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Discovering the best way to organize and manage the police is a popular topic among police managers and administrators, researchers, reformers, and others interested in improving the American police. Over the past century, police organization and management have changed tremendously. Many of these changes can be attributed to changes in the environment of policing: the development of new technologies, the emergence of new offense types, differences in public opinion about the police, and managerial innovations in the public and private sectors. This research paper highlights some of the important changes that have taken place in the organization and management of American police agencies, explains briefly why these changes occurred, and discusses some of the current trends that provide a hint of changes to come.
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The American System of Policing
The American system of policing is unique by world standards. There are approximately twenty thousand state and local police agencies in the United States (Maguire, et al.; Reaves and Goldberg, 1999). Other English-speaking democracies have a much smaller number: Canada has 461, England has forty-three, India has twenty-two, and Australia has eight (Bayley). Furthermore, the majority of police agencies in the United States are only loosely connected to one another. Many have overlapping jurisdictions at multiple levels of government, including city or town, township, county, state, and federal agencies. The majority are general-purpose agencies with responsibility for patrolling a certain area, responding to calls from citizens, and investigating certain offenses. Most of the general-purpose local police departments are small, with 81 percent (11,015) employing fewer than twenty-five full-time sworn officers, 42 percent (5,737) employing fewer than five officers, and 7.5 percent (1,022) relying on only part-time officers (Reaves and Goldberg, 1999). Others are special-purpose agencies with responsibility for a specific territory (such as a park or an airport) or function (such as enforcing alcoholic beverage laws or wildlife regulations). Some agencies do not fall neatly within these categories. For instance, sheriffs’ agencies in some states do not provide police patrol, but do provide a variety of other related services: running jails, guarding courtrooms, or providing canine service, undercover deputies, or investigative assistance to local police agencies. These variations in the size, type, and function of American police agencies make it difficult to establish an ideal method of organization and management applicable to all agencies.
A number of influential critics have claimed that because the American system of policing is so fragmented and loosely coordinated, it is ineffective and inefficient. For instance, Patrick Murphy, former police commissioner in several American cities, once wrote that many communities
are policed by a farcical little collection of untrained individuals who are really nothing more than guards. These genuinely small departments (fewer than twenty-five sworn officers), to begin with, tend not to have much of a franchise by and large; with small territory and limited clientele, they do not face much of a crime problem. (Murphy and Plate, pp. 71–72)
Murphy was one of several reformers to suggest that these small police agencies should be eliminated or consolidated into larger and more professional departments. For instance, one of the major recommendations made in 1967 by the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice was the coordination and consolidation of police services (p. 67).
Supporters of police consolidation tend to focus on two themes. First, they claim that larger police organizations can make more efficient use of resources by taking advantage of the economies of scale resulting from eliminating redundant functions. Second, many believe that the fragmented nature of the American policing system results in poor communication, coordination, and cooperation between police agencies. This results in an information-gap that allows victims and offenders to ‘‘slip between the cracks.’’
Research by Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues casts at least some doubt on both of these concerns. They studied patterns of police service delivery in eighty mid-sized metropolitan areas throughout the United States, containing 1,827 ‘‘police service producers.’’ In a series of publications, Ostrom showed that when it comes to the size of a police organization, bigger is not necessarily better (Ostrom and Smith; Ostrom, Parks and Whitaker). Ostrom and other researchers have found that smaller police agencies often deliver more personalized services, have higher clearance rates, and are able to deploy a higher proportion of their personnel ‘‘on the streets’’ (Weisheit et al.).
Ostrom also found that while metropolitan areas in the United States are policed by a patchwork of agencies, they have developed locally cooperative networks for delivering public safety across jurisdictional lines. These networks are glued together with an array of formal (contractual) and informal (handshake) agreements between agencies. Two techniques used to minimize the fragmentation are contracting services out between law enforcement agencies and forming mutual aid agreements that allow officers from neighboring agencies to render assistance as needed. A 1997 study suggests that police consolidation may not be economically beneficial to communities (Finney, 1997). While consolidation may be a good solution for some communities, evidence suggests that it may not be a universal cure for police fragmentation.
