Role And Function Of The Police Research Paper

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There is no accepted systematic theoretical paradigm within which policing is viewed. The role and function of the police are typically assumed, and a measurable facet such as crime control is defined as the scholarly interest. Those viewed as essential policing functions and how they should be performed are products of the theoretical context within which the police are viewed, their perceived political role, and the posited character of the police organization. As a result, there are alternative versions of policing and what it is good for. These might be called “practical theories of police” in that they emphasize and valorize selectively some aspects of policing while remaining wedded to the basic deployment strategies of random patrol, crime investigation and response to citizens’ calls while altering the rhetorical strategy, and some policing tactics. They are the products of fads and trends in the sense that they reflect efforts of the police and some scholars to redefine the product without modifying the structure that produces it. For this reason, it is best to treat policing in a somewhat abstract fashion, detailing its roles and functions, rather than providing overviews of research out of context. Research shows that functionally and structurally police in North America and the UK have changed very little (Maguire 2003; Weisburd and Braga 2006), and field studies suggest there is little evidence that police practices have changed (Moskos 2008; Loftus 2010). The study of the role and function of police has changed.

In this context, a review of the role and function of the police is a slightly contentious endeavor. This research paper will have the following themes. The first is a necessary broadening of and consideration of systems of law within which police function and types of policing. The second theme concerns the role of police in the drama of governance, the police mandate, and their role as a functional and dramaturgical actor. The third theme is the police organization seen as a collection of roles, segments, and cultures. These are in effect various ways of seeing the role and function of the police. This outline is a kind of funnel that contracts from the beginning characterization of socio-legal types of policing systems to police systems and their role in governance in Anglo-American societies to the organization and its internal configuration. The paper concludes with some reflections.

The Rise Of Police Studies

Let us consider the development of police studies in periods characterized by quite different intellectual, policy, and practical focal concerns. The foundational work on the police as an organization in the context of government was done by lawyer-administrators such as Arthur Woods, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Bruce Smith and later by the Commissioner of the Police of the City of Chicago, O. W. Wilson (Wilson and McLaren 1963). The first modern phase can be traced forward from the work of Westley (1951, 1970) focused on the occupational culture and its support for violence; Banton’s (1964) comparative ethnographic study of the police role in urban and rural context; Skolnick’s work on policing on the streets as a form of justice without trial (1966); Reiss and Bordua’s (1967) empirically based analysis of the police as organization, and their later paper (Bordua and Reiss 1967); Wilson’s concise and masterful depiction of the dilemmas of police administration and the sociopolitical context of the role (1968); Bittner’s formulation of the nature of the role as situated intervention (1970); Reiss’s trenchant illumination of the public-driven nature of policing (1971); and Van Maanen’s (1973); outline of the job as seen from the ground. Manning (1977); and Cain (1973); both influenced by Banton, complemented these works with research on English policing and the role of the officer.

A second phase appeared as demands were voiced for changes in policing. This was a product of political response to the riots and protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Here, the demands of policy, concerns about extreme racial divisions that still exist, rioting and the police response, and the rise of reported “crime” emerged as political issues. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) was created and funded research, and the metaphor of a criminal justice system was advanced in the Report of the President’s crime commission. A third phase featured more intellectualized version of the same concerns arose in 1980s: a burst of more police-centric applied approaches such as community policing, “broken windows” policing, problem-solving policing, and applied managerial techniques such as crime mapping and crime-oriented meetings and analysis appeared. These quickly became amalgamated with increasingly sophisticated methodological approaches oriented exclusively to reducing officially recorded crimes and trumpeting the “experimental method” (Sherman 1992). This research featured the claim that arrests-are-deterrence and stimulated a slight but abiding countertheme of broader conception of both method (Sampson 2010) and the role and function of policing (Harcourt 2001). A fourth phase emerged arose with the drop in officially reported and recorded crime (ORC) in the early 1990s. As crime fell, the costs of policing and the number of police officers escalated in spite of this reduction that has continued until the present. A shift to a focus on stops, especially of minorities (Justice Policy Institute 2012), arrests for misdemeanors, downgrading of crimes, and drug arrests occurred in the iconic NYPD. There is considerable evidence that this was driven by management pressures (Eterno and Silverman 2012). In many respects, we are still in this fourth phase that combines a concern with crime reduction and national security post 9.11.2001. Perhaps, has it has in Europe, the economic crisis will stimulate consideration of restructuring policing, altering the conditions of work such as pensions, disability, retirement, overtime, and pay (Winsor 2012).

By way of summarizing these four modern phases, metaphorically speaking, the study of the police funded became a dance of convenience in which the music was supplied by Foundations (e.g., the Police Foundation, Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute), the Home Office in the UK and the Department of Justice in the USA (National Institute of Justice and the COPS agency), the police professional associations (IACP, PERF and in the UK, ACPO), and the big city police chiefs and commissioners. That is to say, the interests of the police-as-occupation, represented by their associations and leaders, the cooperative governmental agencies, and foundations, created the body of funded quantitative research captured in little technical studies that now dominate the journals. Michael Banton argued many years ago that there is a danger of developing a sociology for the police rather than a sociology of the police. The danger is quite simply that an occupation’s interests, those of the police elite and supporters, are in large part but not exclusively a reflection of their political interests and, to a lesser degree, scholarly interests and theories. These two slightly overlapping streams of activity, scholarship and applied police-generated research, define a dialectic within police studies. They are comments on what the police are good for. No serious scholarship can be an illusionary reflection of the interests of the subjects of its inquiries.

Socio-Legal Systems, Types Of Policing, And Defining Policing

Policing varies in historical, cultural, and social context. Even in the Anglo-American police world, it is not and never has been focused on or centrally concerned with legally defined crime and the common law that guards citizens’ rights – it deals and defends politically defined order and ordering. Most research and analysis in the role of function of the police assumes a stable political order, while this is problematic even in stable democratic societies. Windows into policing are found in countries in the last century in states of civil war (Ireland, Spain, Ireland, China, Eastern Europe, especially Eastern Germany, the former USSR), occupied countries during World War II (primarily in Eastern Europe, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium), emerging states (Kosovo, Slovenia, and Croatia), police states such as Nazi Germany, Mao’s China, and Stalin’s Russia, and in radical transitions within and between legitimating systems of law, e.g., the current Middle East. These are anomalous systems which provide sharp contrast to democratic policing systems in stable societies.

Policing in relatively stable societies as a social form is grounded in a systems of law and cultural regulations. These include the following: (a) Islamic fundamentalist, (b) civil law-based systems (Western Europe outside Ireland and the UK, Latin America, Asia, Africa except for South Africa), (c) common-law-based systems (the remainder – North America, the UK, Ireland, etc.), and (d) quasi-legal martial law-based systems in occupied nations. There are also “mixed” systems such as those found in Macau, Hong Kong, Wales and Scotland, South Africa, Quebec, former colonies, and the State of Louisiana. All former colonial countries remain “layered” with local systems of conflict resolution operating in uneasy conjunction with formalized systems of the former colonial power. Some of these are still operating with what Weitzer (1996) calls “divided society models” of policing. These socio-legal systems in turn provide the umbrella under which the police operate in the sense that the two systems of primary concern here, the common law and the continental system, arise from deeply different conceptions of the role of the police and their connection to the state and, more specifically, the role of state security in the police mandate.

