Course: Introduction / Policing
The legalistic style of policing is a style of policing characterized by a concern for code enforcement and the use of written policies and procedures.
Contrast with watchman style
The legalistic style of policing emphasizes strict enforcement of the law, often relying on written policies and procedures to guide police officers. This approach is based on the idea that police officers should act like impartial agents of the law without using personal discretion or judgment in their work.
This style of policing is often associated with urban police departments in the United States. It emerged as a response to criticism of the police during the 1960s and 1970s when police officers were accused of abusing their power and violating the rights of citizens, particularly those of racial and ethnic minorities.
Under the legalistic style, police officers are expected to focus on enforcing laws and responding to calls for service in a consistent and standardized manner. This approach emphasizes the importance of following established procedures and policies rather than relying on personal judgment or discretion. Police officers are expected to act as neutral enforcers of the law rather than taking sides or showing favoritism.
Advantages of the Legalistic Style of Policing
One of the key advantages of the legalistic style is that it helps ensure that police officers act in a fair and consistent manner. By relying on written policies and procedures, police departments can minimize the potential for bias or discrimination in police work. This can help build trust between police officers and the communities they serve.
Criticisms of the Legalistic Style of Policing
However, the legalistic style of policing also has some drawbacks. Because it emphasizes strict adherence to established policies and procedures, it can lead to inflexibility and a lack of creativity in policing. This approach may not be well-suited to addressing complex or nuanced situations where police officers need to exercise judgment and discretion.
Another criticism of the legalistic style is that it can lead to a focus on low-level offenses and minor infractions rather than addressing more serious issues like violent crime or drug trafficking. This can lead to a perception among some members of the community that the police are more concerned with enforcing rules and regulations than with protecting and serving the public.
Despite these criticisms, the legalistic style of policing remains a common approach in many parts of the United States. Police departments that adopt this approach typically prioritize adherence to established policies and procedures, with the goal of ensuring that police officers act in a fair and consistent manner.
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- Zhao, J., & Hassell, K. D. (2005). Policing styles and organizational priorities: Retesting Wilson’s theory of local political culture. Police Quarterly, 8(4), 411-430.
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Last Modified: 06/08/2023