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5: Understanding the Dynamics of a Community

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    Chapter 5 – Understanding the Dynamics of a Community

    Key Learning Objectives:

    • Be able to explain the importance of socialization and how nature vs nurture, family, peer groups, religion, the workplace and mass media affect socialization.
    • Identify the mechanisms that make each person unique.
    • Demonstrate the difference and importance of the formal and informal power structures that exist.
    • Identify the way law enforcement impact and shape the communities they serve.

    5.1 - Key elements of Socialization community

    Socialization is critical both to individuals and to the societies in which they live. It illustrates how completely intertwined human beings and their social worlds are. First, it is through teaching culture to new members that a society perpetuates itself. If new generations of a society don’t learn its way of life, it ceases to exist. Whatever is distinctive about a culture must be transmitted to those who join it in order for a society to survive. For U.S. culture to continue, for example, children in the United States must learn about cultural values related to democracy: they have to learn the norms of voting, as well as how to use material objects such as voting machines. Of course, some would argue that it’s just as important in U.S. culture for the younger generation to learn the etiquette of eating in a restaurant or the rituals of tailgate parties at football games. In fact, there are many ideas and objects that people in the United States teach children about in hopes of keeping the society’s way of life going through another generation.

    Socialization is just as essential to us as individuals. Social interaction provides the means via which we gradually become able to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and how we learn who we are and how we fit into the world around us. In addition, to function successfully in society, we have to learn the basics of both material and non-material culture, everything from how to dress ourselves to what’s suitable attire for a specific occasion; from when we sleep to what we sleep on; and from what’s considered appropriate to eat for dinner to how to use the stove to prepare it. Most importantly, we have to learn language—whether it’s the dominant language or one common in a subculture, whether it’s verbal or through signs—in order to communicate and to think.

    Nature versus Nurture

    Some experts assert that who we are is a result of nurture—the relationships and caring that surround us. Others argue that who we are is based entirely in genetics. According to this belief, our temperaments, interests, and talents are set before birth. From this perspective, then, who we are depends on nature. One-way researchers attempt to measure the impact of nature is by studying twins. Some studies have followed identical twins who were raised separately. The pairs shared the same genetics but in some cases were socialized in different ways. Instances of this type of situation are rare but studying the degree to which identical twins raised apart are the same and different can give researchers insight into the way our temperaments, preferences, and abilities are shaped by our genetic makeup versus our social environment.

    nature vs nurture diagram

    Figure 5.1 Nature vs Nurture by Trudi Radtke is used under a CC-BY 4.0 license.

    For example, in 1968, twin girls born to a mentally ill mother were put up for adoption, separated from each other, and raised in different households. The adoptive parents, and certainly the babies, did not realize the girls were one of five pairs of twins who were made subjects of a scientific study (Flam 2007). In 2003, the two women, then age thirty-five, were reunited. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein sat together in awe, feeling like they were looking into a mirror. Not only did they look alike but they also behaved alike, using the same hand gestures and facial expressions (Spratling 2007). Studies like these point to the genetic roots of our temperament and behavior. Though genetics and hormones play an important role in human behavior, sociology’s larger concern is the effect society has on human behavior, the “nurture” side of the nature versus nurture debate. What race were the twins? From what social class were their parents? What about gender? Religion? All these factors affected the lives of the twins as much as their genetic makeup and are critical to consider as we look at life through the sociological lens.

    Socialization helps people learn to function successfully in their social worlds. How does the process of socialization occur? How do we learn to use the objects of our society’s material culture? How do we come to adopt the beliefs, values, and norms that represent its nonmaterial culture? This learning takes place through interaction with various agents of socialization, like peer groups and families, plus both formal and informal social institutions.

    Social Group Agents

    Social groups often provide the first experiences of socialization. Families, and later peer groups, communicate expectations and reinforce norms. People first learn to use the tangible objects of material culture in these settings, as well as being introduced to the beliefs and values of society


    Family is the first agent of socialization. Mothers and fathers, siblings and grandparents, plus members of an extended family, all teach a child what he or she needs to know. For example, they show the child how to use objects (such as clothes, computers, eating utensils, books, bikes); how to relate to others (some as “family,” others as “friends,” still others as “strangers” or “teachers” or “neighbors”); and how the world works (what is “real” and what is “imagined”). As you are aware, either from your own experience as a child or from your role in helping to raise one, socialization includes teaching and learning about an unending array of objects and ideas.

