The Role of Law Enforcement in Criminal Justice

Law enforcement agencies have a crucial role to play in the criminal justice system. Their primary responsibility is to protect lives and property, and they do this by investigating, apprehending, and detaining people suspected of criminal offenses. In addition, some law enforcement agencies, such as sheriff's offices, are responsible for detaining people convicted of criminal offenses. The purpose of law enforcement is to protect communities, hold people accountable, and ensure justice. But how exactly do the police perform these functions and what other responsibilities have they assumed? Who controls the police force at different levels of government and who holds them accountable? How can we close the gaps between citizens and officials?In almost every situation, law enforcement officers are expected to fulfill their responsibilities, whether on or off duty.

Properly equipping local law enforcement officers is essential to their protection and that of their communities. However, the excessive use of weapons by the police has been linked to more cases of excessive use of force and “exacerbates the gap between the police and the people they are supposed to serve”. This increase in criminality—and, in some cases, lawlessness—has made life on the street for the average police officer much more difficult. There are more than 660 police academies that train officers who go on to work in nearly 19,000 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Their duties include conducting a pre-sentence investigation (PSI) that documents the offender's criminal and personal history to help the judge determine the appropriate sentence in accordance with any plea agreement. While it can be effective in catching criminals and deterring crime, there is “a growing body of research that suggests that citizens' assessments of the police are more related to the way in which the police interact with the public than with the effectiveness of police surveillance against crime”.

Others look at violent crime statistics, which indicate that African-Americans are more frequently involved in criminal incidents, which could mean that they are more likely to have encounters with the police. The state gives sheriff's offices the authority to enforce state law at the local level in more than 3,000 counties in the United States. To understand how best to find this middle ground, let's understand how law enforcement works and is administered today. Volunteer programs can also help law enforcement agencies “perform their core functions” and provide services that would not otherwise be offered, such as social media outreach, community meetings, surveys, and civil oversight boards. City, county, and municipality officials are the ones who respond to 911 calls, monitor roads, and enforce traffic laws. The Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program is a support system for police departments seeking to develop or expand citizen volunteer programs or for citizens who want to participate more in their local law enforcement agencies. Across the country—and even around the world—“community security professionals are taking it upon themselves to help law enforcement through youth outreach, conflict mediation, community patrolling and the fight against low-level crime and disorder”.The federal government is also the largest provider of police training, primarily through federal police training centers under the Department of Homeland Security.

There are about 1.8 million public employees in the judicial system; more than 1.1 million are employed in police functions.

Luis Mersinger
Luis Mersinger

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