The image of policing in English language literature draws on the Peel model of policing, ignoring other sources of the role and function now apparent. While the “tradition” in Anglo-American policing studies is to cite Peel’s aims and the restrained, uniformed, reactive, citizen-oriented, and crime-concerned service worker, “policing” in the Western world must include acknowledged and displayed and dramatized policing that is secretive, uses illegal means, focuses on spying, surveillance, and the use of informants in the interest of protecting the state. This form, sometimes called “high policing” (Brodeur 2010), conflates legislative, policing, and judicial powers in its actions, and polices “appearances” – i.e., as such the police watches and tracks citizens viewed as representing risks to the state and anticipates this rather than responding to actual behavior. This is an often denied yet essential feature of democratic policing (see below). This is a matter essential to the definition of all policing and its hidden yet enduring connection, even in democracies, to state security. Viewing the continental system, with explicit linking of violence and the law that the anomies of policing are most apparent, reveals the point at which the law’s limits are revealed and where violence is needed (Jobard). In this context, the connection of “politics” and “policing” assiduously blurred, denied, and obfuscated in common-law societies is made visible. The covering notion that public police are Peel-like in nature and engaged in crime prevention primarily and have little or no obligation to security functions, even post 9.11, remains. It is clear that on the one hand, the organization undertakes many tasks, as Bittner (1970) argues, in effect anything for which one “calls the cops,” while on the other hand, and that which is emphasized and dramatized as “the job” and how it should be carried out varies in the views of scholars and practitioners. Crime control is a misleading oxymoron.

Public policing has been elevated as the primary and most central of all formal sanctioning systems but bureaucratic full-time policing is a fairly recent invention and it still rests on citizen compliance, the support of complementary legitimate institutions, and the willingness of officers to serve a neutral role and to stay loyal. Policing of all kinds is tertiary to other forms of control, the primary controls such as family and peers, secondary controls such as neighborhoods, and formal associations such as schools and churches. Policing monitors and patrols order but does not create it. It often creates disorder and amplifies and sustains it when seeking to reduce chaos. It applies coercion to sustain politically defined orders. Examples of this are found easily in postriot overreactions, gratuitous violence, killings, and beatings such as happened in New Orleans in 2005. Public policing is one layer of a social control, the most visible perhaps, but, nevertheless, one of many kinds of social control.

Self-help or revenge remains the most common mode of conflict resolution, and there are modes of quasi-official policing associated with organized crime, rebellious, and resistance-oriented groups. These semi-organized systems sanction deviance often in defiance or contrary to the law but are seen as “fair” and “just” even as they are rooted in revenge rather than neutral third-party governmental actions. There are three other types of quasi-official informal policing and sanctioning organizations, i.e., those with legitimate use of force (Klockars 1985): occasional (ad hoc, hue, and cry obligations of citizens traced back to Edwardian period in England), obligatory (posses, vigilantes), and voluntary (militias, reserves, auxiliaries, the historic Texas Rangers), most of which are public, but some have been private policing, e.g., the Ulster volunteers of 1912–1914 later to be called the “b” special constables. Neighborhood associations and patrols are of this sort but are problematic in part because they have little or no accountability.

Of late, it is recognized that secondary social control occupations, those who regulate and respond to behavior informally in public and quasi-public spaces, are important semiformal control agents. These include such occupations as teachers, priests and clergy, bus and cab drivers, train and bus conductors, traffic wardens, and crossing guards.

In the last 20 years, new forms that lie between formal and informal types of policing have been officially sanctioned in the UK and other parts of Europe. Let us call these hybrid policing. This sort of policing is now included in the “police family” and denotes non-sworn officers such as PCSOs in the UK and enterprise zones in the UK and urban development zone agents in the United States. There is confusion in regard to legitimacy of such agents because these functions can be carried out by such organizations but also by police employed privately, police employed and paid by the public, or some amalgam of these. This can also include third-party policing. Some mixed or hybrid policing, policing with combined uniforms with symbols of both private security companies and public police as in Lincolnshire, is a form of “out-sourcing.” This term indicates using public funds to pay for agents to carry out functions connected the public good, e.g., issuing traffic tickets and providing order maintenance and some regulation that does not entail arrest nor authority in excess of that of the citizen. This syncretic innovation is rationalized on the grounds that it reduces costs, in part because it is budgeted differently than routine yearly personnel costs. Such policing functions have a mandate in the sense that they are licensed, legitimate, and have territorial limitations. They draw also on the mandate of public police by simulating their uniforms, interactional style, and the decoration of their vehicles and symbols.

Private Policing. While the line between public and private policing practices is blurred, private police act in the interests of those who employ them, are concerned primarily with the protection of information and property, and employ many structures and tactics to achieve this. These functions are usually connected to policing given private or semipublic areas (malls, sporting venues, etc.) In the United States, private police may carry visible weapons. They may or may not include some arrest powers in private spaces for trespassing. It is important to note also that the RCMP in Canada provides contract policing in Canada outside Quebec, Newfoundland, and Ontario that public police in the Anglo-American world work for private companies routinely and that there are many circumstances of cooperation between public and private police. This cooperative pattern is in part due to the fact that many retired senior police officers have now been employed by security firms or have begun their own. Police officers are also paid to also carry out functions that were previously exclusively public police functions such as insuring traffic safety around construction projects. In Boston these are called “details” and officers are paid by private corporations via the public payroll. The point here is that policing with private interests as the mandate only marginally, if at all, serves the public welfare, even when policing quasi-public property. The functions carried out by private police are far greater than those connected with quasi-public space (Forst and Manning 1999: 103–106). There are very large private security companies, alarm companies, and money transport companies that fall under the label of “private security” (Johnston 2003).

The public police are usually the referent of “police,” but they are but one visible node in the larger network or web of policing functions. The police organization includes those who are not warranted or sworn officers. In addition, the organization can include reserve constables, cadets, and part-time officers. The organizational culture includes more than the segmented occupational culture of the police, and the percent of officers in uniform patrol in the UK has been declining for some years (Winsor 2012). The range of functions carried out by the public police is diverse and complex (Forst and Manning 1999: 27–29). Maguire (2003) lists some 28 discrete tasks carried out by patrol officers, and Winsor (2012) lists three times as many roles citing English forces. Bearing in mind that role and task are seldom closely connected in policing and that policing is always an open-ended enterprise, these are not helpful in understanding what is actually done on a day-to-day basis.

