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Institutional theory holds that service organizations within a given field operate according to established, value-based myths. Adherence to the myths legitimizes an organization, while departure from them may spark a legitimation crisis. Police institutional legitimacy depends, in part, upon every organization’s continued observance of the symbols and ceremonies that characterize the policing mythology. Importantly, these myths have been substantially decoupled from task performance, such that effectiveness and efficiency of operations are less important than is paying homage to the rituals. This research paper presents suggestions for programs, policies, selection and training, and media and public relations. These suggestions are framed using the discourse of police institutional legitimacy. They are contended to be methods by which organizations can enhance task-based legitimacy without blatantly flouting myths and threatening to spark legitimation crises. It is argued that even in a value-laden institutional environment, task performance can be consonant with, if still inferior to, myth and ceremony.
The Institutional Theory Of Police Organizations
Institutional theory posits that individual organizations are situated within large networks comprising other, similar organizations, interorganizational relationships, and the social and political landscapes that delineate reigning normative frameworks governing agencies’ administrations and operations. The institutional climate is shaped by the socially constructed “solutions” to the (sometimes artificial) problematization of particular societal phenomena. Every organization is subsumed by and must conform to these existing social facts, or it will lose legitimacy and, possibly, perish entirely.
Under institutional theory, organizations must arrange their structures, policies, and personnel strategies to meet one or both of two ultimate ends: survival and performance (Zucker 1987). The two goals operate in tandem in the best-case scenario, but are not always closely linked in practice (Meyer and Rowan 1977). In the private or business sector, where the free market theoretically rewards high-quality products and efficient resource management (and punishes the opposite), performance determines survival, and only those organizations that are effective and efficient endure long term. In the public sector, however, survival is often an institutional given because the organization boasts state-sanctioned legitimacy and has become a staple feature of the modern US municipal, county, or state jurisdiction (see Crank 2003 for a general discussion). State-sanctioned organizations – unlike their product-oriented business counterparts – provide services rather than readily identifiable goods (Crank 2003). State-sanctioned organizations thus cannot derive institutional legitimacy from the competitive marketplace and must, instead, actively and consistently prove their credibility, worthiness, and necessity.
Police agencies, as state-sanctioned organizations, exist in an institutional environment (see Zucker 1987). Their survival is guaranteed – police have become a fixture in modern American government, and they have no credible competitors – but their performance and legitimacy are not. Legitimacy, in turn, does not flow automatically from task performance. In policing, as in other organizations that navigate institutional environments (Meyer and Rowan 1977), effective and efficient execution of tasks is a matter quite separate from value-laden judgments about the ideal structure, function, and mission of the organization. Police organizations’ legitimacy is based not on actual task performance, but on values and on institutional myths.
As explicated by Crank and Langworthy (1992), myths are socially constructed, normderived mandates of policing that when present, legitimize the police and, when absent, delegitimize them. Institutional myths include the image of police as crime fighters, the assumption that civil service is preferable to other hiring and evaluation schemes, and that procedural due process ensures fair and impartial outcomes. These value systems all pertain to the “ought” of policing, to the near-total exclusion of the “is”; that is to say, values are decoupled from task performance. The myths are so deeply embedded in society and in the institutional environment that they have taken on “an intrinsic quality of ‘truth’ or ‘rightness’” (1992: 347). They are self-evident and beyond question.
Myths are observed and reinforced through the use of ceremonial rituals. The militaristic uniforms and insignia-bearing patrol cars are important symbols (Manning 1988) conveying to the public that this police agency “looks like or acts like” (Crank and Langworthy 1992: 347, emphasis in original) the archetypal police organization. The archetype is the product of a diffusion of innovation that produced isomorphism as, over time, police agencies observed the legitimacy enjoyed by successful agencies and consequently adopted their structural and operational arrangements in a process of mimicry. Isomorphism, though, can be coercive – once a standard or modal arrangement exists, nonconforming organizations may acquire a deviant status and be viewed as less competent, irrespective of the actual effectiveness and efficiency of their own model or of that to which they are being unfavorably compared (DiMaggio and Powell 1983). To establish their institutional legitimacy, then, police organizations, executives, and officers must engage in a dramaturgical (Manning 1996) display of visible activities and appearances that reaffirm their status as a “real” police organization.
