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There are over 40,000 law enforcement agencies in our country employing some 420,000 police officers at the cost of millions of tax dollars a year. Policing is big business in today's economy. Exclusive of school boards, the public agencies that make the greatest demand on the tax dollars of most communities are the Big Three: police, fire, and public works. Often the police department leads the field in using up available tax dollars. It is not unusual to find a community of 180,000 with a 450 authorize strength police force budgeted for $10 million. Additional scarce dollars will also be spent by town, county, and state governments that have overlapping jurisdictions.

The rational citizen, looking at a $10 million business would expect the most administratively competent personnel to be selected to lead this major corporation, the local police agency. Not so. Most police organizations are headed by former line officers who have worked their way up through the hierarchical, civil service organizational structure. While these individuals were generally excellent operating personnel, many have lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to manage a police organization. Moreover, few have had the opportunity to expand their knowledge of modern management techniques necessary to perform their new responsibilities satisfactorily. Unfortunately, too, some communities even have it in their municipal charters that the new police chief has to be chosen from existing members of the police force.

If these agencies are to be effective through the 21st century, the traditional concept of police management needs to be changed. However, a number of obstacles must be overcome before a new management approach, using modern business methods, can be incorporated into police agencies (Thibault, Lynch, and McBride, 1985).

Traditional Measures of Police Effectiveness

Look at the annual report of almost any police department in the country. First, you will see a covering letter from the administrator to his sponsoring institution. This is followed by a brief description of the department, usually accompanied by a standard organization chart. Then comes the bulk of the report, page after page of tabulated statistics, for example, on crimes in the community, cases cleared by arrest, traffic and parking tickets issued, percentage of stolen property recovered, accident rates, and so on.

These tabulations are supposed to show the efficiency of the agency. However, these are indexes of efficiency after the fact. At the time of reading, some citizens may have just been killed, injured, robbed, or arrested. The increase or decrease in crime as released to the media through the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports are taken as an indication as to the effectiveness of the police agency. Unfortunately, such reactive measures tend to promote poor management, leading to the issuance of more traffic tickets, the growth of an unofficial quota system, and "fudging" of crime statistics. For example, it may be that the officer who stops citizens in traffic and advises them concerning their poor driving habits may be more effective than the officer who simply issues tickets. It takes a realistic, superior manager to recognize the difference (Thibault et al., 1985).

The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 created the first modern police force in London, England. Sir Charles Rowan, in the force's first duty manual, stated the primary purpose for having a law enforcement agency:

It should be understood at the outset, that the principal object to be obtained is the Prevention of Crime.

Officers were specifically evaluated and rewarded for the attainment of this goal. This proactive, preventive approach led to better police-community relations.

Citizens are never happy about being the victim of a crime even if the crime is solved and the goods returned. From 1829 to the present, this citizen attitude has not changed. In a study of victims of crimes in inner cities outside of the South, Block (1970) confirms this point of view. He found that follow-up and even arrest of criminals who attacked victims had only a slight effect on the victims in terms of their support for police. Victimization, itself, brought about a significant decrease in support for police. His conclusion backs up the basic insight of the 1829 manual (Block, 1970) that "the best way for the police to gain support is to strengthen their efforts in crime prevention. " O. W. Wilson, Police Administration, agreed with this statement on how the police carry out their primary purpose in serving the citizens:

The police do this by preserving the peace and protecting life and property against attacks by criminals and from injury by the careless and inadvertent offender.

A proactive department is more concerned with protecting the citizens from harm than with tallying up some kind of score of arrests after the citizen has been victimized.

Another principle, one presented in the nineteenth century by Robert Peel, concerned the efficiency of police. Peel felt that the best test of this efficiency was the absence of crime in society. Citizens should feel that their person and property are safe. This is a positive standard. The traditional standards all take a negative attitude. We should retain Peel's progressive approach in evaluating officers and promoting good management.

Traditional Purposes of Police Organizations

The traditional purposes that are most commonly accepted are

1. Protection of life and property

2. Preserving the peace

3. Prevention of criminality

4. Apprehension of criminals

Although these are legitimate purposes for policing, they have a major defect-they have become reactive. The activities used to carry out these purposes include routine patrol to discourage wrongdoers, arrest of criminals, recovery of stolen property, monitoring of sport events, and such additional items as controlling traffic and pedestrian movements. Little encouragement is given to act in a proactive manner.

In some agencies, officers who attempt to initiate proactive programs are derided for being "gung ho" or "college Cops" (the latter if they have had some formal education). Their supervisors often consider these officers to be troublemakers or wavemakers, individuals to be sharply disciplined and watched carefully. It takes a police manager of rare courage and talent to promote proactive officers. When it is done, it may immediately create a morale and a management problem. However, once the waves calm down, the resulting police department will have become an active force in the local community (Thibault et al., 1985).

Some Basic Definitions

What precisely do we mean by the term organization? What is organizational structure or organizational design. Since these three terms are important and are often confused, let us clarify them.

What Is an Organization

An organization is a consciously coordinated social entity, with a relatively identifiable boundary, that functions on a relatively continuous basis to achieve a common goal or set of goals. That's a mouthful of words, so let us break it down into its more relevant parts.

The words consciously coordinated imply management. Social entity means that the unit is composed of people or groups of people who interact with each other. The interaction patterns that people follow in an organization do not just emerge; rather, they are premeditated. Therefore, because organizations are social entities, the interaction patterns of their members must be balanced and harmonized to minimize redundancy yet ensure that critical tasks are being completed. The result is that our definition assumes explicitly the need for coordinating the interaction patterns of people.

An organization has a relatively identifiable boundary. This boundary can change over time, and it may not always be perfectly clear, but a definable boundary must exist in order to distinguish members from nonmembers. It tends to be achieved by explicit or implicit contracts between members and their organizations. In most employment relationships, there is an implicit contract where work is exchanged for pay. In social or voluntary organizations, members contribute in return for prestige, social interaction, or the satisfaction of helping others. But every organization has a boundary that differentiates who is and who is not part of that organization.

People in an organization have some continuing bond. This bond, of course, does not mean lifelong membership. On the contrary, organizations face constant change in their memberships, although while they are members, the people in an organization participate with some degree of regularity. For a salesperson at Sears Roebuck, that may require being at work eight hours a day, five days a week. At the other extreme, someone functioning on a relatively continuous basis as a member of the National Organization for Women may attend only a few meetings a year or merely pay the annual dues.

Finally, organizations exist to achieve something. These "somethings" are goals, and they usually are either unattainable by individuals working alone or, if attainable individually, are achieved more efficiently through group effort. While it is not necessary for all members to endorse the organization's goals fully, our definition implies general agreement with the mission of the organization (Robbins, 1987).

What Is Organization Structure

Our definition of organization recognizes the need for formally coordinating the interaction patterns of organization members. Organization structure stipulates how tasks are to be allocated, who reports to whom, and the formal coordinating mechanisms and interaction patterns that will be followed.

We define an organization's structure as having three components: complexity, formalization, and centralization. Complexity considers the extent of differentiation within the organization. This includes the degree of specialization or division of labor, the number of levels in the organization's hierarchy, and the extent to which the organization's units are dispersed geographically. Complexity, of course, is a relative term. Celestial Seasonings, for instance, has a long way to go to approach the complexity of a General Electric or an IBM, where there are hundreds of occupational specialties, nearly a dozen levels between production workers and the chief executive officer, and organizational units dispersed in countries throughout the world.

The degree to which an organization relies on rules and procedures to direct the behavior of employees is formalization. Some organizations operate with a minimum of such standardized guidelines; others, some of which are even quite small in size, have all kinds of regulations instructing employees as to what they can and cannot do.

Centralization considers where the locus of decision-making authority lies. In some organizations, decision making is highly centralized. Problems flow upward, and the senior executives choose the appropriate action. In other cases, decision making is decentralized. Authority is dispersed downward in the hierarchy. It is important to recognize that, as with complexity and formalization, an organization is not either centralized or decentralized. Centralization and decentralization represent two extremes on a continuum. Organizations tend to be centralized or tend to be decentralized. The placement of the organization on this continuum, however, is one of the major factors in determining what type of structure exists (Robbins, 1987).

What Is Organization Design

Our third term--organization design--emphasizes the management side of organization theory. Organization design is concerned with constructing and changing an organization's structure to achieve the organization's goals. Constructing or changing an organization is not unlike building or remodeling a house. Both begin with an end goal. The designer then creates a means or plan for achieving that goal. In house construction, that plan is a blueprint. In organization building, the analogous document is an organization chart (Robbins, 1987).

Common Element in Organizations

While there is no universally agreed-upon framework for classifying organizations, Henry Mintzberg's (1979) work probably gets closest to it. Mintzberg argues that there are five basic parts to any organization. They are shown below and defined as follows:

1. The operating core--Employees, who perform the basic work related to the production of products and services.

2. The strategic apex--Top-level managers, who are charged with the overall responsibility for the organization.

3. The middle line--Managers, who connect the operating core to the strategic apex.

4. The technostructure--Analysts, who have the responsibility for effecting certain forms of standardization in the organization.