There are also publicly funded national and state armed forces, state national guards with their own investigative and intelligence units, and federal agencies with negotiated territorial obligations that also police. The ambiguity in the policing roles of the military is in part that they are constrained by the constitution with respect to operations within the continental United States. These functions are at best unclear as to accountability and scope. On the other hand, the US federal government has deemed the operating domain of their agents as unrestricted by traditional borders and costal boundaries. There is little evidence of continuous cooperation with and across these types of policing and between formal policing agencies (Bowling and Sheptycki 2012).

A Definition of Public Policing. These considerations of types of policing and their relationship to systems of law and patterns of social control shape the nature of what is called policing in any society. So how should one define formal public policing? Consider a generic working definition of police in Anglo-American societies (North America, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland), based on seeing the police as an organization rather than policing as a function. It assumes that the police are a bureaucratic organization and emphasizes the political nature of order and ordering, the new powers of surveillance and tracking that are balanced with coercion and violence. The police, because of their rather loose connection to the law and their political nature, act by exception. That is, they act in the shadow of legitimacy and the law and account or explain later only if required. In this sense, they act outside of or merely in the shadow of the law. It is an empirical question whether police practices consistently follow from these features.

The police in Anglo-American societies are constituted of many diverse agencies, are authoritatively coordinated and legitimate organizations. They stand ready to apply force up to and including fatal force in politically defined territories. They seek to sustain politically defined order and ordering via tracking, surveillance, coercion, and arrest. As such, they require compliance to command from lower personnel and the citizens and the ability to proceed by exception.

The public police as an institution arise as a result of the development of law, differentiation, and functional specialization in a society. It is an institution that cannot survive without the consistent support of other institutions that complement its aims and practices. They are purveyors of organized coercion and the threat of coercion. The supporting institutions must complement the rationality, fairness, and procedural commitment of policing, or else it creates and sustains its own standards beyond review and remedy. This is Weber’s argument Weber (1947) in respect to the collaborative nature of rationality in modern societies. The specialized functions of policing that arise as nation-states emerge and develop rest on broader societal consensus concerning fairness and justice arising from the public trust. They are a product in some sense of a balance of powers among executive, legislative, and judicial branches as set out in the original documents of a nation’s establishment. One tendency, seen in crisis periods, is for the executive branch to either co-opt the police, making them directly accountable (as they still are in the Republic of Ireland and have been since 1922), or suspend the habeas corpus that in effect places the police under their direction. In this situation, the protections granted by legislation and by the courts are bypassed. Clearly, such considerations contain an explicit matter: the role of a “police officer” is determined by the organization’s historical, cultural, and political mandate. Because the police officer in common law has original authority, the police organization is a useful fiction legally: it is constituted by the aggregated collection of officers (this is a contested legal concept and concerns the question of where accountability lies – with the officer, the Chief Constable or Chief, or the organization as a whole).

To understand the relationships between and among such a collection of types or clusters of formal policing agencies requires a label, concept, or some metaphoric work, which provides a way to think about policing organizations and that clarifies the relationships. Brodeur (2010) uses the metaphor of a “web” an assemblage of competing, interacting, organizations that function as if they were in a web. Shearing prefers the metaphor of a network with “nodes” and mentalities based on their technology and practices (Shearing 2005). Brodeur and Shearing show in their systematic treatments that “police,” their role and function, cannot be restricted, except by exclusion, to the “public police.” Nevertheless, the research and concern of scholars until recently has been with the public police seen within the Anglo-American Peel model. This is warranted because of their symbolic importance, their legal mandate, their control of data and exchange of this data with other agencies (Ericson and Haggerty 1997), and their huge and growing public budgets. The focus on the public urban police has meant scholars until recently have ignored for the most part the influence and importance of the range of types of nonpublic policing, private police, informal, hybrids, auxiliaries, and in public police federal police, state police, reserves, cadets, and policing in the interest of high security.

The Police In The Drama Of Governance

The police organization acts, has an audience, and is a social object that people understand as real, constraining, important, and standing for something other than just a person in a blue coat and funny hat. The organization has legal status and is a legal actor. It is thus a “social unit” that has collective meaning, consequence, and symbolic significance. It performs. People respond to and animate the organization as real and doing things – fighting crime, being patriotic, issuing statements, and being an expense. It is in this sense a social actor with a social role in the game that is society. This is not a playful or whimsical notion; it is a way of considering the multifaceted role of the police in society. The police have many functions as an organization; it acts and reacts, defines issues, and responds to them. In many respects it is reified or seen as real when it is a rather dispersed, ineffectual entity dependent on citizen information and compliance. The police organization has a number of what might be called governance functions or dramas that indirectly reflect the role of the police as representatives of governmental authority. It is this representative function that is omitted in banal statements of tasks, roles, or functions, which are usually ascribed to the police officer. These individual roles and tasks, those which might be called petite functions, are discussed later. When dealing with “the police” as an actor, it is necessary to bear in mind at the same time that policing is carried out by individuals with a range of choice to intervene or not, when and how to intervene, and how to account for or describe why they acted or not. Even refusing to act is an action of sorts.

