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Ivan Y. Sun

Subject Law
Sociology » Deviance and Social Control

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Police have been traditionally defined as the social agency of a government that is responsible for maintaining public order and preventing and detecting crime. This definition emphasizes the social control function that police are supposed to perform in a society. It has been severely challenged, however, mainly because of the finding of a small number of studies conducted in the 1950s and 1960s. Though police are often portrayed as law enforcers and crime fighters, the large-scale observational study mounted by Reiss and Black showed that they spend a large amount of their time in handling non-crime-related incidents ( Reiss 1971 ; Black 1980 ). As a result, scholars propose a “force-centered” definition of police as an alternative to the conventional approach. Bittner (1980) asserted that police are the main, and sometimes the only, mechanism for the state to distribute non-negotiable force in handling emergencies in a society. Similarly, Klockars (1985) argued that it is problematic to define police based on their supposed function. He further explained that the authority of using coercive force given by the state to police entails legal legitimacy and territorial coverage, which distinguish police from other occupations. Klockars (1985) thus defined police as individuals or institutions empowered by the state with the general right to use coercive force within the state's ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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