5. The support staff--People who fill the staff units, who provide indirect support services for the organization.

Any one of these five parts can dominate an organization. Moreover, depending on which part is in control, a given structural configuration is likely to be used. So, according to Mintzberg, there are five distinct design configurations, and each one is associated with the domination by one of the five basic parts. If control lies with the operating core, decisions are decentralized. This creates the professional bureaucracy. When the strategic apex is dominant, control is centralized and the organization is a simple structure. If middle management is in control, you will find groups of essentially autonomous units operating in a divisional structure. Where the analysts in the technostructure are dominant, control will be through standardization, and the resultant structure will be a machine bureaucracy (Griffin, 1990; Mitzberg, 1979; Robbins, 1987).

Each of these design configurations has its own unique set of pluses and minuses. Consistent with the contingency philosophy, each is the preferred configuration under certain conditions. In the remainder of this section, we will describe each configuration, its strengths and weaknesses, and what those conditions are that make it the preferred option (Robbins, 1987).

The Simple Structure

What do a small retail store, an electronics firm run by a hard-driving entrepreneur, a new Planned Parenthood office, and an airline in the midst of a company wide pilot's strike have in common? They probably all utilize the simple structure.

The simple structure is said to be characterized most by what it is not rather than what it is. The simple structure is not elaborated. It is low in complexity, has little formalization, and has authority centralized in a single person. The simple structure is depicted best as a flat organization with an organic operating core and almost everyone reporting to a one-person strategic apex where the decision-making power is centralized.

Simple Structure Organizational Chart

Figure 1 illustrates an application of the simple structure. Notice that this organization is flat. Decision making is basically informal-all important decisions are centralized in the hands of the chief, who because of the low complexity is able to obtain key information readily and to act rapidly when required.  The senior executives in the simple structure typically have a wide span of control (Griffin, 1990; Robbins, 1987).

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strength of the simple structure lies in its simplicity. It's fast and flexible and requires little cost to maintain. There are no layers of cumbersome structure. Accountability is clear. There is a minimum amount of goal ambiguity because members are able to identify readily with the organization's mission, and it is fairly easy to see how one's actions contribute to the organization's goals.

The simple structure's predominant weakness is its limited applicability. When confronted with increased size, this structure generally proves inadequate. Additionally, the simple structure concentrates power in one person. Rarely does the structure provide countervailing forces to balance the chief executive's power. Therefore, the simple structure can easily succumb to the abuse of authority by the person in power. This concentration of power, of course, can work against the organization's effectiveness and survival. The simple structure, in fact, has been described as the "riskiest of structures, hinging on the health and whims of one individual."' One heart attack can literally destroy the organization's decision-making center (Robbins, 1987).

When Should You Use It

When are you likely to find a simple structure? If the organization is small or in its formative stage of development, if the environment is simple and dynamic, if the organization faces high hostility or a crisis, if the senior manager is also the owner, or if the senior executive either wants to hoard power or has power thrust upon him by his subordinates.

The simple structure is effective when the number of employees is few. Small size usually means less repetitive work in the operating core, so standardization is less attractive. Informal communication is convenient. As long as the structure remains small, the "one-man show" can effectively oversee all activities, be knowledgeable about key problems, and carry out all important decisions.

The simple structure also meets the needs of organizations when they are in their formative years. "The new organization tends to adopt the Simple Structure, no matter what its environment or technical system, because it has not had the time to elaborate its administrative structure." Almost all organizations, therefore, pass through the simple-structure stage. For those that remain small in size, the simple structure may be permanent rather than transitory.

Simple and dynamic environments tend to be associated with the simple structure's flat organization with centralized decision making and organic operating core. Why? A simple environment is comprehended easily by a single individual and, therefore, enables the individual to control decision making effectively. A dynamic environment requires an organic structure so that it can react to unpredictable contingencies.

Regardless of size, when an organization suddenly confronts a hostile environment, management is likely to resort to the simple structure. The reason for this is logical. When survival is threatened, top management wants control. Further, since the hostility disrupts the standard operating procedures, the SOPs are likely to be suspended. The result is a temporary flattening out of the organization.

Similarly, regardless of size, when the top executive hoards power and purposely avoids high formalization so as to maximize the impact of his or her discretion, that executive will, in effect, design a simple structure for the organization. Power and the simple structure are again correlated when organizational members defer power to the chief executive. That is, even if the senior executive does not crave power, if subordinates do not want to be involved with decision making, they force it back to the executive. The result is the same as if the power had been sought by the executive: decision making becomes centralized in one person at the top, and the organization takes on simple-structure characteristics.

It has been proposed that the classic case of the simple structure is the entrepreneurial firm. It continually searches for risky environments where large and established organizations hesitate to operate. These entrepreneurial firms are usually small, so they can remain organic, and their entrepreneurs can maintain tight control. Of course, the high risk translates into a high attrition rate. Thus, the entrepreneurial firm rarely stays that way long. The weak ones die. The successful ones tend to grow and become increasingly risk aversive. When this happens, the simple structure tends to be replaced by either a machine or professional bureaucracy (Robbins, 1987).

The Machine Bureaucracy

Standardization! That's the key concept that underlies all machine bureaucracies. Take a look at the bank where you keep your checking account; the department store where you buy your clothes; or the government offices that collect your taxes, enforce health regulations, or provide local fire protection. They all rely on standardized work processes for coordination and control.

The machine bureaucracy has highly routine operating tasks, very formalized rules and regulations, tasks that are grouped into functional departments, centralized authority, decision making that follows the chain of command, and an elaborate administrative structure with a sharp distinction between line and staff activities.

Rules and regulations permeate the entire structure. While not explicitly evident from the organizational chart, the key part of this design is the technostructure. That's because this is where the staff analysts who do the standardizing--the time-and-motion engineers, job-description designers, planners, budgeters, accountants, auditors, systems-and-procedures analysts-are housed (Griffin, 1990; Robbins, 1987).

Machine Structure Organizational Chart

Figure 2 illustrates the machine bureaucracy form. Notice the reliance on functional departmentalization and related occupational specialties grouped together. In a machine bureaucracy, activities such as marketing, research and development, manufacturing, and personnel are typically grouped under functional executives. These executives oversee their occupational specialties but are in turn, responsible to a central headquarters that acts as an overall coordinator (Robbins, 1987).

Strengths and Weaknesses

The primary strength of the machine bureaucracy lies in its ability to perform standardized activities in a highly efficient manner. Putting like specialties together results in economies of scale, minimization of duplication of personnel and equipment, and comfortable and satisfied employees who have the opportunity to talk "the same language" among their peers. Further, machine bureaucracies can get by nicely with less talented-and, hence, less costly-middle- and lower-level managers. The pervasiveness of rules and regulations substitute for managerial discretion. Standardized operations, coupled with high formalization, allow decision making to be centralized. There is little need, therefore, for innovative and experienced decision makers below the level of senior executives.

One of the major weaknesses of the machine bureaucracy is illustrated in the following dialogue between four executives in one company: "Ya know, nothing happens in this place until we produce something," said the production executive. "Wrong," commented the research-and-development manager, "nothing happens until we design something!" "What are you talking about?" asked the marketing executive. "Nothing happens here until we sell something!" Finally, the exasperated accounting manager responded, "It doesn't matter what you produce, design, or sell. No one knows what happens until we tally up the results!"

This conversation points up the fact that specialization creates subunit conflicts. Functional unit goals can override the overall goals of the organization. The other major weakness of the machine bureaucracy is something we've all experienced at one time or another when having to deal with people who work in these organizations: obsessive concern with following the rules. When cases arise that don't precisely fit the rules, there is no room for modification. The machine bureaucracy is efficient only as long as employees confront problems that they have previously encountered and for which programmed decision rules have already been established (Robbins, 1987).

When Should You Use It

The machine bureaucracy is most efficient when matched with large size, a simple and stable environment, and a technology that contains routine work that can be standardized. You see its effectiveness when you go into the main post office in any major city. Employees are assigned specific responsibilities-sorting letters and packages, making local deliveries, picking up mail from deposit boxes, and the like. Procedures govern the way sorting is to be carried out and the path mail deliveries are to follow. If you bring in a package to be mailed, the clerk will follow a preset routine to determine: Did you wrap the package with the proper paper? Did you use the right kind of tape? Is the addressee's identification clearly written? When do you want the package to get to its destination? Do you want a signed receipt of delivery? Do you want insurance? Despite the billions of pieces of mail handled every day, the post office is reasonably efficient. It is, however, only as long as its environment remains stable and its technology routine. The post office, like all machine bureaucracies, is very poor at making changes. This design configuration is just not conducive to making changes either rapidly or efficiently. That can be seen in the efforts to automate the post office's operations. The process took decades rather than months.

Where are you likely to find machine bureaucracies? In mass-production firms, such as those in the automobile and steel industries; service organizations with simple, repetitive activities, such as prisons or insurance and telephone companies; government agencies with routine work, such as post offices and tax collection departments; and organizations that have special safety needs, such as airlines and police departments. All these organizations have routine and highly standardized activities. Most of their contingencies have occurred many times before and are therefore predictable and amenable to formalized procedures. You would not, for instance, want to fly with an airline that was not organized as a machine bureaucracy. How comfortable would you be if you knew the "maintenance men did whatever struck them as interesting instead of following precise checklists, and the pilots worked out their procedures for landing in foggy weather when the need arose (Robbins, 1987)

The Professional Bureaucracy

The last quarter of a century has seen the birth of a new structural animal. It has been created to allow organizations to hire highly trained specialists for the operating core, while still achieving the efficiencies from standardization. The configuration is called the professional bureaucracy, and it combines standardization with decentralization.

