Police Culture Research Paper

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The job of a police officer can be both mentally and physically exhausting. As such, officers rely on one another for emotional and physical support. Terms like brotherhood, thin blue line, and blue code of silence are common illustrations of the cultural bond that officers share. Most often connotations of police culture (or police subculture to some) are negative. For example, when officers misuse their coercive power, it is often police culture that gets blamed (for endorsing a no nonsense aggressive approach to dealing with citizens). When organizational reforms, like community policing, are met with officer resistance, the culture is cited as the primary barrier to soft policing innovations brought on by “out of touch” administrators. At the same time, police culture can operate as a powerful positive mechanism in helping officers mutually buffer the various tensions of their job.

Unfortunately, a great deal of vagueness comes with the concept of police culture. That is, if you asked people to define and explain it, you are liable to receive 100 different responses from 100 different people. The most popular depiction of police culture views it as an occupational phenomenon shared by all police no matter where (or for whom) they work. As such, there is more of a focus on the commonalities across police personnel over the differences. Even among those who endorse the occupational view, there is a great deal of variation in describing the facets of police culture. Cumulatively, this is problematic because it limits our ability to fully understand, and comprehensively research, this important aspect of policing.

In illustrating the ways of conceptualizing police culture, consider the occupation of criminal justice professor. Undoubtedly, across the various universities that house professors, there are commonly shared cultural ways of handling the work-related strains created by students as primary clientele (e.g., class size and preparation, advising, grade appeals, plagiarism) and administrative supervisors (e.g., expectations for peer-reviewed publications, procuring funded research, service). At the same time, it is reasonable to expect that such demands, and subsequent ways of coping, vary depending on the type of institution where one works (e.g., large researchoriented university versus small private teaching college). Moreover, these strains might be met differently based on the working style of the professor (e.g., pro-research versus pro-instructor). Even among criminal justice professors housed within the same institution, concerns and demands might be interpreted differently across the ranks of assistant, associate, and full professor. Relatedly, for those in the upper tiers, cultural variation might also be a function of changing assignments (e.g., research coordinator, departmental chair, associate dean, dean). One’s background (e.g., gender, race, educational experiences) might also work to produce differences in the ways in which criminal justice professors deal with the pressures of their work. If one could effectively tease out the various influences, across these divergent conceptualizations, it would undoubtedly produce a deeper comprehension of criminal justice professor culture(s). A similar approach is taken in this research paper in understanding police culture.

The Occupational Culture Of Policing: The Monolithic Model

The foundation for understanding police occupational culture dates back to the seminal work of William Westley (1970) who, in the 1950s, conducted one of the first sociological studies of policing. In doing so, Westley highlighted important themes of the police occupation. More specifically, he found that the police he studied were a secretive tight-knit group that often faced violence on the streets in performing their duties. In detailing these informal aspects of policing, Westley was painting the first picture of its kind. In essence, the message delivered was that cops believed they have to stick together in their interactions against potentially dangerous and hostile citizens.

The other significant contribution to our initial impressions of police culture was the research of Jerome Skolnick (1966), who explained how the occupation actually worked to shape a distinct police personality. Similar to Westley (1970), Skolnick detailed life on the streets for the police officer as a dangerous endeavor, one where officers wield a tremendous amount of authority over citizens. Skolnick also tapped into a third primary feature that helped form the police personality, the need to appear efficient to superiors, which introduced an equally dangerous and hostile work environment – the police organization.

Both of these ethnographic accounts of police work highlighted many of the informal aspects of the job while also providing a loosely defined template for scholars in comprehending the occupational culture of police. More specifically, these two studies started the process of thinking about the ways in which police officers collectively cope, via their attitudes, values, and norms, with the strains created by their work – which is precisely what defines an occupational culture (Paoline 2001). Unfortunately, unlike foundational explanations of crime causation that tended to clearly (and parsimoniously) posit sets of interrelated propositions, full accounts of police occupational culture have been as vague as the concept of love. That is, you tend to know it when you see it but can mean different things to different people. From a theoretical and empirical standpoint, this can be both confusing and frustrating.

