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How Hegemonic is Police Culture?

Police culture can refer to a ‘them and us’ attitude, the discretionary power they are able to utilise, as well as the strong sense of solidarity with fellow officers to protect each other and keep their unlawful actions a secret from supervisors and outsiders. It appears to be very hegemonic and cannot be avoided in this line of work, a common attribute with police agencies around the world.

Although all professions are held to a high standard, it appears that policing is held to a higher standard and more scrutiny, whilst fostering the ‘blue wall of silence’. Junior officers may emerge from the police academy with the best intentions but may find it difficult to continue a non-group culture ethic, as group members like to fit in and emulate the ethics of their peers. When an officer is in trouble, he can usually count for his colleagues to cover for him and they may put themselves on the line as a result.

A Queensland police officer standing with a Western Australia officer in Forrest Chase for 2011 CHOGM Protests
A Queensland police officer works with a Western Australia officer

Most decisions made by police officers are not reviewed by outsiders or supervisors, which gives them the power to conduct their work using selective enforcement, which opens the door to arbitrariness, favouritism and discrimination. They have the power to prioritise which laws to enforce, to what extent and to whom, which at times may be interpreted as racial profiling. It is practically impossible for police to enforce all laws at the same time; therefore they must exercise discretion although police officers may share the same morals, negative prejudices and stereotyping.

Moral distance may be inbuilt into the culture, police officers assuming that they are a better person because of their inherent characteristics and as a result, may conduct their work using racial profiling to pick on particular people of sex, race, age or social-economic. This may be more of the case with laws such as stop and search, targeting young people or an ethnic social group under scrutiny.

Without this police culture, it may be that police officers would not stick together, perhaps working more independently for the people rather than each other. It is difficult to imagine, although some aspects may remain, such as individual racial profiling.

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