Policing | Section 5.2

Fundamentals of Policing by Adam J. McKee

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Police Administration

Most college educated rookie officers do not envision themselves working traffic for 25 years.  They are more ambitious and desire to move up through the ranks to leadership positions and higher pay.  There is no doubt that leadership positions come with more pay, but many students fail to appreciate the added responsibility and knowledge requirements necessary to be an effective police leader.  Unfortunately, many great officers were promoted into leadership positions to find that they were mediocre leaders and managers. The skillset is different and must be augmented with a firm grasp of many different proficiencies.  Traditionally, police departments did a terrible job of aiding officers in the transition to leadership. That has changed in recent years, and police training and higher education have both begun to train leaders for success.

To fully grasp the material presented in this section, it is important to differentiate between three related yet distinct terms.  Most people tend to use the terms administration, management, and supervision as synonyms. When studying police administration, the terms should be considered distinct.  When the term administration is encountered in the literature, remember that it encompasses both the concepts of management and supervision.  Think of police administration as the process by which a group of officers is organized and directed toward achieving the goal of the group.  While specifics will vary from agency to agency, the general principles of effective and ethical administration remain rather constant.  A related concept is leadership.   While management and supervision usually falls on those with the associated rank, every officer in a department should strive to be a leader.

All large businesses, government agencies, and other organizations have numerous complex administrative activities that must be completed on a regular basis. Examples of these are planning, budgeting, hiring, training, purchasing supplies, and maintaining equipment and buildings. Large police departments may have single departments devoted to particular administrative activities, such as a budgeting department or a facilities management team. In small agencies, the responsibility for each process may rest on the shoulders of the chief executive, whether that person is a police commissioner, chief, or sheriff. Many texts on the subject divide administrative activities into three broad categories: line operations, administrative support, and auxiliary services.

Line Operations

Line operations include activities that serve the public and the goals of the organization directly.   They can include patrol, traffic enforcement, criminal investigations, crime prevention, and community services.  These activities are usually performed by sworn officers and are thus often regarded as “real police work” by officers.  Because patrol falls under this general heading, it represents the largest number of agency employees and activities.

Administrative Support

Activities that serve the agency’s needs and that have very little direct impact on the community or its residents come under the title of administrative support. These include hiring and training, budgeting, and internal affairs.  Although these activities are not typically outsourced, smaller jurisdictions have found it cost-effective to outsource some training support by collaborating with other agencies and may engage outside consultants for such activities.

Auxiliary Services

Activities that support line operations are sometimes known as auxiliary services.  These typically include records maintenance, property and evidence management, forensic laboratory services, detention, alcohol testing, facilities and equipment maintenance, and coordination of volunteers. Some auxiliary services can be outsourced. For instance, prisoners may be detained at a centralized county facility. And an agency may hire a private company to provide laboratory services or facilities maintenance services.

Policy and Accountability

Policy is a guide to the thinking and actions of those responsible for making decisions. Its essence is discretion. And policy serves as a guide to exercising that discretion. The development of policies to guide the use of discretion by police officers is key to the effective management of police organizations. It is also critical to the control of violence between the police and the community. A primary consideration of policy development, then, is to build accountability into police operations.

As stated in the opening chapter on values, the principle of police agency accountability to the citizens it serves is fundamental to the relationship. Police departments that adopted values that uphold professionalism and integrity have consistently established policies that recognize the importance of accountability systems that build citizens’ trust in police agency programs and personnel. The importance of policy development has also been underscored by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. Most of the commission’s standards require a written directive to provide proof of compliance with those standards. Almost all of the agencies that have been accredited, or are in the process of self-assessment, have commented on how the documentation of their policies and procedures has been improved.

There are three policy areas of particular significance with respect to police violence concerns:

  • policies dealing with firearms
  • citizen complaints
  • and public information

Use of Force and Alternatives

The appropriate use of force and the use of the least amount of force in effecting arrests are essential values which characterize a department that respects the sanctity of life. Officers and departments that fail to train in and demonstrate the use of appropriate force, not only create the potential for heightened racial conflict but also raise high municipal liability risks for their communities. Officers who are skilled in conflict resolution will find ways to avoid higher levels of confrontation. Where conflict cannot be avoided, less than lethal force can be employed by law enforcement personnel in accord with changing community values.