The works that followed Westley (1970) and Skolnick (1966) described and analyzed several different components of culture that tapped various dimensions of the street and organizational environments. What was lacking though was a clear comprehension of how these individual elements, that research identified, contributed to an overall understanding of the police culture process. That is, what exact features are police dealing with in their primary work environments that are in need of occupational collectiveness? In addition, what are the so-called collective responses that officers utilize to manage the strains of these environments? Finally, what are the consequences of the strains of the work environments and the coping mechanisms that are used to deal with such concerns? While the elements for such an understanding were present in the volumes of research (e.g., an explanation of police loyalty, the crime fighting mandate, citizen danger), a concise roadmap of these correlates, in explaining exactly what a police culture entails, was not readily existent. The monolithic model of police culture, presented by Paoline (2003), helped clarify these concerns.

Paoline’s (2003, p. 201) description of the monolithic occupational culture of policing presents, based on extant research, a way to conceptualize the stressful factors of the work environments that operate to produce collective coping mechanisms and outcomes. In a path-like presentation, he identifies interactions on the street with citizens (i.e., occupational) and those with supervisors in the department (i.e., organizational) as the two primary work environments of the police. As a starting point for understanding what produces the coping mechanisms of the monolithic culture, the occupational street environment is described as dangerous, with the defining mandate to display one’s coercive authority over citizens. The model also details the organizational environment as being characterized by uncertain supervisor scrutiny of police decisions (i.e., watchful and punitive superiors) and role ambiguity whereby officers are expected to perform all police functions equally yet really only recognized for crime fighting duties. Both the occupational and organizational environments produce equally intense stress and anxiety that is relieved through the collective coping mechanisms found within the occupational police culture.

In illustrating the second principal feature of the monolithic police culture model, Paoline (2003) identifies suspiciousness (in dealing with danger) and maintaining the edge (in properly displaying coercive power) as the primary coping mechanisms that officers employ in handling the strains created on the street with citizens. In terms of dealing with supervisors within the equally hostile organizational environment, the culture prescribes that officers lay low/c.y.a. (from watchful and punitive superiors) and embrace the crime-fighter orientation (in minimizing role ambiguity). These prescriptive coping mechanisms of the police occupational culture are transmitted across officers via a socialization process that begins in the training academy and continues throughout one’s career (Van Maanen 1974). The final stage of the model highlights the consequences of the strains of the work environments and the coping mechanisms prescribed by the culture, which include a socially isolated occupational group that is extremely loyal to one another.

Collectively, the work that helped produce this model paints a caricature sketch of police as a socially isolated group that are distrustful and suspicious of their primary clientele, as they continually attempt to maintain the upper hand in utilizing their coercive authority. Moreover, officers approach police work solely in crime fighting terms while laying low from supervisors, choosing to only trust their immediate peers. While this is the dominant portrayal of police culture, other research points to important ways in which the occupational group may be fragmented.

Sources Of Variation In Police Culture

The preceding discussion regarding a police culture rests on the assumption that the strains that police face on the streets and within the department are the same across the United States and therefore officers’ responses should be similar as well (Crank 1998). By contrast, there are other lines of research that cast doubt on the notion of homogeneity among police by pointing out important sources of cultural variation and segmentation.


Although often used synonymously, occupational and organization cultures are not the same phenomenon. As opposed to a universally shared set of responses to the internal and external strains of the job (for all police) that make up occupational accounts of culture, organizational cultures represent ways that police deal with specific concerns from the various places where they are housed. A principal difference between occupational and organizational accounts of police culture lies within the locus of influence. Occupational cultures are usually formed and maintained by lower level personnel (Van Maanen and Barley 1984), while organizational cultures are created by upper level management and imposed downward through the ranks (Schein 1992). Irrespective of such nuances, this suggests that police organizations, embedded within the overall occupation, exert cultural influence over police officers. James Q. Wilson’s (1968) seminal study accentuates such points.

