Policing | Section 6.3

Fundamentals of Policing by Adam J. McKee

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Challenges to Implementing COP

 A number of dynamic police leaders participated in various Presidential Commissions during the 1960’s and 1970’s. They also contributed their time and expertise to the newly created police organizations that were working to bring about improvements in policing policies. However, many of these police leaders found themselves alone when they tried to infuse their own departments with this spirit of change. Community policing implementation was impeded by centralized management practices and traditional operating assumptions.

Many experienced police managers and officers found it difficult to accept this challenge to the practices and procedures that had always guided their actions. Thus, it was not surprising that these innovations were often overwhelmed by traditional policies and that the innovators were frequently suspected of being manipulated by outsiders or of pursuing their personal career agendas at the expense of the organization.

Many of today’s police managers have supplemented their professional education by studying literature developed since the 1970’s. Once considered radical, many of the strategies that evolved from this research on policing are now considered necessary for improving performance. Ideas that were raised 20 years ago have been modified and expanded to fit current conditions. Police executives realize that it is no longer sufficient to think in terms of making only minor alterations to traditional management and operational practices. Management’s current challenge is to meet the escalating and varied demands for service with more effective delivery strategies to optimize staff and resources, to encourage innovative thinking, and to involve the community in policing efforts.

The Police Culture

Implementing community policing is not a simple policy change that can be affected by issuing a directive through the normal channels. It is not a mere restructuring of the force to provide the same service more efficiently. Nor is it a cosmetic decoration designed to impress the public and promote greater cooperation.  For the police it is an entirely different way of life. It is a new way for police officers to see themselves and to understand their role in society. The task facing the police chief is nothing less than to change the fundamental culture of the organization.

This is especially difficult because of the unusual strength of police cultures and their great resistance to change.  The unusual strength of the police culture is largely attributable to two factors. First, the stressful and apparently dangerous nature of the police role produces collegiate bonds of considerable strength, as officers feel themselves besieged in an essentially hostile world. Second, the long hours and the rotating shifts kill most prospects for a normal (wider) social life; thus, the majority of an officer’s social life is confined to his or her own professional circle.

Altering an organizational philosophy is bound to take considerable time. Another analogy may be helpful: the greater the momentum of a ship, the longer it takes to turn.  One comforting observation is that a huge ship can nevertheless be turned by a small rudder. It just takes time, and it requires the rudder to be set steadfastly for the turn throughout the whole turning period.

It is worth pointing out, also, that there will be constant turbulence around a rudder when it is turning the ship and no turbulence at all when it is not. This analogy teaches us something if the office of the chief executive is seen as the rudder responsible for turning the whole organization. The lessons are simple. First, the bigger the organization the longer it will take to change. Second, throughout the period of change the office of the chief executive is going to be surrounded by turbulence, like it or not. It will require personal leadership of considerable strength and perseverance.

Motivating Officers

To motivate officer compliance with community policing principles, several strategies have been attempted:

  • Incorporating the benefits of community policing into training
  • Modifying performance measures to reflect community policing activities and to reward
  • officers for participating
  • Giving officers the autonomy needed to design solutions to persistent problems
  • Exempting community policing officers from responding to calls-for-service, to give them
  • enough quality time to focus on problem-solving
  • Implementing techniques for advancing the policing culture from a law enforcement
  • focus to problem-solving and community partnerships.

Restructuring the Organization

Structuring the organization so that community policing can thrive. To promote and support problem-solving and community-partnership activities, police agencies must replace traditional hierarchical and authoritarian organizational structures with democratic management styles, at least in part. Such a change, according to reformers, is an essential internal step toward improving external service delivery. The goal: a flexible, nonbureaucratic organization in which individual officers and supervisors are able to use initiative and creativity to design custom solutions to unique local problems.

Cultural change doesn’t come easily. Traditional police management has been described by some as rigid, paramilitary in character, uncreative, and mechanistic. Prior research has suggested that midlevel managers are particularly resistant to the flexible, more democratic styles of management that reformers promote.  Police managers frequently start their jobs with little formal management education or training; some police agencies are providing training in supervisory and managerial skills. They are experimenting with management reform concepts that have proven popular in the private sector, such as total quality management and re-engineering. Institutionalizing participatory team-oriented management, those agencies hope, will improve employee morale and encourage autonomy. The implicit premise is that more satisfied workers will produce more satisfied consumers.

In addition to changing management styles, police agencies have been asked to modify their organizational structures. Throughout the 20th century, police organizations became increasingly complex, generating rules and policies, highly centralized decision-making, numerous specialized bureaus and employees, tall hierarchies, and large administrative units.  Recently, reformers have been telling police leaders that if they really want to implement community policing, they need to decentralize, both territorially and administratively. Agencies are advised to become less authoritarian and formal, eliminating unnecessary rules and policies; to pull back from narrow specialization, developing a front line of “uniformed generalists;” to flatten their rank structures; and to use civilians for a variety of clerical, technical, and professional duties.

Research suggests that community policing reformers have achieved mixed success with implementing their structural reform agendas in large municipal police organizations. Even when officers are trained and motivated to practice community policing, if other training, performance measures, promotion standards, managerial practices, and organizational structures fail to reinforce and reward (or if they inadvertently punish) community policing practices, the practices will not be sustained. Internal organizational features shape organizational behavior.

Reformers believe that police agencies cannot practice problem-solving and community partnerships effectively without adapting internal features, signaling to personnel and the community that community policing is being taken seriously. The number of potential internal adaptations a police organization might make while transitioning to community policing is nearly infinite. Yet many police executives are dipping their toes into those waters rather than diving in.

In practice, structural configurations used by police organizations to implement community policing have varied widely. Police executives often have chosen partial approaches, initiating community policing with a limited group of employees (specialized officers or units), in limited locations (certain areas of the community), and/or at limited times (during certain shifts). This variation in organizational adaptation to community policing is partly responsible for making the movement appear fragmented.  As community policing matures, however, the inclusion and integration of the three major dimensions— problem-solving, partnerships, and organizational adaptation—can be expected to improve.  

Key Terms

References and Further Reading



Modification History

File Created:  08/15/2018

Last Modified:  08/15/2018

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


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