Responsibility of the Police to Protect Citizens

Written by daniel r. mueller
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Responsibility of the Police to Protect Citizens
Police officers often contribute to the community by volunteering for outreach programs. (Police image by Zeno from Fotolia.com)

Sometimes the meaning of the classic phrase "To Serve and Protect" can seem unclear to those outside the law enforcement profession. The basic responsibility of police to protect citizens when they are able to does not mean that citizens are absolved of personal responsibility for their own safety. Occasionally, litigious individuals take the concept of "To Serve and Protect" to an extreme by attempting to sue police forces for allegedly failing to protect them. These kind of lawsuits are almost universally defeated since it is not in the interest of the court to weaken police departments.

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To Serve and Protect Explained

"To Serve and Protect" does not just mean to serve and protect specific individuals, but also to serve and protect the rights of groups and individual persons equally. This may seem counter intuitive when thinking in simplistic moral terms. However, police have a responsibility to protect law-abiding citizens just as much as they have an obligation to protect suspects' personal safety whenever possible. The actual scope of each police organisation's interpretation of the general mandate to protect the public varies by region. Police are given some personal freedom to make judgment calls on the job as to how they best fulfil that mandate. It is important not to place police officers on a pedestal; they are human beings just like the rest of the civilian population and are capable of making mistakes. Most police organisations monitor the activities of individual officers and their judgment calls with internal review boards, who meter out commendations or discipline as necessary.

Common Misconceptions

There is a common misconception that a police officer's duty is to protect to the exclusion of his own safety. While police department training methods vary between regions, one universal goal of any police training program is to ensure that officers avoid taking unnecessary risks. This means waiting for backup, working with a partner whenever possible and only using direct confrontation as a last resort. Media portrayals of police in film and television sometimes paints a picture of police work as a profession that revolves around dramatic chases and gunfights. In reality, most issues are resolved peaceably through keen verbal negotiation skills. The ultimate goal of any police officer's work day is to peacefully complete their duties and return home safely at the end of the day.

Beyond the Call of Duty

Most police officers are not trained to take extreme risks to protect the general public. The general standing order is to call for backup in particularly dangerous situations. Some police officers go beyond the call of duty when lives are at stake and put themselves directly into harm's way to protect average citizens. Going beyond the call of duty also takes the form of small feats of heroism, such as community participation. Many police forces encourage their members to do their best to be exemplary pillars of the community and to lead by example; some officers choose to go the extra mile by volunteering for community outreach programs that promote various public safety subjects. A prime example are dedicated school liaison officers who manage anti-drug youth presentations and constructive after-school activities alongside school-boards.

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