Wilson’s (1968) examination of organizational culture, which he believed was indicative of a departmental style, was based on research conducted in eight communities. Wilson identified three organizational styles that differed in terms of their priorities toward core role orientations of enforcing the law and maintaining order. The author asserted that it was the top police administrator that defined the given style of the department based on their interpretation of the primary needs of the community being served.

According to Wilson (1968), some departments are situated within urban environments characterized by greater crime concerns, and thus the agency will embrace more of a formal crime fighting detached approach to police work. In such legalistic style departments, arrests and tickets will be more frequent compared to other organizational styles. By contrast, Wilson’s watchman style departments are more common in low crime rural areas, focusing primarily on maintaining public order. Watchman style departments are less likely to formally respond to citizen transgressions unless they are serious in nature. Wilson asserted that the relational distance between the police and the public in watchman areas would be much smaller than that found in legalistic style departments. Finally, service style departments are described by Wilson as those where law enforcement and order maintenance is not an overall priority, but would be handled as needed. These departments focus on providing assistance and are more likely to be situated in suburban areas with less crime and disorder. Wilson explained that service style departments are closely connected with citizens, choosing to intervene frequently (when needed) but not formally (i.e., arrests and tickets).

Wilson’s (1968) research suggests that organizational environments vary, and as such, it highlights the fact that individual police responses to different work conditions might also vary. Interestingly, the legalistic style department he identified comports closely to the organizational environment found in explanations of the monolithic occupational culture. By contrast, the watchman and service style organizational environments represent vastly different internal work arenas where intense supervisor scrutiny and role ambiguity (noted in the occupational account) would be much less common. Likewise, Wilson’s work also points out rather stark variation in the occupational/street environments, as watchman and service style areas are not characterized as overly hostile and crime ridden. As such, cumulative coping mechanisms where officers are suspicious of (and maintain the edge over) citizens, strictly endorsing the crime-fighter image, while covering their ass from supervisors might be functional in a legalistic style department but certainly would be out of place (and probably not tolerated) in both watchman and service style agencies.

Recent empirical inquiries have provided additional support for the ways in which policing functions and philosophies differ across organizations embedded in urban, rural, and suburban contexts (Crank 1990; Liederbach 2005). This line of research casts doubt on occupational accounts of culture that suggest that all organizations are the same while also acknowledging that management can impact police culture.


Occupational accounts of police culture focus heavily on the homogeneity of officers’ attitudes, values, and norms. The socialization process transmits the culture across occupational members and is often described as intense, especially for new personnel (Van Maanen 1974). Because all police at some point in their career are assigned to patrol functions, the supposition is that culture originates at the lower ranks. This is understandable given that patrol officers are those most likely to deal with citizens on the streets and with supervisors in the department. What is much less clear is the role that culture plays in officers’ lives once they move beyond entry level positions. Does the occupational culture still buffer the strains of the work environments for sergeants, lieutenants, captains, majors, deputy chiefs, and chiefs the same way(s) that it did when these officers were assigned to patrol, or does culture change by rank? The works of Reuss-Ianni (1983) and Manning (1994) help answer such questions.

Reuss-Ianni (1983), based on research conducted in the NYPD, asserts that there are two distinct cultures in policing. The street cop culture, which Reuss-Ianni delineates in a series of codes, concentrates on the “here and now” in policing and embodies many of the values outlined previously as part of the police occupational culture. Street cops are found at the patrol level and tend to rely on their developed craft, as well as their loyal peers, in surviving on the street and controlling crime at the local level (i.e., beat and precinct). By contrast, management cop culture focuses on city-wide long-term concerns (e.g., crime control, citizen responsiveness, organizational efficiency), taking into account political, social, and economic factors. Importantly, Reuss-Ianni believes that temporal changes in the dynamics of policing (e.g., officer composition, resource competition, accountability concerns) have contributed to a weakening of the street cop culture of the “good old days” when organizational leaders could still utilize the codes of the street in running police departments.

