Police Discretion in Providing Services and Assistance Research Paper

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Consideration of police discretion as it relates to the provision of services to the public is an area of much speculation but little hard data. It is widely recognized that police are called upon to do much more than fight crime and enforce the law (e.g., Cumming et al. 1965; Guyot 1991). Patrol officers, for example, spend little time arresting individuals for crimes in any given work shift and are often observed not arresting under circumstances when authorized to do so by the law. Nevertheless, the academic literature focuses heavily on the decision to arrest and the decision to use force, because they address issues that are at the core of democratic governance: How does the state use its coercive power? This leaves a substantial gap in understanding what police choose to with regard to offering help and assistance as necessary and as directed by the public. The gap is especially apparent with regard to enumerating and explaining the actions police undertake outside the scope of their legally mandated and more clearly authorized law enforcement duties (Skogan and Frydl 2004).

The issues surrounding police discretion in helping and serving the public will be discussed along several dimensions. First, the history of police and their role, particularly in the United States, will be considered. The mandate of police, as a social control mechanism, offers an opportunity to understand broader patterns of police behavior over the long term and how police relate to and define their work. Second, service and helping behaviors will be defined. Since service and helping constitutes, in the most rigorous analysis, a variable, it is necessary to locate reasonable boundaries and dimensions upon which service and helping can be arrayed. No precise definition will be offered, as technological changes and task requirements continuously shape police work, but a set of considerations will be explored. Third, measurement of service including attempts and future directions will be considered. Fourth, a set of preliminary propositions regarding police exercise of discretion in allocating or engaging in helping behaviors will be outlined. Fifth, the transformation of the police mandate toward recognition, if tacit, of the importance of service activity is examined in light of problem-oriented policing and the community policing movements and the influence on discretion regarding helping behaviors. Sixth, the service and help behaviors of police will be related to the specific client population of mentally ill citizens whom which they very frequently encounter. Finally, the paper is summarized and future directions for consideration in the areas of service and helping behavior and police discretion are offered.


US municipal police forces, according to some historians, were established as general service provision agencies and had wide-ranging responsibilities including dealing with lost children, inspecting boilers, and feeding and housing the homeless. Lane (1967) documents the primary role that the Boston police, for example, played in running soup kitchens and providing temporary lodging for the homeless. This service was based on the observation that “misery bred crime and soup helped to prevent it” (Lane 1967: 193). Data gathered by historians also indicate that activities involving lost children, for example, were recorded with some care, thus illustrating the important nature of that task. Monkonnen (1981: 119) argued that the centralized communication capacity of the police made them the primary agency in assisting citizens with their problems. Others have argued, more cynically, that police were more easily understood as paid agents of the dominant order than a public agency aimed at help and service (Harring 1983).

Historical analysis derived from a Boston, MA police officer’s diary entries in the year 1895 indicates the panoply of service provided to constituents and the rarity of activity that explicitly involved legal channels (Von Hoffman 1992). Rather daily work would more closely resemble regulatory attention to maintaining social order and largely via service. Even crime-related entries represented mobilizations by citizens who desired the service of the officer in maintaining security or apprehending wrongdoers. The focus on service is likely due in part to some problems not being easily defined as legal or criminal problems and the cost that is borne, in terms of time lost, when an officer has to take the time to invoke arrest, especially on foot. Nevertheless it is imperative to recognize that police have traditionally been asked to address a wide variety of problems as a general service agency, which was probably cast best by Egon Bittner’s (1990) hyphenated summary of what becomes police business: “something-that-ought-not-to-be-happening-andabout-which-someone-had-better-do-somethingnow.” Thus, there is an expansive definition, broadly shared among the public, of what constitutes a situation that police ought to handle, even if among the police some of those tasks are seen as not police work or treated with disdain.

Kelling and Moore (1988) make a cogent argument that three eras of US policing, the political, the reform, and the community problem-solving eras, can be mapped to changes in the authorization and the function of the police. In the political era, in which municipal police agencies were formed, the police derived their legitimacy from the community and their function was to serve that community’s needs. In the reform era, the authorization of the police was narrowed to matters of law, and the police function was dominated by formal law enforcement. In the community and problem-solving era, which Kelling and Moore were forecasting, it was expected that there would be a return to service in the community and recognition of community needs as authorizing police actions. Clearly, service and helping is at the root of much police work, but its emphasis has undergone dynamic change as agencies have grappled with the role of police in a changing society. In some ways, these differing emphases of police agencies represent discretion writ large, as managers have defined, refined, and redefined “what police do” over time. Such institutional variation over time foreshadows contemporary interorganizational differences in coming to grips with what services should be provided to the public.