That the institutional legitimacy of a police organization is predicated less on its performance than on its conformity with expectations imposed by nonexpert constituents poses obstacles for both effectiveness and legitimacy. The archetypal police organization is built upon articles of faith articulated by police leaders, union representatives, politicians, and community leaders who have opined and argued about what, precisely, police should be and do (see Wilson 1968). The result is an institutional mythology that puts police, scholars, and society alike “in the unenviable position of taking the word of those who are presumed to be knowledgeable” (Langworthy 1986: 126).
The decoupling of values from tasks and the superiority of the former over the latter create opportunities for legitimation crises. These crises occur when constituencies with competing value sets clash, and it suddenly becomes unclear just who it is the police are here to serve. Events such as corruption scandals and high-profile instances of excessive force against racial minorities can trigger these crises. The traditional methods for quelling legitimation crises at the organizational level involve the public degradation of the department and the ousting of the existing chief (Crank and Langworthy 1992). A special commission may be convened to issue observations and recommendations that will probably be ignored. The public eventually forgives (or simply forgets) the indiscretion, and the new chief – because he is isomorphic with the disgraced one due to the homogenizing influence of police hiring and promotional practices (see also DiMaggio and Powell 1983) – substantially maintains the status quo. The process of scandal and reform is complete, and time passes until the next scandal erupts.
The purpose of this research paper is to propose strategies for enhancing the institutional legitimacy of police using methods that are consistent with both the legitimacy-granting myths of policing and, to the extent possible, with actual task performance. Myths, despite their flaws, must be treated with due deference. Some modern reformers have argued for radical reformation of the administration and operations of police organizations, such as delayerizing, decentralizing, and civilianizing (Maguire 1997). The institutional environment of policing, however, balks at such bold moves. Any department that attempts to alter itself in ways discrepant from institutionalized myths will likely meet the same end as the well-intentioned but ill-fated department described by Crank and Langworthy (1992). The department attempted a wholesale overhaul of its uniforms, rank structure, and even its name. As a consequence, the agency was ostracized and alienated until it finally succumbed to the pressure and reverted to looking and acting like a “real” department. The power of the institutional monolith likely helps explain why even those police organizations that pay homage to community policing have not structurally or functionally reorganized in a manner consistent with the philosophy (Maguire 1997; Mastrofski and Ritti 2000).
It is, therefore, important that the infusion of task-based performance into the extant mythbased environment be a subtle process of shift and subversion rather than a precipitous, highly visible event. The following discussion describes strategies that may be used to enhance the institutional legitimacy of the police in a manner that incorporates a discussion of task performance. “Task” is used broadly here and ranges from crime reduction to public image management; this loose definition recognizes the spectrum of ends that organizations can seek to meet in their efforts to be successful. The section subheadings contain the goal that the proposed strategy is meant to serve. The list of proposals is not by any means exhaustive, but it draws attention to some of the most prominent options for organizational and institutional legitimacy enhancement.
The existing structure, operations, and policies common across police organizations are not inevitable. They are not tied to or required by larger environmental characteristics (such as the size of the jurisdictional population) or by agency size (Langworthy 1986). Police executives have a choice in the problems they wish to target and in the programs they adopt to meet those goals. That being said, the programs discussed below are deliberately framed as being moderate in scale so as to harmonize with reigning myths and thereby avert legitimation crises. Each proposed program, and the specific problem it is suggested to address, is described below.
