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This article is about law enforcement organizations. There are also: The Police (pop music band) and Police, Poland (a town in Poland).

Police forces are government organisations charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order. The word comes from the French, and less directly from the Greek politeia, referring to government or administration. The word police was coined in France in the 18th century. The police may also be known as a constabulary, after constables, who were the first police officers.

Critics, especially those mindful of the potential for state tyranny, (see "police state"), argue that police organizations are a means by which the state implements its monopoly on the use of force.

Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 Police armament
3 Police compared to military
4 Difficult issues
5 Policing structures
6 Various police agencies
7 For concepts, see also:
8 Police methods, services, and tactics
9 Ethical issues related to police
10 Notable historical police personalities
11 External links


In most Western legal systems, the major role of the police is to discourage and investigate crimes, and if able to apprehend suspected perpetrator(s), to detain them, and inform the appropriate authorities. See criminal law.

Police are often used as an emergency service and may provide a public safety function at large gatherings, as well as in emergencies, disasters, and search and rescue situations. To provide a prompt response in emergencies, the police often co-ordinate their operations with fire and medical services. In many countries there is a common emergency service number that allows the police, firefighters or medical services to be summoned to an emergency.

Police are also responsible for reporting minor offenses by issuing citations which typically may result in the imposition of fines, particularly for violations of traffic law. Police sometimes involve themselves in the maintenance of public order, even where no legal transgressions have occurred -- for example, in some Australian jurisdictions, people who are drunk and causing a public nuisance may be removed to a "drying-out centre" until they recover from the effects of the alcohol.

In many countries, particularly those with a federal system of government, there may be several police or police-like organisations, each serving different levels of government and enforcing different subsets of the applicable law. In the United States of America, for instance, there are typically police forces (city police, county sheriff, state trooper etc.) run by local and state authorities, as well as several federal law enforcement agencies (including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the United States Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Secret Service), endowed with police or quasi-police roles.

In countries following the French model, there may be two separate national police agencies: the National Police and the Gendarmerie, with overlapping but different jurisdiction, possibly in addition to local police forces.

Most countries are members of the International Criminal Police Organization - Interpol, established to detect and fight trans-national crime and provide for international co-operation and co-ordination of other police activities, such as notifying relatives of the death of foreign nationals. Interpol does not conduct enquiries nor arrests by itself, but only serves as a central point for information on crime, suspects and criminals. Political crimes are excluded from its competencies.

Police armament

In many jurisdictions, police officers carry firearms in the normal course of their duties. In the United Kingdom and some other countries of the British police tradition, the police are not normally issued firearms, but are issued other weapons (nightsticks, batons, pepper spray etc) and may be issued firearms in special situations. This originates from the formation of the Metropolitan Police in the 19th Century when police were not armed, partly to counter public fears and objections concerning armed enforcers. Although the Ministry of Defense Police, Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (aka Royal Ulster Constabulary) are issued firearms as a matter of routine, as are the many detectives of CID and Special Branch and plainclothes constables of the Flying Squad and the National Crime Squad. Police often have specialist units for handling armed offenders, and similar dangerous situations, and can often, in extreme circumstances, call on the military, sometimes including special forces like the SAS. They can also be equipped with non-lethal (also known as "less than lethal" or "less-lethal") weaponry, particularly for riot control. Non-lethal weapons include batonss, shields, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns. The use of firearms or deadly force is typically a last resort only to be used when necessary to save human life, although some jurisdictions allow its use against fleeing felons and escaped convicts. Police officers often also carry handcuffs.

Police compared to military

Although both the military and the police carry weapons, the equipment, training and tactics used are very different. Generally, the police use the minimal amount of force necessary to maintain order. The military is trained to defeat the enemy and is less concerned about potential collateral damage. In the United States, the federal military is generally proscribed from enforcing the law by the Posse Comitatus Act, although state militias (National Guard) can serve police functions in some circumstances. Police and paramilitary units generally function very poorly as military units and are usually destroyed when they attempt to fight a military force. Conversely, most professional militaries consider police activities to be a distraction from their primary goal, and when militaries attempt to operate as civil police forces, they usually alienate the population that they attempt to serve. One reason is that soldiers are seldom tried in riot control and may apply deadly force when pressed too much (see Kent State shooting for an example). Police activities are part of military operations other than war.

In some countries, the line between military and police can blur, especially in a military dictatorship or a country experiencing internal upheaval or war. The result is often the creation of paramilitary forces having mostly military training and mostly police equipment.

In some countries, there exists a police force known as the Gendarmerie that is often nominally military, while serving as a normal police force for most purposes.

Difficult issues

Some police organizations, especially in multi-racial or multi-ethnic areas, may be faced with a perception that racial profiling is occurring. Police organizations also must sometimes deal with the issue of police corruption which is often abetted by a code of silence that encourages unquestioning loyalty to one's comrades over the cause of justice. In the US, this is accomplished by having an independent or semi-independent organization investigate such as the FBI, internal affairs, or the Justice Department. Finally, in many places, the social status and pay of police is low leading to major problems with recruitment and morale.

For more information on extreme forms and various views of policing, see secret police, police state, corporate police state, thought police, and police brutality.

Policing structures

Most police forces contain subgroups whose job it is to investigate particular types of crime.

In most Western police forces, perhaps the most significant division is between "uniformed" police and detectives. Uniformed police, as the name suggests, wear uniforms, and their jobs involve overt policing operations, traffic control, and more active crime response and prevention. Detectives, by contrast, wear 'business attire' when their job is to more passively investigate serious crimes, usually on a longer-term basis. In some cases, police are assigned to work "undercover", where they do not identify themselves as police, sometimes for long periods, to investigate crimes, particularly organised crime, unsolvable by other means. This type of policing shares much with espionage.

Specialised groups exist within the branches either for dealing with particular types of crime (for instance, traffic policing, murder, or fraud) or because of particular specialised skills they have (for instance, diving, operating helicopters, bomb squad, and so on). Most larger jurisdictions also retain specially-trained quasi-military squads armed with small arms for the purposes of dealing with particularly violent situations. These are sometimes called SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) teams.

Various police agencies

For concepts, see also:

Police methods, services, and tactics

Ethical issues related to police

Notable historical police personalities

For fictional accounts of police work, see also: Crime fiction.

External links