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Discrepancy Between What Cops Are Trained To Do & What They Actually Do

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Sunday, July 30, 2023

In (excellent, high quality) police dramas like Chicago PD, as well as motion pictures, the image of the average cop is that he/she is constantly involved in heart-pounding, life-risking confrontations with criminals. This couldn't be further from the truth. While this level of excitement is needed for ratings and dollars, the reality for the average cop is their daily routine is somewhat more tame and unstimulating.


What They Actually Do 

"Police do fight crime, to be sure — but they are mainly called upon to be social workers, conflict mediators, traffic directors, mental health counselors, detailed report writers, neighborhood patrollers, and low-level law enforcers, sometimes all in the span of a single shift. In fact, the overwhelming majority of officers spend only a small fraction of their time responding to violent crime." 

Philadelphia 2015 Graphic The area of each box represents the proportion of reported incidents within that category: 


Seth Stoughton, a legal scholar at the University of South Carolina and former Tallahassee police officer: 

“When I was an officer, I got calls about dead animals, ungovernable children who refused to go to school, people who hadn’t gotten their welfare checks, adults who hadn’t heard from their elderly relatives, families who needed to be informed of a death, broken-down cars, you name it. Everything that isn’t dealt with by some other institution automatically defaults to the police to take care of.” 

Matthew Bostrom, a criminologist at the University of Oxford who spent more than 30 years as a police officer, commander, and sheriff in St. Paul, Minnesota: 

“The job is 99 percent boredom and 1 percent sheer panic. Most of what you deal with is fairly routine.” 

In his recent paper “Disaggregating the Policing Function,” Barry Friedman, the director of the Policing Project at New York University’s School of Law, breaks down this dizzying array of tasks and responsibilities into a handful of distinct roles: 

The traffic cop: 

"The majority of police-civilian interactions take place on the road. Police help stranded motorists with broken-down cars, take reports in car accidents, direct traffic around serious incidents in which other responders are needed, set and staff speed traps, and issue citations. And when police are off call, they spend much of their time performing routine street patrol." 

The mediator cop: 

"A huge number of calls to the police involve relatively minor interpersonal disputes: disputes over noise levels, trespassing, misbehaving pets, or rowdiness; disputes between spouses, family members, roommates, or neighbors. In these situations, police are called to calm things down, deescalate, and act as counsel." 

The social worker cop 

"Police work often involves populations like the homeless, intoxicated people, people with substance use issues, or those with mental illness. This role isn’t often captured well in the aggregate data, but police spend a huge chunk of their time on these functions." 

The first responder:  

"In most jurisdictions, the only government entities that respond to problems 24 hours a day, seven days a week are police, fire, and emergency medical services. That means for the vast majority of social problems, police are often the default institution for people to call. This is how cops get stuck chasing runaway dogs, tracking down welfare checks, dealing with noise complaints, and a whole host of other issues that appear to have nothing to do with policing." 

The crime-fighting, law enforcement cop 

"There is something to be said for rapid response by force- and law-trained individuals to situations involving serious criminal activity. However, studies find that this time is mostly spent interviewing witnesses, gathering evidence, advising victims, and writing reports. 'Often cops are just there to pick up the pieces after the fact,' says Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and criminologist at John Jay College. 'By the time you arrive, the crime is usually no longer in progress.'” 

Details on upside-down priorities: 

"A 2016 national study of the training of 135,000 recruits across 664 local police academies found that, on average, officers each received 168 hours of training in firearm skills, self-defense, and use of force out of 840 total hours. Another 42 hours were spent on criminal investigations, 38 on operating an emergency vehicle, 86 on legal education aimed primarily at force amendment law, and hundreds more on basic operations and self-improvement. Topics like domestic violence (13 hours), mental illness (10 hours), and mediation and conflict management (9 hours) received a fraction of trainee time. Others, like homelessness and substance abuse, were so rare they didn’t make the data set." 

Possible Solutions 

"Hiring and recruiting practices can be reformed to increase the diversity of police forces in terms of gender, race, and non-military backgrounds. Training can be refocused to include a stronger emphasis on procedural justice principles, conflict de-escalation, and crisis intervention. Use of force policies can be made much stricter. Tactics like chokeholds, shooting at moving vehicles, and shooting without warning can be banned, as many departments have already done." 


We train police to be warriors — and then send them out to be social workers https://www.vox.com/2020/7/31/21334190/what-police-do-defund-abolish-police-reform-training 


Further Reading 

Stop Training Police Like They’re Joining the Military https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/police-academies-paramilitary/612859/  

Law Enforcement-Mental Health Learning Sites - The Law Enforcement-Mental Health Learning Site Program serves as a peer-to-peer learning program for law enforcement agencies seeking to build collaborative responses to people who have mental health needs.                                         https://csgjusticecenter.org/projects/law-enforcement-mental-health-learning-sites/ 

"As a profession, policing must realign its principles by emphasizing that the primary goal is protecting civilians from unnecessary indignity and harm. To resolve the friction that the Warrior metaphor has countenanced, law enforcement must adopt a procedurally just culture emphasizes communication over commands, cooperation over compliance, and legitimacy over authority. Officers must be capable of being Warriors when it is necessary, of course, but the profession and the public would be better served if officers patterned themselves on the image of the Guardian."  https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2830642 


"Policing has always been a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t profession. It is largely a thankless job and on a daily basis officers around the country are yelled at, shot at and protested against by those who simply do not understand the difficulties of the job. Yet, even with all these strains, police are heroes who perform an almost impossible job with very little resources, which merely exacerbates the issues herein described. For this reason, we must ensure that police have a clear mission and are properly equipped to behave like the public servant heroes we expect them to be, rather than the soldiers we expect the military to be."    https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Corrected-137-1.pdf 

There are far too many unfortunate police shootings and killing of mentally ill attackers wielding a knife, machete or other dangerous object. Police officers certainly have a right to protect themselves when they are about to be violently attacked. More and more police officers in the US and around the world are sick and tired of being the city’s social workers – dealing with people in mental health distress when there is no actual crime taking place. In England they seem to be doing it right. Patience and the use of a body shield can effectively de-escalate a confrontation and avoid unnecessary use of police force. It is almost impossible for a trained police officer to be injured when properly using the shield. And a civilian life is saved. Why are these methods not being used in the US and Canada? This short video displays an example. 

Effective, Safe & Overlooked Way for Police to Stop Aggressive Mentally Ill Attackers                                        https://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2020/10/effective-safe-overlooked-way-for.html    

Related Posts   

How Kindness and Respect Helped One Cop Change Lives https://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2023/06/how-kindness-and-respect-helped-one-cop.html  

One Tiny Glimpse into A Cop's Stresses & Predicaments  https://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2023/05/one-tiny-glimpse-into-cops-stresses.html   

7 Cops 16 Comment                                     https://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2020/06/7-cops-16-comments.html  

The Victim Mentality: 23 Signs to Help Sufferers Overcome This Soul-Crushing Mindset                                                       https://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2022/03/the-victim-mentality-23-signs-to-help.html     

How To Think Like a Detective    https://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2021/04/how-to-think-like-detective.html                         


Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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