Sample Criminal Justice Essay on Three Styles of Law Enforcement

Three Styles of Law Enforcement

A study conducted by James Q. Wilson revealed that law enforcement agencies have only three distinctive policing styles, which include the legalistic, the watchman, and the service styles. Those operating under the legalistic style are mainly guided by the established laws. They normally display professionalism when performing their law enforcement duties. Their interactions with citizens tend to be formal and neutral in nature as they normally apply the law in a standard way to all persons (Minor & May 2007, p. 126). They follow rigid policing procedures as prescribed by the laws and regulations. The reason for this is that any police discretion will be perceived as unethical by citizens of the legalistic-style community. Law enforcement agencies and departments practicing this policing style have high-performance rates related to the undertaking of their job duties.  This is usually demonstrated by their high arrest and ticketing rates when enforcing the law. Decision-making in policing agencies employing a legalistic style is normally undertaken by those at the top of the agency’s organizational structure. In this top-down approach to decision-making, junior law enforcers tend to have little contribution to the agency’s decision-making process. Law enforcement agencies adopting a legalistic style normally operate in societies that are more heterogeneous.

The key objective of the watchman policing style is to maintain order. The style has proved effective in policing heavily populated communities that are characterized by high crime rates and a high number of persistent calls for police intervention from its population (Stephens, 2011, p. 194). Law enforcers operating under this policing style tend to employ discretion as a strategy for maintaining order. They will also display a tendency of tolerating minor offenses, as they usually ignore petty offenses. Minor offenses are usually resolved by the subordinate law enforcers without involving other law enforcement agencies. While some aspects of this policing style are evident in all law enforcement agencies, most of them have adopted it as the standard operating style.

The service style is the third and last policing style commonly employed by law enforcement agencies. The style is mainly employed in sparsely populated communities, particularly those inhabited by the middle and upper-class individuals in the society. Law enforcers operating under the service style of policing place high emphasis on the community’s opinion. They often strive to improve their relations with the public. This policing style places less concern on minor violations of the law. However, it places much emphasis on serious crimes that are perceived or known to violate a citizen’s privacy, for instance, housebreaking and robbery. This policing style is characterized by low rates of arrests, as arrests are only made if the situation necessitates so. Policing efforts are geared towards keeping the community safe from outsiders. The style is mainly employed in gated communities, where the intention is to protect the welfare of citizens situated within the community boundaries. Due to the citizen’s financial status, law enforcement bodies operating in such communities have massive financial resources modern technological equipment that enable them to offer quality services.

I strongly believe that the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department (LASD) exhibits the legalistic style of policing described by James Q. Wilson. According to Wilson, law-enforcing agencies that operate in a heterogeneous society usually operate under the legalistic policing style. Since the department serves a heterogeneous population composed of Whites, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans, it must be employing a legalistic policing style that is associated with a high degree of professionalism. The department serves the most populated county in the US, with a population of about 10 million residents, as of July 1, 2013 (Gazzar, 2013). The department has to exhibit professionalism in enforcing the law through legalistic policing style because the residents have a high literacy level, even regarding the law, considering that 76 percent of its adult population has high school diploma, while about 29 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or more (Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, 2013). For years, the department has been recognized for its neatly pressed uniforms and politeness that depict professionalism. The department usually offers its officers extensive sensitivity training to enhance their professionalism in enforcing the law. Its employee education program, for instance, the LASD University, provides numerous learning programs that enhance their officer’s personal and professional growth in law enforcement. The department’s law enforcement procedures are standard and well outlined. Its officers usually notify individuals of their law violations before making arrests. Los Angeles County has a political culture of transparency and responsible governance as stipulated by the law. The LASD leadership is usually elected democratically with the aim of enforcing the law in the justest way. Since most decisions are made by the Sherriff, they are largely responsible for any policing violations that the department is accused of under their tenure. The department interacts with the public in a more formal and neutral manner while enforcing the law. This is evident in its “Los Angeles Regional Anonymous Crime Tip Program” used by its officers in receiving information from the public regarding any observed violations within the county while guaranteeing their privacy. Anonymous callers that provide credible information that can lead to arrests are eligible to receive cash rewards that vary depending on the severity of the crime. This legalistic policing style is also evident in their efforts to reduce fare evasion on the Orange Line in the county. The department is collaborating with the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) to improve communication through enforcement of laws that require riders to purchase fares and make use of TAP cards whenever they ride the Metro System (Hymon, 2014). It is evident that LASD is using the legalistic style of policing in enforcing laws


Gazzar, B. (2013, Dec 12). Los Angeles county first in the nation to 10 million people. Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved from:

Hymon, S. (2014, Feb 25). Metro and LASD target fare evasion on the orange line. The Source. Retrieved from:

Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. (2013, Mar 27) Demographic profile of Los Angeles county. LAEDC.  Retrieved from:

Minor, K., & May, D. C. (2008). Corrections and the criminal justice system. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett Pub.

Stephens, D. (2011). An introduction to American policing. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers