Are cops "civilians"?

Usually somewhere in some thread regarding cops, someone refers to non-police citizens as “civilians.” Whereupon someone else jumps in and says, “not all cops are in the reserves, so cops are civilians, too.”

Technically, it is true. Police are pretty much defined by most (?) people to specifically not be in the military. (I’m ignoring people who are police and military.)

However, I have to admit, that outside of the definitions, I don’t see much of a difference. What I see in differences are pretty much organizational details, but not in the “big picture.”

F’r instance:

[ol][li]____ have more permissions to carry and use guns than civilians* do.[/li][li]____ are authorized to use force to keep the peace.[/li][li]____ are usually found in uniform, unless they are doing clandestine work.[/li][li]____ have ranks, chain of command, oaths, divisions, barracks, etc.[/li][li]____ have access to a wider array of weapons than civilians.[/li][li]____ have training in martial arts and weapon use. (Not that civilians can’t, but that it is required for .)[/li][li] have specially altered vehicles, modified for use as weapons.[/li][li]____ have legal powers above what civilians do.[/li][li]____ enforce our laws and wage wars.[/li][li]____ are a group of people (force) with weapons (armed).[/li][/ol]

(I think that will be enough for now; you all should get my point.)

  • For the purposes of this thread and clarity, I am defining “civilians” as non-military and non-police officer. “Cops” are police officers, and for the sake of this argument, not members of the reserves / gaurds / etc. “Military” are all members of the armed forces, reserves, gaurds, etc.
    Are cops the sixth armed force? Granted, they are not lead by a national heirarchy, but there are enough similarities to make me pause before I say that “cops” are not an “armed force” and are therefore inherently different than “military.”

What say you? Are police officers “civilians” or "military"

Disclaimer: I am not saying this is a bad thing; I am arguing semantics. And, of course, I am sure this is not the first iteration of this debate. If you are going to post a link to an old debate, please have some sort of summary other than “yawn, it’s been done before.” 'K? Thanks.

I’m was unaware that that police are in the habit of waging wars and no the war on drugs doesn’t count.


My understanding is that some police refer to non-police as either “civilians” or “scumbags”. I should think members of the military could fall into either category, depending.

What the OP’s referring to is jargon. Police jargon has the term civilian to mean non-police. So, in that instance, even folks in the military can be civilians!

It might be regarded as jargon: often a term will take on a specialized meaning in a given occupational or social context. Everyone who is not a trufan, for example, is a Dane – and it has nothing to do with whether they pledge fealty to Margrethe II; it’s short for “mundane.” I hope Monty will forgive me for the classic wisecrack along these lines, to the effect that, “in Salt Lake City, the synagogues are attended by Gentiles.”

The citizenry whom the police are pledged to protect and serve are “civilians” in the sense that they are not trained police: Just as the military has as a major purpose to protect and defend the civilians from armed incursion, so the police protect and defend the “civilians” from crime.

Except of course for M.P.'s, and policemen in the Armed Service Reserves, all police are “civilians” as opposed to military – but “civilian” has the special context, in police jargon, of meaning “non-policeman.” If the Joint Chiefs of Staff hold a meeting in Kansas City, to the K.C.P.D. they are “civilians” – people to be defended against criminals.

In my experience, in the context of a job, “civilian” means “everyone else.” When I did road work one summer for the city street department, we called all the non-city employees “civilians.” When I worked at a deli, “civilians” were anyone who didn’t work in food service. Slightly tongue in cheek, yes, but everyone, no matter what the job, seems to refer to the outsiders as “civilians.”

A bit further then I would have taken it, but I have seen the trend in emergency resposnes where civilians are those people not emergency responders.

A relative who is a former police captain once told me that cops tend to divide the world into 3 types of people: Cops, civilians, and scumbags - but that some cops divide the world into only 2 types. :wink:

There has to be a word for someone not sworn to uphold the law, not with special responsibilities as an officer of the court, not with arrest powers, etc. If that word weren’t “civilian”, what *would * it be?