Community Policing To Enhance Quality Of Life
Community policing arose as a backlash against the detached, forceful, strictly centralized nature of the traditional model. The community model was intended to make policing more democratic by conceptualizing local residents as stakeholders and giving them a voice in police operations. This program is thought to enhance police legitimacy by showing the public that the police are responsive to them. This research paper’s treatment of the subject balances two perspectives. The first involves the premise that community policing is nothing more than an elaboration of questionable assumptions about the nature of “community,” about the relationship between policing and informal social control (Manning 1984), and about the extent to which police can exert actual (as opposed to apparent) control over social behavior (Manning 1988). The second is more pragmatic, if less philosophically coherent, than the first: Community policing is already institutionalized, and its absence is itself a threat to an organization’s legitimacy. That being the case, the following discussion focuses on potential strategies and tactics that might lend this program an element of task effectiveness.
Community policing targets those who abide by the law rather than those who break it. One of the program’s stated goals is to make police accessible and responsive to the public and to thereby reduce people’s fear of crime and enhance their quality of life. The implications of community policing for (task-based) institutional legitimacy emanate from the research showing that community policing can have positive outcomes on people’s emotional states, their assessments of their neighborhoods, and their satisfaction with police. Reisig and Parks (2004), for example, found that people who thought that the police worked with their neighborhoods to solve problems and that viewed their neighbors as being willing to work with the police perceived fewer incivilities and felt safer in their areas of residence. Furthermore, perceptions of community policing and coproduction nullified the deleterious impacts of neighborhood disadvantage on perceived incivilities and personal safety. It is worth noting that there was no consideration of the effectiveness of community policing at reducing crime; it was the mere act of visible police involvement that influenced citizens’ quality of life. Other studies of community policing have employed various methods and variables and have arrived at mixed conclusions (see Rosenbaum 1994, for a review), likely due, in part, to a lack of uniformity in programs and methodologies.
Perhaps the empirical evidence regarding the impact of community policing on quality of life can best be summarized in three precepts. First, community residents have to know that the police are reaching out to them; the efficacy of this program depends upon citizens seeing the efforts that police are making. Second, citizens must be satisfied with what the police are doing and with the means by which they are seeking to accomplish those ends. To reduce fear, police must employ community-based efforts that inspire confidence and trust from citizens. Third, the implementation effort must be genuine and involve real structural and operational change. A halfhearted program may help an organization project the “proper” image as a department that engages in community-based practices, but it will be an entirely value-based effort with no impact on task performance (see Mastrofski and Ritti 2000).
Place-Based Problem-Oriented Policing To Reduce Crime
Problem-oriented policing (POP; e.g., Goldstein 1990) possesses the inherent advantage of conforming to the myth of the crime-fighting mandate. The merit of POP’s end goal is self-evident and requires no additional rationalization to the public, politicians, or other constituencies. The worthiness of its means does require justification because they depart from – and even conflict with – the normative model of policing as driven by calls for service, or what critics have derisively called the “tyrannical force” of 911 (Goldstein 1990: 19). Repeatedly underscoring the crime-based focus of POP, though, would likely help a police organization justify the redistribution of resources and the alleviation of some officers from calls-for-service duty so that they can devote their time to the scanning, analysis, response, and assessment (SARA) model that has become the catchphrase of POP.
Problem-oriented policing furthers the task-based institutional legitimacy of police because this program seems to be promising for effectively reducing crime. Braga and Bond (2008) found that even a cursory or “shallow” (p. 585) SARA based problem-solving effort by a municipal police department significantly reduced serious crime (as measured by calls for service) and several types of disorder (as recorded during systematic social observation) in the areas receiving the POP treatment. These reductions in the target areas were not accompanied by significant increases in problems in other beats in the city. Also, place-based situational crime reduction (e.g., fencing off vacant lots, installing street lighting or surveillance cameras) demonstrated a stronger impact on reported crime than did increases in misdemeanor arrests or social service provisions (see also Lum et al. 2011).
The previous section proposed two programmatic models that hold promise for enhancing the institutional legitimacy of police. The current section describes three organizational policies that may guide officers toward positive behaviors and away from negative ones. Policies delimit the boundaries of acceptable behavior, set expectations for performance, and prescribe penalty schedules for poor conduct. It is worth noting that although the policies described here are formal in nature, their success depends upon them being reinforced informally by police executives and managers during the day-to-day communications and operations within the organization.