Cooperation also occurs among agencies at different levels of government. Many state police and highway patrol agencies provide patrol services on state roads, even when those roads traverse a community with its own police force. State and county agencies also routinely provide investigative assistance to smaller agencies, especially in the case of more serious offenses such as homicide or rape. The formality of these agreements ranges from written legal contracts to verbal agreements. During the 1990s, there also was a proliferation of multijurisdictional ‘‘task forces’’ to combat offenses such as drug-trafficking. According to one study, many were formed based on ‘‘the realization that drug sellers did not respect jurisdictional boundaries. Law enforcement agencies serving contiguous jurisdictions therefore needed to coordinate enforcement activities both to share information and resources and to avoid overlapping investigations’’ (Jefferis et al., p. 86). These task forces often contain representatives from agencies at the city or town, county, state, and/or federal levels.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) allows state and local law enforcement agencies to access the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database and the Automated Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS). It is also common practice for federal law enforcement agencies (such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)) to be called into local and state jurisdictions to collaborate in solving certain offenses, especially those that cross jurisdictional boundaries. While newsworthy cases such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing highlight the collaboration between local and federal authorities, more routine collaboration occurs regularly in police agencies around the nation.
Cooperation between agencies also exists at an international level. The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) ‘‘enables law enforcement information to flow easily from officer to officer across borders, language barriers, time zones, and terrains in the basic service of justice’’ (Imhoff and Cutler, p. 10). INTERPOL was established in 1914 to respond to criminal activity that transcends international boundaries. Although INTERPOL is not an international police force and does not have police powers, it serves as a means of communication between law enforcement agencies across the world. INTERPOL membership consists of 176 countries. Each member nation has a central headquarters called a National Central Bureau (NCB) that is managed by law enforcement officials from that country. The NCBs serve as hosts for information that is transmitted between INTERPOL members, as well as for information sent directly from INTERPOL’s main headquarters, or the ‘‘General Secretariat,’’ in Lyon, France (United States Department of Justice). INTERPOL has been responsible for solving international crimes dealing with religious cult groups, drug-trafficking, art thefts, the child sex trade, computer software fraud, organized crime, counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and money scams.
To foreign observers, the American system of policing seems disorganized and perhaps a bit chaotic. Despite the large number of agencies, a variety of mechanisms have been developed to seal the gaps between agencies. Thus, while law enforcement agencies at different levels of government do experience poor communication with other agencies and an occasional squabble over jurisdiction, they also cooperate with one another frequently. Some critics of the present system continue to suggest that the proliferation of small agencies results in a less efficient and effective system. Others find the American policing system to be the epitome of decentralized government, with local governments able to exert control over the kind of policing they receive. One consequence of having so many police agencies of different sizes and types is that there are important differences between them. The following section examines two of these: variations in the styles and structures of American police organizations.
Variation in Style and Structure
Until the early 1960s, American policing was a ‘‘closed’’ institution. State and federal politicians did not routinely run for elective office on platforms related to crime and policing. The average American citizen probably had little knowledge of what police work entailed. Courts did not devote much energy toward scrutiny of the police. In all, policing remained closed to the eyes and ears of the public and their representatives.
Several circumstances in the 1960s converged to open up American policing to external audiences. Police use of force and discriminatory treatment of minority citizens became a prominent theme during protests over civil rights and the war in Vietnam. Several of the riots that engulfed American cities occurred in the aftermath of police actions such as shootings, traffic stops, or raids (Walker). Classic news stories of the era captured images of police officers using excessive force against citizens. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (1968) found that ‘‘deep hostility between police and ghetto communities’’ was a primary determinant of the urban riots that it studied. The U.S. Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, began to closely scrutinize the activities of the police. In several landmark cases, the Court restricted the powers of the police to conduct searches (e.g., Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)), obtain confessions (e.g., Miranda v. Arizona, 348 U.S. 436 (1966)), or prevent detainees from consulting with an attorney (e.g., Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964)). Finally, rising crime rates during the 1960s also began to cast doubts on the effectiveness of the police. From 1968 to 1971, three national commissions recommended sweeping reforms of the American police: the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, and the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice.
Research since the early 1970s has shown that police officers have a great deal of discretion in their day-to-day work. They must regularly make decisions about conducting searches, making arrests, using force, stopping vehicles, issuing warnings, and many other discretionary activities in which police engage daily. While the criminal law structures some of the decisions that police officers make, it does not, in most cases, dictate what they must do. Therefore, police officers are frequently left to their own devices in making decisions. Since the 1960s, however, a number of controls have been instituted to reduce the amount of discretion that police officers have to make certain decisions. For instance, many agencies have formal written policies governing the conditions under which police officers can pursue a fleeing vehicle or use deadly force against a suspect. Some state legislatures and police agencies have instituted statutes or policies that require police officers to make an arrest when they see evidence of domestic violence. Despite these types of controls, the conditions under which police officers do their work make it difficult to curtail their discretion very much. As long as they continue to work alone in low-visibility settings in the absence of direct supervision, police officers will need to rely on some degree of discretionary decision-making.