Here are some governance functions, ceremonial, or celebratory functions of the police, some of which are ritualized and repeated as a form of reassurance. They could be examined as propositions linking the police to the state. Let us consider these propositions in brief form. The police act as the face of civil authority displaying recognizable symbols, something that stands for something else, on public occasions – parades, funerals and weddings (of their own), and local commemorations. These stimulate collective solidarity because the police act as totems, icons of state authority for the majority. On the one hand, in their service, like the military, they symbolize volunteering for the common good and their injuries, deaths, and quests are sacrifices on behalf of us all. This is not to elevate the police per se, but to note that they play a role similar to that of the sacrificed in rituals in preliterate societies (Hubert and Mauss 1964). On the other hand, these collective occasions of ritual celebration mark and exclude those seen as outside the ambit of conventional acceptance whether they be minorities, lower class members, or immigrants. The police are conduits of governance, use, and display public resources in the name of the common good patrols, rhetorical strategies that outline their role and mandate in society, and tactics of organized action. This dramatizes their centrality to the collective dramas of control. The police are not passive actors who simply accept the legitimacy conferred upon them by tradition: they work assiduously to expand and sustain their own legitimacy as an organization, and this often conflates law as a set of mundane rules, morality as the “ought” and “should” of a society the sacred, and their miscues, malapropisms, and often banal, violent, and unbecoming actions. Their political role of the police is often subtle and less visible than their imagined media-amplified functions. They in fact symbolize their role in society by attending and protecting functions essential to the survival of democracy. These include monitoring voting, courts, judges, juries and court personnel, inaugurations, and massive events that celebrate the society to itself: American football bowl games, world series, and more mundane games also central to collective representation. They protect those whose who are “well known for their well-known-ness,” those with an imagined life, “celebrities;” paid football and basketball players, movie stars, football coaches and their minions, and others temporarily thrust into the role of public icons. Why do Alabama state troopers escort the coach of the football team off and on the field? In their more mundane functions, they serve by their actions to define and perhaps obviate the nature of mundane risks and provide palliatives – crime, natural disasters, threats of terrorism, and the like. They communicate via the media their assessments and successes. They minimize, avoid, or redefine their failures. I have never heard a police officer declare publically: “We have failed miserably to contain control etc. .. … ..We apologize for this.” They are cast as primordial eternal symbols of success. In the world of symbol work, they are active. They produce sharp and framed meanings for distant and unclear matters that lie outside normal experience – terrorism, mass murders, and impending disasters as well mundane matters of crime control. They are translators of the esoteric to the mundane. In this connection, they name, blame, and publicly constrain that which is seen as marginal, wrong, immoral, or in need of some sort of control. In this way they are redistributional agents: they distribute rewards as well as punishments. Those who are not monitored, not stopped, not questioned, or detained are rewarded with the absence of constraint, while those experiencing these are punished both formally and informally. The everyday actions of policing, those seen as profane, alter and maintain the social hierarchy in ways that are unacknowledged by the police themselves. Thus, for example, stopping those they suspect is “the job” and is disconnected from race, class, gender, and status honor. While the police may locate themselves in a mundane and unpleasant world of “dirty work” (Hughes 1971), they do act in the high and low dramas of society. That is, they seek in their everyday work to define and defend social order generally and its vicissitudes as well as dealing with everyday risks and concerns called “crime” or “disorder.” High dramas, on the other hand, are those with public cachet, noticed and amplified by the media and for which accounts or explanations are called for. Low dramas are policing as usual. These dramas, via Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and other social media, can become global-international. While they perform in little theatres, high and low local drama, they can be suddenly featured as heroes, fools, or villains in unfolding international and national dramas. The once little theatres present the events that by media amplification become national and international matters – serial killings and mass murders; local disasters, especially if mishandled by the police; hostage negotiations that go bad; and failed high-profile investigations. Less explosive matters – traffic stops, brutal beatings, arrests, mistakes at work – can bubble up and become unforeseen dramas of public concern. Police are expanding their stages and roles. Anglo-American police are now engaged in global policing of various kinds and in various guises (Bowling and Sheptycki 2012): officially and in informal cooperative roles with nonprofit organizations that sponsor volunteer in developing countries and in UN-based peacekeeping. There is a reflexivity about policing as they become aware of their own social capital. They reproduce by habit and practice notions of and images of social control characteristic of the police field. They frame ambiguous events as matters of police concern. They are the central players in communication dramas about themselves. They are asked for their opinions; they hold press conferences and issue press releases; they appear in court and make statements about current events. They reproduce their versions of dramas of control: who is at fault, who is to blame, who will be punished, and why. Think of public police statements about the threats represented by violent and dangerous gangs, brutal and senseless murderers, and unthinking rioters. These are symbolic packages that condense complicated social matters into known entities. The police are active actors, making up and playing roles. In this sense, they play themselves, acting out, mystifying, idealizing, and cooperating through teamwork to produce an imagery of discrete, mannered, and stylized control and service. In other words, much of their playacting is designed to magnify their own importance and is redundant in communicational terms.

The question arises: how does an organization, a handful of people, contain, control, manage, discipline, and punish a vast population in public and private spaces? They must have the cooperation and compliance of their audiences. There is a blurry, cloudy distance and unknown world “out there” that we little know directly. It cries out for some ordering, some coherence. At best, the police act to mark and sustain boundaries – horizontally and vertically – in the moral world of thoughts and feelings. They also actively act in the ecologically defined world of places, both public and private, and in personal and bodily space. They do this by carrying out patrol, stops, and arrests; by maintaining a visible presence; and by gaining access informally to private spaces – homes, buildings, corporations, and shops. They mark and patrol the edges of public space by their presence.

In summary, while the police as an organization have political interests and police officers have personal political interests, they functions as symbols, as representatives. The police organization must assiduously strive to maintain a degree of autonomy in the political web in which it operates, for this perceived neutrality is essential in a democracy. They do carry out governance functions. These functions are done in aid of the state and its power and authority, as well as sustaining the quality of life. While this list of functions is framed as “public policing,” these functions can be examined in the context of the various types of policing listed above: informal, occasional, formal, hybrid, private and public, and the policing of the armed forces. Each has a mandate of some kind.

Policing: The Mandate And Acting It Out

All forms of regulation rest upon the base of self-regulation, or at best “self-help” (Black 1983), and mutual dependence, else it fails to become patterned, sustained, and acceptable. This patterning is institutionalization, the development of legitimate, named, and viable modes of accommodation to persistent anomalies, e.g., sin, death, the transmission of property and kinship, and socialization. As such, they are “going concerns” that mobilize human action and expression and customs for meeting the contingent and problematic in everyday life. In this sense, the police are a modern rationalized and rationalizing institution. Police are a legitimate, authoritative, conflict-processing system. Sociologically, and in metaphoric terms, an occupation seeks a socially accepted license, and if it succeeds, it strives for a mandate or the right to define the proper attitude and conduct toward the work, as well as even the ways of thinking and acting that are a reserved part of the practice (Hughes 1971:289). These are inclusive rights. On the other hand, it means that the occupation may well exclude and sanction those who act falsely in the name of the occupation – frauds, poseurs, or even criminals – and they will elevate that which they do that others may not. This mandate is a tacit bargain or contract between social groups and the occupation. As such, it is historically carved out and periodically defended by police and their allies. Thus, it is an expanding and contracting entity that reflects political, cultural, and economic forces. It is in this sense both shaped and shaping of public events. In part because of its association with authority, it is quasi-sacred and embedded in ritual, ceremony, and protective magic (actions and words that defend the vested interests of the occupation often counterfactually).

Far from being “transparent,” policing is grounded in team secrets that are not shared with the public at large (Weber 1947:233) and in legal protection of its investigations and ongoing court cases. Certainly, policing has a mandate that varies by the public tacit acceptance or trust; it varies by race, gender, class, and age. It is best understood in this regard as compared with other occupations – physicians, plumbers, or professional sex workers. Within the ensemble of policing agencies, publicly funded policing maintains its grip on power and authority because, unlike private agencies, informal policing groups, and armed forces, they can enter a “case” into the criminal justice system for processing and potential prosecution. This is among the most powerful negative sanctions available in modern societies, regardless of the outcome of the processing.

This capacity, when combined with the on-the-ground potential for intervention in that-which-needs-responding to-else-it-will-get-worse (Bittner 1970):34, weds inextricably law, power, and authority. This formulation is the edge through which “politics” and irrationality, in the sense that it lacks long-term consideration of the law, justice, or consequence, enter the scene. This “framing” or defining the situation is not simply a here and now situational contingency action; it is the institutionalized basis for police authority.

