I thought I knew the difference between 'police' (police officers) and 'the police' (a police organization). But this NYT sentence made me doubt it.

Meanwhile, demonstrators with sledgehammers and pickaxes were dismantling the plaza they have occupied for weeks, breaking apart cobblestones to be used as weapons against the police.

(from here)

You can't throw a physical object at an organization. I believe NYT is well edited.

  • 1
    We refer to publications as well edited rather than well redacted. (The term "redacted" is used primarily to mean "edited out"/"censored".)
    – rjpond
    Sep 4 '20 at 21:25
  • @rjpond You're right but technically it's the first meaning of the word in Lexico: lexico.com/definition/redact Sep 5 '20 at 8:40
  • Well, of the six examples they give for that first meaning ('edit for publication'), at least four of them are clearly used to mean "edit out"/"censor" or "reduce in length for various reasons", and the other two might well be at well, so the distinction between senses 1 and 1.1 isn't as clear as you might think. (Their very first example for "edit for publication" is: ‘a confidential memo which has been redacted from 25 pages to just one paragraph’.)
    – rjpond
    Sep 5 '20 at 8:47

You can refer to a group of police officers as "the police". It doesn't necessarily mean the organization as a whole, but it does refer to a group of people who are all members of the organization.

"The police" can, depending on context, refer to two or more officers in a specific location ("I got pulled over by the police today"; "Rioters threw stones at the police"), the police department of a particular city ("The police are corrupt, they're all on the Kingpin's payroll"), or all police everywhere ("The police don't protect people like me.")

You can interpret this as 'the police' being used as a collective noun, or you can read it as synecdoche, referring to the organization as a whole to talk about individual parts of it (similar to how you could talk about America doing something or Spain doing something when you really mean the government of that place or the people of that place). I'm not sure which one would be more technically correct.

  • This is totally correct, but would nitpick-edit "refer to the group of people" to "refer to a group of people"!
    – BadZen
    Sep 4 '20 at 20:33
  • So what is the difference between the two terms if they both refer to a group of police officers? Sep 5 '20 at 8:45
  • @SergeyZolotarev There isn't a lot of difference in most circumstances. "Police did this" or "The police did this" mean roughly the same thing. There is a slight difference in that the second one implies that they were acting in an official capacity as officers while the second might refer to something the officers in question did that would not be appropriate in their position, but it's not a particularly firm dividing line. Sep 8 '20 at 14:48
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    For example, if you said "Police took bribes from Wilson Fisk" you aren't necessarily claiming all police did that; just an unnamed, non-specific group of police officers. If you said "The police took bribes from Wilson Fisk", you are claiming it's all police officers, or at least the organization of officers as a whole, who accepted the bribes. The second one places blame on the entire group, while the first one doesn't. If you said "The police took bribes", somebody might well respond, "That isn't fair. Some of them did, but there are still honest officers on the force." Sep 8 '20 at 14:56
  • But you don't throw projectiles at all police officers at once Sep 8 '20 at 20:24

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