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Police: Organization and Management

Managing Police Organizations

Given the variations in the styles and structures of police organizations, is there one best way to manage and administer them? Most experts in management do not think so. They draw on one of the iron rules of organizing: that successful organizations adapt to the specific circumstances (or contingencies) of their environments. This is known as contingency theory, and it is the framework for the following discussion.

Traditional methods of police management emerged from two sources: a militaristic view of policing, and management concepts from the private sector that were established in the beginning of the twentieth century. The most influential writer on police management from about 1950 to the early 1970s was Orlando W. Wilson, former superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. Wilson's popular textbook on police administration reinforced classic managerial principles: span-of-control (having a limited number of subordinates per supervisor or manager), an unambiguous hierarchy (so everybody knows to whom they must report), and centralization of command (in which decisions are made at the top and flow down). This school of police management has become known as the "military" or "professional" model.

Since the early 1970s, reformers have urged police administrators to adopt more democratic styles of management. As Egon Bittner wrote "The core of the police mandate is profoundly incompatible with the military posture. On balance, the military bureaucratic organization of the police is a serious handicap" (p. 51). Reformers argue that policing is ill-suited for military management strategies because the vast majority of police work involves dealing with citizens in ambiguous "low visibility" settings. In other words, since so much of what the police do is discretionary, a military model of management stifles the ability of police officers to make on-the-spot decisions.

For much of the 1970s and 1980s, discussion about the faults of the military/professional model was little more than rhetoric. Other than a few documented attempts to change styles of police management, the movement to change basically picked up momentum over that two-decade period. Those efforts that did attempt to change police management failed in many ways, although their experiences provided lessons for designing strategies for change in the future. For example, in 1971, the Dallas Police Department attempted to implement a comprehensive strategy "intended to produce vast organizational change and personnel enhancement" (Wycoff and Kelling, p. ). While there were some successes, the process of change has been described as painful and tumultuous: many people involved in the change process experienced negative psychological, physiological, and professional consequences.

During the 1990s, various reform efforts that had been gathering steam over the past two decades began to coalesce into a single movement known as community policing. Community policing is a comprehensive reform movement that has been defined a number of ways. One definition, used by the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, contains three elements: organizational and managerial change, problem-solving, and community partnerships. Most relevant for this discussion is the focus on organizational change as a distinct component of community policing. As the managerial change agenda became associated with community policing, it was taken more seriously than when it was a stand-alone movement. Now, police agencies all over the country are experimenting with new management styles such as Total Quality Management (TQM). Police administrators now obtain degrees in business administration and public administration. Some are more likely to read the Harvard Business Review than Law and Order.

The community policing movement emerged at the same time as other significant movements in business and government. Hammer and Champy's Reengineering the Corporation (1993) had a dramatic effect on corporate management styles and strategies. Similarly, Osborne and Gaebler's Reinventing Government (1992) and Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review (1994) have led many government agencies to adopt similar strategies. These ideas are influencing police administrators. For instance, former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, one of the most well known police executives in the nation, claims that he had "become a staunch advocate of using private-sector business practices and principles for the management of the NYPD, even using the business term 'reengineered' rather than the public policy term 'reinventing' government" (p. 224). The confluence of the community policing movement with the emergence of these popular management strategies has led to changes in the management of police organizations. The changes are not yet evident in every police agency, and even those agencies that have experimented the most with new strategies still have vestiges of the military or professional model. However glacial these changes may be, it is apparent at national meetings of police executives that change is in the air.

One of the most well known innovations in police management during the 1990s is Compstat (computer comparison statistics). Compstat was initiated in the New York City Police Department by former Commissioner William Bratton, who used computerized databases to track crime and disorder in each precinct. Bratton held meetings in which precinct commanders were expected to be familiar with the trends in their jurisdiction and have formulated a plan to respond to those trends. Compstat was the cornerstone of Bratton's crime reduction strategy. Many attribute the dramatic reductions in New York's crime rate to Compstat, though criminologists have expressed some reservations about this claim. At a minimum, Compstat is an interesting example of how to use technology as a management tool. Agencies around the nation are now embracing Compstat, adopting sophisticated information technologies that allow them to track data on crime, disorder, calls for service from the public, and the nature of the police response. The following section explores the impact of information technologies on police organization and management.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawPolice: Organization and Management - The American System Of Policing, Variation In Style And Structure, Managing Police Organizations, Information Technologies And The Police