Definition: What Is Service, Help, And Assistance?

How to define police service and helping behaviors is a fundamental question that confronts police researchers and police managers alike. Perhaps it is useful to consider what is not service: Arresting a wrongdoer or using force against a suspect, for example, do not appear to be service. However, under careful scrutiny, this quickly turns on an issue of perspective. If police are acting at the behest of another when applying an arrest or forcefully evicting an agitated spouse from a household, then clearly such actions constitute service, at least from the perspective of the requesting citizen. Mastrofski and colleagues (2000) did much to outline police helping behaviors, especially those in which police were mobilized to use their legal powers against another citizen. Furthermore, arrests of individuals who may injure themselves (e.g., the intoxicated or mentally ill) might, broadly defined, constitute service and help.

The definition of service and help would seem to hinge on using police power or expertise to advance the well-being of a citizen or a community through formal and informal mechanisms. Service and help should not be understood as a strict and formal application of the law, law enforcement, or deterrence powers police possess. Rather service should be considered to be dominated by, but not exclusively, the informal application of police power. As noted above, however, helping and service is dependent upon perspective and can occasionally emanate from arrests, citations, and other enforcement actions.

A second approach to defining police service and helping behaviors is to generate illustrations by way of examples. Police researchers, for example, have engaged in studies of how police spend their time and document what police do for citizens. These actions include taking reports; providing assistance to motorists; making referrals to agencies (such as a juvenile in need of supervision, mentally ill person in need of psychiatric care, victim in need of counseling, or other person in need of assistance outside of the police expertise), transportation (e.g., for juveniles out after curfew), and directed actions (banish, counsel, arrest) on behalf of a requesting citizen; attending to traffic accidents and directing traffic; counseling citizens about self-protection or self-help actions for crime prevention; and providing comfort and first aid to victims. The list is extensive, illustrates great variety, but it is certainly not exhaustive. Police agencies, however, spend little time measuring or systematically rewarding the extent to which police engage in such activities. Thus, little is known about the extent and variety of ways that the public engages the police in service.

A national snapshot, derived from the National Crime Victimization Survey’s sampling frame, has been collected periodically in the form of the Police Public Contact Survey (PPCS). The PPCS contacts approximately 60,000 citizens over age 18 and asks them about contacts with the police during the previous year. The survey has been administered most recently in 2008, where it was determined that police had approximately 40 million contacts with citizens aged 16 and older. Three categories of contact have broad overlap with police service activities: police response to a traffic accident (12 % of total), police contact involving the reporting of a crime or problem (21 % of total), and police contact emanating from a request for assistance (6 % of total). In all these, three contact types represent almost 16 million or 40 % of the police-citizen contacts estimated from the survey results (Eith and Durose 2011). Though ill-defined, these contacts represent a substantial proportion of the public investment in public safety, yet little is known about the content of these contacts.

Measuring Service And Help

What can be measured regarding police service and helping behaviors? This question requires a commitment to a level of analysis, and for current purposes, it would be prudent to consider face-to-face contacts between citizens and the police as the unit for consideration. This allows for aggregation to higher levels, such as neighborhoods and organizations for comparisons, and allows for a more thorough consideration of the encounter between police and the client as the unit of work or service delivery.

This level of analysis leads to consideration of two aspects of helping behavior, one quantitative, the other qualitative. With respect to quantitative help, clearly one is required to count the presence or absence of a report taken, a referral made, a citizen given first aid, or a child given transportation to his family’s home. The quality of help (service with a smile?) is less amenable to counting but perhaps more influential in how citizens experience police service. That one aspect of service is amenable to counting makes the complex appear deceptively simple. What should be counted? Mastrofski and colleagues (2000) examined how police respond to requests for help in terms of not fulfilling, partially fulfilling, and completely fulfilling requests by citizens asking police to control another person. Thus an enumeration of requests and whether they are fulfilled could be a measure of police reactive service to the public. However, much of what police do may in fact be proactive or at least self-directed service to, or in consultation with, the public. For example, police may follow up a case and refer a domestic violence victim to a legal service, a shelter, or some other services as necessitated by situational dictates, victim preferences, and available resources. This proactive approach to service speaks to both counting as something done in a particular case and also the variety of actions that an officer may take.