Prohibiting Nonfeasance To Promote Collective Responsibility
One of the most infamous aspects of the traditional police culture is the reluctance or outright refusal of officers to come forward when they have incriminating knowledge about their workmates. Within this “code of silence” or “blue wall of silence,” there is a hesitance to report instances of misbehavior and to provide information during active investigations (Klockars et al. 1997). The “bad apple” myth that ascribes total blame for misconduct to the offending officers dishonestly covers up the fact that in all likelihood, somebody (possibly several people) knew what was happening and failed to take action to stop it. A strong code of silence can contribute to legitimation crises, as the public comes to see the police badge as a symbol of nepotism, corruption, and impunity.
Police organizations should thus openly and actively address the problem of nonfeasance. It should be made clear that failing to report someone else’s misbehavior is as morally and ethically indefensible as is engaging in such action oneself, and that acts of nonfeasance will be discovered and penalized. Routine investigations that are mandated by department policy (e.g., after any officer-involved shooting) and investigations into possible misconduct should seek to determine not only the propriety of the acting officers’ behaviors but – if the action is deemed improper – whether other officers failed to intervene to prevent it, failed to report it, or actively assisted in its attempted concealment.
Beyond establishing formal policies penalizing nonfeasance, police leaders should seek to reshape the cultural landscape to effect rejection of the code of silence. In its stead, leaders should foster a culture of mindfulness (King 2009) that instills within every officer a sense of collective responsibility (see Harcourt 2004). Officers should be socialized to see the bad acts of fellow officers as a threat to the safety, authority, and reputation of all other officers and to the image of the department.
Interaction-Based Procedural Justice To Enhance Public Trust And Voluntary Compliance
The two foregoing policies involve intraorganizational methods of promoting positive police behavior and preventing or penalizing misconduct. A third goal involves enhancement of public trust in and deference to the police. This policy entails strategic management of the ways in which officers interact with civilians. This might be analogized to an “officer persona” that emphasizes certain key elements of officer-civilian interaction that should be present in all encounters with members of the public.
People who trust the police are less likely to believe that officers engage in illegal or unethical behavior, and they are more willing to empower them to utilize discretionary decision making (Sunshine and Tyler 2003). The need for autonomy in the day-to-day decisions made at the street level is one of the institutional myths that police have created as a means of insulating themselves from public scrutiny (Crank and Langworthy 1992). A belief in the power and authority of police, moreover, helps ensure the “continued deference of citizens to police authority in the absence of specific demands, commands, or laws” that is so central to the continued existence of police (Manning 1988: 29).
A sizable body of research demonstrates the importance of interaction-based procedural justice on people’s support for the police and willingness to obey their directions and commands. Encounter-based justice refers to people’s perceptions of the favorableness of the outcome they receive at the close of the encounter (e.g., a citation versus a warning) and the fairness of the decision-making process by which police arrive at the conclusion that the administered outcome is the most appropriate of all options available. Research has shown that process-based fairness rivals or, in some cases, even outweighs outcome favorableness in shaping people’s judgments about police (Rosenbaum et al. 2011b; Sunshine and Tyler 2003). This has become known as the procedural justice model of policing.
Procedural justice entails two types of assessments that people make about the actions of officers (e.g., Gau 2011). The first pertains to whether officers treat citizens respectfully and allow them to voice their version of the facts under dispute. The second revolves around people’s beliefs as to whether officers make decisions on the basis of facts and not upon their personal beliefs, biases, or whims. This type of procedural justice can also be conceptualized as transparency of decision making. Procedural justice is strongly linked with people’s trust and confidence in police and their beliefs that police possess the moral authority to represent social order and to enforce the law as needed to regulate public spaces.
