by Stan Stojkovic, Dean and Professor, Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
A common perception is that police officers are uniformly in favor of gun control laws, especially laws that target criminals from possessing firearms. My experience of interacting and working with law enforcement professionals for more than 40 years has shown me that accepted general views of police officers are often times incorrect, or in some case, downright wrong.
Policing is big in America: over 16,000 police agencies and 600,000 police officers and billions of dollars in federal, state and municipal expenditures. For many communities the cost of policing outstrips other public outlays – schools, road repair, health care, etc., yet the views of police are often misunderstood because we fail to place those views in the contexts in which they are generated.
American policing has always been a home grown response to crime. The historian Sam Walker has documented how American criminal justice (including policing) has a uniquely distinctive side to it influenced by local notions of “popular justice.” Local communities matter in how police officers understand their jobs and how they deliver police services. Policing in Milwaukee, Wis. is not policing in Chicago, Ill., even though they are only 90 miles apart. In fact, in large cities policing is so variable police administrators have to respond in ways that are innovative and unique to local circumstances within their own communities.
Police research has demonstrated the importance of environment and supervision in producing community acceptable outcomes among the officers who protect us every day. Police administrators know that policing differs by police district and as such one should expect police attitudes to be variable on just about any issue you can think of, and this includes the issue of gun control. Why would the police be any different than any other occupational group on any particular issue?