The jobs that people do today increasingly require a high level of specialized expertise. An undergraduate college degree is required for more and more jobs. So, too, are graduate degrees. The knowledge explosion has created a whole class of organizations that require professionals to produce their goods and services. Obvious examples include hospitals, school districts, universities, museums, libraries, engineering design firms, social service agencies, and public accounting firms. This has created the need for an organizational design that relies on social specialization rather than functional specialization--that is specialization that is based on the possession of individual skills rather than division of labor (Griffin, 1990; Robbins, 1987).

Power in this design rests with the operating core because they have the critical skills that the organization needs, and they have the autonomy--provided through decentralization-to apply their expertise. The only other part of the professional bureaucracy that is fully elaborated is the support staff, but their activities are focused on serving the operating core.

You can see that a professional bureaucracy on the technical skills of specialists. These professionals acquired their skills through years of study leading up to the receipt of their master's degrees. These professionals perform their activities relatively autonomously, but the structure is high in complexity, and there are lots of rules and regulations; however, the formalization is internalized rather than imposed by the organization itself  (Robbins, 1987).

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strength of the professional bureaucracy is that it can perform specialized tasks--ones that require the skills of highly trained professionals-with the same relative efficiency as the machine bureaucracy can. Why then, you may ask, did not management just choose the latter? It is not because management would not prefer the machine form. In power-control terms, the professional bureaucracy requires top management to give up a considerable degree of control. But what is their alternative? The professionals need the autonomy to do their jobs effectively.

The weaknesses of the professional bureaucracy are the same as for the machine form. First, there is the tendency for subunit conflicts to develop. The various professional functions seek to pursue their own narrow objectives, often sublimating the interests of other functions and the organization as a whole. Second, the specialists in the professional bureaucracy, like their counterparts in the machine form, are compulsive in their determination to follow the rules. Only the rules in, professional bureaucracies are the making of the professionals themselves. Standards of professional conduct and codes for ethical practices have been socialized into the employees during their training. So, for example, while lawyers or nurses have autonomy on their jobs, their professional standards of how their work is to be done can be a hindrance to an organization's effectiveness when the standards are rigid and unable to adjust to unique or changing conditions (Robbins, 1987).

When Should You Use It

The professional bureaucracy is at its best when matched with large size, a complex and stable environment, and a routine technology internalized through professionalization. The organization's operating core will be dominated by skilled professionals who have internalized difficult-to-learn but nevertheless well-defined procedures. The complex and stable environment means that the organization requires the use of difficult skills that can be learned only in formal education and training programs, but there is enough stability for these skills to be well defined and standardized.

The knowledge explosion has made the professional bureaucracy a fashionable choice in the 1980s. As organizations have hired more and more technical specialists, they have been forced to come up with an alternative to the machine bureaucracy. The professional bureaucracy provides such an alternative by decentralizing decision making while maintaining the other advantages of the machine form. From the power-control perspective, the professional bureaucracy is obviously inferior to the machine bureaucracy. However, it is clearly preferable to the more free-form adhocracy that we will discuss later in the lecture (Robbins, 1987).


American police departments are remarkably similar in terms of organizational structure and management. The typical police department is a complex machine bureaucracy, with a hierarchical structure, and an authoritarian management style. The only exceptions to this rule are the very small departments. O. W. Wilson was the leading authority on police administration from the 1940s through the 1960s and his ideas shape contemporary police management (Walker, 1992).


The abandonment of the norm-derivative approach to the definition of the role of the police in modern society immediately directs attention to a level of social reality that is unrelated to the ideal formulations. Whereas in terms of these formulations police activity derives its meaning from the objectives of upholding the law, we find that in reality certain meaning features are associated with police work that are largely independent of the objectives. That is, police work is generally viewed as having certain character traits we take for granted, and which control dealings between police officers and citizens, on both sides. Though we are lacking in adequate evidence about these matters, the perceived traits we will presently discuss are universally accepted as present and the recognition of their presence constitutes a realistic constraint on what is expected of the police and how police officers actually conduct themselves. It is important to emphasize that even while some of these ideas and attitudes are uncritically inherited from the past they are far from being totally devoid of realism. In the police literature these matters are typically treated under either euphemistic or cynical glosses. The reason for this evasion is simple, the Sunday school vocabulary we are forced to employ while talking about any occupational pursuit as dignified, serious, and necessary forces us to be either hypocritical or disillusioned, and prevents us from dealing realistically with the facts and from being candid about opinion.

Among the traits of character that are commonly perceived as associated with police work, and which thus constitute in part the social reality within which the work has to be done, the following three are of cardinal importance (Bittner, 1991).

1. Police work is a tainted occupation. The origins of the stigma are buried in the distant past and while much has been said and done to erase it, these efforts have been notably unsuccessful. Medieval watchmen, recruited from among the ranks of the destitute and subject to satirical portrayals, were perceived to belong to the world of shadows they were supposed to contain. During the period of the absolute monarchy the police came to represent the underground aspects of tyranny and political repression, and they were despised and feared even by those who ostensibly benefited from their services. No one can say how much of the old attitude lives on; some of it probably seeps into modern consciousness from the continued reading of nineteenth century romantic literature of the Victor Hugo variety. And it cannot be neglected that the mythology of the democratic polity avidly recounts the heroic combat against the police agents of the old order. But even if the police officer of today did not evoke the images of the past at all, they would still be viewed with mixed feelings, to say the least. For in modern folklore, too, they are a character who is ambivalently feared and admired, and no amount of public relations work can entirely abolish the sense that there is something of the dragon in the dragon-slayer. Because they are posted on the perimeters of order and justice in the hope that their presence will deter the forces of darkness and chaos, because they are meant to spare the rest of the people direct confrontations with the dreadful, perverse, lurid, and dangerous, police officers are perceived to have powers and secrets no one else shares. Their interest in and competence to deal with the untoward surrounds their activities with mystery and distrust. One needs only to consider the thoughts that come to mind at the sight of a police officer moving into action: here they go to do something the rest of us have no stomach for. And most people naturally experience a slight tinge of panic when approached by a law enforcement officer, a feeling against which the awareness of innocence provides no adequate protection. Indeed, the innocent in particular typically do not know what to expect and thus have added, even when unjustified, reasons for fear. On a more mundane level, the mixture of fear and fascination that the police elicit is often enriched by the addition of contempt. Depending on one's position in society, the contempt may draw on a variety of sources. To some the leading reason for disparaging police work derives from the suspicion that those who do battle against evil cannot themselves live up fully to the ideals they presumably defend. Others make the most of the circumstance that police work is a low-paying occupation, the requirements for which can be met by men who are poorly educated. And some, finally, generalize from accounts of police abuses that come to their attention to the occupation as a whole.

It is important to note that the police do very little to discourage unfavorable public attitudes. In point of fact, their sense of being out of favor with a large segment of the society has led them to adopt a petulant stance and turned them to courting the kinds of support which, ironically, are nothing but a blatant insult. For the movement that is known by the slogan, "Support your local police," advocates the unleashing of a force of mindless bullies to do society's dirty work. Indeed, if there is still some doubt about the popular perception of police work as a tainted occupation, it will surely be laid to rest by pointing to those who, under the pretense of taking the side of the police, imply that the institution and its personnel are uniformly capable and willing to act out the basic instincts inherent in all of us.

In sum, the taint that attaches to police work refers to the fact that policemen are viewed as the fire it takes to fight fire, that they in the natural course of their duties inflict harm, albeit deserved, and that their very existence attests that the nobler aspirations of mankind do not contain the means necessary to insure survival. But even as those necessities are accepted, those who accept them seem to prefer to have no part in acting upon them, and they enjoy the more than slightly perverse pleasure of looking down on the police who take the responsibility of doing the job (Bittner, 1991).

2. Police work is not merely a tainted occupation. To draw a deliberately remote analogy, the practice of medicine also has its dirty and mysterious aspects. And characteristically, dealings with physicians also elicit a sense of trepidated fascination. But in the case of medicine, the repulsive aspects, relating to disease, pain, and death, are more than compensated by other features, none of which are present in police work. Of the compensatory features, one is of particular relevance to our concerns. No conceivable human interest could be opposed to fighting illness; in fact, it is meaningless to suppose that one could have scruples in opposing disease. But the evils the police are expected to fight are of a radically different nature. Contrary to the physician, the policeman is always opposed to some articulated or articulable human interest. To be sure, the police are, at least in principle, opposed to only reprehensible interests or to interest lacking in proper justification. But even if one were to suppose that they never err in judging legitimacy-a farfetched supposition, indeed-it would still remain the case that police work can, with very few exceptions, accomplish something for somebody only by proceeding against someone else. It does not take great subtlety of perception to realize that standing between man and man locked in conflict inevitably involves profound moral ambiguities. Admittedly, few of us are constantly mindful of the saying, "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone . . . " but only the police are explicitly required to forget it. The terms of their mandate and the circumstances of their practices do not afford them the leisure to reflect about the deeper aspect of conflicting moral claims. Not only are they required to proceed forcefully against all appearances of transgression but they are also expected to penetrate the appearance of innocence to discover craftiness hiding under its cloak. While most of us risk only the opprobrium of foolishness by being charitable or gullible, the policeman hazards violating his duty by letting generosity or respect for appearances govern his decisions.

