Introduction to Policing

Introduction to Policing

Criminal justice, and any Introduction to Criminal Justice class, generally breaks down into three sections: policing, law, and the courts. Introduction to Policing teaches the police section, but more in-depth than would be covered in an Intro to Criminal Justice course. 

Textbook Selection: If you wish to use a textbook — and for an intro class almost all professors do — your choices are somewhat limited. There are probably a few used by current professors. Find out what these are and pick one. Two good textbooks include Schmalleger and Worrall’s Policing Today and Peaks’ Policing America. Another option is simply to use the policing third of whichever criminal justice textbook is used for the introduction to criminal justice class at your school. Since most students have already purchased this book, the reuse will be greatly appreciated by students. And students can also purchase individual police chapters from a textbook at a much reduced cost. 

Keep in mind that the publishers make money from your students. Your allegiance should be first to your students. Textbooks cost students a lot of money. They can even be prohibitively expensive. Consider using old editions; they don’t change much year to year. And used textbook can be bought online (on Amazon, for instance) for, say, $15 rather than $150. College bookstores, however, will generally not stock anything but the latest edition, as publishers do not want to makes the cheaper editions available. And online material can be contingent on your students buying the latest most expensive textbook buying. As for yourself, you can and should ask publishers for a free copy of any textbook you use.

You should also assign outside readings. Textbook material rarely inspires students’ love of the subject. Some more accessible original-source material include Kelling and Moore’s (1988) “The Evolving Strategy of Policing” and Wilson and Kelling’s (1982) “Broken Windows.” Both are available for download online. Chapters 2, 4, and 5 of Crank and Caldero’s (2004) Police Ethics: The Corruption of Noble Cause also provide excellent material for any intro class. Other readings that go over well with students include a selection from David Klinger’s Into the Kill Zone and my own book (Moskos 2009), Cop in the Hood, about policing in Baltimore and the war on drugs, which I assign in its entirety for my classes.

Finally, there are almost guaranteed to be police-related events in the news that arise during the course of the semester. Current police issues in New York City include Stop and Frisk and low-level marijuana arrests (Prof. Harry Levine at Queens College has written many readable articles about these two subjects). Almost assuredly something will happen in the course of the semester that relates to your subject matter. Do not be afraid to use “teachable moments”! 

Generally Accepted (and Often Misunderstood) Police Material
How you teach your class and even what you teach in your class is, of course, up to you. But instructors of higher-level classes generally assume certain concepts will be covered in an introductory class, so you have an obligation to prepare your students for future studies.

Robert Peel and the 1829 origins of police in London are a good starting point for the modern history of police. (Be warned, however, that if you come across “Peel’s Principles of Policing,” these words are a 20th-century invention.) 

The “Three Eras of Policing” (Kelling and Moore, 1988) is a standard in police classes, as it provides a useful framework for understanding police history. Keep in mind that many (myself included) have argued that the third era, the Community Police/Problem-Solving Era, never happened. Regardless, certainly policing has changed in the past few decades, and perhaps particularly after September 11, 2001. For CUNY students, Williams and Murphy’s (1990) “The Evolving Strategy of Police: A Minority View” is an excellent companion to Kelling and Moore. But while “Three Eras” is assigned or discussed in all classes, “The Evolving Strategy” is not generally seen as a part of the criminal justice canon.
The basic organizational structure of police is, of course, essential material. Students, because of TV and movies’ focus on detective work, tend to deemphasize the importance of police patrol, particularly car patrol responding to radio calls. The “chain of command” is also vital to understanding the police organization, culture, and intradepartmental communication (or lack thereof). If you do not have police or military experience, ask one of your students with military experience to describe rank structure and how a “chain-of-command” structure affects almost every aspect of a bureaucratic organization, and in particular limits communication and innovation. 

Students also tend to believe police arrest more people than they do. Certainly that is an important part of the job, but even in an arrest-happy department such as the NYPD, the average patrol officer will rarely make more than one arrest per week

Miranda Rights are usually not read to people arrested. Period. Because of TV and movies, most students — and no matter how often I try to counter the misconception — think reading Miranda Rights is a constitutional requirement every time a person is arrested. It is not. Miranda is read only when a suspect is questioned in custody (and even then, only if the answers will be used on courts). The key words are “custodial interrogation.” For the vast majority of arrests, when the cuffs go on, the questioning is already done. Miranda Rights need not and are not read to most people who are arrested. 

The importance of “producing stats” in modern-day big-city policing cannot be over-emphasized. In New York City, CompStat does indeed rule the roost. While the nature of CompStat is discussed in police textbooks, how this system affects the entire organization is usually given short shrift. The pressure to produce stats — quantity over quality — is a useful way to understand the police department as a whole and the behavior of individual officers. Another extremely important determiner of discretionary action is the simple desire for overtime pay (“collars for dollars” is the NYPD term).

