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Communicating law enforcement professionalization: social construction of standards

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Purpose ‐ This paper seeks to analyze how institutional arrangements and discourses shape law enforcement professionalization efforts, to identify opportunities and potential problems associated with professionalization, and to propose research to address practitioner interests in education and training and public interests in accountability and service equity. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper explores discourses surrounding law enforcement professionalization efforts to identify implementation barriers and potential consequences. It reviews earlier literatures and analyzes occupational standards data, utilizing a communicative perspective to investigate professionalization problems that have often been approached from political or economic perspectives. Findings ‐ Although law enforcement is often urged to professionalize, educational standards for officers remain low. There is no clear nexus between college curriculum and law enforcement as a profession. This paper shows that competing discourses about professionalization in general and law enforcement in particular undermine efforts to establish professional status and increased standards for law enforcement. Research limitations/implications ‐ Future research should include greater cross-sectional data analysis. Investigation of law enforcement standards or professionalization should account for social discourses that contribute to norms and expectations. Practical implications ‐ Law enforcement agencies and criminal justice programs have opportunities to better coordinate practice and scholarship. Failure to attend to institutional relationships and the role of communication in shaping professional standards will hamper advances in either field. Social implications ‐ The paper shows that professional norms shape law enforcement accountability to the public in critical and sometimes unintended ways. Originality/value ‐ Previous authors have not considered social discourse impacts on law enforcement standards and professionalization, nor their relationship to higher education. By introducing these variables, barriers and alternative approaches are revealed.
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Keywords: Communication; Discourse; Education; Law enforcement; Professionalization; Standards; Training; United States of America

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 02 March 2012

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