Capturing variety requires deeper consideration than can be accommodated here, but knowing the possible referrals, resources available to be accessed, and the needs of the individual would be a useful starting point. Thus, accounting for individual instances of services rendered would require attention to both possibilities (referrals to agencies is a good example, since the proliferation and quality varies across cities and even neighborhoods) and appropriateness. Such an approach to measurement would depend on a needs assessment among the service population under study and would be onerous except in the most narrowly conceived execution, such as the services provided by a crisis intervention team to mentally ill individuals encountered. As a general approach to measuring service, it would appear to be too cumbersome to match what police did with what they should have or possibly could have done. Thus, only in specific and well-defined incident or client population types (e.g., the aforementioned provision of service to a mentally ill citizen) would this be a feasible approach. In most efforts to measure the quantity of help, it would appear that counting actions by the police (referrals, assistance offered, aid given) would be the extent to which help could be quantified. Questions of appropriateness and whether needs were addressed become value questions, which would require researchers to know more about what a person needs than may be possible except in all but a few research settings.

As Mastrofski (1999) has noted, the quality of service delivery is often as important as the outcome itself. A larger body of procedural justice literature points to quality of treatment and quality of decision-making as being vital elements for understanding police-citizen contacts as antecedents of legitimacy and cooperation. Thus quality of service delivery is separate from whether requests are fulfilled or appropriate referrals are made. Comfort of victims (Foley and Terrill 2008), for example, could be considered a qualitative aspect of the service that police offer to victims of crime. Similarly, respectful treatment of citizens (Mastrofski et al. 1996) is an important part of the quality of service delivery. Measurement of the quality of police-citizen interactions (whether police listen to citizens, whether they inform them of their decision-making thought process, whether citizens are allowed to participate in police decision-making, whether police are fair in their decision-making, and so on) has been conducted both via in-person observations and through post contact surveys. The burgeoning literature on the quality of treatment during police-citizen contacts, even when restricted to service type activities, indicates that more just treatment yields citizens who cooperate and comply with the police. Thus, although service contacts are little studied, they represent an important interface where quality policing can have substantial consequences for future support and cooperation with the police.

Clearly there is variation in the nature, extent, quality, and variety of services that police can offer to citizens in their everyday encounters. The simplest way to conceive of the encounter is that a person was in need of something and police either did nothing or they did something to ameliorate the situation. As the preceding considerations illustrated, measuring help or service is more complex and opens questions of appropriateness, alternative courses of action, extent of help offered, and the manner in which services are delivered. These dimensions should be considered when the measurement of service is undertaken. One may surmise that measuring service, at the encounter level, is difficult to do well and impossible to do perfectly. However, the challenge should not inhibit researchers or police managers, since this aspect of police work is extensive and a deeper understanding would aid in recognizing it, targeting it, explaining it, and making it a more productive aspect of policing.

Explaining Service And Helping

If one had a measure of service and help directed toward citizens, what might explain the choices police make in the delivery of services and help? Since the allocation of services by police, in some sense, represents a legal (if informal) intervention, the literature on how police allocate legal outcomes such as arrests or tickets will be considered as a background for understanding discretionary decision-making in the allocation of service. Service could then be understood as an extension of this behavior, and hypotheses developed to explain arrest, use of force, or police issuance of citations would provide a useful framework when extended to service. Thus, the discussion below adopts the following distinctions drawn from this more general literature: need, legal factors and situational factors, officer characteristics and attitudes, neighborhoods, and organizations. These are arrayed from proximal (at the encounter level) to the distal influences (neighborhood routines, organizational resources) and discussed below.


Mastrofski and colleagues (2000) conducted an analysis involving 396 police-citizen encounters in which citizens requested police help dealing with another person at the scene. An important area of consideration, regarding whether police took actions, was the perceived need of the citizen. This research focused on youthful or elderly status, gender of the requestor, gender of the target, whether the target was intoxicated, and seriousness of the situation as indicators of need. Interestingly, in the analysis of citizendirected police assistance, only whether the target was intoxicated had an impact on whether police fulfilled a citizen’s request.

Regardless of these initial empirical results, several elements of need are considered here as imperative for discussing, generally, what may influence an officer’s decision to help a citizen. The seriousness of the situation has dual meanings as a motive for police helping behaviors. One is the seriousness related to legal standards, treated below. The second meaning of seriousness would entail the social or physical consequences or harms facing a citizen, which may have no relation to legal seriousness. Not precisely a “legal” variable, the police would likely tend to ameliorate serious problems via helping. Intoxication of citizens and apparent mental illness are thus likely indicia of need that would motivate help or service from the police.