The crime drop of the 1990s is probably the most exciting development in policing — and the study of policing — in the past century. Though the causes of this crime drop are much debated among academics, a policing class should focus on the police-related issues, which include CompStat, Broken Windows as opposed to Zero Tolerance, greater precinct-level accountability, and a belief, simply, that police can play a role in crime prevention (as opposed to a more traditional focus on sociological “root causes” of crime).

“Probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion” are the most important legal concepts in policing, bar none. They routinely come into play in almost all interactions between the police and the public. They are also rarely understood by most criminal justice students (and admittedly, a few police officers). “Probable cause” is needed every time a police officer searches or arrests a suspect. It comes from the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. “Reasonable suspicion” is a lesser legal standard that derives from Terry v. Ohio (1968), which allows an officer to stop or frisk a suspect based on concern for the officer’s safety. Officers may not frisk for drugs. But “probable cause” for a search can derive from a frisk based on reasonable suspicion. One important and New York–specific legal standard comes from People v. Diaz (1993). This was a New York Court of Appeals (the highest court in the state) decision and as such applies only in New York State. Because of that, it won’t be covered in any textbook but is essential to understanding policing controversies in New York City surrounding Stop and Frisk and misdemeanor marijuana arrests. People v. Diaz very explicitly states that probable cause for a search may not be derived from the “plain feel” of drugs discovered during a frisk for weapons (and there is no other kind of frisk). 

Every single police stop, frisk, search, or arrest depends on the presence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Thus the ability of students to understand these legal concepts is paramount. The problem with teaching reasonable suspicion and probable cause, however, is that these concepts are quite abstract. The existence of either standard depends on an officer’s ability to articulate their presence, based on his or her observations or experience and the “totality of the circumstance” (another phrase provided by the Supreme Court). 

Police Culture
Students want to know what policing is “really” like — that is, what is the stuff you can’t learn in a book? Most professors do not have firsthand policing experience and simply may not know. That’s OK. Part of effective teaching and learning is knowing what you do not know. Guest speakers, particularly active-duty police officers, are a wonderful resource (retired officers can be good, but most police do not understand the changes in police culture that occur after they retire). 

Always keep in mind that one’s preconceived notions and media portrayals of policing may have an anti-police bias. For instance, one common misconception is an overemphasis on the Blue Wall of Silence — the presence of which is vastly overstated (the cases of police testifying against other officers are too numerous to mention, but include almost all trials of police officers). Another misapprehension involves use of force. Police are allowed to use force, and force, when it needs to be used, is often ugly because it involves, well, forcing a resisting person to do something they do not want to do. Also, force is usually legally acceptable (morally, it’s another issue) in even nonthreatening noncompliance situations. IPolice, like all of us, make mistakes. But the criminal standard for excessive force usually involves proving “negligent” behavior, which is a very high legal standard. Mistakes, even lethal ones, are not necessarily crimes. It is very easy to highlight what police shouldn’t do; it is much more difficult to determine what police should do. 

One aspect of policing that tends to be underestimated by outsiders is simply the amount of routine work and boredom in any given shift. Also, people rarely consider the fact that police do not deal with a random cross-section of society in whatever community they police. Not only do police deal with the most unpleasant and difficult parts of any community (which greatly affects their worldview and belief that non-police simply “don’t get it”), but police also deal with a vast amount of non-police-related activity. The average patrol shift does not involve zooming from one shooting to another or the arrest of professional jewel thieves, but rather parents who cannot raise their children, drunken and drug-fueled squabbles over seemingly unimportant issues, and extinguishing brush fires in the futile and never-ending war on drugs. 

In summary, many if not most CUNY students in a criminal justice class are considering a career in law enforcement. This introductory class thus has great potential, more so than most required classes, to both educate and inspire students. A good class provides a mix of textbook learning, good readings, and real-world discussion of police and their relation to crime and society.



See the model syllabus in the section: Syllabus Construction.

But the learning Objections for Introduction  to Policing should be

Learning Objectives:
1. Explain the role of the police in the administration of justice in the United States of America.
a. Identify specific periods related to the origins of U.S. police and their development.
b. State the interrelated functions of modern U.S. police with courts and corrections.
2. Analyze the theories related to the policy and practice of police. 
a. Describe how specific theories of crime control affect the police (i.e., routine activities, deterrence, environmental criminology).
b. Given a fact pattern, identify what crime control approach to employ.
3. Analyze the operations and administration of police.
a. Categorize and differentiate among the primary elements of police operations and administration in various police agencies.
b. Demonstrate critical thinking skills by analyzing and synthesizing evidence to evaluate arguments and draw inferences;
4. Actively conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize, and/or evaluate information from class lectures and exposure to written works in research papers, presentations, and exams.
a. Use the aforementioned skills as a guide to belief and action when presented with a given fact pattern by reciting, writing responses, or presenting perspectives during exams, research projects, and presentations.
5. Demonstrate the ability to access, conduct, interpret, and apply police research within the context of public discourse.
a. Deliver or recite information about a specific topic through class-led discussion, research papers, and presentations.
6. Demonstrate proper writing skills.
a. Through written homework, assigned writing projects, and exams, apply the principles and techniques of democratic policing.


by Peter Moskos