The Most Important Role of the Police is to Prevent Crime
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As Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the modern Police Force, stated in 1829:
” The police are the public and the public are the police. The police are only members of the public that are paid to give full time attention to duties that are incumbent upon every citizen in the interest of community welfare and existence.”
The Scottish police motto is ‘semper vigilo’ meaning always watchful and the police are charged to guard, watch and patrol in order to protect life and property, preserve order prevent crime and detect offenders. They must also prepare reports, serve legal documents and attend court to give evidence. Thus the primary goal of the police is both to form partnerships with the public and to prevent crime whilst enhancing the community’s safety and improving the quality of life.
Whilst it is true that the police have a general duty to uphold and enforce the law and to maintain the peace in Scotland, and they are provided with powers through both common law and statutory law to carry out this duty, including powers of arrest and detention, they also have a responsibility for a wider range of functions.
As well as general policing there are a number of more specialised tasks they must do. These include the recovery and return of stolen property. They must make every reasonable effort to recover lost and stolen property, to identify the owner, and ensure its prompt return.
They also have to ensure the safe movement of traffic. They must exercise the responsibility for traffic law enforcement which means enforcing compliance with traffic laws and developing driver awareness of the causes of traffic accidents. The police appropriately warn, cite, or arrest traffic law violators.
Another important role of the police force is public service as the public rely upon the police for assistance and advice in the many routine and emergency situations that occur in their lives. Saving lives, aiding the injured, locating lost persons, keeping the peace and providing for the many other miscellaneous needs are basic services provided by the police.
Yet another function of the police is investigation. They have to attend scenes of crimes or accidents, preserve and collect evidence, attend court and give evidence and, interview witnesses and suspects and take statements. As a result of enquiries they make arrests and report offenders.
So far I’ve established that it’s the role of the police not only to prevent crime but also to maintain law and order, protect members of the public and their property and investigate crime committed against the community. However, there are other duties, some of which are unpleasant, and demand the highest of qualities in a person.
Some of these unpleasant duties were listed by Tasneem McVie, a probationary constable who listed the good and bad qualities of being a police officer on the Strathclyde police website, she said:
“It isn’t nice having going to a car crash and finding out it’s a child, or telling someone that a loved one has died. In a situation like that you’ve got to be sympathetic, but to an extent you need to shut off your feelings to get the job done.”
How can anyone deny that this is a very important role for the police?
In my eyes crime is a symptom of the ills in society which are not the sole responsibility of the police to cure. According to Athens-Clarke County Police Department;
“The police are responsible for interacting with the community to generate a mutual understanding so that there may be public support for crime prevention. Community involvement is essential to facilitate a free flow information between the public and the police; to assist in the identification of problem areas and to inform the public of crime trends and statistics.”
So while crime prevention may be an important role for the police it is also an important role for the public.
In the job description for a police constable under purpose of job it states;
“To uphold the Queen’s peace without favour or affection, malice or ill will, and to enforce the law fairly and firmly, to prevent crime, to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law, to keep the Queen’s peace, to protect, help and reassure the community and to be seen to do all this with integrity, common sense and sound judgment.”
They do not put “to prevent crime” first so perhaps this is an indication that it is not the most important role.
To conclude, it is apparent that the police have a large number of different goals and objectives with which to contend as they fulfil their mission. Prevention of crime is certainly a very important role for the police but they have other important roles and it could be argued that since crime is a social problem, crime prevention is the concern of every person living in society. I believe that society employs full-time professional police to assist in preventing crime and to deter it, and when that fails, to apprehend those who violate the law. However the primary responsibility for upholding the law lies not with the police but with the people.