The importance of Reuss-Ianni’s (1983) work lies in her recognition that rank contributes to differences in police culture. This makes sense given that duties and concerns do change as one moves upward from patrol with the organization. This might also help explain some of the tension noted between officers and their supervisors in the occupational account of police culture. While it is clear that street cop culture originates and protects occupational members at the patrol level, the author fails to inform the reader exactly when police enter management cop culture. That is, it is easy to deduce that top commanders are embedded in the management cop culture, but what about ranks like sergeants and lieutenants (i.e., middle managers), who are in organizational limbo between the very bottom and the very top. Manning’s (1994) work helps alleviate such concerns.

Manning (1994) agrees that police culture is hierarchically segmented, although he differentiates rank in a three-tiered manner based on a series of themes and meta-themes. At the first tier are lower participants (i.e., patrol and street sergeants) whose culture, like Reuss-Ianni’s (1983) street cops, focuses on the immediate aspects of “real” police work. The author’s second tier of culture focuses on middle management (i.e., some sergeants up to department brass) who emphasizes supervisory control but also concentrates heavily on buffering concerns of line members of the street (i.e., the first tier) and top police officials (i.e., the third tier). Finally, top command culture (i.e., commanders, superintendents, deputy chiefs, chiefs) represents the third tier. Here, there is a concentration on dealing with the politics of running a police department internally while also buffering the organization from external audiences.

Interestingly, in terms of middle managers, Manning (1994) points out that sergeants assigned to street functions can rest within the first tier (i.e., lower participant culture), while middle managers with other responsibilities beyond patrol may be part of the second tier. Here, the author allows for behavioral freedom for sergeants who, as supervisors, might still align more with the line level versus management. Although not addressed by Manning, the same argument can be made for first tier lower participants, who depending on their assignment (or aspirations) might differentially align with police culture(s). For example, those who have jobs with duties that are based on more traditional aggressive crime fighting mandates (e.g., criminal investigations, tactical, K-9, anti-street crimes, SWAT, emergency response units) might be more apt to orient themselves with the lower participant culture. By contrast, those in positions that focus more on long-term solutions to controlling crime with increased officer participation (e.g., crime prevention, community outreach, school resource, community policing, victim advocate, homeland security, tourism units) might orient themselves more like upper ranking officials.

Both Reuss-Ianni (1983) and Manning (1994) highlight the dynamic nature of police culture as changing and adapting to insulate group members’ issues and concerns unique to their position in the organizational hierarchy. As such, their work suggests that police culture is not monolithic, but instead comprised of multiple cultures based on rank.


Yet another way that police culture can be segmented is by the style of the officer. In a series of studies published in the 1970s, researchers constructed typologies of the police based on their orientations toward various features of their occupational/street and organizational environments (Broderick 1977; Brown 1988; Muir 1977; White 1972). Of interest is the fact that these researchers were utilizing different dimensions to construct their typologies and were working independent of one another across various departments, areas, and time – yet they concluded with almost identical types/styles of officers. This was evidenced by Worden’s (1995) synthesis of American police typology research into five distinct officer styles. Reiner (1985) also summarized typology research, utilizing some of the studies that Worden (1995) included (i.e., Broderick 1977; Muir 1977), although he incorporated work done on British and Canadian police. Interestingly, both authors concluded with very similar syntheses of officer types.

Worden (1995) provides a thumbnail sketch of the five primary styles of police officers. Worden’s tough-cop approaches police work in a cynical fashion, often conflicting with citizens and supervisors in their aggressive approach to selectively fighting serious crime. These officers do not want to be bothered with trivial police matters (e.g., maintaining public order or providing service), and they place a premium on their street experience over formal college education. This style of officer would be your stereotypical gruff “cop’s cop” that is often portrayed in television and movies, as one that is not afraid to push (or perhaps even exceed) the limits of police power if deemed necessary.

