Becoming a Police Officer: Law Enforcement Glossary (page 3)

Updated on Dec 2, 2010

foot patrol. The historical method of patrolling, particularly in large cities, that lost ground to patrolling in marked police cars in the 1930s. It reemerged in the 1960s as a way to combat disorder and gained additional attention in the 1970s and 1980s as a community policing technique that makes officers more visible and accessible to members of the community. New graduates of a police academy are often assigned to foot patrol as a way for them to gain experience interacting with the public.

incident report. The first recorded, official report prepared by an officer after responding to an event; some incident reports are not followed up but others may be referred to detectives or investigators assigned to learn more about the event (generally referred to as a follow-up investigation).

informant. A civilian who has access to information about a past or potential crime who brings this information to the police. One type of informant may be an individual who is not involved in a crime but has knowledge of it, and has no other involvement with the police. Another type may be an individual who has been involved in criminal activity and assists the police in investigations, often for considerations of leniency in his or her own case. Although many types of enforcement depend on informants (setting up stings to purchase narcotics or guns by police officers are two such areas), police prefer not to rely on the testimony of informants in court and to verify information from informants through independent sources.

in-service training. A general term used to describe training that occurs after a police officer graduates from the academy. It might occur on a regular basis or as needed to instruct officers in new techniques, policies, laws, and so on; in some states a number of hours of in-service training is mandated for officers to retain their commissions (legal status as officers empowered to make arrests).

job analysis. A scientific or quasi-scientific method to identify the tasks that police officers perform and the knowledge, skills, and abilities (often abbreviated as KSAs) required to perform those tasks. A job analysis is often performed by consultants who ride along with officers to observe their activities or ask officers to list the KSAs they believe they rely on to perform their jobs, as a means of validating the requirements for employment. Agencies rely on these studies to create tests for applicants that are able to withstand legal challenges because they are recognized as being job-related.

jurisdiction. The authority of a law enforcement agency to enforce particular laws in specific political and/or geographic boundaries. United States law enforcement is highly decentralized; no one law enforcement agency has total jurisdiction, which means that no single agency has the authority to enforce all laws in all places.

lateral transfer. A transfer from one police agency to another while retaining rank or seniority gained in the original agency; these transfers are rare in the United States, where it is traditional that officers begin their careers at the lowest rank in one agency and remain there for their entire careers. The inability to transfer laterally is one reason it is important for candidates to consider carefully the agencies to which they apply, since quitting one and joining another will often require the officer to begin as a rookie in the new agency.

mentor. A person who fills the role of teacher, model, motivator, or advisor, generally a more senior member of the agency who takes an interest in the career of a new officer. The importance of mentors has been debated in leadership literature, but it is generally agreed that new officers benefit from having a senior person to whom they can turn for advice.

misdemeanor. A class of criminal activity below a felony; although the exact definitions differ by state, this class of crime is generally punishable by a fine of from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on jurisdiction, and a maximum of up to one year in a county or city correctional facility rather than in a state prison.

moonlighting. The term used to describe police officers working a non-police job during their off-duty hours; in some parts of the country it implies the second job is in private security, but it may refer to any non-police work. Regardless of the type of work, many agencies control of the hours and types of jobs police officers may hold during their non-work hours.

omnipresence. A concept associated with patrol that suggests that the sight of a uniformed officer, visibly patrolling on foot, in motorized vehicles, or on bicycles or horses, who appears to be always present (the literal meaning of omnipresence) will deter criminals from committing crimes and reassure citizens of their safety.

order maintenance. Expands the police role to one beyond that of crime fighter by emphasizing that officers are assigned to keep the peace and provide social services, not only to prevent crimes.

ordinance/infraction/violation. Although not identical, each of these terms refers to the least serious category of offense, generally punishable by a small fine and/or no more than a few days in jail, if any. They may not permit the right to a trial because a conviction may not result in a permanent record.

physical agility test. The portion of the entrance requirements for most police agencies that requires an applicant to complete strength and endurance activities found through job analysis to be required to perform police tasks. Tests might include running a particular distance within a designated time or completing specific physical activities (possibly sit-ups or push-ups) within a designated time. To accommodate the entry of women and smaller applicants into policing in the 1970s, many physical agility tests were modified; in many agencies, applicants are permitted to show these competences at the end of academy training rather than prior to acceptance into the academy. Although physical agility requirements differ across types of agencies and even within geographic areas, as a general rule state police and some federal agencies place a higher priority on physical agility tests than do other types of agencies.

police subculture. A subculture is a combination of norms, values, goals, career patterns, lifestyles, and roles defining a group that are somewhat different from the combination of these things held by the larger society. Of the many professional subcultures that exist, sociologists have found the police subculture to be among the strongest; suggested reasons range from the belief that people who are similar are attracted to police work, to the structured style of training and operations, to the reliance on other officers that the job tasks engender, to the potential danger the occupation presents, and to the fear of being isolated from peers if officers to do not adhere to the subculture's norms, which are viewed as secretive and as separating officers from civilians.

police cynicism. Cynicism can be described as seeing the worst in situations or in people and the belief that events or actions that appear positive will soon become negative. Police cynicism has been identified by sociologists as a belief that there is no hope for society and that people will always behave badly; it has been suggested that because police are often faced with negative situations they are more cynical than other members of society.

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