police subculture | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Policing

Police subculture refers to the shared values, attitudes, and behaviors that exist within law enforcement organizations and shape the way officers view their roles and interact with their communities.

One striking trait of police subculture is a deep loyalty among officers. In police vernacular, this is often referred to as the “blue wall of silence.” Officers, bound by this strong camaraderie, may feel compelled to shield their peers from critique or punitive action. This unspoken pact may prompt officers to remain silent about each other’s misconduct. This culture of secrecy can create obstacles to transparency and accountability within the force.

Force in the Police Subculture

A significant aspect of police subculture is the perceived necessity of using force to maintain public safety. Training in the use of force becomes an integral part of an officer’s skillset. However, the flip side of this training can be a mindset that views force as the first resort when confronting potential threats. This outlook can foster a “warrior” mentality that values control and dominance over de-escalation and community engagement.

Us Against Them

Police subculture may contribute to feelings of isolation among officers, fostering a sense of being “outsiders” under constant scrutiny and criticism. The resulting defensive and confrontational attitude can obstruct the development of positive, trusting relationships with community members.

Social and Political Factors and the Police Subculture

Various societal and political factors can also shape police subculture. Officers might feel unjustly targeted by certain elements, such as media outlets or activist groups. These perceived slights can fuel resentment and defensiveness, further entrenching negative attitudes and behaviors within the force.

Camaraderie and Support

Despite potential negative impacts, police subculture can serve as a source of cohesion and support for officers. The intense bonds of loyalty and camaraderie within law enforcement can offer emotional sustenance. This strong sense of belonging can help officers cope with the inherent stresses and dangers of their occupation.

A Complex Phenomenon

This is a multifaceted phenomenon with both positive and negative implications for law enforcement organizations and the communities they serve. Understanding these cultural factors is crucial in shaping police attitudes and behaviors. It’s essential for promoting accountability, transparency, and a healthy relationship between officers and the public they serve.

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Last Modified: 06/09/2023


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