Policing is a role drama. The role-occupant acts, does things, and decides things, and this variation in individual performance requires what Goffman (1959):30–70 calls a “front” (props, manner, and setting-appropriate behavior) as well as devices to enhance performance: dramatic realization, mystification, misrepresentation, maintaining expressive control, all in all a kind of ritualization of actions that sustain a definition of the situation. Recall that each new situation is an unknown for an officer and that patrol officers subscribe to the notion that while an officer may have seen “everything,” he/she believes that one must be ready for the unexpected and to cope with it and control it quickly. The parallel is succinctly stated on page one of The Presentation of Self, but one must add the additional line for police: “and manage the outcome authoritatively.”

The Police As A Rational-Legal Bureaucratic Organization

The police organizations found in the United States have a number of well-known features and functions. They are diverse in size, with the modal organization small, under 15 officers; they hire and train officers using local standards and preferences, but officers are more educated and forces are slightly more diverse as time passes; they are locally funded and embedded in local politics and issues rather than national party politics; they respond to and are part of the executive branch of government and are therefore loosely tied to and accountable to the elected executive. The American system by design, a product of the revolutionary tradition and the experience of policing under the British as a colony, is “fragmented” made up of many loosely connected part or organizations. There are about 19–21,000 agencies – federal, state, and local – of which an estimated 13,500 were attached to local agencies. A 2004 census (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2007:2) revealed 12,766 local agencies, 3,067 sheriff’s departments, and 1,481 special jurisdiction agencies. This category is an odd assemblage of federal agencies. In summary, the country is sprinkled with many independent agencies, with little centralized coordination of their actions, a weak and rather small federal compliment of agencies, and little of the centralization of function found in the other Anglo-American and European states.

There is no “typical” American agency, because most are quite small. Police agencies in the United States operate within a complex set of mutually contradictory laws, local regulations, and practices; their cooperation patterns are informal and their capacity to communicate with each other varies widely in both quality and quantity of channels. In contrast to the governance functions listed above, the police carry out diverse petite functions that are visible, local, and rather pedestrian. Petite functions range from the ridiculous and bizarre and mundane such as capturing wild beasts and sweeping up glass in the street after a road accident to dealing with hostage situations, serial killings, floods, hurricanes, homicides, rapes, and manmade disasters. They are historically frozen into a pattern of strategies of deployment developed in the eighteenth century in Dublin (The Dublin Metropolitan police were founded in 1786): random patrol and response to citizens’ requests. The crime investigation function was added in the mid-nineteenth century in London.

Tactics, in part based in reduced time to respond, cheap and rapid communication systems especially the telephone and the computer, and increased education of the population are diverse but are restrained by traditional policing habits. The influence of information technologies is generally to increase speed of response, record keeping, and information retrieval, but the impact of IT on everyday functions is yet unknown. While the American police are well armed and increasingly “militaristic” in dress and dramatization of their role in the media and in their own advertisements, they have become less violent as has the public. Their dramatization or modes of organizational presentation in rhetoric and imagery are multifaceted: peaceful and child and family oriented, available, and kind as well as violent, well-armed, distant, cold, and secretive. The police solicited demand, claim it is their role “you call, we haul,” yet they screen and manage demand and are occasionally overloaded. They do not equally serve citizens or all parts of the city.

Changes In The Police Organization In The Last Century

The most significant changes in police organization in the post-World War II era (Reiss 1992) are changes in the composition of cities, their spread and the division of policing units into mobile beat, and improved, rapid, and inexpensive technology facilitating input and output of information. Police work, without question, is become more legalistic, demanding in respect of detail and information processing, and more subject to public scrutiny via cell phones, media, computers, and CCTV and other surveillance cameras (public and private). The police are a conservative organization, and their role and function sustains this idea. They preserve the status quo as defined loosely by the current legal and political realities. As such, they may find strong resistance as in the civil rights era beginning in Little Rock, Arkansas; Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1950s and 1960s in the South; and the bussing period in Boston in the late 1960s.

Internally, police organizations have become more specialized (the percent working in specialized named units such as “schools,” “gangs,” “special weapons,” and investigation more generally). The percentage of employees who are non-sworn is growing and is over 25 % in large departments. This will grow and has implications for the future employment of sworn officers. With these two changes has grown an ostensive “rationalization” or developing of specific, codified, and explicit rules governing procedures relating to suspension, termination, disability, promotion, transfer, and conditions of work. These developments are countered by the traditional adherence to personalized relationships, sponsorship of prote´ge´s, networks of political oriented groups, e.g., crime control versus community orientation amongst captains and above ranks in the patrol division, resistance, and distrust of authority especially of the top command. Gouldner (1954) has suggested this kind of rule-oriented organization is a mixture of a form of formal authority called “punitive bureaucracy”– using rules to punish those who are indifferent or opposed to the management clique – and a mock bureaucracy which denies rules when convenient and works on informal compliance. These changes are accompanied by a move away from foot patrol and visible presence in neighborhoods, a diminution in face-to-face supervision – this being replaced by electronic monitoring by supervisors of mobile digital terminals, cell phones, and electronic records. While this has made policing more reliant on communications systems, the integration, cleaning and replacing, updating, and making these systems more user-friendly has lagged. The primary capacity for surveillance, tracking, record keeping, and monitoring of citizens generally has vastly increased in the last 20 years. Finally, as Reiss (1992) has pointed out, the constraints of community-based accountability efforts, “transparency” politics, collective bargaining agreements, and contracts more generally have placed the police in a network of obligations now that were more tacit, less complex, and more easily avoided or voided than in the past. The process of rationalization reduces the power of policing as a sacred entity because its uniqueness is slowly diminishing.

Although studies of police technology suggest an increasing reliance on information technologies of various kinds and the rationalization of policing actions, i.e., aligning the ends or stated objectives of policing with the means designed to accomplish them, determining this remains difficult. The ends of policing are broad, undefined, and general in nature, and include maintaining order, serving the collective good or quality of life, advancing human rights, law enforcement, and representing trust. These are tacit, assumed, and implicit and police have long found them difficult to define operationally. As a result, they have resorted to indirect surrogates such as response time, arrests, officially recorded crime, clearances, and other more trivial measures such as class for service answered or school visits. In addition the primary means to achieve these are debated within and without the police service. Should they be accomplished by “partnerships” and “community policing”? Should they mount “crackdowns,” sweeps, and targeted arrests in disadvantaged areas? Are they suited to planning and carrying out long-range problem-solving exercises? Should they do concentrated patrol or continue random wandering? In action, more traditional approaches combine the traditional structure and tactics with a crime focus, one sort of police rationality; other approaches favor community-oriented programs and partnerships, another form of rationality, while the majority of police officers have no interest in policy of any kind, see the job as a kind of entrepreneurial activity, and see their role as a rational attempt at protecting the city.

While in common sense terms, the police are an integrated and coherent rational organization; in fact, a police organization is an arena for contested rationalities associated usually with politically defined clusters or segments of officers based on these rationalities. The groups are in some tension, especially during periods of high officially recorded crime, concentrated homicides, or corruption scandals. That is, members of police departments do not agree on the goals nor the means of policing, and they are divided by segments as well as rank. At the same time, there is publicly expressed tacit agreement and consensus.