Because they have so much discretion, police officers develop different styles of policing. Some are aggressive, busily making arrests, stopping vehicles, and seeking out offenders. Others prefer a more laid-back approach, counseling juveniles and issuing warnings rather than making arrests whenever possible. Even when police agencies try to constrain discretion by declaring ‘‘zero-tolerance’’ policies for offenses such as drug possession, officers sometimes prefer not to make an arrest in certain situations. The notion that a police officer develops his or her own ‘‘working personality’’ is in stark contrast to the image of a police officer as an automaton, responding impartially to every situation according to the letter of the law.
In 1968, James Q. Wilson observed patterns of discretionary behavior in eight police departments. He found that police organizations, like the individuals within them, also tend to develop unique styles of policing. Wilson developed a taxonomy to describe three prominent styles of policing that he observed: legalistic, service, and watchman. In legalistic-style departments, officers initiate formal contact with citizens and structure their work according to the criminal law. For many years, the Los Angeles Police Department was regarded as the prototypical legalistic police agency, with its reputation for neatly pressed uniforms and the ‘‘just the facts, ma’am’’ reputation popularized by Sergeant Joe Friday on the television series Dragnet. In service-style departments, officers initiate informal contact with citizens and rely less on the criminal law. In watchman-style departments, officers neither initiate contact with citizens as frequently, nor rely as much on the criminal law.
Wilson argued that the social and political environment in which a police organization is situated has an effect on the style of policing that it adopts. Cities adopting the legalistic style tend to have more heterogeneous (mixed) populations and professionalized, nonpartisan, ‘‘good governments’’ (exemplified by the city manager form of government). Service-style departments tend to be located in cities with more homogeneous populations and professional, nonpartisan governments. Cities with watchman-style departments tend to have more heterogeneous populations and a more partisan political tradition (exemplified by the mayor-council form of government).
Police agencies are not only defined by their styles, but also by their structures. According to Robert Langworthy, structure is ‘‘the framework on which a police organization arranges its resources to conduct its activities’’ (p. 17). The following seven elements are the core dimensions of a police organization’s structure (adapted from Langworthy and from Maguire):
- Vertical Differentiation: The nature of the hierarchy, including the number of command layers and the social distance between layers.
- Occupational Differentiation: The extent to which the organization relies on employees with specialized occupational skills.
- Functional Differentiation: The degree to which the organization divides its work into specialized functions. Nearly all police agencies have separate divisions for patrol, investigations, and administration. The further they divide these divisions into more specialized subunits, the more functionally differentiated they are.
- Spatial Differentiation: The spread of the organization within its jurisdiction. Police agencies with a single headquarters facility are less spatially differentiated than those with precinct houses, substations, and other offices located within neighborhoods.
- Administrative Intensity: The proportion of employees assigned to administrative support functions (like human resources or computing) as opposed to core tasks such as patrol or investigations.
- Formalization: The extent to which an organization relies on formal written policies and procedures rather than informal guidelines such as tradition or friendship.
- Centralization: The extent to which decisions within an organization are concentrated at the top of the hierarchy.
Police organizations adopt different structural configurations. Some have up to twelve levels of command, while others have as few as four. Some are centralized, with decisions flowing down from the chief’s office, while others are more decentralized, with decisions flowing up from patrol officers.
For much of the 1990s, police reformers debated the best ways to structure a police organization. Following trends in the private sector, police management textbooks for much of the twentieth century urged police executives to adopt formalized, centralized, specialized, and hierarchical structures. Community policing seeks to reverse this trend, urging decentralized, less hierarchical, more generalized, and less formal structures. Research has shown that police organizations are changing their structures slowly, but not as radically as urged by community policing reformers. Nevertheless, there is a small but growing trend among police agencies to reject traditional structures.
Managing Police Organizations
Given the variations in the styles and structures of police organizations, is there one best way to manage and administer them? Most experts in management do not think so. They draw on one of the iron rules of organizing: that successful organizations adapt to the specific circumstances (or contingencies) of their environments. This is known as contingency theory, and it is the framework for the following discussion.
