Sociology in Law Enforcement

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Last updated: April 28, 2019

Sociology is simply the study of society, while law enforcement concerns the prevention of and struggle against crime within the same society.

  For effective law enforcement, therefore, the study of society may provide invaluable information.  So as to eradicate the roots of crime, this information is essential.  After all, by understanding why crime takes place within society, law enforcement agencies will be able to enhance their efforts to fight crime.There is a branch of sociology referred to as the sociology of law, investigating the interaction of society with law.  This sub-discipline of the study of society may help law enforcement agencies to understand the effect that they have on society, in addition to the practices and procedures that are most practicable in a given situation.  Seeing that social change affects law enforcement, the sociology of law may explain the interaction while also describing the kinds of laws that are necessary at any given time (“Sociology of Law,” 2007).  As an example, law enforcement agencies may surely see the need to develop new laws during a time of revolution in a nation.  Sociology of law would help law enforcement agencies in effectively doing so.

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Another important use of sociology to law enforcement agencies is the understanding it provides about the kinds of situations that lead people to commit crime.  By increasing their knowledge about when and where crimes may happen, law enforcement agencies would naturally enhance their effectiveness.  Hence, sociology provides law enforcement agencies with a number of theories of crime, explaining the situations and the kinds of people that may typically be related to criminal activities.

  Although the theories of crime presented by sociologists do not happen to be foolproof, they may guide law enforcement agencies in their work.  The following section describes and analyzes a theory of crime and deviance in relation to a few other theories presented by sociologists to help law enforcement agencies improve their understanding of crime, criminals, and the practices of the agencies in dealing with the same.  Moreover, these theories may assist law enforcement agencies in developing better practices. Deviant Behavior in the Light of the Conflict TheoryConflict theory is based on the idea that the main causes of crime and deviance are the economic and social differences among members of a society, prompting the have-nots to act out, if not to rob the haves.  According to this theory, criminal law and the entire criminal justice system tend to be favorable toward the wealthy and the powerful elites, while the governmental policies are aimed at controlling only the needy and poor members of society.  Moreover, the theory assumes that the entire criminal justice structure is aimed at compelling all members of society to accept the standards of good behavior and morality that are created by the rich and the powerful.  There is a focus on separation between the haves and the have-nots, so as to protect the haves from physical attacks by the have-nots, and also to protect them from being robbed.

  In the process, however, the rights of the poor and needy people could be ignored.  The middle class, on the other hand, enjoys the legal rights of the elites by siding with them.  These people believe that they might be able to rise in rank by backing up the status quo (“Conflict,” 2005).

The simplistic conflict theory has been explained further thus:…[S]treet crimes, even minor monetary ones are routinely punished quite severely, whilelarge scale financial and business crimes are treated much more leniently.  Theft of atelevision might receive a longer sentence than stealing millions through illegal businesspractices.  William Chambliss, in a classic essay “The Saints and the Roughnecks,” comparedthe outcomes for two groups of adolescent misbehavers.  The first, a lower class group ofboys, was hounded by the local police and labeled by teachers as delinquents and futurecriminals, while the upper-middle class boys were equally deviant, but their actions werewritten off as youthful indiscretions and learning experiences (“Conflict”).Although there is truth to the conflict theory, it is only partial.

  Of a certainty, there are countless people counted among the rich and the powerful who have engaged in deviant behaviors.  What is more, they have not found the law to be lax toward them.  As an example, both of President George W. Bush’s daughters have been in trouble with the law (Montgomery, 2001).  The daughter of the President’s brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, has also been arrested for deviant behavior (“Jeb,” 2002).

  The conflict theory does not apply in their cases.  Nor does it apply in the case of Enron and Worldcom – rich businesses that should have been untouched by the laws of the land if the conflict theory were entirely true.Although there may be instances where the conflict theory correctly explains deviant behavior, it is obvious that this theory cannot be applied to all places in the world at all times.

  There are many nations in the world where corruption is the law of the land, and unfairness is the norm.  In the developing regions of the world, in particular, the have-nots may rob the haves or simply act out because they are disturbed by the unfairness that is mete out to them.  However, it is not correct to understand deviant behavior only in the light of the conflict theory.