Rationality, Efficiency, And Effectiveness

As changes have been forced upon public policing, they have altered their rhetoric to simulate the language of big business. They speak of the work as “business” and supervision as “smart management” and produce annual reports, business plans, and strategic manifestos. They feature concern for “customers” and their “product.” Let us consider briefly the nature of the new rational police organization now dramatized. This is an imagined organization that is based on clear objectives, long-term goals, and means geared to these goals. The resources available are tightly geared to this model of operation and closely monitored for results. Clearly, it is preferable in a capitalistic society to urge police to be rational, effective, and efficient while expecting them to deal with whatever arises with endless endurance, resources, morale, and competence. Thus, these terms are used without definition or context. Police are a patrimonial, punishment-centered bureaucracy, with loosely coupled connections between segments and units (see below), and they are a field for contested rationalities. Concepts such as efficiency and effectiveness are misleading and probably irrelevant to judging police operations.

Consider the following features that are in distinct contrast to the claims. There is no conventional market that can be used to distinguish market share, profit or loss, increased value, or net worth that can be traded or exchanged in a marketplace. Police have no customers or clients; they serve the public at large – the collective good. We cannot refuse the services or find other sellers. Taxpayers cannot opt out of paying their taxes or that part that support the police. The “customer” of the police cannot always be right if indeed right at all. Police, like other service organizations, cannot relocate to reduce their costs; they have general territorial obligations that are in effect “open-ended” and for which the demand is elastic. They are locally budgeted and monitored. They are insensitive as a result of contracts stipulating the conditions of work and pay, to variations in the market economy. They claim a mandate based on “full service” 24/7 without screening, prior prejudice, judgment, or exclusion. Their product is trust, in that they are agents of the whole designated to assess the trustworthiness of others and to act on their assessments. They, in turn, rely on public thrust and complicity to operate. This means that any attempt to screen or reduce service, to lay off officers, will be criticized. The police are expected to react to any danger to public order – man-made, natural, or artificial, e.g., nuclear power plant leakage until such time as it is resolved. This means at any given time, police hold back slack resources in anticipation of such a spiked and unanticipated demand. There is no standard number of officers per capita to hold in reserve, and there are no formulas for deployment. Overtime and extra personnel are always available in the case of an emergency. The goals are unclear and objectives contentious, and the means, e.g., arrests, only vaguely connected to the ends of public order, crime prevention, or protection of life and property. The standard practices, or “good practices,” are not easily adopted and applied in El Paso and Elmira, Chillicothe, and Chicago. There is no market for police services: they have little or no competition and no standards against which to judge themselves since crime is a function of size of the city other things being equal. There is no bottom line in policing. It would appear also that to be efficient, that is, to use minimal resources to achieve an end, would require policy to guide actions – this is virtually impossible in a police organization, given the number of officers at the bottom of the organization and discretion at the bottom. Perhaps the most viable option in this regard is reducing the cost of employees by hiring civilians and increased use of technology to process data. This of course has little to do with preventing crime in any direct sense. Turning to effectiveness, it is clear no one wants a police force that enforces all or even most of the law, all or even most of the time. The sensible judgment of officers is essential in this regard. Weighing these arguments perhaps underscores the political significance of “crime control,” “crime prevention,” and “crime control” to police legitimacy. These statistics are matters that, given their control of reporting and arrest statistics, police can shape to their advantage. While the public agrees with the police about their concern about crime, their collective sense is in fact that the police are a public service with diverse governance and everyday functions.

The Police Organization In Action

Having sketched the external governance and petite functions of the police, it is possible to analyze the internal configuration of the police organization. This can be seen in two ways. The first is the police organization as an extension of the state’s authority requiring loyalty and commitment. The second is to see it as an ensemble of roles carried out by quasiindependent actors. This role ensemble idea is taken up below.

Loyalty and Commitment. Let us take up the first. In this sense, the notion of an organization is variously a constraint on action choices. The idea of an organization assumes a degree of commitment or consistent behavior in the course of routines that are organizationally defined and attached to an income, hours, and duties. That is one definition of an occupation. Commitment is a mere job description, a way of capturing the process by routines become a role. But an organization requires involvement, attachment or even loyalty, or signs that emotional investment is being made in the organization’s actions and ends, if not the means. The question of loyalty is seldom raised in police research, and when it is studied, it is revealed that police officers do like the job and, depending on age, gender, and specialization, tend to be emotionally attached to their work or “the job,” but not the organization that employs them which they view with cynicism, distrust, and temerity. These attitude studies are complemented by work on the behavior of police officers in New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina and shown in Hunt’s (Hunt 2010) analysis of officers involved in a successful antiterrorist raid. The issue of loyalty has an edge in policing because the combination of distrust of the public at large and a view of the organization as unsympathetic and dangerous to their career and job interests makes for a powerful force for internal obligation and external stereotyping. It is not so much danger and displacement of aggression and hostility onto marginal others, but a combination of individualistically defined work with periodic risks. This stance toward the world when combined with a crime-fighting stereotypical self-label for overt public consumption sets the boundaries of the job and the social world of the occupation.

An Ensemble of Roles. The police role is embedded in uncertainty and the need to resolve it quickly. The role, with its characteristic features, arises not only from the complex of ideas that sustain the job – attitudes, values, beliefs, and material accoutrements, as well as practices – but from its craft-like nature. Like a carpenter, or plumber, officers take the situation that they define as facing them and shape it, if possible to a sensible or reasonable outcome. This result may be the preferred or even the sought after outcome, but “it is what it is” as the current saying goes. There is much that can go wrong. The management makes do with what is possible and adjusts, shapes, cuts, and shims things until they cohere or, at least, (a) do not fall apart and (b) come back to up “banana shaped,” or when “.. .the shit hits the fan,” (c) allows you to cover your ass in the event that something goes wrong (d) works in the here and now. Police work is done very much in the here and now. It is an intentionally conscious present-oriented doing (or not) hoping things will not get worse. If one can, one avoids paper work and further complications, violence and the related complaints, investigations, and the rest (if anticipated). That for which a record exists should be flattering and compelling to those read about it. What is acceptable to one group of citizens (or officers) will not work with another; for example, threats and exhortations may work on the street but do not suffice for middle-class people; good manners and etiquette work in the suburbs but may be dynamite and lead to ridicule and violence in disadvantaged areas.

