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May 09, 2013
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Matt Stiehm Campus Safety
with Matt Stiehm

Honoring the brotherhood of specialized police agencies

It is important to understand that anyone who pins on the badge, straps on a gun, and enforces the law with statutory authority is a law enforcement officer

The LEO who was murdered after the Boston Marathon bombing — Officer Sean Collier — and a second officer who was injured in direct engagement with the terrorists — Officer Richard Donohue Jr. — both came from non-traditional or specialized law enforcement agencies.  

Individuals working for specialized agencies need to understand that they can be harmed just like any other officer, and traditional officers need to start understanding that a police officer is a police officer, no matter what agency they work for. 

Having worked in specialized law enforcement, I can tell you firsthand that I was viewed as a lesser officer — a “park police officer” doing picnic basket searches with Yogi and Boo Boo.

Some officers feel that officers/agents working for specialized (nontraditional) agencies are working for a lesser agency. This discussion takes many forms — troopers will say “the troopers are the best” while the city police and/or the sheriff’s department will claim the same. Most of the time these discussions occur in jest — just good-natured ribbing — but sometimes, some officers/deputies view LEOs working at non-traditional agencies as lesser officers.

What are some examples of non-traditional law enforcement agencies? Well, how about the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raiser Association, the Levee District Police in Louisiana, the ASPCA Law Enforcement Division, or the New York Sanitation Police Department?

What about nontraditional law enforcement agencies such as (but not limited to) transit police, park police, museum police, park rangers, Veteran Affairs Police, DOD Police, Federal Reserve Police, airport police, harbor police, hospital police, railroad police, college and university police, and K-12 school district police?  

The title might be different but when looking at the job duties, they are all duly sworn, and licensed to enforce the law.

Redefining Law Enforcement
It is important to understand that anyone who pins on the badge, straps on a gun, and enforces the law with statutory authority is a law enforcement officer. The dangers, challenges, and rewards are the same. The only notable difference is the mission of the agency. 

Officers who like more consistently positive interaction with citizens tend to gravitate towards a specialized agency, as they tend to have more positive interactions with the public.

Specialized law enforcement agencies also tend to draw individuals who are looking for an entry level career, and/or officers that are truly engaged in service-order law enforcement.  

James Q. Wilson — who has written extensively on public safety and public administration — has noted that there are officers who are particularly grounded in a service-style of law enforcement. 

Officers working for nontraditional agencies have the ability to focus their time on community building, and customer service based law enforcement. Yes, they also get to arrest people, conduct investigations, but the mission of their organization is different than traditional law enforcement agencies.  

Let’s spend a moment and reflect on Robert Peel’s original nine principles:

1.)    The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
2.)    The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
3.)    Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
4.)    The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
5.)    Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
6.)    Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.
7.)    Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
8.)    Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
9.)    The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it
We find that everyone that follows these basic principles, and are duly sworn, are police officers.

Conclusion
Law enforcement is a rewarding career but it is also a difficult and dangerous job. All officers stand to protect citizens from evildoers. Let’s try to put an end to the “infighting” among law enforcement professionals that there are lesser law enforcement agencies.  

As a profession, we need to keep in mind that we are all brothers and sisters, regardless of shield, star, or patch. Whether an officer is working for a traditional agency or nontraditional agency, officers are hired to serve and protect — to defend against enemies foreign and domestic.


About the author

Dr. Matt Stiehm has received an Educational Doctorate from Argosy University, where the focus of his research was campus safety and security. He has served as a police officer in three states (CA, MN and NE), he keeps current on law enforcement trends.  He currently is a member of ILEETA, MN Infragard, FBI LEEDS, an Associate Member of the IACP, Support Member of the MN Chiefs Association, the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association, and recently Police Executive Research Forum Subscribing Member. He is currently conducting some independent research projects into police use of force, campus public safety use of force, and general leadership trends.

Contact Matt Stiehm





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