The mobilization of the police may be aligned with need as well and may be important for predicting the level of service received in an encounter. Predictions of greater service in proactive encounters or reactive encounters, holding other elements constant, are not straightforward. Where police are mobilized by citizens (i.e., reactive encounters), their presence has greater legitimacy for intervention, especially legal intervention (e.g., Reiss 1971). The reactive encounter may also signal a greater need for resolution in the form of help or service to the citizens. There does not appear to be a clear foundation for whether this legitimacy translates into more formal solutions or more service solutions. Proactive encounters, in contrast, may be more likely to yield services as police initiate such encounters to help, assist, or otherwise provide service to citizens in need. More simply, mobilization of police is likely linked with need, but it is unclear if mobilization has a clear relationship to whether police provide service.

Legal And Situational Factors

Several legal and situational factors likely shape whether police engage in helping or service behaviors in a particular instance. First, to the extent there is more evidence of wrongdoing, police likely feel activated and obligated to demonstrate a response. In work by Mastrofski and colleagues (2000), when there was greater evidence of wrongdoing, police tended to respond to requests made by citizens desiring a consequence for the wrongdoer. Second, with regard to more serious legal implication, police are likely to help, to a point, and at the highest level of seriousness, they are likely to have less discretion to bring informal sanctions or solutions to bear on the problems they confront. Thus one may speculate an inverted “u” response shape, whereby at low and very high seriousness police have little discretion. In the middle ranges where discretion is high, they likely would engage in more helping and assisting behaviors. Similarly, the prior history of an individual, in terms of misbehavior, would likely influence whether police engage in helping behaviors or revert to more formal handling of situations. In the modern age of technology, the requestor is likely to be “run” against computerized files and evaluated in terms of history as well, both as a complainant and as a potential target against whom which help is mobilized.

Situational factors cover a wide variety of variables which may influence discretion. For purposes of this discussion, three are considered: race, social class, and demeanor of the target.

Race and ethnicity may be linked with whether police offer more services or help to citizens. Research on arrests, for example, indicates that minorities are more likely to be arrested. In light of those findings, one might expect that minority citizens will receive less informal help and service from the police.

Social class is also linked to criminal justice outcomes, and as such, we might expect that lower social class individuals are less likely to receive services relative to their more well-off counterparts. Clearly neither race nor class should matter, but research on other facets of discretionary police decisions lead to hypotheses regarding race and class influencing decisions to give services to individuals.

Demeanor of the citizen who is seeking or is in need of service is likely more important than either race or social class. Demeanor refers to whether a citizen is respectful or disrespectful toward the police. In many settings, across eras, demeanor has shown to be a relatively consistent and moderately strong predictor of what legal agents do, in the sense that those citizens with disrespectful demeanors tend to get more negative outcomes (more disrespect from the police, more likely to be arrested, and so on). Thus it is expected that citizens with disrespectful demeanor will receive less service from the police, especially if that service is conceived of as a reward such as provision of service or help.

Individual Officer Characteristics

Evidence regarding the effect of officer characteristics on discretionary decisions is mixed but certainly it points to no more than a modest to weak effect on legal outcomes. With regard to how officer discretion might be influenced by personal characteristics, we focus on four: education, experience, gender, and officer’s attitudes. Officer education has been shown to have limited effect on performance. With regard to service, it might be expected that officers with greater educational attainment might be more inventive and expansive in their approaches to problems requiring help or service as a possible solution. Research examining whether officers comfort citizens indicates, however, that officers with college degrees provided significantly less comfort to victims when compared to those without college degrees (Foley and Terrill 2008). Similar to the prediction regarding college education, experience, which is arguably the best teacher, should allow for more inventive and helpful behaviors to be routinely developed. These would manifest as possibilities for solving presenting situations and become routine for officers with longer times on the job. Again, however, the research of Foley and Terrill (2008) found officers with more experience less likely to comfort victims. Gender is controversial, in the sense that associating female officers with a greater capacity for helping appears, on its face, sexist. However, Foley and Terrill (2008) found that female officers were no more likely to comfort victims than their male counterparts. Nevertheless, gender may be a proxy for attitudes regarding the expansiveness of the police mandate and reflect both socialization and attitudinal patterns.