Traditional methods of police management emerged from two sources: a militaristic view of policing, and management concepts from the private sector that were established in the beginning of the twentieth century. The most influential writer on police management from about 1950 to the early 1970s was Orlando W. Wilson, former superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. Wilson’s popular textbook on police administration reinforced classic managerial principles: span-of-control (having a limited number of subordinates per supervisor or manager), an unambiguous hierarchy (so everybody knows to whom they must report), and centralization of command (in which decisions are made at the top and flow down). This school of police management has become known as the ‘‘military’’ or ‘‘professional’’ model.
Since the early 1970s, reformers have urged police administrators to adopt more democratic styles of management. As Egon Bittner wrote ‘‘The core of the police mandate is profoundly incompatible with the military posture. On balance, the military bureaucratic organization of the police is a serious handicap’’ (p. 51). Reformers argue that policing is ill-suited for military management strategies because the vast majority of police work involves dealing with citizens in ambiguous ‘‘low visibility’’ settings. In other words, since so much of what the police do is discretionary, a military model of management stifles the ability of police officers to make on-thespot decisions.
For much of the 1970s and 1980s, discussion about the faults of the military/professional model was little more than rhetoric. Other than a few documented attempts to change styles of police management, the movement to change basically picked up momentum over that twodecade period. Those efforts that did attempt to change police management failed in many ways, although their experiences provided lessons for designing strategies for change in the future. For example, in 1971, the Dallas Police Department attempted to implement a comprehensive strategy ‘‘intended to produce vast organizational change and personnel enhancement’’ (Wycoff and Kelling, p. ). While there were some successes, the process of change has been described as painful and tumultuous: many people involved in the change process experienced negative psychological, physiological, and professional consequences.
During the 1990s, various reform efforts that had been gathering steam over the past two decades began to coalesce into a single movement known as community policing. Community policing is a comprehensive reform movement that has been defined a number of ways. One definition, used by the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, contains three elements: organizational and managerial change, problem-solving, and community partnerships. Most relevant for this discussion is the focus on organizational change as a distinct component of community policing. As the managerial change agenda became associated with community policing, it was taken more seriously than when it was a stand-alone movement. Now, police agencies all over the country are experimenting with new management styles such as Total Quality Management (TQM). Police administrators now obtain degrees in business administration and public administration. Some are more likely to read the Harvard Business Review than Law and Order.
The community policing movement emerged at the same time as other significant movements in business and government. Hammer and Champy’s Reengineering the Corporation (1993) had a dramatic effect on corporate management styles and strategies. Similarly, Osborne and Gaebler’s Reinventing Government (1992) and Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review (1994) have led many government agencies to adopt similar strategies. These ideas are influencing police administrators. For instance, former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, one of the most well-known police executives in the nation, claims that he had ‘‘become a staunch advocate of using private-sector business practices and principles for the management of the NYPD, even using the business term ‘reengineered’ rather than the public policy term ‘reinventing’ government’’ (p. 224). The confluence of the community policing movement with the emergence of these popular management strategies has led to changes in the management of police organizations. The changes are not yet evident in every police agency, and even those agencies that have experimented the most with new strategies still have vestiges of the military or professional model. However glacial these changes may be, it is apparent at national meetings of police executives that change is in the air. One of the most well-known innovations in police management during the 1990s is Compstat (computer comparison statistics). Compstat was initiated in the New York City Police Department by former Commissioner William Bratton, who used computerized databases to track crime and disorder in each precinct. Bratton held meetings in which precinct commanders were expected to be familiar with the trends in their jurisdiction and have formulated a plan to respond to those trends. Compstat was the cornerstone of Bratton’s crime reduction strategy. Many attribute the dramatic reductions in New York’s crime rate to Compstat, though criminologists have expressed some reservations about this claim. At a minimum, Compstat is an interesting example of how to use technology as a management tool. Agencies around the nation are now embracing Compstat, adopting sophisticated information technologies that allow them to track data on crime, disorder, calls for service from the public, and the nature of the police response. The following section explores the impact of information technologies on police organization and management.
Information Technologies and The Police
Police organizations collect and store a vast amount of information. Traditionally, this information resided on sheets of paper stored in file cabinets. Today, police organizations are being transformed by the information age. Most have implemented management information systems (MIS) to record, store, access, and analyze data on calls-for-service from citizens, the nature of the police response to these calls, reported crimes, arrests, gun permits, motor vehicle stops, and many other types of data. Some agencies maintain centralized control over access to information, while others have adopted integrated management systems that can be accessed by law enforcement officials at any level (from patrol officer to chief). This ‘‘all access’’ approach allows employees with different needs to access the data without having to wait or file a formal request. Some agencies store and access data electronically, but do not use it as a means for improving the organization. Others use data as a tool to improve management and operations. While most large police agencies today have made enormous improvements in their capacity to collect and store large amounts of data, many have made little progress in using the data they collect. Developing the ability to use data for improving operations and management represents an important challenge for police organizations today. This section introduces some of the information technologies used by police and discusses their potential for improving police management.
