In “A Sketch of the Policeman’s Working Personality,” Jerome Skolnick discusses and analyzes how a police officer’s personal outlook is affected by his or her involvement in police work, creating an “us versus them” mind-set, as well as the frequent inability to “turn off” the police mentality outside of a work environment. While he states that a person’s work has an impact on his or her outlook of the world according to a recurring theme in the sociology of occupations, police work has a particularly strong impact on those cognitive lenses (Skolnick, 1966, p. ).
Because of the nature of their job, police have a tendency to look at the world in a way that makes it distinctive to themselves. This can be associated with the danger that they face on a day-in, day-out basis, how their position as a police officer affects their social relationships, as well as how they are generally perceived by the public. Contributing to the overall working personality of a police officer is the need to be efficient, the continuous presence of potential danger, and the need to establish authority in the face of ever-present public relations issues.
Skolnick (1966) likens a police officer to a soldier, a school teacher, and a factory worker because of the dangers he faces, his issues with establish his authority, and the need prove his efficiency, but points out that this overwhelming combination of tasks is unique to police culture. Thus, the “us versus them” mentality begins to take shape, making officers feel the need to separate themselves from civilian society. The propensity now is that police work is no longer a job, but a way of life.
Janowitz refers to the military profession as a “style of life” because the duties of the job extend pass occupational boundaries, and that any position that performs “life and death” tasks furthers such claims (Skolnick, p. 3). These split-second decisions that police officers have to make also contribute to their separatist way of thinking. It is also clear that the intensity or lack thereof of a police officer’s assignments can help develop his working personality. Basically, experience corroborates one’s outlook.
The threat of danger is continuously present, which contributes to the officer’s constant suspicion in trying to identify a potential danger or a law being broken (Skolnick, p. 4). Because of this constant mode of thinking, many people find themselves not wanting to establish a social relationship or friendship with police officers. The danger element isolates the police officer from citizens that he finds representative of danger as well as isolating him from the more predictable people that he might ordinarily identify with (Skolnick, p. ).
The police officer’s requirement to enforce morality laws such as traffic laws usually leads to citizens denying his authority and raising his threat level (Skolnick, p. 4). Skolnick states, “The kind of man who responds well to danger, however, does not normally prescribe to the codes of puritanical morality. ” Because of this, many people view police officers at hypocrites, which gives the police community further reason to isolate as well as further reason to build strong rapport between themselves (Skolnick, p. 4).
Skolnick points out that it appears that British police are better about following procedural guidelines than are American police, but that the reason is that they face less dangers than do the police officers of the United States, thus they are better at creating the appearance of conformity (Skolnick, p. 4). Police officers develop a perceptual shorthand that allows them to identify symbolic assailants. This identification can come through the use of certain gestures, language, and even a type of clothing that police have come to associate with particular crimes or violence.
Even if the a person has no history of violence or no criminal record, that is overlooked when an officer feels even a vague sense of danger (Skolnick, p. 5). Because of this constant threat of potential danger, police officers may even create certain emotional boundaries which help them continue to function successfully on assignment. Half of the officers in the Westville police department that Skolnick surveyed indicated that they would prefer an assignment of police detective, which involves direct danger.
It is believed that while officers may be fearful of the dangers of their jobs, they may also find it exciting, finding enjoyment in potential danger (Skolnick, p. 6). Officers are, of course, trained to be suspicious. Skolnick mentioned a statement from a patrolman that pointed out that “the most important thing for the officer to do is notice the normal. ” By this statement, the officer meant that in order to notice what could be deemed as suspicious, an officer must recognize what is considered normal for a particular area.
Notably, whether or not an officer has personally experienced a hazardous situation doesn’t determine his level of suspiciousness. Police officers identify with their comrades who have endured hazardous situations such as beatings or who have even been killed (Skolnick, p. 7). In spite of racial issues that were in existence at the time Skolnick wrote this article, his interview with the Westville police department indicated that racial issues were not the most serious problem that police faced.
It was, instead, issues regarding public relations such as citizens’ lack of respect for the badge, failure to cooperate, and the misunderstanding of what all police work entails (Skolnick, p. 8). Relating both to how the public views officers, as well as back to how they are perceived in social settings, Skolnick gives from the Westville police department of an officer and his wife who, while at a party, was hit in the leg and burned from a firework.
Even though this occurred in a social setting, he was subjected to another party-goer’s exclamation of, “Better watch out, he’s a cop. ” Another officer mentioned that he didn’t even identify himself as a police officer outside of work because once he did, he could no longer have a normal social relationship with them (Skolnick, p. 9-10). For much of the reasons mentioned previously, the solidarity of police officers has been reaffirmed. Another reason for this, however, is the threat of danger.
Again, police officers experience a lack of support and understanding from their communities, and officers believe that the community should not be relieved of their responsibility for law enforcement just because there are uniformed officers who are paid to enforce the law and protect the community (Skolnick, p. 11). The work of police officers increases their solidarity as a group, further separates them from society, and it also taints his character in the eye of the judging public (Skolnick, p. 11-12).
Danger faced by officers also acts to further alienate him not only from criminals, but to people he would ordinarily find himself being friends with. This also acts to increase solidarity. Janowitz stated, “any profession which is continually preoccupied with the threat of danger requires a strong sense of solidarity if it is to operate effectively” (Skolnick, p. 12). Thus, that strong sense of camaraderie is needed to function properly.
This same level of solidarity allows police officers to be themselves around other polices officers, and ssentially enables them to “let themselves go” and engage in behavior that they otherwise wouldn’t because they are always facing public scrutiny (Skolnick, p. 15). It should also be noted that the police officers don’t cooperate with and look out for one another simply because the chief says that’s what they should do or because policy tells them that’s what they have to do, but instead, they do it because they truly believe in the value of team work and know that it can be the difference of life or death out on the street.
The brotherhood between police officers is so strong, it is sometimes described as “clannishness” (Skolnick, p. 16). Contributing to the already abundant level of public resentment, city administrations and courts may use their police force to meet budgetary requirements by setting speed traps, or may increase their fines. The police officers are the “face” of those fines, which creates even more separation between police officers and the communities they serve.
Additionally, at events where officers are hired to keep order, they are essentially restraining citizens’ freedom of action, which leads to even more resentment (Skolnick, p. 3). However, police offers are often faced with situations in which they have administrative discretion, such as putting a drunk in a taxi instead of placing him under arrest. They could have arrested him, but chose to issue a kind of warning instead. Through their requirement to establish authority in order to effectively enforce the law, police officers feel that they are taken for granted, and that they are often “fighting alone” on the streets (Skolnick, p. 11).
They are expected to be conventional, while also being knowledgeable of street expressions in order to put on a suspect (Skolnick, p. 18). They face public scrutiny at every turn, are alienated by one-time friends due to their profession, and in an effort to keep themselves and other safe, are forced into a constant mentality of seeing every one as potential suspect or constantly sensing the threat of potential danger. It is, then, no wonder that police officers have a working personality that is completely different from any other occupation.