    Image result for family

    Figure 5.2 Family is vital to the development of values and beliefs. Image is in the public domain.

    Keep in mind, however, that families do not socialize children in a vacuum. Many social factors affect the way a family raises its children. For example, we can use sociological imagination to recognize that individual behaviors are affected by the historical period in which they take place. Sixty years ago, it would not have been considered especially strict for a father to hit his son with a wooden spoon or a belt if he misbehaved, but today that same action might be considered child abuse.

    Peer Group

    A peer group is made up of people who are similar in age and social status and who share interests. Peer group socialization begins in the earliest years, such as when kids on a playground teach younger children the norms about taking turns, the rules of a game, or how to shoot a basket. As children grow into teenagers, this process continues. Peer groups are important to adolescents in a new way, as they begin to develop an identity separate from their parents and exert independence. Additionally, peer groups provide their own opportunities for socialization since kids usually engage in different types of activities with their peers than they do with their families. Peer groups provide adolescents’ first major socialization experience outside the realm of their families. Interestingly, studies have shown that although friendships rank high in adolescents’ priorities, this is balanced by parental influence.

    Most U.S. children spend about seven hours a day, 180 days a year, in school, which makes it hard to deny the importance school has on their socialization (U.S. Department of Education 2004). Students are not in school only to study math, reading, science, and other subjects—the manifest function of this system. Schools also serve a latent function in society by socializing children into behaviors like practicing teamwork, following a schedule, and using textbooks.

    School and classroom rituals, led by teachers serving as role models and leaders, regularly reinforce what society expects from children. Sociologists describe this aspect of schools as the hidden curriculum, the informal teaching done by schools. For example, in the United States, schools have built a sense of competition into the way grades are awarded and the way teachers evaluate students (Bowles and Gintis 1976). When children participate in a relay race or a math contest, they learn there are winners and losers in society. When children are required to work together on a project, they practice teamwork with other people in cooperative situations. The hidden curriculum prepares children for the adult world. Children learn how to deal with bureaucracy, rules, expectations, waiting their turn, and sitting still for hours during the day. Schools in different cultures socialize children differently in order to prepare them to function well in those cultures. The latent functions of teamwork and dealing with bureaucracy are features of U.S. culture.

    Schools also socialize children by teaching them about citizenship and national pride. In the United States, children are taught to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Most districts require classes about U.S. history and geography. As academic understanding of history evolves, textbooks in the United States have been scrutinized and revised to update attitudes toward other cultures as well as perspectives on historical events; thus, children are socialized to a different national or world history than earlier textbooks may have done. For example, information about the mistreatment of African Americans and Native American Indians more accurately reflects those events than in textbooks of the past.

    The Workplace

    Just as children spend much of their day at school, many U.S. adults at some point invest a significant amount of time at a place of employment. Although socialized into their culture since birth, workers require new socialization into a workplace, in terms of both material culture (such as how to operate the copy machine) and nonmaterial culture (such as whether it’s okay to speak directly to the boss or how to share the refrigerator).

    Different jobs require different types of socialization. In the past, many people worked a single job until retirement. Today, the trend is to switch jobs at least once a decade. Between the ages of eighteen and forty-six, the average baby boomer of the younger set held 11.3 different jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). This means that people must become socialized to, and socialized by, a variety of work environments.


    While some religions are informal institutions, here we focus on practices followed by formal institutions. Religion is an important avenue of socialization for many people. The United States is full of synagogues, temples, churches, mosques, and similar religious communities where people gather to worship and learn. Like other institutions, these places teach participants how to interact with the religion’s material culture (like a mezuzah, a prayer rug, or a communion wafer). For some people, important ceremonies related to family structure—like marriage and birth—are connected to religious celebrations. Many religious institutions also uphold gender norms and contribute to their enforcement through socialization. From ceremonial rites of passage that reinforce the family unit to power dynamics that reinforce gender roles, organized religion fosters a shared set of socialized values that are passed on through society.