Procedural justice during police-public contacts can enhance the likelihood of respect and compliance by citizens. Studies suggest that police disrespect toward civilians (i.e., a violation of procedural justice expectations) increases citizen disrespectfulness toward officers (Dai et al. 2011) and makes it less likely that citizens will comply with officer commands (Mastrofski et al. 1996; McCluskey et al. 2000). Officer respectfulness (McCluskey et al. 2000) and consideration of the citizen’s point of view (Dai et al. 2011) enhance the likelihood of compliance. A procedural justice policy, therefore, could result in better police-civilian interactions and in fewer threats to officer safety and authority.
The procedural justice model of policing represents a subtle but firm subversion of the crime fighting myth. The latter maintains that the amount of legitimacy possessed by the institution is contingent upon clearance rates, crime rates, and deterrent impact. Tyler (2006) has called this the “instrumental perspective” (p. 3). Research shows, however, that people’s trust in police is based less on instrumental concerns about police effectiveness than on the perception that police treat people fairly and respectfully during encounters (Sunshine and Tyler 2003; Tyler 2006). The myth of police as detached, legalistic crime fighters may, moreover, actually be counterproductive during face-to-face interactions. Mastrofski et al. (1996) found that use of force by an officer during an encounter made it less likely that the citizen would comply with the officer’s commands. The crime-fighting myth, therefore, can actually impede effective and efficient police work, while simultaneously failing to maximize institutional legitimacy. It is time for police leaders to transition from traditional measures of effectiveness (e.g., numbers of arrests and citations) toward new assessment methods, such as community satisfaction surveys, that capture a more holistic picture of the ways in which officers interact with the public (Rosenbaum et al. 2011b).
Selection And Training
Any police organization is only as good as the people it hires and the procedures with which it trains them. Demanding selection standards help weed out those who are at risk for poor performance or serious misconduct. Training introduces new recruits to the rules, ethics, and cultural values of the organization. This section proposes two strategies for helping to ensure that personnel are of high quality. As in the foregoing sections, this list is merely an example of a few of many strategies that could and should be explored.
Education Requirements To Professionalize Policing
The rationale for recommending that police organizations implement a degree requirement rests on the distinction between a profession and a trade or craft (e.g., Wilson 1968). Professions are regulated occupations that require applicants to meet formal educational requirements before they become eligible for the job. Crafts, by contrast, have “no body of generalized, written knowledge nor a set of detailed prescriptions as to how to behave—it has in short, neither theory nor rules” (Wilson 1968: 283). This idea is analogous to the debate over whether the hiring process should seek merely to select out poor candidates or, conversely, whether the focus should be on identifying and selecting in the most qualified. A profession selects in, while a craft merely selects out.
Policing has been a craft since its inception in the United States; its hiring requirements have traditionally been low, and it has relied heavily upon on-the-job training (Wilson 1968) and has even been infused with an anti-intellectual slant (Manning 2009) that idolizes its internally developed institutional understandings of crime and offenders and rejects those derived through scientific means. Results from the 2007 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) survey show that 80.1 % of agencies require only high school or GED completion, 7.9 % require some college but no degree, 9.4 % mandate a 2-year degree, and a mere 1.3 % require a 4-year degree (the remaining 1.2 % have no formal policy regarding education). Coupled with the relatively short academy training period (discussed below) that emphasizes tactical skills over more abstract concepts, low education requirements mire policing in the realm of a trade and prevent its ascension to the status of a profession.
Training To Professionalize Policing
Police scholars, leaders, and policymakers lament the short, superficial training that most of the new recruits currently experience. Academies average approximately 761 h, or 19 weeks, in duration, and classes are taught primarily by part-time instructors. The focus is almost exclusively on physical fitness, firearms competence, self-defense capability, patrol tactics, and other technical aspects of the job; relatively little attention is given to human relations, communication skills, community policing tactics, domestic disputes (Reaves 2009), and other topics that relate directly to the vast majority of actual, day-to-day police work. Most instructors, furthermore, are police officers (Reaves 2009), which raises questions about whether trainees are exposed to a wide range of ideas and information or, rather, are being given a relatively narrow glimpse into the nature, purpose, and function of the job.
