The Police—Why Are They Necessary?
WHAT would life be like without police? Well, what happened in 1997 when 18,000 police officers went on strike in the Brazilian city of Recife, leaving its more than one million residents without police?
“In five chaotic days in this beachside metropolis, the daily homicide rate has tripled,” reported The Washington Post. “Eight banks have been robbed. Gangs have run wild through a shopping mall and driven through upper-class neighborhoods firing guns. And no one is obeying the traffic laws. . . . The crime wave has tested the limits of the morgue and flooded the largest state hospital, where gunshot and stabbing victims are stretched out on hallway floors.” The justice secretary was reported as saying: “This kind of lawlessness is unprecedented here.”
Wherever we live, evil is just below the veneer of civilization. We need police protection. Of course, most of us have heard about brutality, corruption, indifference, and abuse of power on the part of some police officers. The incidents vary in degree from country to country. But what would we do without the police? Isn’t it true that the police often provide valuable services? Awake! asked some police officers in different parts of the world why they chose this career.
A Community and Social Service
“I enjoy helping people,” said Ivan, a British police officer. “I was attracted by the variety of work. It isn’t commonly realized that crime accounts for only 20 to 30 percent of police work. It’s very much a community and social service. On a typical day on patrol, I could attend to a sudden death, a traffic accident, a crime, and a confused elderly person in need of help. It can be especially satisfying to return a lost child or to help a crime victim cope with his or her emotional trauma.”
Stephen is a former police officer in the United States. He says: “As a police officer, you have the resources and time to offer the best help when people turn to you sincerely for support. That’s what drew me to the job. I wanted to be there for people and bear the burden for them. I feel that I helped to protect people from crime, at least to some extent. I arrested over 1,000 people in five years. But finding lost children, helping Alzheimer’s patients who had wandered off, and recovering stolen vehicles all brought satisfaction. Then there was also the excitement of chasing down and catching suspects.”
“I wanted to help people in emergencies,” says Roberto, an officer in Bolivia. “As a youngster I admired the police because they protect people from danger. Early in my career I was in charge of foot patrols in the city center, where the government offices are. We dealt with political demonstrations almost daily. My job was to stop things from turning violent. I found that if I was friendly and reasonable with the leaders, I could avoid riots that might have caused injury to many people. That was rewarding.”
The range of services that police provide is vast. They have handled situations from rescuing a cat in a tree to rescuing hostages from terrorists and confronting bank robbers. Nevertheless, from the time modern police forces began, they have been the focus of both hopes and fears. The next article considers why.
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Pages 2 and 3: Directing traffic in Chengdu, China; Greek riot police; officers in South Africa
Linda Enger/Index Stock Photography
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Shop looted during a police strike in Salvador, Brazil, July 2001
Manu Dias/Agência A Tarde
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