    Although we do not think about it, many of the rites of passage people go through today are based on age norms established by the government. To be defined as an “adult” usually means being eighteen years old, the age at which a person becomes legally responsible for him- or herself. And sixty-five years old is the start of “old age” since most people become eligible for senior benefits at that point.

    Each time we embark on one of these new categories—senior, adult, taxpayer—we must be socialized into our new role. Seniors must learn the ropes of Medicare, Social Security benefits, and senior shopping discounts. When U.S. males turn eighteen, they must register with the Selective Service System within thirty days to be entered into a database for possible military service. These government dictates mark the points at which we require socialization into a new category

    Mass Media

    Mass media distribute impersonal information to a wide audience, via television, newspapers, radio, and the Internet. With the average person spending over four hours a day in front of the television (and children averaging even more screen time), media greatly influences social norms (Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout 2005). People learn about objects of material culture (like new technology and transportation options), as well as non-material culture—what is true (beliefs), what is important (values), and what is expected (norms).

    5.2 - Factors That Make People Different26

    Everyone is unique in their own particular way. Some people want to be like the majority in an attempt to fit in, but they are still unique. Some people take use their experiences and their persona in an attempt to create the life they want, which is unique to them. Either way a person’s unique life experiences help shape their world view, and where they fit into that world.

    So, what makes people different? We will explore some different aspects of a person’s life that makes them different. While just one thing can make someone unique, if you combine them all together, you will be able to understand just how different one person can be from another.


    No one has had the same experiences in life. Not one person. Everyone experiences variations in their day, even when they are working at the same place or spending time together. For instance, the author has spent time in an isolated portion of the Country of Uganda with others in a small group has given him a unique set of experiences not many other in the United States may have had. And even those of us in the small group had different experiences while there even though they all did similar duties and activities. Some of the group experienced sadness of the situation and others had hope. Some saw environmental usage as progress and betterment of people’s lives, while others saw it as a waste of natural resources with long term consequences. Their previous life experiences shape their current experiences. A person’s experiences throughout their entire life are what make a person unique.


    The way we view life is not going to match anyone else’s view. We may have moments where we perceive the exact same thing, but more often we can view the same event or issue but have a completely different interpretation than the person next to us. Again, this is often shaped by our life experiences and also our personal belief systems.


    Think About It . . . What’s Your Perception?

    A person possesses a handmade shirt produced in Uganda they obtained during a visit to the country. When they wear the shirt in the United States to express appreciation and respect for the culture and people of Uganda, the shirt will produce conversation. Some people appreciate the desire to share the accomplishments, struggles, and culture of the Ugandan people, and expand understanding of the region. Others expressed their displeasure when someone who is not black or Ugandan wears the shirt and described it as “culture appropriation” and it is morally inappropriate to wear such a shirt as a non-African. Exact same shirt, worn in the exact same place, but garners different reactions based on the ethnicity of the wearer. The perceptions of different people are based on their knowledge, lack of knowledge, bias, misconceptions, and prejudices. How things are perceived are often framed by our individual experiences.


    Our experiences and perceptions in life create your beliefs. What you believe is what you perceive to be true based on what you have experienced in life. Your beliefs about yourself, other people, the world, what’s right and wrong, and everything else is never going to match up to another person’s beliefs perfectly. Additionally, beliefs can change over time based on new experiences, education, or other factors that affect our lives.

    For example, Lee Strobel, a Chicago Tribune reporter was a devout atheist. He pursued a quest to prove Christianity was false but ended up becoming a Christian based on the information he compiled. In contrast, John W. Loftus, a Christian preacher who after decades of belief rejected the Christian teachings and became an atheist. Both men's beliefs changed based new experiences and perceptions.


