order maintenance | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Policing

Order maintenance is a police responsibility that deals with threats to the public peace and order as opposed to dealing with serious crimes.

Order maintenance is a critical responsibility of the police that focuses on preserving public peace and order, especially in communities where conflicts may arise from issues such as homelessness, drug addiction, and domestic disputes. Maintaining public order is considered to be a key function of the police, and it involves a range of activities that are meant to prevent disorder and conflict before it occurs. These activities include monitoring community activities, identifying potential sources of conflict, and intervening when necessary to prevent disruptive behavior.

Order Maintenance vs. Law Enforcement

Order maintenance is often seen as distinct from law enforcement, which focuses on apprehending and punishing criminals who have committed specific offenses. Order maintenance, on the other hand, involves more proactive measures to prevent conflict and promote public safety. It is considered a critical aspect of community policing, where police officers are encouraged to engage with local residents and businesses to identify and address issues that may lead to disorder.

Broken Windows Theory

One of the most famous theories related to order maintenance is the broken windows theory. Developed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in the 1980s, the theory suggests that visible signs of disorder, such as broken windows or graffiti, can create an environment that encourages criminal behavior. According to the theory, if these small signs of disorder are not addressed promptly, they can lead to more serious forms of criminal activity.

The broken windows theory has been influential in shaping policing strategies aimed at maintaining public order. One such strategy is the use of community policing programs, where police officers work with local residents to identify and address issues that may lead to disorder. This approach emphasizes the importance of building relationships with the community rather than relying solely on enforcement measures.

Order Maintenance and Police Discretion

Another important aspect of order maintenance is the use of discretion by police officers. Officers are often called upon to make decisions in situations that may not involve clear-cut violations of the law. For example, an officer may encounter a group of people loitering in a public park, and may need to decide whether or not to intervene. In such cases, officers must use their discretion to balance the need to maintain public order with the rights and freedoms of individuals.

Overall, order maintenance is an essential function of the police, one that is critical to promoting public safety and preventing conflict. By engaging with local communities, using discretion effectively, and addressing signs of disorder before they escalate, police officers can help to create a safe and stable environment for everyone.

The Dark Side of Order Maintenance Policing

Order maintenance policing is a strategy where law enforcement focuses on preventing minor offenses to maintain public order and prevent more serious crimes. While the intention is positive, it has a darker side concerning civil rights abuses.

Firstly, this approach can lead to over-policing of certain communities, often those that are low-income or predominantly of racial and ethnic minorities. In these areas, minor offenses such as vandalism, loitering, or noise disturbances can lead to regular and intrusive police presence. This heavy police presence can result in frequent stops, searches, and interactions with the police, even for individuals who are not involved in any criminal activity.

Secondly, order maintenance policing can give rise to racial profiling. Law enforcement might disproportionately target people of color due to biased perceptions of crime and criminality, leading to systemic racism within the criminal justice system. For instance, practices like stop-and-frisk have been criticized for unfairly targeting African-American and Hispanic communities.

Moreover, focusing on minor offenses can escalate tensions between the police and the community. Instead of fostering trust and cooperation, it can create an adversarial relationship. Police interactions, even for minor offenses, can sometimes lead to aggressive confrontations, use of excessive force, and violation of individuals’ civil rights.

Lastly, the enforcement of minor offenses often results in criminal records for trivial infractions, which can have lifelong impacts on individuals. This can affect their employment prospects, housing applications, and overall quality of life, leading to a cycle of poverty and crime.

In conclusion, while order maintenance policing aims to prevent crime and maintain public safety, it has a darker side related to civil rights abuses. These abuses emphasize the need for criminal justice reform and more equitable policing strategies.

Ethical Implementation of Order Maintenance Policing

Order maintenance policing can indeed be implemented ethically, promoting the benefit of the community. The key is balancing the necessity of maintaining public order and preventing crime with respect for civil rights and social equity.

Firstly, law enforcement should focus on community engagement and partnership. Officers should strive to understand the specific needs and concerns of the communities they serve. Regular communication and collaboration with community members can build trust and mutual respect, promoting a safer and more harmonious environment.

Next, training and education play crucial roles. Officers should be trained to handle minor offenses with discretion and respect for individuals’ civil rights. They should also receive comprehensive education on bias, cultural sensitivity, and systemic racism to mitigate racial profiling and the over-policing of certain communities.

Moreover, transparency and accountability are necessary for ethical policing. Police actions should be regularly monitored and evaluated. Any abuse of power or civil rights violations should be held accountable to maintain the integrity of the law enforcement system.

An ethical approach to order maintenance policing also involves looking beyond law enforcement for solutions. Addressing social issues like poverty, lack of education, and limited job opportunities can help to reduce crime at its roots.

In addition, law enforcement should consider alternatives to arrest for minor offenses, such as warnings, citations, or community service. This can help avoid the negative consequences of criminal records for minor infractions.

Finally, police departments should embrace evidence-based practices. Strategies should be continually evaluated and adjusted based on their effectiveness and their impact on the community.

In conclusion, order maintenance policing can be implemented ethically, but it requires a thoughtful, community-oriented approach that respects civil rights and social equity. By focusing on engagement, training, transparency, social issues, and evidence-based practices, law enforcement can work with communities to maintain order and prevent crime.

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Last Modified: 07/11/2023


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