Inadequate training can help spark legitimation crises. This is because poor training has two predictable outcomes: (1) Officers’ job performance will be compromised, and (2) the institution will eke by on marginal amounts of legitimacy. These outcomes are obviously interrelated, the second being, in part, a product of the first. Academy and in-service training should more accurately reflect the reality of the job. This will better prepare recruits for the street. It could also help reduce the infamous tendency for field training officers to preface their socialization of new recruits with an admonition to “forget everything you learned in the academy,” which pits one role orientation against another. Role ambiguity or conflict contributes to officer misbehavior (Skolnick and Fyfe 1993), so restructuring training to be more realistic and to equip officers with the skills they need in actual encounters with civilians could significantly improve officer competence and effectiveness.
Managing Media Relations And Public Images
Police organizations play an active role in shaping their public images; indeed, many of the myths that currently govern the institution were created by the police themselves as a means of convincing the public that it needs police and needs them to look and act a certain way. The myth that crime is a looming threat and that its only solution is for criminals to be caught and punished, combined with the institutional myth of police as the ones who do said catching (Crank and Langworthy 1992) and the nature of police organizations as state-sanctioned entities with a guaranteed annual cash flow (Zucker 1987), might seem to be sufficient to legitimize police in the public eye and to obviate the need for additional efforts. What is missing, though, is the guarantee that the public knows that police are displaying the symbols and carrying out the rituals that make the citizenry think that the police are doing their job correctly. Media and public relations are a “missing link” between police behavior and public knowledge about and perceptions of that behavior.
Proactive Dissemination Of Information To Improve Image
Most people have very little direct contact with police. According to the 2008 Police-Public Contact Survey, only 16.9 % of persons aged 16 and older had experienced face-to-face contact with police within the past year. The modal type of contact was a traffic stop (47 % of those with any contact). Traffic stops are typically perfunctory affairs that afford civilians little opportunity to form strong or substantive opinions about officers’ job performance or personal character.
The impact of vicarious (i.e., indirect) experience is thus crucial to the public’s formation of attitudes about and opinions of the police. Rosenbaum et al. (2005) found that between 26 % and 58 % of respondents in their sample reported being exposed to media accounts depicting other people’s direct contacts with police. White respondents were more likely than Black or Hispanic respondents to report media exposure and less likely to have had direct experiences. Media exposure is related to people’s attitudes toward police (Rosenbaum et al. 2005).
Strategic utilization of media opportunities can foster a symbiotic relationship. The police rely on the media as a conduit through which the community can be reached, while reporters need crime news that is easy to arrange into a print or broadcast-ready format (Chermak and Weiss 2005). Regular press releases apprising the media of new events and of updates to ongoing matters make a police organization a valuable source of information to the media. Reporters, not wanting to risk losing this source, may avoid printing/broadcasting vitriolic attacks on or unfounded allegations about the department or its officers.
Proactive information release also capitalizes upon the difference between an interviewer and an interviewee, a distinction that is important for appearances (Kingshott 2011). The interviewer assumes the dominant position as the gatekeeper (Surette 2001) of the types and amounts of information exchanged; by contrast, the interviewee sits passively and fashions impromptu responses to questions that might be loaded, critical, or perhaps tap a content area about which the interviewee has no knowledge. When organizational representatives are providing information, they appear competent, knowledgeable, and authoritative. When fielding questions, though, they can easily come across as ill-informed, inept, or deceitful (Kingshott 2011).
Police organizations – via PIOs and community policing officers – should also utilize the broad spectrum of technologies available for pushing information out to the community and pulling input from civilians into the department. Websites containing detailed information about the department (e.g., beat maps, functional differentiation), Web links to local social service agencies, crime data, news about upcoming or recently held community policing events, and other relevant content can help organizations be interactive with the community (Rosenbaum et al. 2011a). Twitter, Facebook, email list serves, and text messaging can likewise be utilized to maintain an active outward flow of communication, including but not limited to “reverse 911” alerts and safety tips. Similarly, agencies should strive to pull in information from residents in the form of online options for filing crime reports, contacting relevant persons or units within the department, submitting complaints against officers, and offering praise for services well rendered (Rosenbaum et al. 2011a).