Officer attitudes toward work vary and would appear to be important for determining how individuals choose to execute facets of their work. For example, Michael Brown (1988) argued that selectivity and aggressiveness were two key dimensions for typifying officer styles. Among these styles some officers would be much more likely to narrowly define the appropriate tasks for “police work.” In fact, Brown argued that there was an identifiable “service style” in which some officers adopted a more helping role rather than strictly law enforcement roles. Similarly, William K. Muir’s observations of officers’ orientations toward service and helping, in the 1970s, found officers who defined some work as civil issues (e.g., landlord-tenant disputes) and explicitly sought to avoid such situations. The emergence of the community policing model in the 1980s and 1990s more broadly defined police mandates and thus provides cover for officers to adopt more helping orientations toward their work.

Neighborhood Context

The neighborhoods in which police encounter citizens provide the backdrop or setting for face-to-face interactions. Aspects of neighborhoods have been shown to influence what police do during encounters. Those neighborhoods that are characterized by higher poverty, often measured by researchers as concentrated disadvantage which combines indicators of race, poverty, and employment, have been linked with greater likelihood of police arrests and use of force against citizens in prior research. These same neighborhoods are likely to demand greater service from the police. In the aggregate they may receive greater numbers of police helping services. However, at the level of individual interactions between police and citizens, it is likely that those in disadvantaged neighborhoods receive less service relative to those in wealthier or more advantaged neighborhoods. In part this could be a consequence of police formal authority undermining many of the sources of local social regulation. Or it could be that there is an absence of collective efficacy, upon which police can draw informal solutions that can be enforced by informal social control networks in these neighborhoods. In either scenario the literature leads to the prediction that police will, when confronted with similar situations, exercise less helping behavior in the more disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Organizational Context

In a classic study of police at the organizational level, James Q. Wilson’s Varieties of Police Behaviors examined how departments molded their responses to the political environment. It is telling that in low-crime, more wealthy locales, the police were considered primarily a service function. Though the research is more than 40 years old, the contrast between Oakland, CA, and Nassau County in Long Island and the legalistic style (defining work in terms of application of the law) and the service style (defining work in terms of what the police can do for the public and what the public wants) anticipated the movement toward community policing and the explicit recognition of “what the public wants.” This research also indicates that organizational commitment to service likely influences officers’ discretion in their day-to-day work.

Contemporary organizational adaptation to servicing public needs may be most comprehensively studied in Chicago, IL, (Skogan 2006) where neighborhood policing was specifically aimed at understanding community needs and trying to accommodate them. The Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) explicitly tapped the community to assess needs and targeted police activity toward problems such as graffiti abatement projects and efforts at removing abandoned cars from neighborhoods. This menu of responses is a far departure from the strictly conceived law enforcement mandate and illustrates how variation at the organizational level is likely to influence police discretion. The mechanism by which this operates is the expanded mandate of what police should do coupled with an effort to understand community needs. Officers working under such regimes are likely to develop a larger palette of helping responses when compared to those working in more legalistic environments.

At the organizational level, one could thus measure variations in how organizations array themselves across a legal/service continuum. Organizational commitment to service could be measured in a variety of ways including information sources collected in assessing needs, varieties of services offered by police, interfaces by police agencies with other service agencies, and the extent to which performance measures are guided by service roles of the agency (i.e., does the agency count “problems solved”).

It should be clear that police managers and researchers alike have little direct experience in measuring service and predicting “who gets what.” For example, among those variables considered to be important characteristics of officers, experience and college education are both hypothesized to relate to greater levels of helping. However, at least with respect to comfort to victims, Foley and Terrill (2008) drew the opposite conclusion. In more recent research, Rossler and Terrill (2012) examined police responses to citizen requests to file reports, act on their behalf with an agency, provide information, or provide physical help. In these analyses, officers’ college education had no impact on whether or the extent to which officers fulfilled the request. But college-educated officers were less inclined to provide an explanation when denying a request. This is a sign that caution should be exercised in forecasting how police may exercise their ability to help in faceto-face encounters and a clear indicator for more data collection, measurement, and theory development. Although some propositions are introduced here regarding need, situational and legal factors, officer characteristics, and neighborhood and organizational context, none of them have been sufficiently tested against observations to a point where one could make statements of any empirical regularity with confidence. The absence of this knowledge is welcome territory for future scholarship but currently a barren landscape from which to make suggestions for police managers, policy for organizations, or to yield strong theory from which to begin analyses.