Citizen Complaints and Other Redress Systems

Even the best police department will receive complaints, and the absence of an effective complaint procedure has figured prominently in many cities troubled by allegations of excessive force. In fact, “Citizen complaints about police behavior, particularly the excessive use of force, is one part of the larger problem of relations between the police and racial and ethnic minority communities,” according to Samuel Walker and Betsy Wright Kreisel.  As a result, police executives generally recognize the need for a trustworthy vehicle for citizens to seek redress of grievances involving alleged police misconduct.

Most police chiefs know that when a department conveys to the public that it accepts complaints and is willing to aggressively examine allegations of abuse, police officers can expect to win the citizens’ confidence needed to do their job more effectively. The department’s complaint procedure should be set forth in writing regardless of the size of the community or the department.17 The best way to ensure that police officers conduct themselves properly in the performance of their duties is to set reasonable policies and then establish effective procedures for internal review and sanctions. But, as indicated above, the system for handling citizen complaints must be one in which all citizens have confidence. Nor can the principle be ignored that the police department is a public service agency which ultimately must be accountable to the citizens.

An increasing number of cities in which citizens have lost confidence in the internal review process have tried various configurations of civilian oversight mechanisms or civilian overview boards with mixed results. A number of arguments are made both in favor of and against these mechanisms. For example, some observers hold that the police cannot objectively review themselves, that civilian review strengthens public confidence in the department, and that it ensures that police officers do not abuse the law. “Official data on citizen complaints consistently show that racial and ethnic minorities are overrepresented among persons alleging police misconduct,” according to Walker and Kreisel.

This has resulted in a situation in which “the perceived failure of internal police complaint procedures has led civil rights groups to demand the creation of external, or citizen complaint review procedures,” Walker and Kreisel conclude.18 On the other hand, critics of civilian oversight or review maintain that civilians lack the knowledge and experience to evaluate the police, that such oversight inhibits officers’ use of force when it is warranted, and that such mechanisms are redundant because the police themselves review complaints against officers.

When municipal officials attempt to establish a civilian oversight mechanism, police executives should anticipate strong resistance from rank and file officers. In fact, even some of the most progressive police officials do not favor civilian oversight mechanisms. While they agree that there is a need for public accountability, these officials point out that oversight groups are not panaceas and have had only mixed success. They also suggest that emotions aroused by the establishment of civilian oversight mechanisms may themselves lead to insurmountable problems. Citizens who are chosen to serve can be briefed by police officials on policy, practices, and procedures and help them become more acquainted with the department’s operations so that they can serve better.

There are four basic types of oversight systems:

  1. Citizens investigate allegations of police misconduct and recommend findings to the chief or sheriff.  
  2. Police officers investigate allegations and develop findings; citizens then review the findings and recommend that the chief or sheriff approve or reject the findings.  
  3. Complainants may appeal findings made by the police or sheriff’s department to citizens, who review them and then recommend their own findings to the chief or sheriff. 
  4. An auditor investigates the process by which the police or sheriff’s department accepts and investigates complaints and reports on the thoroughness and fairness of the process to the department and the public.

Those establishing civilian oversight mechanisms, regardless of type or format, must address six issues when designing a charter:

  1. How much access to information will the public be given regarding the complaint and the process?
  2. Will conciliation between the complainant and the officer be attempted?
  3. Does the oversight agency or the police executive determine discipline for officers?
  4. What are the rights of officers during the process?
  5. Who receives complaints, and who investigates complaints?
  6. Will police officers be included or excluded as members of the oversight board?