    Relationships have a significant influence over our lives. They influence how we think about ourselves and how we interact with other people. Nobody can say they have the same relationships as anyone else. Even if two people are friends with the same people, the relationships they have with those people are going to differ on some level. Some people connect with others, some don't. Some people share certain beliefs that bind them in a different way. Some people argue with others on insignificant matters, and that has lasting effects on their relationship. The conclusion is that we all have different relationships in our lives. These relationships shape our experiences and make each person a unique individual.


    Intelligence stems from many things, including our beliefs, social aptitude, emotional awareness, experiences, genetics, and the health of our brain. Again, this means no two people have the same level or degree of intelligence. This is why it is necessary for people to come together during problem solving situations and “brainstorm” to come to a resolution. By viewing a situation, problem or issue from different intellects can provide unique and often better solutions than when only one person participates.

    Mind, Brain, Mindset, Reality, Perception, Intelligences

    Figure 5.3 Intelligence is a complex concept that is difficult to measure precisely. Even IQ tests can’t provide delimitative measures of intelligence. Image is used under a Creative Commons Zero - CC0 license.

    An individual’s IQ is a measure of a person’s intelligence, but it does not adequately determine to a person’s true intelligence. Other factors such as desire, work ethic, and willingness to expand their abilities can shift that range up and down the intelligence scale. For example: A person with an IQ of 150 is considered highly gifted intellectually and might be able to send a spacecraft to Jupiter but has no ability to rebuild a 1967 Ford Mustang. While a person with an IQ of 95 is considered average intellectually and can build an engine perfectly but has no ability to send a space craft to Jupiter! Intelligence manifests itself in different manners, which in turn affects the way we see the world, ourselves, others, and has an influence on how we react to others and situations.


    Personality combines temperament, attitude, thoughts, beliefs, behavior, principles, and character. Every person has a personality is unique to them, and it is what other people see when they interact with you. Sometimes people will describe others based on their personality. For instance, you will hear people describe others as, quiet, boisterous, kind, annoying, or rude. Our personalities will reflect how we respond to situations and other people.

    5.3 - Economics: A Different Justice for Rich and Poor27

    Findings on social class differences in crime are less clear than they are for gender or age differences. Arrests statistics and much research indicate that poor people are much more likely than wealthier people to commit street crime. However, some scholars attribute the greater arrests of poor people to social class bias against them. Despite this possibility, most criminologists would probably agree that social class differences in criminal offending are “unmistakable”. Reflecting on this conclusion, one sociologist has even noted, with tongue only partly in cheek, that social scientists know they should not “stroll the streets at night in certain parts of town or even to park there” and that areas of cities that frighten them are “not upper-income neighborhoods” Thus social class does seem to be associated with street crime, with poor individuals doing more than their fair share. Explanations of this relationship center on the effects of poverty, which is said to produce anger, frustration, and economic need and to be associated with a need for respect.

    5.4 - Community Power Structure28

    The Formal Power Structure

    A power structure is an overall system of influence relationships between any individual and every other individual within any selected group of people. A description of a power structure would capture the way in which power or authority is distributed between people within groups such as a government, nation, institution, organization, or a society. Such structures are of interest to various fields, including sociology, government, economics, and business.

    A power structure may be formal and intentionally constructed to maximize values like fairness or efficiency, as in a hierarchical organization wherein every entity, except one, is subordinate to a single other entity. Conversely, a power structure may be an informal set of roles, such as those found in a dominance hierarchy in which members of a social group interact, often aggressively, to create a ranking system. A culture that is organized in a dominance hierarchy is a dominator culture, the opposite of an egalitarian culture of partnership. A visible, dominant group or elite that holds power or authority within a power structure is often referred to as being the Establishment. Power structures are fluid, with changes occurring constantly, either slowly or rapidly, evolving or revolutionary, peacefully or violently. The police, courts are considered having formal power within a community.

    The Informal Power Structure

    With informal authority, this is not something which comes from being nominated to a formal position. This authority is usually bestowed by the people within an organization, i.e. it comes from below rather than above. Informal authority can be granted for any number of reasons: level of trust; level of expertise; personality; charisma; or characteristics; etc. With informal authority, the holder becomes an informal leader within of an organization. They play a critical role in the effectiveness of the organization, as they may, at times, wield more power than the formal authorities.