  If we are to believe that it is conflict theory alone that explains deviant behavior in human beings, we would not have examples of the Bush daughters and Enron to consider.As mentioned before, there are many theories to explain deviant behavior.  The cultural transmission or the differential associations theory, for instance, may compete with the conflict theory in explaining deviance.  According to the cultural transmission theory, all kinds of behaviors, including deviant behavior, are learned.  Furthermore, the young and therefore more impressionable learners of deviance may have developed close relationships with their deviant teachers.  With increasing contacts with deviant teachers, the young learners of deviance engage in increasingly deviant behaviors (“Sociological Theories”).The cultural transmission theory does not rule out the possibility that the children of the rich and the powerful may engage in deviant behaviors because they may have had deviant teachers.  The conflict theory rules out this possibility entirely with its assumption that the societal norms are established by the rich and the powerful, so therefore they cannot possibly go against their own rules.

  As explained previously, this assumption of the conflict theory is not true, seeing that the rich and the powerful are also known to go against the societal norms, which they should have established for themselves and by themselves.  The conflict theory is also not true one hundred percent in places where laws are created on the basis of unfairness and corruption.  Even in such places, it is known that there are poor people that try to work hard and honestly, despite the unfairness that is dealt out to them.

  In short, all people in ‘deviant’ places may not engage in deviant behaviors, even if the rich and the powerful have corrupted the government with bribes, etc.Yet another theory that conflicts with the conflict theory is the social control theory that explains why people may not engage in deviant behaviors.  According to this theory, individuals may follow the societal norms because of their connecting social bonds (“Sociological Theories”).  In other words, they may refuse to engage in deviant behaviors for the following reasons: (1) attachment — a measure of the connectedness between individuals;(2) commitment — a measure of the stake a person has in the community;(3) involvement — a measure of the time/energy a person is spending on activities that arehelpful to the community;(4) belief — a measure of the person’s support for the morals and beliefs of the community(“Sociological Theories”).If all poor and needy folks in an unfair society were to follow the societal norms because of their social contacts, the conflict theory would once again be rendered meaningless.  It may be that some underprivileged folks with weak social bonds would engage in deviant behaviors in a corrupt society.  In that case, however, the conflict theory would only apply to that small group of people.  In actuality, such a group may be existent.

  Theoretically, however, it is possible for that group never to exist.  Thus, the conflict theory may actually apply only in the cases of disgruntled, underprivileged folks who truly believe in righting the wrongs with wrongs.  It would not apply in a corrupt society where underprivileged folks would like to work hard and honestly.  And, neither would it apply in societies where the rich and the powerful are not exempt from the law.  Therefore, the conflict theory is a naïve theory, which, like most theories, does not explain reality in its entirety.

Sociological Research and Law EnforcementWhile none of the theories of crime presented by sociologists may explain the causes of crime and deviance in all possible situations and among all kinds of people, it is essential for law enforcement officers to consider them while hunting for suspects.  Furthermore, law enforcement agencies must be cognizant of latest sociological research on crime.  This would help law enforcement agencies to develop effective policies.As an example, Button et al.

(2007) have presented sociological research on fighting public sector crime by the employment of “specially trained civilian personnel.”  Given that fraud and corruption may occur within law enforcement agencies as well, these civilians are “tasked to prevent, investigate and secure sanctions against fraudsters,” even if the fraudsters happen to be in the police force (Button et al.).  The government of the United Kingdom is already trying out this new method of preventing crime in the public sector.  Button et al. describe the entire process of employing the method.

  Hence, any law enforcement agency in the globe, upon evaluating that the solution is viable for itself, may apply the method successfully to prevent and catch crime in the public sector.Ruggiero (2007) has also published a sociological research to help law enforcement agencies in their performance.  The research is on white collar crime, including state and corporate offences that the law enforcement agencies typically find hard to detect.  By including detailed definitions of white collar criminals and power crimes, alongside descriptions of a number of white collar crimes with varying degrees of illegitimacy and consequences – the researcher has performed a rather useful task for law enforcement officers, who may now use the information to enhance their understanding of white collar crime.ConclusionThe relationship between sociology and law enforcement is inevitable as well as indispensable.  Law enforcement agencies are always dealing with the society at large, and sociological research helps them to understand the effect of the law and the practices of the agencies on the people.

  Additionally, sociological research may assist law enforcement chiefs and officers to target crime and criminals by their correct definitions.  Even so, as the analysis of the theories of crime and deviance suggests, all scholarly works and theories may not help law enforcement agencies to understand crime in all its manifestations.  Criminals may turn out to be as creative as the theorists.  Hence, law enforcement agencies may not depend on sociological research and theories of crime and deviance as definite maps to hunt criminals.  Still, these theories in addition to sociological research may provide guidance to the law enforcement agencies not only in the prevention of and struggle against crime, but also in developing better practices and policies for the same.

  After all, sociology of law is an entire area of study to examine the effects of myriad laws on society at large.;

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