Police subculture may be referred to as particular beliefs, behaviour or attitudes that are shown by law enforcement agents. Since these members of law enforcement use a significant portion of their careers fighting crime, they have developed the perception that citizens cannot be trusted and are potentially unfriendly (Malmin, 2012). Therefore, they tend to seek support, team spirit, unity and friendship from those they work with, which creates a culture of police against members of the public. This type of mentality has both merits and demerits. The advantage of this culture is that it gives law enforcement officers a sense of trust that enables them to work successfully. However, it also creates a culture of “us vs. them”, which leads to values or behaviour that diverges from the norms.
Police subculture poses a significant risk to wellness and health of members of law enforcement. It causes officers to believe they can overcome anything that is thrown their way. Police subculture has been found to emphasise individuality as well as independence (Malmin, 2012). These two traits encourage officers to put up a façade that is characteristic of invincibility. Due to fear of appearing weak and lacking strength, officers never encourage their partners to share their troubles. Such a subculture creates a police force that works hard not to express weakness. Also, most departments do not focus enough attention on their officers (Malmin, 2012). Police officers are exposed to such a subculture and its related mindset during training and after graduating from police academies.
Perhaps the death of Christian Taylor, a student at San Angelo University in Texas, provides an excellent example of an inappropriate use of force by a 49-year-old recruit and the “us vs. them” mentality of members of Arlington police department. Christian Taylor, a vocal member of the movement Black lives matter is reported to have been vocal in pointing out police misconduct, especially with regards to African Americans (Stack, 2015). Taylor was shot dead despite being unarmed and it is believed that aggression shown by the police towards this young man may have been caused by his opposition to police misconduct. After the incident, chief of Arlington police department is reported to have stated that the delay in interviewing the recruit (Officer Miller) was a standard practice in the department.
This incident and others point to the fact that officers have a strong loyalty to one another and they always back and protect their partners. Also, officers act quickly to protect others who are experiencing trouble as a result of their actions (Goldschmidt, 2008). Those officers who choose loyalty rather than integrity are always forced to compromise their beliefs in order to be considered members of a team. With the presence of an active police subculture, it if often impossible to collect intelligence relating to police misconduct since there are no officers who are ready to inform on their fellow officers (Hryniewicz, 2011). Also, no officer will undertake an in-depth investigation to challenge the decision made by colleagues.
I believe it is possible to remedy police subculture if we involve members of the public. In fact, if citizen oversight groups are tasked with handling complaints against the police, no police officer will be tasked with investigating others since this approach has proven biased, secretive and unreliable.
Goldschmidt, J.(2008). The Necessity of Dishonesty: Police deviance, ‘making the case,’ and the public good. Routledge 18. 2: 113-135.
Hryniewicz, D. (2011): Civilian oversight as a public good: democratic policing, civilian oversight, and the social, Contemporary Justice Review, 14:1, 77-83
Malmin, M. (2012). Changing Police Subculture. FBI. Retrieved 1 February 2017, from https://leb.fbi.gov/2012/april/changing-police-subculture
Stack, L. (2015). Answers Sought in Police Shooting of Unarmed Christian Taylor. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 1 February 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/us/police-request-fbi-help-in-texas-killing.html?_r=0