Becoming a Police Officer: Law Enforcement Glossary (page 4)
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.
domestic (or family) violence. Incidents of violence between spouses or partners or between family members. These calls are disliked by police officers because they are often unpredictable and may turn violent when family members had intended for the police to simply stop a situation without using force or making an arrest.
drug testing (or screening). Analysis of employees or applicants for use of illegal drugs or substances; most agencies screen candidates at the time of hiring and many have policies for random testing of officers or of testing after a vehicle accident, shooting, or any situation in which impairment may have influenced the event.
evidence. Anything that tends to prove or disprove an alleged act (crime) or fact or action pertaining to a crime. Direct evidence is generally defined as an eyewitness account, a confession, or a tangible link to the act; indirect (or circumstantial) evidence is the deductive process of inferring an unknown fact from a known or proven fact. Physical evidence is anything tangible that links a person to the act under investigation.
field training (field training officer). On-the-job training that generally occurs immediately after completion of the police academy when a new officer (in most departments referred to as a rookie) is assigned to work with an experience officer (the field training officer). Depending on the agency, this period may last a few weeks and may be informal. In some agencies, field training may continue up to a year and may be a formalized program during which rookies are assigned sequentially to a number of training officers and during which the trainers file formal reports on the rookies' performance of particular tasks. In some agencies with formal field training, failure of the rookie to be positively appraised by the training officer may result in termination during the probationary period.
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.
Police Explorers. A structured career and educational program that grew out of the Boy Scouts of America for young men, but that now enrolls both men and women between the ages of 14 and 20 and allows them to explore policing through volunteer work experiences in police agencies. Some Explorer programs provide accelerated entry into a department and, for this reason, Explorers and similar internship or volunteer programs should be considered by young people interested in police careers.
polygraph (lie detector) test. A test that relies on a polygraph machine to determine whether the person being tested is telling the truth; the machine measures physiological responses (perspiration, pulse, etc.) to psychological stimuli (the questions). Although many people question the validity of these tests, some police agencies use them in the hiring process to verify the truthfulness of applicant's claims.
precinct/district/stationhouse. Depending on local area usage, terms may refer to the collection of beats within a given geographic area, or to the organizational substations of a law enforcement agency. Generally, not all officers report to headquarters but rather to a building located within the area they patrol, which houses that area's equipment and supervisory personnel.
private security. General term to describe the industry that provides uniformed or investigative functions by non-governmental agencies. Private security officers (sometimes called private police) are paid from private funds. They may work directly for a company (termed proprietary officers) or may work for an outside provider (termed contract officers). The number of private security personnel far exceeds the number of police personnel in the United States; in 2000, the Department of Justice estimated that 2 million people were employed in private security, compared to approximately 600,000 police officers. Opinion differs as to whether working in private security provides experience helpful to a police career or whether the duties and legal responsibilities are so dissimilar as to not be helpful.
probationary period. The period from when an officer begins the academy until a specified time when the officer becomes covered by civil service or other tenure regulations. During the probationary period (generally a period from six months to as long as two years, depending on local law or union contract) an officer may be fired without a hearing or without the protections afforded by civil service law. Common reasons for termination during this period include conduct on- or off-duty that does not meet the department' standards or may pertain to something in the candidate's background that was not uncovered prior to hiring or during academy training.
random patrol. The patrol tactic of having an officer walk or drive around a designated geographic area in what seems to the public to be a random manner but may be predetermined by patrol supervisors. The theory behind random patrol is that officers create a sense of omnipresence by appearing seemingly at any time; the tactic is based on the belief that the surprise presence of officers creates a fear of detection in criminals and therefore creates a sense of security in members of the public.
sting operations. A type of uncover operation where officers pose as something they are not to surprise and arrest criminals. In some cases the police may pose as criminals by setting up a store in which to purchase stolen goods, or they may pretend to be looking for someone to commit a crime for them. Other types of stings have used a different element of surprise; officers may invite criminals with warrants for arrest to, for example, a party or event, which they attend with no expectation of being arrested.
SWAT. Special Weapons and Tactics teams began in the 1960s. The term is used to describe teams of officers who are specially trained and equipped to deal with situations that present a higher-than-usual level of danger, such as hostage-taking situations, or situations in which it appears there are multiple aggressors. SWAT training varies across jurisdictions but generally ranges from hostage negotiation to special weapons training, including training as sharpshooters. In large agencies, SWAT members are permanently assigned to this team; in smaller agencies they are likely to maintain their regular assignments but are called for SWAT duty when a situation occurs in which their skills are determined to be appropriate. There has been criticism of SWAT teams in smaller agencies because there are often few situations for which their skills are required, leading to their use at times at which it is perceived as an overreaction to the event.
undercover operations or investigations. Covert (hidden) activity undertaken by police which during which officers work in plainclothes (out of uniformed, either in normal business attire or in clothing appropriate to the undercover situation). Officers attempting to observe the purchase of guns or narcotics, or pretending to be gun purchasers or drug dealers, would dress differently than officers posing as businessmen attempting to buy a restaurant to use as a front for money laundering. Undercover operations are seen as among the most dangerous in police work; officers must convince others that they are authentic in the roles they are portraying and must often work without their police identification and firearms, and in some undercover situations must position themselves to become crime victims while depending on a hidden backup team of officers to come to their aid as the situation develops.
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