Segments. Now consider the second way for seeing the organization: as a context for a loosely connected set of segments. This is the “motivational” outline for the politics of police organizations or how power seeking animates the internal politics of any police organization. As this perhaps suggests, there is no unified or even coherent police occupational culture in the sense that is often referred to in textbooks. It is not even useful to see it as one occupational culture with subcultures because this implies more unity in the occupation. Even this reified picture of one culture is drawn from research that reports the views of white, male urban patrol officers and their work-based oral culture. This conception excludes the meaningful experiences and views of females, minorities, and the very large civilian population that manages the infrastructure of the organization. In that sense “the police occupational culture” is a misleading gloss on complexity. Since an occupational culture is a response to the patterned uncertainties of the work, the irresolvable, recurrent difficulties of deciding that cannot be resolved factually, it has variable features depending on the prevalent uncertainties. What is usually called “police culture” is reported talk full of hyperbole and exceptions, a kind of tool kit on the one hand to resolve the fundamentally incongruous aspects of the work and a configuration of warning signs about how to keep out of trouble. This means further that much of what is talked about is exceptions, stories that are meant to express cautionary tales, ways ‘round trouble, and all those things to be thought of as “on the job difficulties.” It is helpful to think of the police organization as a loose confederation of sense-making segments, people who face similar uncertainties, express this coping verbally, and interact more frequently with those in their segment than with those outside it. Clearly, the responsibilities and functions of social segments in the organization, the patrol officer, those in supervision and management, investigators, and officers in specialized units do differ. The non-sworn segment of the organization, those called by police “civilians,” provides an important contrast, but they are not discussed in detail here because there are no studies of this group. They reflect, it would appear they reflect the more stereotypical attitudes of the patrol segment with who they most interact (Manning 2008), but this is subject to more careful investigation.

A Map Of Occupational Concerns

Consider Table 1. The columns across the table are the segments: lower participants, sergeants and middle management generally, top command, investigators, and specialized squads. The rows show the kinds of contingencies or uncertainties that pattern their occupational concerns. These include how officers entered the organization, their perceived audience, risks, rewards, and source of authority. There are several important points to note. Entry becomes more “political” and personalistic as one moves from left to right on the table. There is an assumption of equality of all accepted upon their entry but this changes quickly within the first few years of work (Van Maanen 1973). The perceived risks become in some sense narrower and more geared to specific skills and craft-competence. The audience of importance shifts radically when one moves from the officer and middle management segments. The audience is more public in the top command and investigator role. The authority of the street officer is personal, local, and immediate but those in supervisory and specialized units must cultivate special skills and competencies. The rewards concern change from concrete and known to more subtle questions of career and move away from immediate questions of pay, overtime, comp time, and secure retirement. These are cross-sectional rather than dynamic and set out the primary distinctions within the police world.

Role And Function Of The Police Research Paper

Now consider Table 1 in more detail. Note that the columns note the various segments of the occupation (i.e., groups that interact more within that set of people than with others and partially defined by rank): patrol, supervisors, top command investigators, and special units. The rows set out the various features of the job as they see it, the lens through which the occupation is viewed: these include how they come to the position, their perceived risks and audiences, their view of the nature and source of their authority, and the rewards they associate with the work they do. Note that officers are hired by various criteria, see their risks as being “on the street” and associated paper work, are oriented to their peers, and see their authority as personal and original. Their rewards vary, and this is one bass for divisions within the segment – the nature and extent of the rewards sought – formal or informal. A niche is a kind of hideaway spot protected from transfer and demotion based on special non-rank-related skills such as working easily with computers, cars, or interpersonal relations – in the Chief’s office, for example. Higher rank is a rather vague goal, not sought by most officers, so is not a key feature of the patrol officers’ reward systems. Supervisors, mostly sergeants and lieutenants, gain their rank by a combination of changing factors – written exams, oral exams, and reputation. They are concerned about the risks associated with an officer’s mistakes, especially those that are featured in the media, and they are “middle or marginal” people because they must balance the expectations and work styles of their squad (8–15 people for a sergeant) and those of the top command. They work with some combination of the rules, formal discipline, and informal persuasion and are generally respected. They may be rule-wise or streetwise, and their reputations as such preceded them. They may be given overtime or not or seek promotion and value the respect of their officers or squad. High or top command is constituted of the ranking officers, although the top handful in any given organization has considerably more informal power than those between them the sgts. Few studies have been done of top command and by inference one sees them as politically skilled; often rising via detective work; oriented to external audiences; seeking perhaps a second career in politics, security, or academe; and eager to cultivate power though linkages to others of like mindedness within the organization (networks of prote´ge´s, followers, and political supporters). They are sensitive to political, media, and even academic reputation and are often now highly educated (J.D., M.A., or Ph.D.). Turning now to investigators, “plain clothes” officers, they are generally chosen by reputation and connections which are then sanctified by other procedures. They are often sought out and cultivated if they have a reputation as being good at “crime work.” They work as apprentices and may have been detective in a temporary position. Their risks are crime and crime-related and surround the rare case that goes to court. They always claim to be “overworked” and overloaded with cases, regardless of the actual workload, the clearance rate, or the complexity of the cases in which they are engaged. They are peer oriented and overvalue detective work considering it the heart of the job when combined with good patrol work (which can simplify their cases!) and value flair, cleverness, interviewing skills, and court aplomb. They are visibly rewarded, well paid, as well as linked into contractual pay for court whether they appear or not. Special squads vary in size, training weaponry, and rewards. Now almost all police departments have some specialized squads in addition to investigators. They are selected, cultivated, and generally “well connected” within the police for their skills and the prestige attached to carrying out violent, heroic deeds. They value and seek risk yet are aware it can be the undoing of a career in this sport of work. The work is often uneven and boring. Their audience is other specialists in their department and nationally. Because they deal with exceptions, hostage taking, riots, demonstrations, disasters, and rare events, their work is always on the borderline of legality. They are well rewarded and honored by peers, the media, and the general public. Their equipment, appearance, and especially their weapons are a notable source of public awe.

Dynamics. This scheme of segments and their features has a dynamic respect. These are vertical and horizon cliques, that is, informal friendships and sponsorships of like-minded officers; these links can be kinship, cohort members – those with whom you experienced the training academy – past partnerships, gender, ethnicity, or race. For example, young officers are informally selected for special squads in part on the basis of sponsorship from respected members or former members of such units, and these squads more than other segments reproduce themselves in respect to key identities – similar race, gender, and ethnicity (Hunt 2010). There are also movements in rank by promotion and demotion, changes in cohorts in given hiring patterns (numbers and composition), and leaving via disability, retirement, or termination. There are thus “cohort effects” that are visible in police organizations currently – the absence of hiring and the retirement of officers has created a thin middle segment and disproportionate number of newly hired officers serving on the street. As returning veterans are given preference in hiring, the incoming cohorts will be older, more disciplined, and experienced.

It should also be clear from Table 1 that there is no single role that police officers fill (as opposed to the rule the organization plays in the society), and no single occupational culture, even in the patrol division. There are in fact several segments and cohorts in competition for resources, career goals, and informal rewards. The extent to which these segments and dynamics are shaped and affected by diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation is an open question. It would appear that several generalizations can be made: diversity exists more at the patrol officer rank than elsewhere in the organization, that women and minorities hold lower and higher ranks more than at middle-level supervisory ranks, and that changes in such ratios have moved very slowly in the 30 or so years since “diversity” has been urged. The claims about major change in police organizations as a result of recent hiring are yet to be proven.