Though it is probably true that persons who are characterologically inclined to see moral and legal problems in black and white tend to choose police work as a vocation more often than others, it is important to emphasize that the need to disregard complexity is structurally built into the occupation. Only after a suspect is arrested, or after an untoward course of events is stopped, is there time to reflect on the merits of the decision and, typically, that reflective judgment is assigned to other public officials. Though it is expected that law enforcement officers will be judicious and that experience and skill will guide them in the performance of their work, it is foolish to expect that they could always be both swift and subtle. Nor is it reasonable to demand that they prevail, where they are supposed to prevail, while hoping that they will always handle resistance gently. Since the requirement of quick and what is often euphemistically called aggressive action is difficult to reconcile with error-free performance, police work is, by its very nature, doomed to be often unjust and offensive to someone. Under the dual pressure to "be right" and to "do something, " law enforcement officers are often in a position that is compromised even before they act."

In sum, the fact that police officers are required to deal with matters involving subtle human conflicts and profound legal and moral questions, without being allowed to give the subtleties and profundities anywhere near the consideration they deserve, invests their activities with the character of crudeness. Accordingly, the constant reminder that officers should be wise, considerate, and just, without providing them with opportunities to exercise these virtues is little more than vacuous sermonizing (Bittner, 1991).

3. The ecological distribution of police work at the level of departmentally determined concentrations of deployment, as well as in terms of the orientations of individual police officers, reflects a whole range of public prejudices. That is, the police are more likely to be found in places where certain people live or congregate than in other parts of the city. Though this pattern of manpower allocation is ordinarily justified by references to experientially established needs for police service, it inevitably entails the consequence that some persons will receive the dubious benefit of extensive police scrutiny merely on account of their membership in those social groupings which invidious social comparisons locate at the bottom of the heap. Accordingly, it is not a paranoid distortion to say that police activity is as much directed to who a person is as to what he does.

As is well known, the preferred targets of special police concern are some ethnic and racial minorities, the poor living in urban slums, and young people in general. On the face of it, this kind of focusing appears to be, if not wholly unobjectionable, not without warrant. Insofar as the above-mentioned segments of society contribute disproportionately to the sum total of crime, and are more likely than others to engage in objectionable conduct, they would seem to require a higher degree of surveillance. In fact, this kind of reasoning was basic to the very creation of the police; for it was not assumed initially that the police would enforce laws in the broad sense, but that they would concentrate on the control of individual and collective tendencies towards transgression and disorder issuing from what were referred to as the "dangerous classes." What was once a frankly admitted bias is, however, generally disavowed in our times. That is, in and of itself, the fact that someone is young, poor, and dark-complexioned is not supposed to mean anything whatsoever to a police officer. Statistically considered, he might be said to be more likely to run afoul of the law, but individually, all things being equal, his chances of being left alone are supposed to be the same as those of someone who is middle aged, well-to-do, and fair-skinned, In fact, however, exactly the opposite is the case. All things being equal, the young-poor-black and the old-rich-white doing the very same things under the very same circumstances will almost certainly not receive the same kind of treatment from police officers. In fact, it is almost inconceivable that the two characters could ever appear or do something in ways that would mean the same thing to a law enforcement officer. Nor is the police officer merely expressing personal or institutional prejudice by according the two characters differential treatment. Public expectations insidiously instruct him to reckon with these "factors." These facts are too well known to require detailed exposition, but their reasons and consequences deserve brief consideration.

In the first place, the police are not alone in making invidious distinctions between the two types. Indeed the differential treatment they accord them reflects only the distribution of esteem, credit, and desserts in society at large. Second, because of their own social origin, many policemen tend to express social prejudices more emphatically than other members of society. Third, the police are not merely like everybody else, only more so; they also have special reasons for it. Because the preponderant majority of police interventions are based on mere suspicion or on merely tentative indications of risk, police officers would have to be expected to judge matters prejudicially even if they personally were entirely free of prejudice. Under present circumstances, even the most completely impartial police officer who merely takes account of probabilities, as these probabilities are known to him, will feel reasonably justified in being more suspicious of the young-poor-black than of the old-rich-white, and once his suspicions are aroused, in acting swiftly and forcefully against the former while treating the latter with reserve and deference. For as the police officer calculates risk, the greater hazard is located on the side of inaction in one case, and on the side of unwarranted action in the other.

That law enforcement officers deal differently with types of people who are thought always to be "up to something" than with people who are thought to have occasional lapses but can otherwise be relied upon to conduct their affairs legally and honorably, does not come as a surprise, especially if one considers the multiple social pressures that instruct the police not to let the unworthy get away with anything and to treat the rest of the community with consideration. But because this is the case, police work tends to have divisive effects in society. While their existence and work do not create cleavages, they do magnify them in effect.

The police view of this matter is clear and simple-too simple, perhaps. Their business is to control crime and keep the peace. If there is some connection between social and economic inequality, on the one hand, and criminality and unruliness, on the other hand, this is not their concern. The problem is not, however, whether the police have any responsibilities with regard to social injustice. The problem is that by distributing surveillance and intervention selectively they contribute to already existing tensions in society. That the police are widely assumed to be a partisan force in society is evident not only in the attitudes of people who are exposed to greater scrutiny; just as the young-poor-black expects unfavorable treatment, so the old-rich-white expects special consideration from the police. And when two such persons are in conflict, nothing will provoke the indignation of the "decent" citizen more quickly than giving his word the same credence as the word of some "ne'er-do-well."

The three character traits of police work discussed in the foregoing remarks-namely, that it is a tainted occupation, that it calls for peremptory solutions for complex human problems, and that it has, in virtue of its ecological distribution, a socially divisive effect-are structural determinants. By this is meant mainly that the complex of reasons and facts they encompass are not easily amenable to change. Thus, for example, though the stigma that attaches to police work is often viewed as merely reflecting the frequently low grade and bungling personnel that is currently available to the institution, there are good reasons to expect that it would continue to plague a far better prepared and a far better performing staff. For the stigma attaches not merely to the ways law enforcement officers discharge their duties, but also to what they have to deal with. Similarly, while it is probably true that moral naiveté is a character trait of persons who presently choose police work as their vocation, it is unlikely that persons of greater subtlety of perception would find it easy to exercise their sensitivity under present conditions. Finally, even though discriminatory policing is to some extent traceable to personal bigotry, it also follows the directions of public pressure, which, in turn, is not wholly devoid of factual warrant.

The discussion of the structural character traits of police work was introduced by saying that they were independent of the role definitions formulated from the perspective of the norm-derivative approach. The latter interprets the meaning and adequacy of police procedure in terms of a set of simply stipulated ideal objectives. Naturally these objectives are considered desirable; more importantly, however, the values that determine the desirability of the objectives are also used in interpreting and judging the adequacy of procedures employed to realize them. Contrary to this way of making sense of police work, the consideration of the structural character traits was meant to draw attention to the fact that there attaches a sense to police work that is not inferentially derived from ideals but is rooted in what is commonly known about it. What is known about the police is, however, not merely a matter of more or less correct information. Instead, the common lore furnishes a framework for judging and interpreting their work. In crudest form, the common lore consists of a set of presuppositions about the way things are and have to be. Thus, for instance, whatever people assume to be generally true of the police will be the thing that a particular act or event will be taken to exemplify. If it is believed that police work is crude, then within a very considerable range of relative degrees of subtlety, whatever police officers will be seen doing will be seen as crudeness.

In addition to the fact that the normative approach represents an exercise in formal, legal inference, while the structural character traits reflect an approach of informal, commonsense practicality, the two differ in yet another and perhaps more important aspect. The normative approach does not admit the possibility that the police may, in fact, not be oriented to those objectives. Contrary to this, the sense of police activity that comes to the fore from the consideration of the character traits assigned to it by popular opinion and attitude leaves the question open (Bittner, 1991).


Think of any one particular law enforcement agency, and you probably conjure up an image that summarizes the impression you have of its members. Take, for example, the state police. More than likely, you would describe a highway patrol officer as being formal, having a spit-and-polish uniform, and unyielding when it comes to traffic violations. Now think about the image of the old southern sheriff on the television truck commercials. That fellow is heavy set, smokes a cigar, and is very informal. Now imagine that you are driving down the road slightly faster than the speed limit. You look in the rearview mirror and realize that the police car with its flashing lights intends for you to pull over and stop. Which of the two law enforcement officers just described would you prefer to be stopping you? The highway patrol officer or the sheriff? Why?

This brief exercise should help you realize that we have different images of various agencies. There is also a tendency to stereotype members of different agencies. In many instances, the stereotype is well deserved. In other words, police officers get an image as a result of how they do their police work (Doerner, 1992).