A second style, clean-beat crime-fighter, resembles the tough cop in their cynical approach, strong orientations toward crime fighting, and conflicting relationships with supervisors. What separates this style of officers from the former is their undying pursuit of enforcing all laws, not just the serious ones (in keeping a clean beat), and their belief that police should follow the procedural rules (i.e., not violate citizen rights).

Avoiders are described as a cynical group that, as their name implies, avoid as much work as possible. This style of officer has a very narrow approach to police work, as they take “laying low” to extremes. Their orientations toward all aspects of the job are rather detached, as they attempt to just do their time.

Problem solvers are those officers with very favorable attitudes toward citizens and the service style of policing. Problem solvers are the group that is least oriented toward crime fighting and aggressive policing tactics. As opposed to traditional ways of handling situations, problem solvers focus on outcomes, desiring to see the problems they are called upon to deal with through to their resolution. To many traditional police officers, the approaches endorsed by the problem solver would appear as “soft.”

Professionals embody the values of the professional reform movement and are characterized as the most positive of the five policing styles. Officers in this group hold favorable orientations toward all aspects of their street and organizational environments. Professionals are portrayed as the most well-rounded group in terms of performing multiple functions (i.e., broad role orientation) in a manner in which citizens are not treated aggressively and where supervisors are pleased.

Police typology research illustrates that there are a variety of ways in which officers cope, via their style, with the demands of their job. Interestingly, Worden’s (1995) tough-cop orientation comports closely to the attitudes and values associated with occupational accounts of culture, as well as Reuss-Ianni’s (1983) street cop culture and Manning’s (1994) lower participant culture. The other four styles summarized by Worden suggest the type of ideological differentiation that forms the basis for occupational subcultures (Van Maanen and Barley 1985). While research has yet to empirically validate these working styles, one thing is clear – there is more than just a single way for officers to deal with the strains of policing.

Officer style research illustrated cultural fragmentation among police during a time when officers were relatively demographically homogenous (i.e., White males with a high school education). Changes in the overall composition of police (i.e., more females, non-Whites, and college educated), as well as policing philosophies (i.e., community policing), in recent decades prompted reexaminations of police culture(s) (Paoline et al. 2000). Moreover, recent empirical approaches have utilized advanced statistical classification techniques, such as cluster analysis and discriminant function analysis, to examine more than the two or three attitudinal dimensions that were used for previous police typology inquiries (Cochran and Bromley 2003; Jermier et al. 1991; Paoline 2001). Similar to the research that produced evidence of policing styles, studies that utilized quantitative classification schemes also found multiple groups of officers with varying alignment to a single occupational culture. Because much of this (and typology) research is based primarily on officers’ attitudinal orientations, it begs the question as to the applicability of such approaches on explanations of officer behavior. The age old attitude-behavior link has stymied social scientists for decades, as empirical connections have failed to verify intuitive expectations that one’s attitudes affect one’s behavior (Frank and Brandl 1991). Paoline’s (2001) classification scheme provides one of the few exceptions.

Paoline (2001) utilized survey data collected as part of the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (POPN) to analyze several prominent attitudinal features of prior police culture research. Paoline identified seven groups of officers with varying cultural orientations. Five of the groups very closely resembled those Worden described in the framework he presented in 1995: tough cops (i.e., traditionalists), clean-beat crime-fighters (i.e., law enforcers), avoiders (i.e., lay lows), problem solvers (i.e., peacekeepers), and professionals (i.e., old pros). The other two officer groups were anti-organizational street cops, who were distinguished in terms of their strong negative views of supervisors and their strong favorable views of citizens, and dirty harry enforcers, who were distinguished in terms of their strong beliefs in aggressively fighting crime and disorder, even if it meant violating the rights of citizens.