    5.5 - Analysis of Community Problems29

    Value System Formation

    People are not born with values, so we ask how do people develop their values? The majority of experts conclude there are three periods during which values are developed as we grow. The Imprint period, the Modeling period, and the Socialization period.

    The Imprinting period is dominate until approximately age seven. Children absorb everything around them and accept much of it as true, especially when it comes from their parents. Some believe this can form confusion and faith in what you are told during this period can lead to the early formation of trauma and other deep problems. Others believe it is a natural progression of maturation and causes no trauma at all.

    The critical component during this period is to learn a sense of right and wrong, good and bad. This is a human construction which we nevertheless often assume would exist even if there were no example for imprinting. This is the primary principal in the Natural Law theory, which indicates there are actions that people instinctively know are wrong, such as murder, rape, or robbery. The Modeling period is approximately between the ages of eight and thirteen. Adolescence imitate other people, sometimes their parents, but also in many cases other people. Rather than complete acceptance of their values and beliefs, they are trying them out in the world to determine how they feel, and in an attempt to find their place with groups within society.

    During this age adolescence may become impressed with values or beliefs not imprinted from their parents or guardians. This might include embracing values associated with religion, or teachers, or music stars, or athletes. Think back to junior high years and you may remember being particularly influenced by teacher who seemed so to be so knowledgeable, even more so than your parents. Maybe a political cause, or humanitarian relief beliefs of your favorite singer or actor, and how that may have shaped your sense of right and wrong.

    The Socialization period is approximately between the ages of 13 and 21. People are largely influenced by their peers during this time. As we develop as individuals, we look for ways to evaluate the earlier experience, or even challenge the values they had been taught. Determine if the values and beliefs they have been taught are the values they truly believe. Young adults naturally turn to people who seem more like them. They may gravitate toward a certain group, or people who may have differing values and beliefs in order to evaluate their teachings.

    Other influences at these ages can include the media, especially those parts which seem to resonate with the values of our peer groups. This can become problematic if a person allows others to dictate how they should believe and what values are acceptable. There are some American media outlet which overtly try to convince people what beliefs are correct, and other outlets take an opposing position and overtly attempt to dictate beliefs. Determining what is truth and what is propaganda is part of the values evaluation process. The Socialization period can be very confusing and differing beliefs and values collide as the person forms the belief system that will be the basis for their value system.

    Basic Principle Formation and Development

    It's tough to have high moral values and be a principled person. Many people try, many people fail, and some make no attempt. What are principles? How are they formed? How are they utilized? How are they evaluated by society? Generally speaking, the prevailing theory is that there three types of people, Pre-moral, Conventional and Principled.

    The pre-moral person has no real values, thus amoral. Young children are pre-moral. Our basic nature drives us to be selfish, Machiavellian, taking whatever steps are required to achieve our goals, including hurting other people. A two-year-old child striking another for a toy. These same traits are displayed in psychopaths as well. A person with psychopathic personality manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lacks the ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience. Sometimes our basic needs drive us to act in ways that help us but may be unhelpful or even harmful to others. Social values (laws) are hence created as a control mechanism to counteract people’s tendency to put ourselves before society.

    Conventional values are probably the most common within a society. These values are learned from their parents, teachers and peers. Conventional values in essence relate 'these are the rules needed to live in reasonable harmonious relations with other people in society. The core of the conventional value state is that people will follow the rules just so long as they think they need to. People will break their values occasionally, and especially if their needs are threatened. Example; breaking into a store after a major earthquake and stealing food and water. There is argument that people will move away from their values when they are pretty sure they can get away with breaking values and nobody else knowing about it. Example; knowing the police are busy with a major incident and not in the area you are driving, so you drive 40mph over the speed limit. When is a person truly principled? Values to the point where they are an integral and subconscious part of a person. Right and wrong are absolute things beyond the individual person.