Another approach to the study of internal groups has been the "typology of ideal types" study. The theory of ideal types, introduced into social science by Max Weber, says that models of reality can be created as an extreme form of that reality and used to clarify the relationships embodied in that reality. Wilson's (1968) styles of policing is the most widely used typology: legalistic, watchman, and service. The legalistic type would arrest a citizen any time any law was broken, with keeping the peace (watchman) and the delivery of human service to citizen (service) only emerging after the law was satisfied. Has the legalistic style of policing ever existed in reality? The usual answer is no, not as a style of a police agency or the style of an individual officer. However, some agencies prefer this type of policing, even though the other styles may also exist in a legalist style of police agency. The same is true of individual officers. What this and other typologies do enables the researcher and the student of police management and police culture to use the ideal typology as a tool to analyze police departments and police groups. We will see this tool in use when we look at styles of leadership and management.

Hundreds of typologies for the study of police management and police culture have been produced. There are professional cops, street cops, by-the-book cops, bad cops, good cops, and many others. These studies look at whole departments, styles of leadership and management, and types of police officers. However, these studies rarely take even a brief look at how these models are also characteristic of groups of police officers in the agency.

Consider, for example, a chief with a service orientation who takes over a department that already has a legalistic style. He will send standard operating orders to the officers telling them they should spend time talking to citizens in coffee klatches, delivering babies, teaching courses at the local schools, being guest speakers, and also apprehending criminals. He will find tight and fast resistance because the prevailing style gives priority to enforcing the law and apprehending criminals.

If the chief does not understand the difference between his style of policing and the one prevailing in the department, he will fail. Police managers need to understand police styles on a daily basis if their orders are to be effective (Thibault et al., 1985).

The premier police typology that exists today is the classification scheme that James Q. Wilson developed after studying police departments in several cities. After taking into account the political atmosphere, community composition, social conditions, administrative reactions, and arrest patterns, Wilson separated police departments according to their enforcement practices. He labeled these response modes the watchman style, the legalistic style, and the service style (Doerner, 1992).

The Political-Watchman Model: Police Officer as Neighbor

In the 1830s, when integrated day-night, or modern, law enforcement began in the United States, the political-watchman model emerged. The political characterization reflects the political context within which community law enforcement evolved. For decades policing was dominated by local politicians and competing political groups. The watchman characterization indicates the continuing lack of professionalism in organization and management practices and in the officers' behavior, the broad range of tasks police officers were expected to perform, and the "watching" role of police, particularly patrol officers. For most of the nineteenth century, many police departments were politically corrupt, and many officers were corrupt, indifferent to their responsibilities, incompetent, or all three.

The strategies emphasized by community police included visibility and apprehension and, to a lesser degree, counseling and education. The police established patrol and investigation specializations in an attempt to limit opportunities to commit crime and deter criminal behavior. Police officers were also actively involved in providing social services to communities (e.g., as probation officers, juvenile counselors, and providers of shelter and food). These wide-ranging services were consistent with the evolving nature of the police role.

Officer behavior was shaped by personal values, political affiliations, the problem to be solved, and the possible negative consequences of behavior. Individual officers tended to be informal and personal. Knowledge of the citizens, their ethnic and racial identity, socioeconomic standing, and politics influenced police-citizen interaction, particularly when the crime was not serious. Officers tended to be selective in responding to problems, uncomfortable with their authority, and to vary in their degree of compassion and aggressiveness. Coercion was probably used more frequently primarily because citizens were more likely to resist police authority, but also because management had minimal control over officers.

The police officer in this model was like a neighbor, available for information, advice, and assistance. Many officers were political lackeys and bullies who periodically discriminated against those persons they did not approve of. The rule of law, and organizational policies and procedures where they existed, often gave way to the rule of personal authority. Officers had a great deal of discretion and were more likely to use coercive force than in any subsequent model. The ends usually justified the means employed. With police functioning essentially as a neighbor, "good men" tended to make good cops while less-than-good men incalculably damaged police credibility and authority.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the model came under criticism. Identified problems included excessive political influence, laziness, incompetent and corrupt officers, inadequate selection and training, poor management practices, and ineffective leadership. Reformers from inside and outside police ranks suggested solutions, which gave birth to new democratic policing models. However, the process of replacing the political-watchman model was gradual and piecemeal. As late as the 1950s many community police departments, if not the majority, had a substantial political character and some still do (Roberg and Kuykendall, 1990).

The Legalistic-Professional Model: Police Officer as Soldier

In the first three decades of the twentieth century, two competing views emerged about the police role in a democratic society. One view resulted in the emergence of the legalistic-professional model and the other resulted in the development of the community-service model, to be discussed later. The former proved to be more acceptable to most police and the public and became the dominant reform orientation until the 1960s, when the community-service model was rediscovered.

The legalistic characterization of this model emphasizes the importance of rule enforcement. If police departments were excessively influenced by politics, which meant favoritism and inconsistent behavior, the supposed remedy was to strictly follow the rules. For police the most important rule was the law, followed by the strict, elaborate organizational rules and regulations created to guide and control officer behavior. The professional characterization indicates an emphasis on improving the officers' competence, commitment, and sense of responsibility. If police were to be efficient and effective, organizations had to select the best applicants, pay them well, train them properly, and free them from political influence. However, even though this model emphasizes the importance of well-qualified personnel, it is probably the least humanistic model.

The strategies of visibility and apprehension are considered the most effective and desirable police responses to deviant and disruptive behavior. Although these strategies were important in the political-watchman approach, they became the primary perspective from which police viewed their role in the legalistic-professional model. This approach emphasized crime fighting. Partly, this emphasis resulted from police leaders' trying to obtain support for their reforms, but it was also consistent with their views on how to most effectively "wage war" on crime.

Visibility and apprehension were formalized by emphasizing the importance of patrol and investigations specializations in police departments. Counseling and education tended to be de-emphasized by the advocates of the legalistic-professional approach, but they were not abandoned. Rather, they were used informally by individual officers or as part of a limited programmatic effort. In general, however, police organizations, with the exception of the programs created to deal with juveniles, tended to ignore counseling and education.

In this model the behavior of officers, the exercise of discretion, and the use of coercive force are tightly controlled or at least that is the organizational intent. Standards of law and organizational policy are to be unswervingly applied in waging the "war on crime." Position descriptions, policies and procedures, and rules and regulations are stressed. Officers were not supposed to be selective (but many were, emphasizing only serious crimes), were comfortable with their authority, were not particularly compassionate, and tended to be aggressive. Ideally, the means or process of enforcement is more important than the ends of deterrence and apprehension, however, the reality proved to be somewhat different because there was a perceived conflict between being organizationally effective in fighting crime and following strict guidelines. Consequently, many officers went outside the law and policy to get results because they believed that "doing the job" was not possible if they "played by the rules."

Organizations contributed to this orientation by rewarding officers for the number of arrests made and tickets issued. For those departments in gradual transition from a political to a legalistic approach, the emphasis on crime fighting, the tendency of officers to exercise personal authority, and the organizational demands that officers be productive legalistically resulted in many dramatic examples of police abuse. While the actual use of coercion by police may have declined, when compared with the political-watchman model, the legalistic-professional model promised more than it delivered.

Officers were supposed to be businesslike, objective, dedicated, and incorruptible with a "no nonsense" approach to problem solving. This was the reformer's vision but as legalistic crime fighters, police became more like soldiers than business persons. The officer became society's soldier-the "thin blue line" between the savages and civilization. They were to be well-trained, incorruptible, disciplined professionals who enforced the law "without fear or favor." Instead, communities in which this model prevailed had many officers who were insensitive, autocratic, and verbally abusive, and who saw police work as "fighting crime." This approach created serious problems for police in some cities, particularly in minority communities where, historically, police have not been well received.

This model was the most prominent approach to reforming the police from the 1920s to the 1960s. It was somewhat influential in many police departments but it was never completely realized in its ideal state. It had to compete with the political-watchman approach that many cities gave up grudgingly, if at all. In the 1960s, the public perception of a "crime wave" plus numerous urban riots led to a general public criticism of police in the United States. Models of policing that existed-political-watchman and legalistic-professional-were criticized as having failed to respond effectively to deviant and disruptive behavior. The political-watchman model was perceived as a failure because of excessive political influence and poor management, and the legalistic-professional model because it emphasized visibility and apprehension too much and had gone so far to eliminate political influence that the police were no longer responsive to the communities they were created to serve. In effect, this model tended to de-emphasize the needs of many employees and the expectations of the community (Roberg and Kuykendall, 1990).

The Community-Service Model: Police Officer as Teacher

With the so-called police failure of the 1960s, critics began to advocate a model of policing that had existed since the 1920s, but had not played a significant role in changing the political-watchman approach. This model was essentially a reaction to the failure of the legalistic-professional model.

The community characterization reflects a concern for community problems and a social responsibility that goes beyond rule enforcement. The service dimension suggests police should broaden their approach to responding to crime by providing noncriminal alternatives and programs (e.g., misdemeanor citations, diversion programs, crisis intervention). The police should be more responsive and less formalistic, with a reduced emphasis on legalistic responses. Instead of being a neighbor or a soldier, police officers should be more like a teacher; a person who is a philosopher, a guide, and an educator but who is capable of disciplining the unruly student when appropriate. Instead of a negative, autocratic force in the community, officers should play a more positive, supportive role. However, while this essentially humanistic perspective was advocated in relationships with communities and citizens, management did not always support the approach. Some agencies attempted to adopt this model externally, but internally remained essentially bureaucratic or legalistically oriented in management practices and treatment of personnel.