Computer Aided Dispatch systems (CAD) are now commonly used by many police departments. CAD systems prioritize calls-for-service received by the communications center, ‘‘stacking’’ less urgent calls so that police officers can respond to those calls requiring more immediate attention. Once a call is prioritized by the CAD system, it can be broadcast to an officer in a patrol car through either the radio or a computer. CAD makes it easier for human call-takers and dispatchers to remain abreast of what calls are being answered, where officers are located, and how long they have been out on a call. This reduces the likelihood of dispatching errors and enhances officer safety (George). CAD systems are also useful for collecting and storing data. Once a call is received at the communications center, it is categorized by the CAD system. Depending on the agency’s information storage capacity, the data are then integrated into the information system for some period of time, after which they are archived for long-term storage.
Many police agencies in the United States now have Mobile Digital Terminals (MDTs) or Computers (MDCs) installed in their patrol cars (hereafter referred to as MDTs). MDTs have a number of uses, not all of which are available in all jurisdictions. First, they allow an officer to receive ‘‘silent dispatches’’ over the computer rather than through the radio, so that police scanners cannot be used to monitor police communications. Second, officers can check motor vehicle registrations, drivers’ licenses, and outstanding warrants directly, without having to wait for a dispatcher to run a computer check. Third, officers can enter police reports into the computer while out in the field, rather than having to return to the police station early to complete paperwork. Fourth, officers can send e-mail to other officers, including those who are not on duty at the time. Finally, officers can sometimes retrieve information on arrests, criminal backgrounds, and calls for service from databases that are networked between agencies at local, state, or federal levels. According to the 1997 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) survey, 78 percent of large municipal law enforcement agencies in the United States use some type of mobile digital terminal or computer (Reaves and Goldberg).
Using statistical methods and geographic mapping techniques to analyze trends in crime, disorder, arrests, and calls-for-service (hereafter called crime analysis) is now becoming popular in many agencies. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are useful for visually plotting the occurrence of particular offenses within a jurisdiction. By combining statistics on crime, disorder, arrests, or calls-for-service with descriptions of land areas, crime analysts are able to ‘‘map-out’’ those areas in the community with concentrations of particular problems. The police can then focus their efforts within these relatively small ‘‘hot spots.’’ The maps produced by GIS are more than a fancy replacement for the old-fashioned ‘‘pin maps’’ used by police for years. Ideally, they should be able to track crime trends (or trends in calls or disorder) as they evolve. Thus, if a police sting operation in a particular neighborhood results in the displacement of offenders to the surrounding areas, the GIS maps should reflect this movement. Few agencies have reached this ideal state yet due to problems in linking separate databases and computer systems. Once these problems are ironed out, crime mapping will represent an increasingly important tool used by the police to analyze and respond to crime trends. According to the 1997 LEMAS survey, 60 percent of local law enforcement agencies with one hundred or more officers use computers for crime mapping (Reaves and Goldberg).
Other information technologies have more direct application for conducting investigations and tracking offenders. For example, digital imaging allows ‘‘mug shots,’’ suspect composites, and other photographs or images to be stored electronically and transmitted to other police agencies. The Automated Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS) stores pictures of fingerprints in a national database of over 30 million fingerprint cards (Peak). AFIS allows investigators to solve criminal cases that are several months or even several years old. According to the 1997 LEMAS survey, most local and state law enforcement agencies that employed one hundred or more police officers had access to AFIS in 1997 (Reaves and Goldberg).
Because management information technology has become so valuable to police departments across the country, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has created the Law Enforcement Information Management Section (LEIM) to create long- and short-term goals for the use of computerized information systems in law enforcement agencies. Members of LEIM believe that the dramatic increase in the use of computers by law enforcement officials will also increase the need for computer training at every level of law enforcement in the future (International Association of Chiefs of Police). Police agencies face a number of hurdles as they struggle to embrace the information age. Finding qualified and trustworthy information technology professionals is often difficult for police agencies. Those who are qualified can usually find much higher-paying positions in the private sector. Analyzing information for operational purposes (such as crime analysis) is one step above simply collecting and storing it. Analyzing information for management purposes—to enhance accountability and improve the responsiveness of the organization—represents a much more dramatic step. Both steps are necessary before police organizations can truly become ‘‘learning organizations’’ (Senge).