Cohesiveness. If this is not a coherent culture, what holds this set of segments together? It would appear to be a number of features of the occupation.

  • Every officer enters at the bottom, goes through the academy and field training, circulates through various units of the force, and is assigned to patrol or “fast response.” All that rise to leadership share these experiences. The top command is selected by promotion within the organization and rarely is recruited from outside.
  • Personalistic patterns of loyalty based on past friendships, cohorts in training, experience in special units, and the territorial units or divisions in which officers have served are highly valued. This is one source of the social glue that sustains relationships between people who work alone in widespread distances from each other carrying out quite different roles and tasks. These connections cross ranks and segments.
  • Loyalty between and among ranks is patterned by but not determined by rank and command and control relationships. Yet, such personal loyalty counters rational rule enforcement and sustains what Weber (1947) calls “substantive rationality.”
  • Interactions on the job operate with metaphors of cohesion, e.g., “the police family” and “professional policing.” These are invoked to draw out commonalities in public discourse.
  • “Common sense” is used to describe the nature of the job, and it is believed to be widely shared throughout the organization. The common sense reality of policing is based upon the notion that all police officers begin at the bottom, that the craft is learned there, that shared values, practices, and norms arise from these experiences, and that “that’s where the job is”: at the “coal face.” Insofar as the public has no access to these experiences, they are dismissed as judges of police performance. In critical incidents, the media and politicians are dismissed as ignorant and opportunistic in their criticism.
  • Mutual dependencies arise from the shared uncertainties – the fear of capricious enforcement of the rules by supervisors that induces compliance amongst the lower participants and fear of their errors and mismanagement being exposed by the top command. There is also the worry of those at the top that the officers on the street might make an egregious error that reflects on their authority and imagery. These typically involve excessive violence, such as vehicular chases ending in crashes, deaths and serious injuries, beatings, and shootings.
  • Public displays of unity, participation in public celebrations such as parades, funerals, sports-based ceremonies, and as a result of acting collectively and in a unified, forceful manner when combating riots and disorder present the front stage of policing in dramaturgical terms (Goffman 1959). These are the rare occasions in which police act as a paramilitary unit with all the visible costumes, weapons, music, and audiences.
  • Occupational consensus is sustained by the vague, unspecified “other” that respectable people fear and which, in turn, the police are expected to combat, manage, destroy, or erase from the publics’ mind. It is the belief in the support of the respectable people that nurtures morale in spite of the “dirty work” and criticisms. This is more acute and verbalized in large cities where the valued audience is almost exclusively other “cops.”
  • Doing good police work, ironically, is seen as dragging some situation out of a chaos and making the best of it. There is a clear notion about what is “good police work” that is tacit and indicated by stories, and bad police work such as “bad shootings,” but these are elastic notions and always put in the context “You had to be there.” This might be called applying flair to complexity. “Flair” is managing and anticipating all those things which any reasonable person would do in such a situation as the person doing it saw it (not how an outsider looking at the deciding after the fact might see it).
  • Powerful cliques of like-minded officers, groups including younger prote´ge´s, and their sponsors, based in part on kinship and ethnicity, shape careers. They promote and support favored officers as well as either do not protect others or actively prevent their promotions, transfers, and access to temporary postings. This is the semi-invisible tissue that binds some officers and excludes and extrudes others. Cliques are joined loosely into networks that link officers up and down the rank structure. The ambitious are typically members of the current leadership network and its prote´ge´s and a network composed of those currently out of power who may gain control with the appointment of the next Chief, Commissioner, or Chief Constable. Other Divisions. There are matters other than already-mentioned ones of civilian versus officer status and rank and the interests of rank and rank segments (lower participants, middle management, and top command) that divide the organization in more subtle fashion:
  • Strong lines divide the organization by gender, race, and ambition. While gender and race discrimination are well known in all organizations, the police organization is notable for its profound anti-intellectual and anti-educational milieu. This bias also includes the overtly ambitious who are often relatively well educated. Educational credentials are seen as a means to increase pay and the retirement base, rather than as a source of wisdom, judgment, skill, or knowledge. Educational credentials are deemed as irrelevant to the craft.
  • Rules are the source of punishment and are used to substantiate decisions about discipline and performance. This feature, the use of rules as punishment, rather than as guidelines for choice, makes police organizations “punishment oriented bureaucracies” (Gouldner 1954).
  • Cycles of rule enforcement increase the complexity of the organization in the eyes of the lower participants. They view rule enforcement as impossible to anticipate, always a possibility given any decision, capricious, and unfair.
  • Rank and salary rewards are few. Ambitious officers in large departments, recognizing the personalistic and apparently arbitrary nature of “success,” are often alienated and/or frustrated with the job. There are few opportunities to lateral movement to other police organizations.
  • Emotional connections, losses, and achievements punctuate the police organization. Failures in high-profile cases, transfer and symbolic demotions, unexpected promotions in which officers jump a rank or two, promotions to “inside jobs” such as the police chief’s staff, forced retirements as a result of realignment of members of the powerful top command segment, and other career contingencies are all fraught with and produce emotion. Ironically, because emotional sensitivity and responsiveness other than anger are negatively sanctioned in the organization, these emotional burdens are denied and remain explicated yet powerful (Hunt 2010).

It is important, given this gloss on the occupational culture, and the role of what might be called the lower participants in the organizational hierarchy, to note several important qualifications. The patrol division is the largest segment within the organization, and it dominates the rationale for the job within the organization, i.e., the view that the organization is there in some radical real sense to “fight crime” on the streets and that this is the real job. This ideology denies the well-known facts that policing is boring, rarely involves crime, arrests, or violence, and requires scientific and legal work of a large number of “civilians” (about 26 % of large departments), investigators, managers and planners, “politicians” such as the top command, and consistent public support and finance. Nevertheless, this is the ideology shared up and down the organization and by many police researchers who carry out “experiments” designed solely to reduce officially recorded crime regardless of other (unmeasured and unanticipated) effects on the quality of life. It is in effect an organization which based on interaction is segmented, like preliterate cultures, and not a single culture, but many overlapping and competing cultures. The organization is more like a chorus than a solo performer.


The study of the role and function of the police is based on assumptions, most of them with an implicit interest in reform. Police as an institution reflect systems of law and culture, as well as the nature of the governance system within which they function. The police carry out both grand functions in respect to governance and more mundane or everyday petite functions. They have a flexible mandate, strategies and tactics, and function as rational-legal bureaucracies. There have been a number of changes in policing, but its core functions remain intact. Shifting attention to the inner functioning of the police organization, four major topics were addressed: the police role, loyalty, and commitment; the segmentalized nature of the organization and related dynamics; the sources of solidarity; and the remaining salient divisions and tensions within the organization.


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