Becoming a Police Officer: Law Enforcement Glossary (page 3)
Below is a list of commom law enforcement terms:
arrest. An arrest occurs when any sworn officer deprives a person of his/her liberty by taking that person into custody to answer for an alleged criminal offense or a violation of a code or ordinance that the officer's jurisdiction is authorized to enforce. Most arrests are made by police officers, peace officers, troopers, or sheriff's deputies, but depending on the jurisdiction or circumstances, probation, parole, or court officers may be authorized to arrest all or certain categories of people.
auxiliary/reserve/part-time officer. Designations that refer to different types of officers in different areas of the United States; regardless of title, they are found in many police departments and sheriffs' offices but rarely in state police agencies. Depending on local usage, these officers may be volunteers or may be paid. They generally perform in uniform a certain number of hours per week or per month supplementing regular officers during certain times of the year, such as in resort communities when populations increase substantially, or for certain events including traffic control or work at fairs or civic or cultural events. In other jurisdictions they have the same duties as fully-sworn, full-time officers. Although candidates for these positions may not be interested in employment as full-time law enforcement officers, many are and in some jurisdictions this type of employment is viewed as a stepping-stone to attaining that, offered first to those who are Police Explorers or others involved in similar programs or those who are on the civil service eligibility list, awaiting being called for full-time police employment.
background investigation. A key element of the hiring process, a background investigation delves into a candidate's past life, including education, employment, military service if any, criminal history, credit and driving records, and past associations. A candidate must provide information which is verified by the hiring agency as part of the process of determining whether the candidate is suitable for law enforcement employment. Deliberate falsehoods are automatic grounds for a candidate to be dropped from further consideration for employment.
beat. The smallest geographical area that an individual officer is assigned to patrol. In large cities and in high-density jurisdictions (airports, large train stations, etc.) an officer will likely be assigned to walk the beat; in rural area or agencies that cover a large geographical area (state police, suburban agencies) an officer will most likely be assigned to patrol the beat from a vehicle.
bureaucracy. Any organization with a strictly defined hierarchy; a defined promotion policy generally based on written tests; a career path; reliance on rules and regulations; and a formal and impersonal style of management. Police agencies, regardless of size, are generally considered to be bureaucracies.
chain of command. Each person in the organization is supervised and reports to one person, generally one or two ranks above him or her. For example, a police officer reports to a sergeant in most agencies—sometimes to a lieutenant, but almost never to a captain. A lieutenant reports to a captain or higher rank, never to a sergeant or police officer, both of whom are lower in the chain of command than the lieutenant.
civil service system. A system of hiring and promoting employees that is designed to eliminate political influence, nepotism, and bias, generally involving a written examination of factual material, and sometimes combining interviews and other criteria as part of process in hiring or promoting personnel. Most municipal, county, and state police departments and most federal law enforcement agencies are covered by civil service regulations; many sheriffs' departments and some special jurisdiction police departments are not.
civilianization. Describes the hiring of non-sworn employees (civilians), often to fill positions that were once filled by sworn employees. Among these jobs have been answering non-emergency and emergency phones, dispatching beat officers, investigating traffic accidents and civil infractions, and media relations. In recent decades, civilians have been hired to provide computer services and web design, crime and crime scene analysis and technical services, and budget and financial expertise.
community policing. A philosophy of policing that gained public attention beginning in the 1970s that is based on police agencies developing close relationships with civilian populations and developing partnerships to work more closely with the community to develop solutions to persistent crime problems.
criminal justice system. A description used to encompass the police, the judicial system, and correctional facilities and to show their interrelatedness as elements of a system of justice. The police are viewed as the gatekeepers to the system because they make the initial contact with law-breakers, and through the arrest process determine who will enter into the system. The judicial system is the middle phase, where guilt or innocence is determined, and correctional institutions are viewed as the final phase because it is where punishment is carried out. A broader description may also include probation and parole as alternatives to correctional institutions.
crime (criminal offense). Legal definition of an act that the government (local, state, federal) has declared to be unlawful; a crime is defined by law (statute) and is prosecuted in a criminal proceeding.
crime scene/crime scene investigators. The location where evidence of a crime may exist; over the past decade, the emergence of television programs that feature crime scene investigators (often termed the CSI effect) has led the public to focus on crime scenes and evidence obtained at them in greater detail than in past decades. In most large city police departments, crime scene investigators are sworn police officers selected for the job on a number of criteria; in some police and investigative agencies those who collect and analyze certain types of evidence may be civilians hired specifically for these tasks.
crime-fighter style. A philosophy of policing that was particularly popular from the 1930s to the 1970s that focused almost solely on the police role in fighting crime rather than on providing community services; this is the police role that is paramount in most fictional portrayals of the police, which many police candidates incorrectly believe will form the largest portion of their job responsibilities.
deadly physical force. Physical force which, under the circumstances in which it is used, is readily capable of causing death or other serious physical injury. Police officers are among the few government employees who are authorized to use deadly force under certain circumstances that are governed by department policies and court decisions.
decoy operations. A non-uniformed (plainclothes) assignment during which officers are assigned to play the role of potential victims with the goal of attracting and catching a criminal. Decoy operations can be very dangerous because the decoy is often unarmed and carries no police identification; this results in the decoy being totally dependent on the backup team (officers observing and positioned to assist) should the criminal attack the decoy.
detective. Sometimes called an investigator. Generally an experienced police officer who is assigned to investigate serious crimes by following up on initial information obtained at the crime scene by the patrol officers. In many police agencies, detectives are selected and appointed based on their active arrest records while police officers or having worked in plainclothes assignments. In some agencies detective is a civil service rank for which police officers must take and pass a written test to be selected from a list; this is similar to the procedure of tests and lists for chain-of-command ranks. The position of detective is highly sought after because it means working out of uniform, provides more freedom than is provided to uniformed police officers, and carries prestige, enhanced by the media portrayal of what has come to be known as the detective mystique—a view that detective work is glamorous and dangerous and that only detectives ever arrest criminals accused of serious crimes (felonies).
discretion. Freedom to act on one's own and make decisions from a wide range of choices; although police officers, particularly in uniform, are expected to act according to their departments' rules and procedures, police work entails considerable discretion by officers because situations may develop or change in ways that cannot be anticipated. Policing is often singled out as a profession in which the most important discretionary decisions are made by the lowest ranking personnel; this view is based on the understanding that it is almost always the officer who arrives at the scene of an event who makes decisions in which more senior or higher-ranking personnel are not involved until after the fact.
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