Civilian Review Boards
The public has become increasingly skeptical of police organizations’ ability to consistently monitor their officers, conduct honest investigations into alleged misconduct, and effectively discipline those found guilty of wrongdoing. In particular, there is serious doubt about the effort that organizations exert in investigating citizen complaints. The adage “How can we expect the police to police themselves?” reflects the deep-seated suspicion – particularly prevalent among minority groups – that so long as an investigatory body’s locus of operations rests within a police organization, justice will be served sporadically and inconsistently, at best. To maintain and promote institutional legitimacy, organizations need to assemble external accountability mechanisms. Civilian review is one such option.
Civilian review faces the criticism that civilians are not trained as police officers, do not have the mental vantage point of someone who has patrolled the city streets for months or years, and cannot put themselves into the positions of police officers who thought their own or someone else’s physical safety was in jeopardy. An analogous critique could be leveled at the jury system. Law is complex, actions can be ambiguous, and evidence is often not overwhelming one way or the other. It might seem odd to suggest that a panel of laypersons – unschooled in law or psychology – could be in any position whatsoever to accurately judge guilt or innocence (Skolnick and Fyfe 1993).
But finely honed truth seeking is not the fundamental purpose of either juries or civilian review boards. The rationale for their existence rests, instead, on the community’s right to weigh in on issues of justice and accountability from the vantage point of “regular people.” Accountability is a community matter, not merely a legal one (Skolnick and Fyfe 1993). People also like being able to see the process occurring. The most thorough of internal police investigations and the most accurate adjudication regarding guilt or innocence means little to the public demanding information about the process and not merely the outcome.
Civilian review boards may be becoming increasingly normalized within the institutional environment of policing. Adoption of civilian review protocol sends a message of transparency and a willingness to “open the doors” of the organization to a civilian audience. The existence of civilian review may have a calming effect on the public (see Skolnick and Fyfe 1993).
If implemented in such a manner so as to merely pay lip service to civilian review, however, this effort can threaten an organization’s legitimacy. Police have vehemently fought civilian review (Skolnick and Fyfe 1993) and a common consequence is that civilian review procedures either afford the board minimal authority or dictate that the board contain officers or ex-officers. Both of these can violate the expectations that the presence of a civilian review mechanism creates among the public. If actual civilian review procedures fall below these expectations, complainants will be dissatisfied.
The institutional prospective (e.g., Meyer and Rowan 1977) as applied to policing (e.g., Crank and Langworthy 1992) holds that police organizations exist within an institutional environment governed by certain values and normative rules. These myths, originally created by police as a means of shaping public opinion and expectations about the police role, took on a life and power of their own and now operate as constraints that require every organization to conform to the archetype of what a “real” police agency looks and acts like. Police agencies rely upon skillful and strategic utilization of these myths to maintain the legitimacy of their own organizations and that of the institution as a whole. As a state-sanctioned, service-oriented institution, policing has no tangible output that can be submitted to the competitive marketplace for a test of effectiveness and efficiency. The police “product” is a service, and it is a service the field must constantly “sell” to the public in order to maintain its status as a legitimate institution.
This research paper considered several proposals for enhancing police institutional legitimacy. Programs (community policing and problem oriented policing), policies (written procedures regarding nonfeasance, early warning and intervention systems, and encounter-based justice), selection and training (education requirements and professional training), and media and public image strategies (proactive dissemination of information and civilian review) were suggested. While all of the proposed activities are themselves grounded in institutional myths that are based more on values than on task performance, it was argued that each could be used to accomplish a certain goal. In other words, certain tasks can be accomplished by certain symbols and ceremonies if those symbols and ceremonies are paired closely with a desired outcome and implemented in an honest and genuine attempt to perform that task well. This would not eliminate the tension between myths and performance, but it could close the gap somewhat while still remaining within the acceptable realm of the archetypical organization and thus effecting change while maintaining and promoting legitimacy.
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