Municipal Liability

The U.S. Supreme Court in Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York (1978), concluded that local governing bodies/municipalities can be held liable when a plaintiff alleges and proves “that official policy is responsible for a deprivation of rights protected by the constitution.” Since that 1978 decision, a number of courts have imposed liability on police supervisors and municipalities that do not take care to guard against officer misconduct and do not provide adequate training for their police officers In an article by Professors Daane and Hendricks titled “Liability for Failure to Adequately Train,” they state, “Not only does a good training program increase the effectiveness and safety of police officers, it may also reduce the potential for liability of the officers, the supervisors and the agency. This potential for liability may range from cases involving use of force and deadly force, the failure to provide medical care, to those involving arrest procedure.”  These authors further state, “…it is imperative that police officers be provided with excellent training; [and that] good police management through training helps to reduce liable incidents for the officer, the chief and the municipality.” (See full article in Appendix F-1.)

Public Information

An area of policy that goes hand-in-hand with police accountability and police-community relations is the law enforcement agency’s approach to release of public information. Clearly, the news media serve as a major source of information about the police and their activities. As such, the media play a key role in developing citizens’ views of the police. Given this important function of the media, it is difficult to understand why so many police agencies fail to develop a public information policy and a relationship with the media based on mutual respect and trust.

This is especially important in the area of police-community violence. Media coverage of incidents involving the use of force is often the only information the community has to form an opinion about the appropriateness of police action. There is a tension between informing the public about an incident and getting the facts on that incident. The department should have procedures for identifying who can make public statements, along with procedures for verifying information before it is released to the public. Silence on certain aspects of the investigation may be viewed as stonewalling, when in fact, the department simply does not have the information.

The department that explains why certain information is not yet available and makes assurances that, when it does materialize, it will be disseminated to the extent permitted by law, will be regarded as responsive to the community’s concerns. In the absence of information from official sources, the news media are forced to prepare the story based on information gained only from bystanders and unofficial agency sources, an approach that may result in less than accurate reporting of the incident. The stage is then set for friction between the police and media. Misinformed community members may also form erroneous perceptions of the police and their actions. Police officials must provide sufficient information and detail to accurately explain an incident. At the same time, they need to be careful not to jeopardize an investigation or the department’s position. This is a difficult expectation of the police, but it is not impossible to deal with both needs. The task is much less difficult with a clearly articulated public information policy. 

Racial Profiling and Bias-Based Policing

Law enforcement profiling is inappropriate when race or some other sociological factor, such as gender, sexual orientation, or religion is used as the sole criterion for taking law enforcement actions. Profiling that singles out members of the community for no reason other than their race is discriminatory and provides no legitimate basis for police action and has serious consequences. “Whether intentional or unintentional, the application of bias in policing tilts the scales of justice and results in unequal treatment under the law,” writes Ronald L. Davis, the author of a study on bias-based policing for the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).

Allegations of racial profiling and other bias-based policing activities, particularly traffic stops and random searches, have become national issues, as the escalating coverage in the media shows. There has also been legislative proposals at the state and national level addressing racial profiling, along with lawsuits brought by civil rights organizations and the U.S. Department of Justice. Racial profiling erodes the necessary trust between law enforcement officials and the communities they serve. There is also the collateral damage of police recruitment of minorities being made more difficult and minorities becoming less willing to participate in the criminal justice process.

The use of objective factors indicating potential criminal activity as a basis for making traffic stops may be a legitimate and effective law enforcement tool. However, inappropriate profiling impairs law enforcement’s abilities. Furthermore, the use of race as the sole criterion for making traffic stops is legally and morally wrong. Discriminatory traffic stops divide communities and make police and prosecutors’ jobs more difficult. One way to address this issue is with a defined set of department values that are the basis of the department’s policies and practices.

Law enforcement officials have to monitor and manage the discretion exercised by their officers to ensure their actions are guided by values and principles that gives preeminence to the civil rights of citizens. As Davis writes in the NOBLE study:

Racial profiling imposes on the basic freedoms granted in a democratic society. For many in the minority community, racial profiling is an old phenomenon with a new name. A common response to racial profiling is the development of policies that declare racial profiling illegal, limit officer discretion in the area of traffic stops, and mandate training in cultural diversity. These measures are a necessary first step, but alone they cannot reduce bias in an organization. Symptoms will resurface and appear in other areas, such as walking stops, the use of force, police misconduct, minority officer recruitment, retention and promotion. Racial profiling is not the standalone problem; it is a symptom of bias-based policing.

