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Criminal Justice Essay on Three Styles of Law Enforcement

Three Styles of Law Enforcement

According to a study by James Q. Wilson, law enforcement agencies have only three distinctive styles of policing, which include legalistic, the watchman and the service styles. Those that apply the legalistic style of law enforcement are mainly guided by the established laws. They normally show professionalism in the way they carry out their duties. They tend to interact with citizens formally and neutrally since they normally apply the law in s standard manner to all (Minor & May, 2007, p.126). They abide by rigid law enforcement as prescribed the laws and regulations in place. This is because any police discretion will be viewed as unethical by citizens who are guided by this policing style. Law enforcement agencies and departments that practice this style of law enforcement often have high performance rates in their duties. This is usually shown by their high rates of arrests and tickets issuance in law enforcement. In the legalistic style of policing, decision-making is normally done by those at the helm of the organizational structure. This top-down approach in decision making, junior officers tend to contribute very little to the decision making processes of the agency. Law enforcement agencies that have adopted the legalistic style normally operate in heterogeneous societies.

The watchman style of policing is mainly applied for the maintenance of order. It has proven to be efficient in policing communities that are heavily populated and characterized by high rates of criminal activities and persistent calls for police intervention from the people (Stephens, 2011, p. 194). Law enforcers who operate under this style of policing tend to use discretion as a strategy for maintaining order. Besides, they also have the tendency of tolerating minor offences, since most of the petty crimes are usually ignored. Minor offences are usually resolved by the subordinate officers without the involvement of law enforcement agencies.  Although some of the elements of this law enforcement style are evident in all law enforcement agencies, most of them adopt it as the standard style of operation.

The other style of policing that is also applied by law enforcement agencies is service style. It is mainly used in communities with dense population, especially those that are inhabited by the middle and upper class people in the society. The law enforcers who use this style mainly emphasize on the opinion of the members of the community. Law enforcement agencies usually strive to maintain better relations with the public. This policing style places very little emphasis on minor offences. However, it is very keen serious criminal activities that are known to violate the privacy of citizens for example, housebreaking and robbery. This style of law enforcement is characterized by low rates of arrests, since the law enforcers only arrest is there is need for doing so. The policing efforts are mainly aimed at keeping the community safe from intruders. It is mainly applied in gated communities, where the main goal is the protection of the welfare of citizens who live within the boundaries of the community. Based on the financial status of the citizens, law enforcement agencies have huge financial resources and modern technological equipment that enables them to provide better quality services.

I have a strong belief that the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department (LASD) uses the legalist policing style as described by James Q. Wilson. Wilson argues that law enforcement agencies that are run in heterogeneous societies usually operate under the legalistic style of policing. Considering that the department serves a heterogeneous population that comprises of whites, Africans, Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans, it must be using the legalistic style that is linked to high degree of professionalism. The department serves the county with the highest population in the United States, with an estimated population of 10 million people as at July 1st, 2013 (Gazzar, 2013). The department has to show professionalism in the way that it operates through legalistic style of law enforcement since the residents are highly literate even regarding the law, owing to the fact that about 76% of its adult population has high school diploma while an estimated 29% are holders of Bachelor’s degree or more (Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, 2013). For many years, the department has been known for its neatly pressed uniforms and politeness that are qualities of professionalism. The officers who operate within the department are offered extensive sensitivity training to improve their professionalism in law enforcement.  The department’s employee education program, for example, the LASD University, offers a wide range of learning programs that are aimed at enhancing the personal and professional growth of the officers in law enforcement. The department also has standard and well outlined law enforcement procedures. The officers usually notify individuals on their violations of the law before making arrests. Los Angeles County has a political culture of transparency and responsible governance as required by the law. The leadership of LASD is usually elected in a democratic way with the goal of law enforcement in a way that is just. Because most of the decisions are made by the Sherriff, they bear the largest responsibility for any law enforcement violations that the department may be accused of within the period of being in office. The department interacts with the public more formally and neutrally in law enforcement. This is portrayed in its ‘’Los Angeles Regional Anonymous Crime Tip Program’’ applied by its officers in the receipt of information from the public on any observed violations of the law within the county, while also giving them the guarantee of privacy. Anonymous callers that offer credible information that can help in arrests are often awarded cash rewards based on the severity of the reported criminal activity. This legalistic style of law enforcement is also evident in the efforts of the department to cut down fare evasion on the Orange Line within the county. The department is in collaboration with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) in the county to enhance communication through the implementation of laws that require riders to buy fare tickets and utilize TAP cards whenever they use the Metro System for transport (Hymon, 2014). It is clear that LASD is practicing the legalistic law enforcement style in its policing operations.



Gazzar, B. (2013, Dec 12). Los Angeles county first in the nation to 10 million people. Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved from:

Hymon, S. (2014, Feb 25). Metro and LASD target fare evasion on the orange line. The Source. Retrieved from:

Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. (2013, Mar 27) Demographic profile of Los Angeles county. LAEDC.  Retrieved from:

Minor, K., & May, D. C. (2008). Corrections and the criminal justice system. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett Pub.

Stephens, D. (2011). An introduction to American policing. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers


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