Police Recruitment and Training
So far, much of the discussion has involved changes in the police organization: its structure, style, management, or technology. Yet many police administrators think it is at least as important to change the people within the organization. This means developing recruitment and training strategies that produce a new breed of police officer. For instance, Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier suggests that police organizations need to recruit officers with ‘‘a spirit of service rather than a spirit of adventure.’’ For community policing to take root, officers will need to be as interested in serving the community as in fighting crime. Others believe that while recruitment may be one strategy for changing police organizations, it is not the only answer. Furthermore, many police agencies have little control over their recruitment strategies due to civil service hiring restrictions. Nonetheless, there have been some changes in recruitment since the 1970s.
One of the major changes in police recruitment has been the effort to attract individuals who represent the population they will serve, including females and minorities (Langworthy et al.). To carry out their sensitive role, police officers must be able communicate effectively and compassionately with a diverse population. Policing has historically been a white male institution. Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (specifically Title VII) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, this trend has started to change. A series of court cases in the 1970s and 1980s further defined the legal guidelines for hiring minority and female police officers. Over the past twenty years, there has been an increase in the number of females and minorities in large police departments (Reaves).
Police departments use a variety of techniques to recruit applicants: they place ads in newspapers and on Internet sites, post flyers and brochures, contact criminal justice programs in colleges and universities, and attend career fairs. They also attract potential applicants through a variety of programs such as citizens’ police academies, ‘‘Explorer’’ groups for young adults, reserve or auxiliary officer programs, and college internships. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice established the Police Corps, a scholarship program for college students who agree to work as police officers for at least four years after graduating. The Police Corps program is expected to increase the pool of educated applicants to police departments, while at the same time reducing the cost of recruiting and training new officers (Office of the Police Corps and Law Enforcement Education).
In addition to selective recruitment efforts, a sound and well-balanced training curriculum is another method for improving the quality of police personnel. While the importance of police training was recognized by police reformers at the beginning of the century, it was not until the early 1960s that it became more accepted by police administrators (Langworthy et al). Although there are variations across the country, there are three core types of police training: (1) basic training, (2) field training, and (3) in-service training. Basic training teaches basic skills and techniques necessary to conduct day-to-day police work. General topics covered in basic training include police procedure, criminal law, use of force, emergency response, ethnic and cultural diversity, interacting with citizens, and numerous other specialized topics. After basic training is completed in the academy, rookie officers (or ‘‘boots’’) sometimes participate in a field-training program in which they accompany field training officers (FTOs) on patrol. In field training, rookie officers apply the knowledge and skills acquired in basic training to real-life situations on the streets. FTOs assess whether recruits are able to conduct routine police activities skillfully and independently. Also, it is during field training that rookie officers are socialized into the police subculture, a force that exerts considerable influence over police officer’s behavior (Van Maanen).
Police training continues over the course of a police officer’s career with in-service training that takes place for a required number of hours per year (determined by individual police departments). Workshops, classes, and conferences on specialized topics can teach seasoned officers new techniques, as well as provide them with valuable information that can be incorporated into daily police activities (Haley). Some current topics taught during in-service training include community and problem-oriented policing, dealing with youth gangs, new types of drugs, and a variety of other specialized topics.
Training is a double-edged sword. Some amount of police training is necessary to ensure that officers have a core body of knowledge and certain skills. Although it is common for citizens and politicians to request more and better police training, it is a tired remedy for fixing whatever is wrong with the police. Mastrofski claims that ‘‘Training can be very useful for when trying to give officers new skills, but it is decidedly ineffective in changing officers’ attitudes and motivations’’ (p. 6). Furthermore, many police agencies (especially smaller ones) send their officers to regional training academies whose curriculum they have little control over. Once again, training may be one answer to improving police organization and management, but it is not a miracle cure.
Throughout the twentieth century, police administrators, politicians, reformers, and scholars have sought out the best ways to organize and manage the police. Perhaps the biggest lesson learned is that there is no one best way. Although the American policing system is unique by world standards, it contains fascinating differences in style, structure, management, technology, and personnel. In their quest to improve the organization and management of American police agencies, police administrators continue to experiment with innovations in each of these areas.
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