in the culture of the job. One negative of police culture is how it is described. According to Crank (2004), “police culture has been described in terms such as a “culture of violence,” “suspicion,” “machismo,” “racial prejudice,” “distrust,” and “siege mentality” (p.13). None of these descriptions sound very satisfying. However, that is just the way the job is described. It takes a special person to be able to handle a job like that. Research has suggested that having a sense of morality is vital for being a police officer. Crank (2004), suggests that if a police officer does not have a sense of morality they will either not be hired, will resign, or will fade out (p.81). It is with this morality that unifies cops. Keeping law and order in society can be a messy job.

Descriptions of the culture are good to have, but understanding the role is more important. The role of a police officer involves an endless amount of training. In this description of the training, you can understand how stressful the career of a police officer can be. “Training provides officers with techniques and skills at different levels of force and provides knowledge in the use of pain compliance, both of which are techniques that weigh a police officer's response against an offender’s behavior and perceived danger” (Crank, 2004, p.78). This research allows you to put together the description of the culture and the stress of the job. Although media and crime drama might lighten society’s views, the role of a police officer is highly difficult and stressful.

There has also been an uncanny amount of research done on the stress of occupation within law enforcement. Stress can cause a lot of problems for police officers, and that is what makes it a hot topic in the field. Also, for those interested in becoming officers of the law, understanding how your health could be impacted is important. The findings may change your mind about the career you thought you knew. Police officers have specific sets of goals they focus on. There are typically three goals: investigation, maintaining order, and providing services (Ellison, 2004, p.48). These goals can lead to stressful situations on a daily basis. Leading to future health problems. “Consequences of police stress may harm the development of good police reactions with the public, and in extreme cases, may constitute a threat to the safety of others as well as their own safety” (Ellison, 2004, p.51). How stress impacts police officers is a growing problem being researched. Stress and culture are both important topics. They allow an individual to explore what problems they might face before entering the career.

Part Three

When looking to get into a field it is essential to interview someone who is already in the field. This way you can put together all of the research you have conducted, and combine it with real-life experiences. I interviewed Officer Jeff Emerich. I asked him a series of questions that all focused on my previous research and what it is like to be an actual police officer. It was interesting to see how the views of a real policeman differed from the views of research and society.

When I asked him about the way the movies and media portray police officers I found some similarities with the research. He told me that the movies often show a good cop/bad cop role of police officers. However, it’s not actually like that, and everyone is just trying to do the right thing. By interviewing him I can understand why media plays such a role in the views of society. Even though police officers are human, the media makes them out to be either good or bad. This makes society have a shaded view of police officers.

What I also found interesting was when I asked him about the stress of the job. Officer Emerich said that he has not had any stress within his year on the job. That makes me feel more comfortable with the previous research I have done. Although he has only been with the force for a year, it is still impressive to be stress-free. Also, when I asked him about society, and what he has learned about it since being on the job, his response was sincere. Although like me, he had already done his research and thought he knew what he was getting into, he was surprised to see how many calls they received about the mentally ill, and how many people are actually addicted to drugs. I really appreciated his honesty in his answers, and I learned a lot from him. I think that interviewing someone in the filed that you are interested in is an important part of understanding the realities of the job.

Part Four

Through all of this research, I have realized the difference between the media’s portrayal of police officers, and the reality of the job. There has been a lot of research conducted on this particular career. However, there is still the potential for research to expand. Although it is important to understand the culture of the job, and how stress may impact your future, there is still more that people want to know. When researching what being a cop means, people want to know about day-to-day life. Research should expand on how cops view the field and focus less on how people view the field. When you are researching a career you want to know what those in the field think and feel.

However, there is one more avenue that could be explored. This would be the view of the media in the eyes of the police officer. There is already research done on how the media and police need to work together, but not enough on how the police feel about how the media portray them in their news stories. Through the research I have conducted, my feelings and views of the field have become more positive. I have always thought about becoming a police officer to help people. The interview with Officer Emerich only raised my desire to become a cop. However, the research did open my eyes to a few things.

Looking at how the media and popular culture can impact society's views of police officers was very eye-opening. The fact that the news can have such an impact on the liking of a police department was noteworthy to me. If I continue to pursue a career in law enforcement I will be faced with this challenge. The stress of the job doesn’t scare me after talking with Officer Emerich. I think I would enjoy a career in law enforcement.

The most intriguing part of conducting the research was seeing the difference between how the world portrays police officers and the reality of being one. The world puts cops in situations that would likely never happen. Movies and television dramas romanticize the roles and depict cops as being only good or bad. People who watch a lot of crime dramas are more likely to see police officers in a skewed way. The reality is that everyone on the job is just trying to make the right decisions and keep the order. Being a police officer isn’t as glamorous as the world likes to portray. This leads to the idea that popular culture is completely unrealistic.

How society actually views the police is more dependent on their personal interactions with the police. Although some people solely base their opinions of police from the media and movies, it is not the case for most. Through the interactions and locations of individuals impact how they view the police. Even so, that is not detrimental to the field. Police have to interact with individuals throughout their day-to-day activities. Some people will give them no problems, and some people will cause trouble. It is though the training of a police officer that they learn to deal with these different situations. It is vital to learn from the discrepancies between the way the media portrays the police and the reality of the job. If you want to become a police officer you will have to understand how people are going to look at you due to the media, and how your reality of the job can differ from that. All in all, understanding the difference can help when conflicts arise with the public.

In conclusion, doing research serves a great purpose for understanding the realities of the field of law enforcement. Society has a distorted view of the field that you are pursuing, and that is important to comprehend. Popular culture depicts police officers in a different light depending on the outlet. Movies and crime dramas are the most typical forms of false portrayal. The media tends to portray police officers as professional crime stoppers and can either show them in a positive light or a negative one. The reality of the job is much different than that. Every day the job is different, and each officer will be faced with making decisions. It’s all about trying to make the right one.

References

Crank, J. P. (2004). Understanding police culture. (2nd ed.). Anderson Publishing Co.

Dowler, K. (2003). Media consumption and public attitudes toward crime and justice: The relationship between fear of crime, punitive attitudes, and perceived police effectiveness. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 10(2),

Ellison, K. W. (2004). Stress and the police officer. Springfield, IL: Charles C.Thomas Publisher, LTD.

Goldstein, H. (1963). Police discretion: The ideal versus the real. Public Administration Review, 23(3), Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/973838 .

Newburn, T. (2011). Handbook of policing. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Tyler, T. R. (2006). Why people obey the law. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Walker, L. D., & Waterman, R. W. (2008). Elections as focusing events: Explaining attitudes toward the police and the government in comparative perspective. Law & Society Review, 42(2), Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/29734121