There is more similarity between police culture and military culture today than ever. All you need to do is watch television news and study cops, then soldiers, as they’re interviewed. Same buzzcuts, same blank indoctrinated faces, same formalized official way of talking. The only differences are that cops can be older, and fatter, and they generally don’t use as many acronyms.

So explain to me the difference between a major drug bust gone wrong, where SWAT is on scene trying to outgun armed “enemies of the peace,” and skirmish between coallition forces and insurgents.

I will freely admit that the former does not happen with anything near the frequency of the latter, however, the comparison is there. Perhaps I should have used the word “battles.” Would that make a clearer comparison for you?
And as for the terms used by the police themselves, that’s kinda one thing I am getting at. If they define “non-police” as civilians, should non-police define cops as “non-civilians?” This leads to the quandry of what term to use. “Military” seems to be about right, given the number of similarities.
Lastly, as for the views of Cops on the Military (and the reciprocal), I would submit that since, depending on the situation, either might have jurisdiction/authority over the other, the views going both ways are not that disimilar.

A considerable number of police officers and firefighters in the US are military veterans, in large part because of automatic hiring preferences under Civil Service laws. Many continue to serve in the military, in the Reserves or Guard. One would expect at least as much cultural overlap as personnel overlap.

“Cop” fills the need for a word, doesn’t it? It already connotes the special rights and responsibilities that come with the job.

I don’t consider anyone in a position to exercise the state’s “monopoly on violence” to be a civilian. YMMV.

As the son of a police officer, the brother of a police officer and the father of a police officer, and a journalist who for 20 years covered police officers (which, I think, is about as close to being a police officer as one can be and still never be one) I have to say that Polycarp’s summation is dead-on, and that there is nothing substantive to add to it. Not much debate here, folks – **Polycarp ** nailed it. Again.

I quite disagree that the debate is finished. I am not asking what terms cops use when describing non-cops. I am asking if there are enough similarities between the cops and military to warrent lumping them together, and keeping one term to mean (in its strictest sense - i.e. not as jargon) “people who are in neither the military nor law enforcement.”

That is, instead of the “normal” view, (i.e. that military are one group, and cops are a part of the “civilians”), I am arguing that “cops” are (despite organizational differences) just as “military” as the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard.

FTR: I am related to several state LEA’s, one national LEA, and a couple of military folks and am a paramedic.

I think you just provided us with a fine example of the difference. As you point out when the lead starts flying when the SWAT team is involved something has gone “wrong” since they try to avoid those kinds of situation. The military isn’t in the business of avoiding conflict and in a similiar situation they’re going in there to kill. Their goals are usually quite different.

I will grant you that there are superficial comparisons but that doesn’t make the police a military force. At least not in the United States at this time.


“Utah. Where the Irish are Republicans and the Jews are Gentiles.” I have no idea when I first heard that old saw.

Quite a number of stereotypes you’ve chucked in there. Would you care to address the issue in this thread in the spirit of the forum, that of Great Debates, instead?

No, cops are not part of the military. They enforce laws within the bounds of the US legal system. The military do not enforce laws, and for the most part are prevented from operating inside the US with regards to the civilian population.

They both have guns, but in the US lots of people own and are allowed to carry and use guns. A drug raid by cops and a firefight in Iraq have some very rough similarities, but are different in most other ways. To lump both groups under the term “military” in not a useful categorization. Cops are no more military than a private securty firm or bounty hunters.

Why do you think that the police are military? Is it because they have some pretty major firepower these days? If so, do you call armed bank robbers or gang bangers “insurgents”?

:dubious: Really? The armed forces as a whole may be tasked with the invasion and restoration of Iraq / Afghanistan, but I can’t really see the difference. Individual units of coalition forces stationed right now in Iraq patrol the streets and get invovled in gunfights. Individual units of Law Enforecement Agents patrol the streets of USA, and, when they need to, they get in gunfights.

I still disagree that these similarities are superficial. Lemme count the number of times I’ve been in a gunfight…
Maybe I am going about this all wrong. You tell me how “cops” are similar to “civilians” and dissimilar from “military.”

I have been places where the cop / soldier line was blurred. Check out a Caribbean island where the cops wear camos and carry automatic rifles and then suggest that the US police force and military are not two seperate entities.