Current Issues

Considering Problem-Oriented Policing, Community Policing, And Service Responsibilities

Herman Goldstein (1990) observed that when the unit of work patrol for patrol was defined as a “case,” then police often missed larger problems that are frequently the underlying generator of calls for service. Such an underlying problem can generate many cases which are resolved by a response, a report, and perhaps an arrest. A drug market, for example, might generate calls of nuisance behaviors and police may respond and disperse suspected dealers, take a report from a complainant, or perhaps make an arrest of an individual for possession, then return to duty. If the unit of work is the call, then this call is satisfied. If the unit of work is defined as a problem, then the problem has not been addressed by the actions described. The problem-oriented policing approach outlines a variety of sources of problems such as homelessness, bar hours, public health hazards such as litter and trash, and a broader palette of incivilities both physical and social that may be considered within the sphere of problems. These larger categories may have an ambiguous relationship to the legal power of police and therefore are easy for organizations and officers to avoid, if so inclined. However, once engaged in problem-oriented policing that is consistent with the scanning, analysis, response, and assessment approach outlined by Eck and Spelman (1987), the likelihood that services and helping behaviors and referrals will be accessed increases. For example, interagency partnerships can form the backbone of these approaches as illustrated by the Beat Health program in Oakland, CA. Here the Oakland police department addressed decay and disorder via partnerships with other public agencies as well as private place managers such as landlords. In this case the service provided is creating a more ordered and civil public space in which conventional citizens may engage in legitimate daily pursuits. Conversely, confronting the problems in the local spaces discouraged the illegitimate use of spaces by, for example, street-level drug dealers. Thus a legal problem was solved by a service approach. So the gray area between civil and criminal was straddled in the Oakland experiment as documented by Mazerolle and Roehl (1999), whereas, two decades earlier, Muir (1977) working with the Laconia (a pseudonym) department found that officers tended to deny responsibility for cases that were civil in nature.

The blending of the civil and criminal authorities within local law enforcement, from a legal perspective, may be another area for future consideration. The nature of public regulation, compliance, and obedience is dramatically different in the 2010s than in the 1970s when the theoretical foundations for much criminal justice research on police and their behavior was being established (Reiss 1971; Brown 1988; Muir 1977). This transformation is undoubtedly related to the community policing movement and its explicit desire to deactivate the legalistic mindset that defined police work in terms of criminal law (e.g., Kelling and Moore 1988). More expansive definitions of police work will broaden what police can do and will also provide opportunities to study and understand why police make choices to help or provide service in some instances, but not others.

Populations In Need Of Services: The Mentally Ill

Lurigio and colleagues (2008) have outlined the contemporary scene with regard to the extent to which police process the mentally ill and point out that the jail systems in Chicago, New York (Rikers Island), and Los Angeles represent the largest mental health facilities in the United States. Consideration of the mentally ill clients as persons in need of help mirrors some of the civil/criminal tension that has characterized the consideration of police service and helping behaviors. The police contact with the mentally ill is not a new subject for academic study as these contacts have long been considered an important part of police repertoire and a very difficult problem to handle with only legal tools such as arrest and coercion (Muir 1977). In many ways, bridging service and legal processing for this population has been a continuous challenge for streetlevel policing. Adoption of crisis intervention teams, collaboration built around psychiatric services and police, and emphasis on training officers for the difficulties inherent in encounters of the mentally ill point to efforts to shape discretion with respect to this particular population. Interestingly the movement has first recognized that police are often the first line of contact for mentally ill individuals, and to handle this exigency, agencies have trained and developed resources targeted specifically toward this population’s needs. Equipping police with greater structure and resources shapes discretion but broadens possibilities of what police can do.

Summary And Future Directions

Police have always engaged in helping and service behaviors. Despite this, modern scholars and managers alike are hard pressed to measure, theorize, and evaluate the effectiveness of these actions. This stems from recognition that the mandate upon which helping behaviors rests is clearly not as strong as the law enforcement mandate, which is rooted in law and linked to fundamental issues involving the exercise and control of coercive force. Thus systematic study of helping has been largely overlooked, unmeasured, and, unfortunately, unrewarded. As the public comes to expect more service frompolice agencies, especially in times of economic hardship and social consequences that accompany it, there is likely to be greater pressure to systematically measure and evaluate this aspect of police work. Among police researchers, similarly, there is likely to be a movement to test propositions about “who gets what” from police in terms of services rendered. As noted here it is possible to speculate about how neighborhood characteristics, citizen race and ethnicity, and citizen social class relate to service delivery patterns; in truth, these are open research questions yet to be thoroughly addressed. Nevertheless, efforts to adopt the community and problem-solving approaches have driven police organizations and the officers within them to embrace a greater service role, absent information on how such service is delivered. Given this situation it is likely that much research will be targeted at best practices of service delivery, especially with regard to services targeted at special populations, such as the mentally ill.


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