Chapter 2: Literacies at work, for fun, and at school
Becoming a police officer naturally incorporates a person inside of an organization which involves specific training in policies, moral standards to uphold, promises to protect and serve citizens and the proper way to dress. When Joining a law enforcement agency, it automatically seems as though you are a part of a discourse. According to James Gee’s Article “What is Literacy” a Discourse considered group of people that assembles either through a social platform or in person groups because of shared interests in a particular thing (18). Examples of discourses could be gamers, doctors, fitness groups, stock traders and many more. Each of these groups has their own culture integrated inside of them to become their own unique discourse.
The requirements of becoming a law enforcement officer can be a tedious process. It involves joining an academy and vigorous training methods given by instructors who are already police officers. They will shape you into the police officer the department wants you to be, by requiring recruits to dress a properly, use Sir and Ma’am before and after every sentence, and studying police scenarios. The academy resembles the same principles of being in a fraternity or sorority. This brings me to the next topic, Secondary Discourse.
The police department has many rules and regulations for officers to abide by. One is wearing the correct gear daily. Secondly, speaking to the public in a professional manner, and learning the policies and rules to further your experience as an officer. According to Gee, a secondary discourse is a group that adds on to the education and knowledge a person already has. A secondary discourse could be someone’s place of employment or a school where you would learn something and add to the knowledge you naturally have from growing up (22-23). There is another term that is associated with secondary discourse and that is the term Acquisition. According to Gee, Acquisition is learning or gaining something (in this case knowledge) in a repetitious way until it is no longer complicated but easier or natural (20). After being a police officer for about 3 years, you acquire new knowledge very often that will encourage one to write, speak and communicate in a new way. It can be taken and used in other places other than work such as school.
In the article “Learning the Skills of Policing” written by authors, David H. Bailey and Egon Bittner presents various points about law enforcement work that are brought to the attention of the readers. The article is about the importance of experience being a police officer and what aspects will grow once an officer is introduced to situations. One point is how experience is a key to appropriate decision making when involved in a serious scenario. In the article Learning the skills of policing it explains how policing cannot just be learned in a classroom setting where there are solutions to each scenario that is similar (35). Goals of the job, tactics used by the police and presence are all acquired from having more time in the field actively doing police work (39). Most jobs become easier for people when work can be done. According to Gee, driving a car is something someone can attempt to teach us verbally, but it will never be more effective than a person driving the vehicle (20). The authors interviewed several sources such as the department of criminal justice, professors at colleges, police officers and civilians. Civilians, along with many other parties, may never understand or be able to criticize officers about the operations of being a police officer because it would take more than just reading what happened or watching a video but performing actions daily (35). Someone attempting to understand the tasks of a law enforcement officer is equivalent to trying to understand a lawyer or a doctor’s job. It is more than what it appears to be and will require a person to be within to know much more about it.
In the views of society looking in from the outside, the police can seem like a secret society or group and most discourses have that impression. Knowledge and conversations are purposely kept within the group and are discreet to protect the safety of others. In the next article, “The word is mightier than the sword” by Benjamin Zaiser, MA &Mario S. Staller, discusses the importance of why police officers should use better communication skill to resolve issues better by becoming more open to the civilians and trying different communication strategies. It is essential for officers to use the correct words when communicating with others. An example would be for officers to keep a calm relationship with the person instead of seeing the suspect or person that is causing an issue as an enemy (7). Communication between other citizens determines what will happen next. If the officer is being rude to the citizen, the encounter will not benefit the officer in any positive way. It allows police officers to make better judgements on an individual also (10). Learning how to communicate is related to the secondary discourse I explained earlier. The communication police officers require job training. There are code words to be known, phonetic alphabet that we use to communicate with a dispatcher to save time and other jargon that would be abnormal to a person who did not work in the field. When we send emails, it must be professional and address the person accordingly. Whether that being a Sergeant, Lieutenant, Commander or Chief, it must start with Sir or Ma’am. It is a certain style that includes you being a police officer besides the clothing we wear. We not only look different but must act differently as well. According to Gee, the Identity kit is morals and values a person apart of a discourse should function by (18). The identity kit that goes along with the police is integrity. A police officer should have great morals and values that allow them to be better suited for the public. Gee states that an “Identity Kit” is learning the position and how to act inside of your discourse. For example, as a police officer, we need to learn how to type, speak, write, read, and examine people as a police officer should (18). That would include us in the discourse and be known as a police officer because we adopted the work ethic and mindset of a police officer. If a citizen is approached by an officer, they should be treated with respect from the start no matter what crime the citizen is responsible for doing. Officers have a certain standard in which they must work even when dealing with a citizen.
Since the body camera was introduced about 7 years ago, interactions with other civilians have changed the mindset of anyone who has an encounter with a law enforcement officer. An article about “Body-Worn Cameras improve Law enforcement officers report writing accuracy” by Dawes, D., Heegaard, W.,Brave, M., Paetow, G., Weston, B., & Ho, J is about learning to speak appropriately when police officers are on camera and hold a standard we discussed before with the identity kit referenced in Gee article. It allows officers to remember what happened in a highly stressful situation and can recall the incident with a body cam present. The camera is not for everyone but those who encounter the public. Besides acquisition, learning is another form of teaching we will need to use to understand how something works. Learning is a way to simplify something cognitively to better understand the information and being able to remember the information or subject being taught (20). Learning is also in the classroom as well as on the road for police officers, which is why higher education can be a benefit as a police officer.
In a fourth article “Are college educated police officers different?” There is a significant difference between officers that attended college versus the officers who did not. The officers who went to college have a desire to be promoted and seek new achievements more than the officers that did not attend college (5). In my opinion most of the higher officers have been to college which allowed them to use the higher education for a more successful career. The education not only allows them to stand out but helps them come to conclusions and solve issues much quicker. Furthermore, becoming a police officer is much more than having a uniform and gun but also learning how to operate as a person under the umbrella of the law. It is a discourse within itself teaching people of all ages how to serve and protect people, property, and themselves. When you join any law enforcement job you will take away some knowledge you did not have the first day you started.
Bayley, David H., and Egon Bittner. “Learning the skills of policing.” Law & Contemp. Probs. 47 (1984): 35. Learning the Skills of Policing (duke.edu)
Zaiser, Benjamin, and Mario S. Staller. “The Word is Sometimes Mightier Than the Sword: Rethinking Communication Skills to Enhance Officer Safety.” Journal of Law Enforcement 4.5 (2015). Microsoft Word – The word TUESDAY Final.docx (researchgate.net)
Gee, James Paul. “What is literacy.” Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning across languages and cultures (1998): 51-59. What-is-Literacy-2.pdf (uaf.edu)
Huff, Jessica, Charles M. Katz, and Vincent J. Webb. “Understanding police officer resistance to body-worn cameras.” Policing: An International Journal (2018).
Rosenfeld, Richard, Thaddeus L. Johnson, and Richard Wright. “Are college-educated police officers different? A study of stops, searches, and arrests.” Criminal Justice Policy Review 31.2 (2020): 206-236.