    Principles are, in fact powerful drivers of how we think and behave. They direct people in what is good and bad, right and wrong. They tell us they should do's, the should not do's, and shall not do's of life. They also help us decide which principle is more or less important than other principles. Principles help people make decisions. When we are evaluating intent and choosing from alternatives, our principles tell us an action might help us reach our goals, however it would be socially unacceptable, thus choose not to do it. Principles help people decide what is necessary, as values often conflict with one another.

    Being principled is a very powerful and effective method of influence. If person or group can understand how a specific groups values develop, then they can guide the process. This concept has been well understood by totalitarian governments throughout the world. The totalitarian government will utilize the education system and re-educate or brainwash children in their ideals. The student is indoctrinated into a belief system and not allowed to believe differently or face punishment, including separation from the social collective. There is a disputed saying (Greek Philosopher Aristotle or Jesuit Priest Ignatius Loyola): “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” This is a chilling description of shaping people’s values, thus their core principles for a specific goal of society or a group. The principles can be for good, such as helping the poor and teaching people to be self-sufficient, or for evil like with Revolutionary Marxism and Nazi Fascism.

    A principled person is truly put to the test when their principles are put to the test. Will they will stick to their values through adversity and hardship, and even will sacrifice themselves rather than break their principles. Many great leaders were principled like Martin Luther King and Gandhi. They were prepared to sacrifice their lives, rather than deviate from the path their principles were leading them. To be a principled person doesn't mean you have to sacrifice yourself in a noble cause, it can far more simplistic. Consistency is an additional element in being a person who lives by principle. For example; if you are a person who is a firm believer in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states in part “It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely.” You have a steadfast principle that the government should not be allowed to stifle an individual citizen voice. That principle should be adhered to no matter the speaker.

    Jemele Hill, a commentator for ESPN (sports network) and American citizen stated she believed President Trump was a white supremacist, and that his supporters had the benefit of white privilege to distance themselves from certain issues. President Trump responded by saying “with Jemele Hill at the mic, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have tanked”. Additionally, the White House released a statement indicating “the most outrageous comment that anyone could make and certainly something that they think is a fire-able offense by ESPN.” President Trump placed the full weight of the executive branch behind condemning a citizen from exercising her constitutionally protected rights of free speech and attempted to pressure her employer to terminate her employment.

    Basseley Nakoula, an American citizen completed a low budget film titled “Innocent of Muslims” in which he portrayed the Muslim Prophet Mohammed in such a way as it would be offensive to Muslims. The film was falsely portrayed by the Obama Administration as the catalyst for the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. President Obama condemned Basseley Nakoula by saying “you have a video that was released by somebody who lives in the United States, a shadowy character who made an extremely offensive video directed at the prophet Mohammed and Islam which led to protest”. Additionally, according to Charles Wood, father of a United States Navy SEAL killed in Benghazi, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told him “we will make sure that the person who made the film is arrested and prosecuted.” President Obama placed the full weight and authority of the executive branch behind falsely condemning Nakoula of causing protest, which led to the death of four American citizens, when he was solely exercising his constitutionally protected right of free speech by making the film.

    As a person who has a strong principle grounded in the First Amendment, it should not matter your political affiliation, your position on either President as an ethical person, or on your support for the positions of Hill or Nakoula. You would be opposed to what both Presidents did by aggressively attempting to punish an American citizen for exercising the rights guaranteed by the constitution.

    Evaluating Significant Emotional Controls

    Law Enforcement

    Policing is universally recognized as one of the most stressful occupations a person can choose. A significant source of stress for this population is the constant risk of being exposed to traumatic events, a burden that far exceeds that of the average citizen. Although the officers may not encounter such events on a daily basis, a police officer always faces the threats which are mostly unpredictable and random. The threat of tragic, violent, and dangerous, situations, which appear suddenly can leave emotional and psychological scars. The officer’s status as law enforcer, problem solver, peacekeepers and rescuers expose them to repeated instances of psychological trauma, which can disrupt an officers functioning and interfere with their personal and professional life.