All four police strategies (i.e., visibility, apprehension, education, counseling) are emphasized in this model. Officers are trained to utilize organizationally prescribed nonenforcement alternatives in dealing with a wide range of problems. Activities related to education and counseling are considered an integral part of the officer's behavior. Often, special programs are developed to implement these strategies. The officer has less latitude than in the political-watchman model because many of the informal alternatives of that model are replaced by organizational policies and procedures. However, there is greater latitude than in the legalistic-professional approach because officers are provided more problem-solving alternatives.

Officer behavior, while more interpersonally oriented, tends to be objective. Situations and individuals are viewed as problems to be solved. Officers are concerned with communication skills, basic interpersonal style, and escalation patterns in utilizing verbal and physical aggression. Officers tend to be more compassionate, they are neither selective nor particularly aggressive, and they may or may not be comfortable with authority. The organization attempts to control officer discretion by encouraging them to adopt a community-oriented philosophy and by providing nonenforcement alternatives in problem solving. Coercive force is considered a last resort and is actively discouraged. Usually, a strict policy limits its use. The use of verbal persuasion is actively encouraged in order to increase support in the community (Roberg and Kuykendall, 1990).


Culture is the foundation upon which a social group operates within the world around it. It includes knowledge, beliefs, morals, laws, customs, and any other capabilities or habits acquired by its members. Obviously, the police are a part of American culture and share many of these traits and customs with the larger society; however, in many ways, the police develop traditions and survival skills that are unique to their vocational group because of their duties and responsibilities. These distinct differences in culture qualify them as members of a subculture, a group that shares a great deal of the dominant culture, but that is set off from general society because of its unique aspects (Alpert and Dunham, 1988; Horton and Hunt, 1976).


The subculture of the police helps to define the "cop's world" and each officer's role in it. A subculture is a subdivision of a national culture defined by such social factors as ethnicity, class, and residence, which in combination form a functioning unity that shapes the beliefs, values, and attitudes of the group's members. The police share a set of expectations about human behavior that they carry into professional contacts because they are members of the police community. Like the subculture of any occupational group that sees itself as distinctive, the subculture of the police is based on a set of value premises stemming from their view of the nature of their occupational environment and their relationship to that environment and to other people. Entry requirements, training, behavioral standards, and operational goals combine to produce a similarity of values.

The norms and values of the police subculture are learned. From the time recruits make their first contact with the force, they become aware of the special ways they are expected to act. This process of socialization makes police officers attuned not only to the formally prescribed rules of the job but, more important, to the informal ways in which the subculture dictates their actions. They learn that loyalty to fellow officers, professional esprit de corps, and respect for police authority are esteemed values. Although the formal training given at the police academy teaches recruits a portion of their new occupation, by actually working as police officers they become socialized by fellow officers to the "real" way the job should be performed.

Like soldiers, patrol officers work in an organizational framework in which rank carries responsibilities and privileges; yet the success of the group depends on the cooperation of its members. All patrol officers are under direct supervision and can be punished if they fail to recognize that their performance is measured by the contribution they make to the group's work. They are also influenced by the pressure exerted on them directly by their colleagues, buddies who work alongside them. Patrol officers, however, have territorial constraints dictating that they be solitary workers, dependent on their own personal skills and judgment. They move onto a social stage with an unknown cast of characters and are expected to perform in a setting and plot that can never be accurately predicted. They must be ever ready to act and to do so according to law. From arresting a fleeing assailant to protecting a fearful wife from her drunken husband to assisting in the search for a lost child, the patrol officer meets the public alone.

Although the police bureaucracy allocates duties among officers on the basis of rank and ability, the police subculture overrides these differentiations because, as organizational specialists believe, of the practice of promoting from within. There are few opportunities for lateral entry into supervisory positions; all members begin at the rank of patrol officer. Upward movement depends on the recommendations of supervisors, with the result that adherence to the rules of the occupational subculture is strengthened. The idealism of young police academy graduates may be shattered when they realize that they must operate within the structure and norms of a bureaucracy. To advance above the boredom of patrol work to the law enforcement work of the detective division may require connections (often political) and a record for acting in accordance with departmental norms. These requirements can mean that arrests that may cause fellow officers extra work are not made or that various unlawful practices within the department are not brought to the chief's attention.

The impact of the police community on the behavior of the individual officer is enhanced when situations develop that produce conflict between the group and the larger society. To endure their work, the police must relate to the public in ways that protect their own self-esteem. As former New Haven police chief James Ahern has stated, most job routines in law work are boring; the idealistic recruit soon begins to question the worth of the profession. If the police view the public as essentially hostile and police work as aggravating that hostility, they will segregate themselves from the public by developing strong attitudes and norms that will ensure that all members of the police community will conform to the interests of the group.

As these examples indicate, the subculture of the police exerts a strong impact on law enforcement operations. Further, even with the increased amount of formal training that is given to the police, law enforcement is an art, not a science. There is no body of generalized, written knowledge, theory, or rules that can help police officer. The recruit learns on the job, as an apprentice, and is thus molded to a great extent by fellow officers and the culture within which they operate (Cole, 1986; More, 1987; Robin, 1987; Siegel, 1986; Thibault et al., 1985).


Three features of an officer's work environment account for the "working personality" of the police: danger, authority, and isolation from the public. Bureaucratic pressures for efficiency form the background of these dimensions of the police officer's working personality. From the time new recruits enter the training academy to their emergency as autonomous sworn patrol officers, they are alerted to the prospect of danger--the occupational hallmark of the police profession. To protect themselves against potentially dangerous situations and persons who cannot be precisely identified in advance, patrol officers come to view everyone with suspicion. The public in general and members of high-crime prone minority groups in particular are treated as "symbolic" assailants; no matter how apparently innocuous, any encounter with a citizen could jeopardize an officer's safety. Some symbolic assailants are more likely than others to become real assailants and to confront the authority of the police. Patrol officers learn through painful personal experience, the experiences of fellow officers, and crime statistics that they have the most to fear from young male minority group members in the ghetto. Hence, the seeds are planted for strained relations between police and community (minority) groups, the development of racial prejudice and authoritarianism, isolation of the police from society, and problems pertaining to police authority.

The police are viewed and view themselves as authority figures. As such, their contacts with citizens involve giving orders, exercising control in law enforcement and order maintenance situations, placing restraints on freedom of action, enforcing traffic regulations and other unpopular laws, making searches, and arrests, and using force to maintain their authority. The public's response to the difficulties, inconveniences, and threats posed by police authority is to isolate themselves from the police, accord them low status, and withhold respect and deference to their authority. In the very process of performing their duties and protecting the community, the police find themselves unappreciated, alienated, and rejected by those whose lives, property, civil rights, and well-being they are committed to safeguard.

The police develop an intensive solidarity among their peers in order to cope with the frustrations and the conflicting demands of their job and to survive without the respect of the community. The police can then derive professional worth and acceptance, respect for their authority, and appreciation of the danger in police work--all the things denied them by the public--from their own kind. All sworn personnel go through the same extended apprenticeship as patrol officers, acquire the same experiences, and are confronted with the same working personality problems. Therefore they share critical common occupational values, experiences, problems, and responses to the problems of danger, authority, and isolation. This collective occupational solidarity of experience, attitudes, norms, and reaction is referred to as the police subculture (Cole, 1986; Robin, 1987; Siegel, 1986; Thibault et al., 1985).


Two aspects of an individual's personality are especially relevant, controversial, and problematic to the police, the police department, and the community: prejudice and authoritarianism. For many years it was assumed that persons selected as candidates for police work possessed marked authoritarian and prejudiced personalities before they entered the police academy or became sworn personnel and a part of the police subculture. The undocumented belief was that the status symbols of authority and power that belong to police work specifically attracted authoritarian types, whose performance on the job created problems in the community and dilemmas for department administrators.

However, research has revealed that before being socialized into the police subculture and developing a working personality, police recruits are no more authoritarian than the general population. They are basically no more aggressive than social workers, handle aggressive feelings better than most people, and accept the so-called status symbols of police work as the trappings of the trade or as necessary evils. Research also shows that while police officers are no more racially prejudiced than whites in the general population or Americans in similar socioeconomic circumstances. Of course, this does not mean that the police department or the community can afford to accept persons having "only" average prejudice. It does show, however, that the police do not start out as racial bigots, nor do they end up that way after joining the force.

In the process of becoming socialized into the police subculture and adopting its working personality, the patrol officer becomes more authoritarian, prejudiced, closed-minded (dogmatic), and conservative than he or she was as an individual before joining the force. Authoritarianism and prejudice are largely independent of an individual's personality traits prior to joining the force, are related to the nature of policing and police work, and may be unavoidable. Attempts to explain observed police prejudice and authoritarianism principally in terms of individual personality traits and the recruiting of already highly biased persons were false approaches to the solution of the problem. The major causes of police prejudice and authoritarianism are to be found not in the backgrounds of police recruits but in the forefront of police work, the working personality that goes with the job, and the police subculture. For example, when a professor of criminology with a Ph.D. left the campus to become a sworn police officer, he became punitive, cynical, racist, authoritarian, suspicious of others, anti-rehabilitation, skeptical of the constitutional rights of offenders, a supporter of capital punishment, and frustrated over court leniency. What happened to the criminologist-turned-cop was simply that he became part of the police subculture and took on the standard working personality of the police (Cole, 1986; Robin, 1987; Siegel, 1986; Thibault et al., 1985).