Police departments and communities can avoid debilitating accusations of racial profiling by communicating with each other about police strategy, crime trends, and community concerns. In a response to the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo by New York City police in 1999, George Kelling writes:

…Police increasingly rely on analysis of crime data, mapping and other methods to develop tactics for addressing specific problems. When they discover that guns are the primary instruments of murder in black neighborhoods, is it racial profiling or smart policing to target anti-gun efforts there? Resolutions to these issues are possible, but not easy. They involve balancing individual rights with community interests, effectiveness with costs, and the tradeoffs among important values…Police and neighborhood leaders will have to seek each other out aggressively and honestly…

Effective Police Leadership

Today, the policing function is viewed increasingly in terms of the “contractual” relationship with the people. That is, given the high community impact of law enforcement service delivery, such services should be based on community needs, safety, concerns, and on relentless enforcement of the law against criminals, with due consideration for the safety of officers. The contractual nature of this relationship notwithstanding, frequently neither minority community expectations of police conduct nor police expectations of support from the minority community have been met.

The result, of course, has too often been violent encounters between citizens and the police.  The seriousness of this situation, wherever it exists, makes it imperative that the community and police initiate steps to reduce violence.  As in all matters involving how law enforcement is conducted, the role of top police executives is key. Among a multitude of other duties, the police executive must establish personal credibility with all segments of the community. The chief must articulate law enforcement standards of conduct and make clear what behavior the chief expects of the department’s officers. The community should understand what constitutes unprofessional conduct and, above all, must have a reasonable understanding of procedures for investigating and adjudicating cases of use of deadly force.
To reduce the potential for violence, police executives must inculcate the values articulated by policy and procedure into two levels of the police department: the administrative level and the “line” or operational level. To accomplish the task of value transition on one level without doing so on the other is futile, for no change in police behavior will result. In addition to the two levels of the organization which the police executive must address, two dimensions of law enforcement must also be addressed: the police “culture” and various community cultures. Thus, to effect change in the police community violence, police executives must take a multidimensional approach.

Traditional approaches to reform have been one-dimensional, and have met with little success.  The necessity for multidimensional leadership exists for several reasons. Consider, for example, the police executive who develops the “ideal” use-of-force policy, and who develops a strong system of “internal audit” and reporting to ensure that violations are identified and addressed. This executive has created an administrative response to the violence problem. However, he or she has not addressed the operational-level aspects that influence the use of force by law enforcement officers: training, peer-group pressure,  informal leadership, initial socialization, and role of the union, if any.

Nor has the executive addressed the external factors that impact use of force: the community’s level of confidence in the department; prior use-of-force incidents; the existence of a healthy police-community partnership; community norms; media treatment of use of force; sanctions against use of force by local courts, prosecutors, and other official agencies; and community tolerance levels for violence.

Policy developed by the police executive that does not take into account external factors is likely to fail. The administrative functions of policy, procedure, audit, review, and sanction will most probably be offset by operational-level attitudes, beliefs, and informal social structures that tell the line officer that it’s “better to face an internal affairs investigation than to have your family confronted by the undertaker.” This police executive will most likely find that his or her administrative efforts will fail in the face of what appears to be an overwhelming “subculture” among line personnel and community members. The policies, procedures, and administrative infrastructure will fail, not because they were inherently “bad,” but because they were not integrated at the operational level to combat police-community violence.
The police executive who desires to affect the cycle of police-community violence must focus on at least four functions which offer the potential of creating change. All four of these functions are amenable to change through effective police leadership, and all four combine to aid the chief executive in developing a multidimensional approach to police-community violence. These four functions are:

  • The socialization process of police officers
  • The administrative mechanisms designed to impact on the operation of the police
  • Positive and negative reinforcement of police officers
  • The education of the community and the news media

Key Terms

References and Further Reading



Modification History

File Created:  08/15/2018

Last Modified:  06/14/2019

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

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