By: Dr. Gary Potter
In the United States, the media and the government have created a socially constructed image of the police as the effective thin blue line that stands between anarchy and order. Officers and detectives are constructed as effective crime fighters who prevent crime and protect us from criminals. Police are portrayed as effective crime fighters who use the latest technology and techniques to prevent crime, to ferret out lawbreakers, and to protect us from violent criminals.
For the media, it is a given that the police “always get their man.” Law enforcement is socially constructed as being on the forefront of science and technology with crimes being solved by super-detectives using highly advanced scientific techniques.
The law enforcement community and political leaders reinforce perceptions of danger, glamour, and the effectiveness of police at fighting crime. The “war against crime,” the renewed “war on drugs,” and the “war on terrorism” reinforce an image of police officers locked in mortal combat with sophisticated, high-tech international criminals and drug dealers who will use all means available to them to succeed in their nefarious activities and to avoid arrest. These arch-criminals are portrayed as more numerous and better armed than the police—and willing to use deadly force in an instant.
The American system of criminal justice is predicated on an assumption of effective policing. After all, in order to deter criminals and punish the evil-doers you have to catch them. It is on this assumption that we invest heavily the policing function. The billions we spend for law enforcement seems a small price to pay for protection against violent, devious, cunning and ruthless predators.
In the second installment of this series, we will look at the facts and ask ourselves if the police are really the “thin blue line” protecting from crime.