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Running Header: Discourse Community

Discourse Community
Joshua Montanez
University of Texas at El Paso









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A discourse community is a group which is identified by six different characteristics and
my pursuing career in law enforcements satisfies all six elements. In law enforcement it is
entirely important that the discourse community maintain its structural and formal shape. Within
the field of criminal justice and law enforcement, the discourse community is obviously
organized in a great manner. Law enforcement itself satisfies the six characteristics of discourse
communities very well and this proves that the discourse community is present. Within this study
of the El Paso Police Department, we will look into how exactly communication throughout the
departments works, and how the methods they use are sufficient in satisfying the requirements
for a discourse community. The El Paso Police department will be discussed within this study
and the department is a great method of identifying the ways and methods of law enforcement as
its own discourse community. This study will explain why the discourse community is
important to the field of law enforcement for both organization and communication. Second this
study will also prove that the discourse community within law enforcement fully satisfies the
requirements and that the community understands the importance of those requirements. Lastly,
the study will help identify key points in evidence by utilizing methods of interviews, artifacts,
and natural observation.
John Swales(1990) is a Professor of linguistics at the University of Michigan and
discusses the characteristics of a discourse community within his book Genre Analysis.
Swales(1990) explains that the discourse community needs to meet the criteria of six different
characteristics. As stated by Swales(1990) I would like now to propose six different
characteristics that will be necessary and sufficient for identifying a group of individuals as a
discourse community. 1.) A discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public
goals. 2.) A discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.
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3.) A discourse community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information
and feedback. 4.) A discourse community utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the
communicative furtherance of its aims. 5.) In addition to owning genres, a discourse community
has acquired some specific lexis. 6.) A discourse community has a threshold level of members
with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise. (p.472-473) John Swales
provides this study with the backbone necessary to prove that the law enforcement field satisfies
the conditions for a discourse community. The first requirement is fairly necessary because it is
very oftenly common that members of any community will tend to share the same goal in general.
Goals will often influence a member to join the discourse community and those goals are what
motivate the members. The second requirement emphasizes the need of some form of
communication throughout its members of the community. It iis very important that the
discourse community shares a form of communication such as meetings, writing, or personal
discussion. The third requirement is a small branch of the second requirement because it states
that the communication stated whether it be verbal or written must be used for purposes
concerning some method of feedback or information. Information will help the community
further enhance their abilities to pursue close to their intended shared goal. This requirement is
actually the biggest connection between law enforcement and its relation of information through
the department. The fifth requirement states that the community has developed a form of specific,
identical and unique form of lexis for its members. Lexis is the stock of words used by the
community which could be represented in various forms of either slang, code words, symbols,
and abbreviations. Inside the police department, this requirement is crucial to its communicative
intentions. The last requirement helps the community become balanced in a manner experienced
members to novice members. This balance helps the community understands its roles as
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members and create the development of stronger individuals. This threshold is important as
Swales(1990) states, ...survival of the community depends on a reasonable ratio between
novices and experts. (p.4730). Swales(1990) emphasizes the importance of having the balanced
group of individuals for the survival of the discourse community. These six requirements helped
this study of the El Paso Police Department in identifying how each characteristic fit perfectly
within their discourse community. By relating to the findings of Swales(1990), it has been
entirely efficient in helping describe the community.
The methods I used for this study were intended to be those around the ideology of
naturalistic observation. I first identified a key group for my future career in which I knew that
communication was crucially important. I chose to study the El Paso Police Departments
Westside Regional Command Center. I first chose this center because it was the closest to my
home, and because I happen to know several officers from that command center. I chose first to
interview not just one police officer, but also chose to interview two highly experienced officers
and one novice which had just commenced her career. I chose to interview both officer Segura
and Officer Hernandez. Both officers pertain to the same unit dedicated to the crime prevention
aspect of law enforcement and with previous experience of field patrol. Both officer Segura
and Hernandez have maintained more than 12 years with the police department, serving up to 9
years in patrol duty and up to 3 years in crime prevention duty. I chose both these officer because
of their lengthy experience within the field. I also decided to choose a recent graduate of the
Police academy for reference to the novices point of view. Officer Ponce was the officer
interviewed in concern to how a rookie or novice writes in their discourse community.
Previous to the interviews, I discussed with them the requirements and characteristics of what a
discourse community consists of. Therefore they were aware and knowledgeable of the aspects
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of a discourse community. After interviews with all officers, I gather an example of the SFST
(Standardized Field Sobriety Test) sheet with a fake example of a persons test. This
documentation was supported by a sheet of a prior 81 (signal code used in police systems to
describe the situation of a traffic accident). Both the 81 sheet and SFST sheet were given to me,
and I proceeded to analyze the lexis used within their writing. After the interviews with the
officers I completed my study by naturally observing the communication of the discourse
community throughout the department. I proceeded to observe for over 4 hours of inside
communication between Officer Hernandez and Segura, but also communication within Officer
Ponce and her partner. I sat in there office intentionally isolated and viewed how their paperwork,
verbal discussion, and writing was sent out through the department. This observation helped
answer a few questions of how the process of the departments communication worked.