Although Paoline’s (2001) seven groups were attitudinally and empirically distinguishable from one another, there was no genuine way to rank order them (for comparison purposes) in terms of a continuum of police culture commitment. The groups did provide the author with a conservative manner in which to categorize them in terms of positive orientations toward culture (i.e., pro culture), negative outlooks or antithesis of cultural expectations (i.e., con culture), and those that fell somewhere in the middle of the two extremes (i.e., mid culture). Paoline’s trichotomized classification scheme of police has been utilized to empirically examine the connection between cultural attitudes and theoretically related behaviors of citizen searches (Paoline and Terrill 2005) and the use of force (Terrill et al. 2003). In both instances, statistically related differences were noted between officers’ cultural alignment and their behavior. More specifically, those who held attitudes that were strongly congruent with the traditional police culture (i.e., pro culture) or mixed (i.e., mid culture) searched citizens more often during traffic stops and used force more frequently (and at higher levels) than those who ardently resisted cultural attitudes (i.e., con culture).

Background Characteristics

Besides the organization, rank, and policing style, officer background represents another potential source of cultural variation. As previously mentioned, the foundation for understanding the monolithic occupational account of police culture was built during a time when policing was largely a demographically homogenous occupation (i.e., made up almost exclusively of high school-educated White males). Researchers have detailed the integration struggles and resistance that female (e.g., Martin and Jurik 1996), non-White (e.g., Bolton 2003), and gay/lesbian (e.g., Miller et al. 2003) officers have faced in a male-dominated masculine occupation. To a lesser extent, college-educated officers have been chided for their “book smarts” over the preferred “street smarts,” in learning the craft of policing (Fielding 1988). The idea here is that those with different backgrounds from the modal officer are excluded from the broader occupational culture.

As departments continue to diversify their personnel in terms of their individual characteristics (Hassell and Brandl 2009), it is certainly reasonable to expect that these previously excluded policing members will, in some manner, contribute to a less cohesive occupational group. To date, we lack a concrete understanding of how such advancements in officer diversity affect police culture(s). That is, despite qualitative (and detailed case study) accounts of cultural dissociation, background characteristics of police provide limited power in explaining cultural perceptions among police (Paoline et al. 2000). In fact, the impetus for some of the recent officer classification schemes, in revisiting working styles, was built on the notion that diversification of personnel should produce differences in cultural alignment (Paoline 2001). Even among these studies that utilize advanced statistical techniques with larger sample sizes, there is little (if any) systematic connection between officer background characteristics and their group membership. In the end, such work suggests that cultural variation may have little to do with one’s background.

The lack of a strong empirical connection between officer characteristics and alignment with police culture(s) could be a function of a couple of factors. It could be that demographic changes that are occurring are still too recent, and thus, we have yet to see the full cultural effects of such transitions in membership. A second explanation could be that the forces of cultural socialization as so strong, as some traditionalists would assert (Van Maanen 1974), that individual differences (via one’s sex, race, education, sexual orientation, etc.) are washed away as officers collectively deal with the strains of the occupation. As such, the primary environments of policing are what shape the culture or subcultural styles, irrespective of what officers bring to the job.

Conclusion And Future Research

Police culture has been a topic of study for over half a century. Although the monolithic depiction still tends to dominate popular conceptions, this research paper illustrates that police culture is a multidimensional concept that is molded and shaped at various levels (i.e., organization, rank, style, assignment, background). Police scholars, in attempting to understand this police phenomenon, have wrestled with such complexities. At the same time, police culture is not just an academic concept, as practitioners recognize its power, vagueness, and malleability. As noted by the Community Relations Service of the United States Department of Justice’s (2002, p. 9) handbook on “Police Use of Excessive Force,” in order to change police culture, “one must analyze and understand the currently existing culture.” While this research paper summarizes many of the advancements in detailing the pathways and contours of police culture, much more work is needed. As Fielding (1988, p. 185) accurately contends “if occupational culture is to serve as an empirically satisfactory concept as well as theoretically necessary one, the sense of its internal variations and textures must be brought out in the same fashion as have conceptions of culture in relation to delinquency.” What follows are a few suggestions for future research inquiries.

Ideally one would want a totally comprehensive study, which would require starting at the occupational level and working through differences between and among organizations, ranks, styles, assignments, and backgrounds. Simply put, this may be asking way too much at this point. A more reasonable request starts by considering the various sources of influence on police culture.