One of the first attempts to test the belief that police visibility prevents crime was carried out in the New York City Police Department beginning in September 1954. Operation 25 involved doubling the police strength in the 25th Precinct in Manhattan. Before Operation 25 began, as many as two-thirds of the foot beats in the area were unstaffed, but none were left unattended during the four-month experiment. Operation 25 seemed to curtail serious crime, especially street crime, that is, offenses occurring in public places or involving street entries to private places. Nonetheless, certain problems in the way the study was conducted raised doubts about its findings and significance. For example, Operation 25 may not in fact have curtailed crime but merely displaced it to adjoining precincts. And Operation 25 involved an enormous (100%) increase in police strength (Kirkham and Wollan, 1980; Robin, 1987).

What effect would a smaller patrol increase have on crime? The New York City Rand Institute studied the effects of a 40% increase in the patrol force assigned to the 20th Precinct, starting in October 1966. The crime rate in the 20th Precinct was compared with that in two nearby control precincts that maintained a normal level of police coverage and were similar in composition to the 20th. Over an eight month period in the 20th Precinct, the incidence of street robberies dropped, auto thefts, and grand larceny observable from the street dropped substantially. And there was no indication of crime displacement (Robin, 1987).

The problem in deterrence studies of the failure to report crimes to the police was overcome in an examination of the impact of police increases on subway robberies in New York City. There, most of the victims are transit employees who must report a crime, and efforts were made to facilitate other victims' notifying the authorities. Police patrols in the subways increased from the regular level of 1,200 persons to over 3,100 for eight years starting in April 1965. The number of subway felonies occurring at night fell in 1965 and remained low during this period. Although the increased police presence had a decided deterrent effect, the cost of such crime prevention was high: $35,000 per deterred felony (Robin, 1987).

The most comprehensive and most significant effort to determine the deterrent effect of routine preventive patrol was conducted in Kansas City between October 1972 and September 1973, under a $145,000 grant from the Police Foundation. It had long been assumed that routine preventive patrol--having officers drive or walk through their beats when their time was not committed to answering specific calls--was the best approach to crime prevention. The Kansas City Experiment was designed to determine the effect of routine preventive patrol on the incidence of crime and public's fear of crime. This was accomplished by implementing three different levels of routine preventive patrol in 15 police beats, which were divided into five groups of three computer-matched beats each. One beat in each group of three, chosen at random, was patrolled in the normal way by a single patrol car that cruised the streets when not responding to calls; this was the control patrol strategy. The second beat in each group had two to three times the number of cruising patrol cars. This strategy, implementing a greatly increased level of preventive patrol and police visibility, was designed "proactive patrol." Preventive patrol was eliminated altogether in the third beat: a police car would enter these areas only in response to specific requests for service, based on a "reactive patrol" strategy. Thus the Kansas City Experiment varied police visibility from minimal (reactive) to normal (Control) to intensified (proactive).

At the conclusion of the one-year undertaking, the Kansas City Experiment produced unexpected, sobering, and highly controversial results. There were no significant differences among the three areas in the amount of crime officially reported to the police or according to victim surveys, in observed criminal activity, in the citizen's fear of crime, or in the degree of citizen satisfaction with the police. In effect, changes in the level or the strategy of general preventive patrol made no difference in crime control in Kansas City. Motorized police presence, as implemented in the experiment, did not further deter crime. The implications of the Kansas City Experiment raised serious doubts about the value of a crime control strategy that has been the prevailing standard in policework for 170 years (Cole, 1986; Kenney, 1989; Kirkham and Wollan, 1980; Robin, 1987; Siegel, 1986; Thibault et al., 1985).


If uniformed officers on patrol are unable to prevent crime from happening, a Rand study suggests that detectives are not very successful in solving crimes that do occur. Under a $500,000 LEAA grant, a two-year Rand study of 153 police jurisdictions concluded that detectives rarely solve major crimes on their own, that they spend as much time shuffling papers as cracking cases, and that most detective forces could be cut in half without any loss in their crime-fighting effectiveness. Unless a suspect is caught in the act, apprehended as a result of community cooperation with the police, or identified by the victim, the crime is probably insoluble (Cole, 1986; Robin, 1987; Siegel, 1986; Thibault et al., 1985).


The image of the patrol officer on the beat is enshrined in American folklore. During the last twenty years, however, with increased use of the squad car, the foot patrol officer has almost disappeared from many cities. With most officers in squad cars and with most citizens having ready access to a telephone, modern patrol tactics are based on the assumption that calls for assistance will come to a central dispatching section of the department, and from there officers will be directed to the site of the incident. It has been argued that because motorized officers are patrolling an area, they respond rapidly to a call for help.

A study completed in Kansas City in 1977 and since replicated in Peoria (Illinois), Jacksonville (Florida), Rochester (New York), and San Diego (California) measured the impact of police response time on the ability of officers to intercept a crime in progress and arrest the criminal. The researchers found that the police were successful in only 29 of 1,000, and it made little difference whether they arrived in two minutes or twenty. The crucial factor was the speed with which citizens called the police.

If the problem of response time is one of citizen delay, it might be possible to develop educational programs or technological innovations that would reduce reporting time, but it appears that such strategies would not appreciably improve crime control through arrest. There are three reasons for delay in calling the police. Some people find the situation ambiguous--they want to make sure that the police should be called. Others are too busily engaged in coping activities--taking care of the victim, directing traffic, and generally helping out--that they are unable to leave the scene. Still others experience conflict that they must first resolve--they may avoid making an immediate decision or may seek the advice of someone else before placing a call. In addition to these decision-making delays, there are communications problems: a phone may not be readily available, the person may not know the correct number to call, the police complaint taker may not be cooperative. The elimination of the decision-making delays would allow the police to make an additional 25 arrest per 1,000 serious crimes reported. By eliminating the communications problems, an additional 8 arrest could be gained (Cole, 1986; More, 1987).


Police corruption is an enduring problem. The nature of some laws, especially those concerning victimless crimes, place the police in positions in which favors may be extended, bribes accepted, and arrests made in the pursuit of individual goals rather than the goals of law enforcement. Police corruption is not new to America. Earlier in the century, numerous city officials actively organized liquor and gambling businesses to provide personal income and to enhance political operations. In many cities a link was maintained between politicians and police officials so that favored clients would be protected and competitors harassed. Must of the movement to reform the police was designed to block such associations. Although political ties have been cut in most cities, corruption is still present.

One of the difficulties in discussing police corruption is that of definition. Sometimes corruption is defined so broadly that it ranges from accepting a free cup of coffee to robbing unlocked business establishments. Herman Goldstein suggests that corruption includes only those forms of behavior designed to produce personal gains for the officer or for others. This definition, however, excludes the misuse of authority that may occur in a case of police brutality when personal gain is not involved. the distinction is often not easy to make (Cole, 1986; Kirkham and Wollan, 1980; More,1987).


Corrupt police officers have been described as falling into two categories: "grass eaters" and "meat eaters." "Grass eaters" are persons who accept payoffs that the circumstances of police work bring their way. "Meat eaters" are persons who aggressively misuse their power for personal gain. "Meat eaters" are few, though their exploits make headlines; "grass eaters" are the heart of the problem. Because "grass eaters" are many, they make corruption respectable, and they encourage adherence to a code of secrecy that brands anyone who exposes corruption as a traitor.

In the past, poor salaries, politics, and recruitment practices have been cited as reasons that some police officers engage in corrupt practices. But corruption in some departments has been shown to be so rampant that the rotten-apple theory does not adequately explain the situation. An explanation based on organizational factors adds another dimension. Much police work involves the enforcement of laws in situations where there is no complainant or where there may be doubt as to whether a law has actually been broken. Moreover, most police work is carried out at the officer's own discretion, without direct supervision. If corruption takes place, the norms of a department and the code of the force may shield the bad cop from detection.

Enforcement of vice laws creates formidable problems for police agencies. In many cities the financial rewards to the vice operators are so high that they can easily afford the expense of protecting themselves against enforcement. More important, police operations against victimless crimes are proactive; no one complains and no one requests enforcement of the law. In seeking out vice, police often depend on informants--persons who are willing to steer a member of the squad toward gamblers, prostitutes, or narcotics dealers in exchange for something of value, such as money, drugs, information, or tolerance. Once the exchange is made, the informant may gain the upper hand by threatening to expose the cop for offering a bribe.

Ellwyn Stoddard, who studies "blue-coat crime," contents that a measure of role ambivalence is inevitable among the police in a democratic society. Officers are responsible for protecting community members but are not given the powers necessary to carry out this mandate. As a result, conscientious police officers must often violate the law in order to perform their duties. Minor infractions by fellow officers are overlooked; but what may begin as a small departure from the rules can grow until it becomes routine: "If these reference group norms involving illegal activity become routinized with use they become an identifiable informal 'code.'" Stoddard says that police officers become socialized to the code early in their careers. Those who deviate by "snitching" on their fellow officers may become objects of ridicule. If, however, corruption comes to official attention, if it exceeds the limits of the code, other members of the force will distance themselves form the accused, in this way protecting the code.