    The officers experience from exposure to such traumatic events is concerning for many reasons. Policing is a highly stressful occupation, and the daily stress of the job may interfere with an officer’s ability to cope with the traumatic event. Because of this, the process of healing may utilize the officers mental and emotional energy, leaving few mental resources available for proper and expected safe job performance. Many other trauma victims are able to avoid the types of situations which led to their traumatic events. Police officers are unable to avoid future situations similar to the traumatic event. They are susceptible to re-victimization, compounding the ability to fully recover. Repressed reactions may be delayed weeks, months or even years in an officer who may appear to be functioning appropriately. Many times, these reactions precipitated by new stress that accumulate on an already taxed mind and body.

    Officers often report that the daily stresses of police work, organizational structure, shift work, and lack of support contribute more to the chronic stress they experience than does the danger associated with actual field police work, the impact of traumatic events can be much more mentally and physically damaging. This is, due to the infrequency of such events relative to daily stresses. The impact on officers can be much more unexpected and harder to handle. In many psychological critical incidents, it is the reliance of self-reported symptoms, many of which the officers might not even be aware of. Officers are prone to underestimate the magnitude of their distress, particularly when it might impact their job duties. This is why it is incumbent on police management to ensure an officer involved in a critical incident in properly evaluated. This is important for the officer’s health, and ability to perform their required job functions, but for the safety of the public as well.

    Officers response to a horrific event can be quite different. Cognitive appraisals are defined as “the ways in which individuals construe stressful or traumatic events in terms of their personal significance and meaning.” People in general, and officers specifically will assess a situation with respect to their own well-being (primary appraisals) as well as their ability to psychologically deal with the situation (secondary appraisals). These appraisals can be influenced by stable personality characteristics, such as optimism versus pessimism and controlled ego. Additionally, learned behavior patterns, such as coping style, and more incident specific perceptions like perceived supports.

    Appraisals reflect the amount or significance of damage sustained in a trauma. For an officer, this may include physical injury from being attacked, psychological pain such from losing a fellow officer or not being able to save someone. When an officer dismisses the mental component of a critical incident, they risk developing a passive form of coping, such as avoidance, fatalism or unrealistic thinking. Rather a more effective method of cognitive processing is crucial in dealing with trauma, such as critical incident debriefings, mandatory psychological evaluation and monitoring by supervisory personnel.

    Threat appraisals, which refer to some anticipated harm or loss, reflect the often uncertain and unpredictable nature of policing. The uncertainty of many situations requires a cautious and skeptical approach from officers, and the heightened awareness that results from such situations can help to prepare an officer for action. However, an increase in emotional stress that is too great may distract the officer and may actually hinder information processing and the ability to act. Studies found that officers with self-reported symptoms of PTSD after being involved in a critical incident, were more likely to make statements reflecting vulnerability or threat than were those without such symptoms.

    Perceived control is the officer’s assessment of his or her ability to influence their surroundings in order to bring about desired outcomes. Perception of control has a powerful influence on people’s ability to cope successfully with stressful situations. Police work is a total paradox of control. The officer’s role is granted considerable authority and control over others by society. Additionally, police officers encounter numerous events that are beyond their control, such as the unpredictability of a traffic stop to the unyielding nature of departmental policies. Because of the control conflict, officers often experience considerable incongruous as they attempt to understand the stressful events that seem to be beyond their control. The more uncontrollable or unpredictable an event is perceived, the greater the risk of developing post traumatic symptoms. Studies have indicated when officers who maintain an internal source of control and who appraise events as being within their ability to control exhibit less psychological distress than do those who maintain an external source of control.

    Policing is a field that requires complicated, delicate, and often immediate decision making that can have dreadful and far-reaching consequences. As such, officers may give meaning to a critical incident depending on how well they were able to manage the difficult situation. An officer who reflects positively on his or her handling of a situation most likely will believe that he or she can manage future situations appropriately and will experience less distress over traumatic events than one who is completely overwhelmed with self-doubt and anxiety. However, police officers faced with repeated critical incidents may start to second guess their actions for the negative outcomes and, consequently, may begin to doubt their adequacy as law enforcement officers. Such attributions of self-blame in response to negative response from the media, or public from a critical incident can hinder adjustment, as they can lead to a perception of hopelessness. To mitigate negative emotional pressure on officers, executive management should have a clear and legally factual response to negative responses. If the actions of the officers conformed to current legal standards and department policy, executive management has moral and ethical obligation to be support the officer’s actions regardless of political considerations.