The monolithic account of the police culture was created based on early ethnographic studies interested in capturing themes across officers. It is not surprising then that cultural similarities were the focus over cultural segmentation. Even if we acknowledge the sources of cultural variation, typology (and recent officer classification scheme) research did find one style of officer that deals with the strains of the primary work environments in the same manner presented by monolithic characterizations. Paoline (2003) presented a model for understanding this monolithic version of culture, and while parts of it have been researched, the entire model has yet to be empirically tested. As a logical starting point, it would be interesting to gather baseline data regarding the extent to which this traditional culture model is endorsed among contemporary police. This is especially salient given that policing philosophies are revisiting more bottom line crime fighting goals (e.g., COMPSTAT) at the cost of many community policing initiatives that have permeated agencies for the last 20 years. At the occupational level, we still do not have a firm empirical grip on the things that officers might share versus the exact points where they might be divided.

Regarding the influence of the organization, researchers should continue efforts aimed at examining departmental style as it impacts police culture(s). In doing so, empirical work can be done to deduce whether organizational environments, via agency style, are similar or dissimilar from that noted by Wilson (1968). For example, the rural and suburban areas that made up the smaller watchman and service departmental styles might be organized and operating in different ways today as criminogenic forces (e.g., gangs, unincorporated areas for producing and distributing drugs) are not just reserved for legalistic urban areas. As such, the directives and goals espoused as part of today’s watchman and service organizational styles may look more similar to the legalistic style than that noted in the 1960s.

With respect to officer styles, efforts should be made to examine the connected (or disjointed) way(s) in which individual level approaches to dealing with the strains of policing operate within organizational level, top command-driven, styles. Jermier et al. (1991) found differences between subcultural groups of officers and the legalistic style crime fighting official organizational culture. This begs the question – what about other departmental styles and potential organizational survival of officer styles? For example, the crime fighting approaches of Worden’s (1995) “tough cop” and “clean-beat crime-fighter” would certainly seem out of place compared to a “problem solver” or “professional” in a service style suburban department, as opposed to a legalistic style organization where the former would be more of a fit than the latter.

Regarding rank-related sources of variation, disentangling officer assignment and formal designation within the police hierarchy would be useful in understanding how culture(s) differ across Manning’s (1994) three primary tiers. For example, can lower level participants, with assignments that call for increased officer participation and long-term orientations, align more like middle managers and their culture than their own? Conversely, can captains that are assigned to aggressive crime fighting street duties orient themselves more like lower level participants? In addition, do officer styles differ across the three tiers or is the culture monolithic by rank? If policing styles, as proxies for subcultures, develop at the patrol level, how and when do they change as one advances through the organizational hierarchy? In what way(s) do supervisory styles impact the development and maintenance of subordinate styles? These are but a few questions whose answers would add greatly to our police culture knowledge base.

Finally, despite the lack of consistent statistical associations, the demographic changes that have occurred in policing should continue to be part of police culture research. In doing so, racial (and ethnic) groups other than dichotomous White and non-White (predominantly comprised of African Americans) classifications should be part of such inquiries (e.g., Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, Alaskan Native). As such, previously excluded groups continue to populate police organizations, especially above the patrol level, cultural (and sub cultural) differences might be more visible. The same holds for those with divergent educational backgrounds and sexual orientations that differ from the traditional blue-collar aggressive crime fighting officer depicted in characterizations of the police culture “brotherhood.” Moving beyond descriptive accounts of the struggles of those with divergent backgrounds and focusing on quantitative multivariate modeling will enhance our understanding of the potential independent effects of such factors on police culture(s).

The individual pieces of the multidimensional puzzle have been presented here in an attempt to detail the various intricacies of police culture. If scholars, practitioners, and funding agencies are serious about the overall importance of understanding (and possibly changing) police culture, it is high time to devote the empirical effort required to fully comprehend the way(s) in which officers deal with their work environments.


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