The results of this study were fascinating and proved that the El Paso Police Department
qualified as an institution of discourse community. The community fully satisfied the six
requirements of a discourse community extremely well. Both officers showed exemplary
examples of the significance of their writing towards their department. The El Paso Police
Department is 100% dedicated to developing information within their system that will help
officers reach their intended goal. This intended goal described by Swales(1990) as a shared
common goal throughout the discourse community is divided by the department into three basic
principles. The officers of the department have a huge banner located inside their briefing with
their shared common goal as police officers, the banner states Officer Safety, Life Preservation,
Enforcement of the Law. The three principles all equal into one big goal for the police officers
and will remain the same for all their future officers as well. This shared goal helps understand
that all officers gather information in order to provide more efficiency for their intended goal.
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During the interview with officer Hernandez, I question him of what the goal of all officers is, he
then proceeded to say Officer safety because we must learn to take care of one another, Life
Preservation because we must understand that life is valued by our citizens and we must protect
that life, Enforcement of the Law because without the law there is mayhem. Surprisingly officer
Segura and officer Ponce verbatim Hernandez answer. This evidence proves that all officers
experienced or not, value the same share goal. This goal is supported by the second and third
requirement of having mechanisms of intercommunication throughout its members and using
those mechanisms for feedback and information. All police officers will have weekly
meetings,emails, or verbal conferences with other officers throughout their department. Officers
engaged in patrol duties will often debrief after a specific scenario such as an encounter with
domestic violence subjects. Before making a specific arrest, all officers whom have interrogated
a subject must meet together and discuss the sides of each story. From this discussion,
information is shared, facts are told, and evidence is gathered. Feedback from each officer is
discussed and officer preference then comes into play if whether or not an arrest should be made.
This form of communication is vital in both the court system and the overall communication to
further discuss processing inside the department. The information gather is then kept in record
and utilized if an officer needs additional information for another case concerning the previous
recorded case. The conversations between officers for investigative purposes are often generated
into different genres. The fourth requirement is that there must be topics, forms and overall
structure present for the development of ideas. Therefore officers will often speak about various
cases concerning investigative cases, tactical cases, civil cases, homicide cases and several other
different topics in which discoursal differences take place. The fifth requirement states that a
discourse community must utilize a system of lexis that only the community comprehends. This
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is possibly the most evident of requirements when conducting my interviews because often in
times they would ask me to remain silent for various seconds as they listened cautiously to their
police radio. The dispatcher would say one sam one four three, please assist a forty eight. To
the reader, the dispatcher sounds almost as if they are speaking gibberish nonsense. Although in
fact it is a system of number and signal codes used to provide identification to police officers and
situations ocurring. In this study the signal codes provide legitamate examples of lexis within the
discourse community because you must be a member of the community in order to understand
the codes. When questioned about why the police department uses signal codes officer
Hernandez answered It provides the officer with an anonymous form of identification for
himself. This protects him from unwanted listeners inside our radio channel and using signal
codes provides police officers with easier methods of communicating a certain event. For
example if I pulled over a person for speeding, I would announce to dispatch that I have a signal
code 37 which then signifies that I am in the action of conducting a traffic stop. Much easier for
officers to understand because it is the circulatory system of the department. We need our own
language. This statement by Hernandez helps prove that the El Paso Police Department uses
unique coding systems that no ordinary citizen could understand. The last requirement is
satisfied as well because the balance between rookies and experienced officers inside the
department is successfully helpful in both the development trained personnel and the ability to
balance good from bad. When I questioned Hernandez concerning what the differnece between a
rookies writing to an experienced officer he said A rookie will often follow the exact format
that they learned within the academy. They will proceed to continue with this same method until
they feel the need to improvise or they feel comfortable enough to change their way. An
experienced person writes from experience and not from structure. This proves that rookies will
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stick with a formatted method given to them by the academy, once they have gained enough
knowledge and experience the officer may begin to drift away from the original value, but the
previous format is never forgotten,therefor the original structure is never lost.
The El Paso Police Department has proved to be an amazing study concerning the actions
and writing abilities of a discourse community within my field of study. The writings I have
analyzed were very similair in both structure and method. I concluded that an officer writes using
a third person narrative, always explaining what each parties actions were. The different sides of
the story are necessary because police officers write reports for trial or courts. It is very rare that
an officer will write for their leaders such as sergeat, Liutenant, or Commander because an
officer writes for the courts only. The writing must be clear, full of vivid detail, and must
describe the incident with enough detail for the courts to understand. Their form must be
completely elaborated because once the reported has been submitted, the defendant will attempt
to catch the details that the officer missed and utilize them for his defense. The officer will learn
from this court experience and start to develop their own writing style for his or her own defense.
Officer Ponce (novice) stated I must paint a picture for a person who was not present, I must
use details 100% and must understand what courts want.. It is important to understand that the
audience that police officers writer for are the courts.
This study helped develop a further understanding of how my future career qualifies as a
discourse community and how that communication is important. The study helped explain the
uses of language, the creation of a unique lexis, and the differences between officers writing
methods. Studying a legitimate example of a DWI report and a traffic accident report, helped me
analyze the systems and ways that police officers write with and the tools such as structure.