    The criminal justice system's purpose is to deter crime, punish those who break the law and to keep citizens safe. However, some research indicates people of color are treated unfairly which leads to negative perceptions of police officers within that community. The murder of ten police officers in New York City, Baton Rouge and Dallas by black men have exposed many non-minority individuals and their families to incidents of alleged police brutality, which led to the retaliatory actions by the murders. While any rational clear-thinking person can denounce the actions of the murders, the incidents reinforce the need for society to work on improving police and community relations.

    Many people have witnessed the aforementioned traumatic incidents through social media and television. The perceived violence witnessed towards people of color from police continues to damage perceptions of law enforcement and the violent actions of some in the minority community further negative stereotypes involving people of color. One study published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that 85% of the participants reported being stopped at least once in their lifetime and 78% had no history of criminal activity. The study also found that people who reported more invasive police interaction experienced increased anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, those who reported fair treatment during encounters with law enforcement reported less anxiety.

    Researchers have noted the impact of perceived and actual discrimination and racism on the psychological health of communities of color. People can develop increased vigilance and suspicion of social institutions, and only trusting persons within their social and family relationship. They can have an increased sensitivity to threat, taking defensive postures, avoiding others not in their social group, over sensitivity to perceived disrespect, or avoid taking risks beyond the social sphere of influence.

    Unresolved perceived or actual traumas increase chronic stress and decrease immune system functioning, increasing the risks for depression and anxiety disorders. This can increase drugs and alcohol use in managing perceived or real pain and increases the danger of unresolved trauma leading to substance abuse. Those dependent on substances to dull the trauma of perceived repressive actions of the police can develop increased aggression. This could lead to defiant behavior, domestic violence, street violence, gang involvement, inflated sense toughness, which can be a way to control social and physical environments. All, which in probability will lead to more negative interaction with police, propagating the perceived oppressive and bigoted actions of the police.

    person with megaphone

    Act It Out! “Communicating Across Cultures”- The Task

    The idea behind this exercise is for you to get to know one another’s cultural identities. First, form into groups of three and find out from each other what your cultural/ethnic backgrounds are. Then “interview” one another using the questions below to get as much detail as possible about the culture of your group members. We’ll ask you to report back to the class what you have learned.

    Concrete Expressions
    1. What are typical foods served in the culture?
    2. Are there any typical styles of dress?
    3. What do people do for recreation?
    4. Do buildings have identifiable features?
    5. How is public space used? For example, do people tend to “hang out” on the street, or are they in public because they are going from one place
      to the next?
    Recognized Behaviors
    1. How do people greet one another?
    2. Describe how a holiday is celebrated.
    3. How would a visitor be welcomed to someone’s home?
    4. What are the norms around weddings? births? deaths?
    Explicit Beliefs
    1. How important is hierarchy?
    2. How are gender roles perceived?
    3. How do people view obligations toward one another?
    4. What personal activities are seen as public? What activities are seen as private?
    5. What are the cultural attitudes toward aging and the elderly?
    Deeply Embedded Beliefs
    1. How important is the individual in the culture? How important is the group?
    2. How is space used (e.g., how close should two people who are social acquaintances stand next to one another when they are having a conversation?)
    3. How is time understood and measured? (e.g., how late can you be to a business appointment before you are considered rude?)
    4. Is change considered positive or negative?
    5. What are the criteria for individual success?
    6. What is the relationship between humans and nature? (e.g., do humans dominate nature? does nature dominate humans? do the two live in harmony?)
    7. How is divine power viewed in relation to human effort?
    8. Is the culture a high-context or low-context one?
    9. What is humorous?
    10. How do individuals “know” things? (e.g., are people encouraged to question things? are they encouraged to master accepted wisdom?)
    11. Are people encouraged to be more action-oriented or to be more contemplative?
    12. What is the role of luck in people’s lives?

    This page titled 5: Understanding the Dynamics of a Community is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dave Wymore & Tabitha Raber.

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