One of the most highly publicized investigations into police corruption was launched by the Knapp Commission, a group appointed in 1970 by New York City Mayor John Lindsay. In its 1972 report, the commission said that it had found corruption to be widespread in the New York City Police Department. In the areas of gambling, narcotics, prostitution, and the construction industry, payments to police officers were a regular occurrence. Not only did patrol officers on the beat receive these "scores," they shared them with superior officers. The amounts ranged from a few dollars in minor shakedowns to a narcotics payoff of $80,000. What most concerned the commission was the fact that although most police officers were not themselves corrupt, they tolerated the practices and took no steps to prevent what they knew or suspected was happening (Cole, 1986; More, 1987).


Police corruption has multiple effects on law enforcement: criminals are left free to pursue their illegal activities, departmental morale and supervision drop, and the image of the police suffers. The credibility of a law enforcement agency is extremely important in light of the need for the citizenry's cooperation. When there is a generally prevalent belief that the police are not much different from the "crooks," effective crime control is impossible.

What is startling is that many people do not equate police corruption with other forms of criminal activity. That officers may proceed forcefully against minor offenders yet look the other way if a payoff is forthcoming seems acceptable to some. As Goldstein notes, however, "this absurdity is not lost on those who live where petty offenses are common. Black citizens in particular consistently rate the integrity of police officers much lower than whites do and react with understandable disdain when urged to have greater respect for the law by officers whom they know to be corrupt." Further, some citizens believe that police corruption is tolerable as long as the streets are safe. This attitude is unreasonable because police officers "on the take" are pursuing personal rather than community goals (Cole, 1986; Kirkham and Wollan, 1980).


As with other problems in a free society, the power of public opinion is crucial for the control of police corruption. The public, however, knows only about the major police scandals that are publicized in the newspapers and on television and radio, such as those that in the past have infected the police departments of such cities as Chicago, Denver, and New York. When corruption reaches this level of notoriety, government agencies other than the police--prosecutors, attorneys general, grand juries, special investigating bodies, and others--step in to solve the problem by means of indictments and organizational reforms. But to a great extent the American political and legal system have charged the police with keeping their own house in order. It is through mechanisms internal to law enforcement organizations that the more pernicious daily acts of corruption must be exposed and corrected.

It is well recognized in police leadership circles that the top administrators of a department must set the tone with regard to corruption. Successful police officials, such as Patrick Murphy. O. W. Wilson, Clarence Kelley, and Wyman Vernon, all took much-publicized stands that let the general public and law enforcement employees know that they would not tolerate even the slightest act of corruption, and would take swift action when any such acts came to their attention (Cole, 1986).


The rising voices of excluded groups have brought incidents of police brutality to public attention. Although the poor have suffered these indignities for generations, only recently has an awakened citizenry focused attention on the illegal use of violence by the police. At a time when the political system is most vulnerable to complaints, most citizens are aware of their rights and are prepared to defend them.

More recently there have been published accounts of narcotics agents breaking into private homes and holding the residents at gunpoint while pulling apart the interiors in what have proved to be vain searches for drugs. That these have been cases of mistaken identity is no excuse. No citizen, drug peddler or not, should be placed in such circumstances (Cole, 1986).


Such dramatic incidents easily serve to define police brutality, but citizens use the term to encompass a wider range of practices, including:

1. The use of profane and abusive language.

2. Commands to move on or get home.

3. Stopping and questioning people on the street or searching them and their cars.

4. Threats to use force if orders are not obeyed.

5. Prodding with a nightstick or approaching with a pistol.

6. The actual use of physical force or violence.

Indeed, citizens object to any practice that debases them, restricts their freedom, annoys or harasses them, or entails the use of unnecessary physical force. Charges of police brutality may result when citizens are not accorded the rights and respect due them in a democratic society.

Behavior that serves only to degrade a citizen's sense of self was found to be most upsetting in surveys conducted among blacks in Watts, Newark, and Detroit. Belittling names were particularly objectionable: "They talk down to me as if I had no name--like 'boy' or whatever, or they call me 'Jack' or by my first name. They don't show me no respect." One out of every five blacks surveyed in postriot Detroit reported that the police had "talked down" to him; more than one in ten said a police officer had "called me a bad name."

Violence has been committed by the police from time to time throughout American history, but it was not until the 1960s that the issue of misconduct by law enforcement personnel was treated seriously. The 1968 report of the Kerner Commission, which looked into the causes of the riots that shook Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark, New York, and other cities, focused on the extent to which police actions in dealing with citizens had triggered the disorders. The report pointed to aggressive patrol, police brutality, and the unwarranted use of deadly force as sources of minority-group hostility.

Dealing with officer misconduct has become an item of high priority on the agenda of professional police administrators. It has been shown that when the top leadership of a department disciplines officers who disregard the professional code, a standard is set and notice given that such conduct will not be tolerated (Cole, 1986; Robin, 1987; Siegel, 1986).


We can never know the amount of force used illegally because of the low visibility of police-citizen interactions and the reluctance of victims to file charges against their assailants. Police officers are authorized by law to use the force necessary to make arrests, but there is no agreement on the amount of force that is necessary. Is it better to let the suspect escape than to employ "deadly" force?

Although it is widely believed that police brutality is a racial matter between white police and black victims, Reiss found that lower-class black men, and that both were the likeliest victims. Observers who accompanied patrols for seven weeks in Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., witnessed police assaults on forty-four citizens, yet only twenty-two arrests were made. What is most disturbing about Reiss's findings is that 37% of the instances of excessive force took place in settings controlled by the police--in the patrol car and station house. In half of the situations, a police officer did not participate but did not restrain his or her colleague. Although official police codes forbid such practices, the police culture does not.

Following a two-year study of police practices in New York City, Paul Chevigny concluded that taking officers to task for unprofessional behavior is virtually impossible. Police have a variety of ways of camouflaging misconduct. If a false arrest is made, there is a great temptation for police to make some charge against the citizen to avoid a possible lawsuit or the displeasure of superiors. In instances of physical abuse, the lack of witnesses, the code of secrecy, and the powerlessness of the victim prevent the disciplining of the abuser. Chevigny documents incidents that can only lessen respect for the law. He notes, "There is no more embittering experience in the legal system than to be abused by the police and then to be tried and convicted on false evidence."

In addition to the fact that many police actions occur in situation of low visibility, such as the back seat of the squad car and the inner recesses of the station house, there is the tendency for other citizens to avoid becoming involved in cases of police brutality. Attempts to bring formal charges against the police are often frustrated by lack of witnesses. Chevigny report further that the courts are reluctant to give credence to civilian complainants, since impeachment of a police officer may be viewed as an assault against the entire criminal justice system.

The code of secrecy among the police has been documented by William Wetley in Violence and the Police. Westley found that eleven out of fifteen men indicated their adherence to the code of secrecy when they said that they would not report another officer for taking money from a prisoner, and ten out of thirteen said they would not testify against an officer accused by a prisoner. Lying by police officers to protect themselves and one another is justified by the bonds among officers and the fear of outsiders.

Throughout their socialization, officers are reminded that every police activity may be the basis for two legal actions: one in which they are the complainant and one in which they are the defendant. The potential for a civil suit charging false arrest, usually the citizen's only recourse, is impressed upon the officer. Victims of brutality or false arrest who feel strongly enough about their case to register a formal complaint or to bring a civil suit encounter a great difficult in doing so. In one eastern city, the police department used to charge citizens who complained of police misconduct with filing false reports. In Philadelphia, the police review board found that it was standard practice to lodge a charge of resisting arrest or disorderly conduct against anyone who accused the police of brutality (Cole, 1986; Robin, 1987; Siegel, 1986).


Basic to the issue of police brutality is the question of the use of physical force. By law the police have the right to use force if necessary to make an arrest, to keep the peace, or to maintain public order. But just how much force is necessary and under what circumstances it may be used is an extraordinarily complicated and arguable question. In particular, the use of deadly force in the apprehension of suspects has become a deeply emotional issue with a direction connection to community relations. "There is no occurrence between the police and the community that causes more outrage [and] demoralization [or] precipitates [more] tension in a community [than] the police shooting of a civilian." Estimates of the number of citizens killed annually by the police range between 300 and 600, with about 1,500 more wounded. It has become clear during the past decade that "the typical victim of deadly force employed in police-civilian contacts has been a young black male." Deadly force has therefore become one of the major sources of strain between the police and the minority community.

Most states place limits on the use of deadly force, and departmental rules specify the circumstances in which it may be used. It is difficult to show that deadly-force policies have been violated when it is claimed that the victim was attempting to flee or that the officer killed in self-defense. When is it better to let the suspect flee than to employ deadly force?

By no means do all cases of the use of force by police officers involve the use of unnecessary force. Reiss list six situations in which physical assault on a citizen should be judged improper or unnecessary:

1. If a police officer physically assaulted a citizen and then failed to make an arrest; proper use involves an arrest.

2. If the citizen being arrested did not, by word or deed, resist the policeman; force should be used only if it is necessary to make an arrest.

3. If the law enforcement officer, even though there was resistance to the arrest, could easily have restrained the citizen in other ways.

4. If a large number of peace officers were present and could have assisted in subduing the citizen in the station, in lockup, and in the interrogating rooms.

5. If an offender was handcuffed and made no attempt to flee or offer violent resistance.

6. If the citizen resisted arrest, but the use of force continued even after the citizen was subdued (Cole, 1986).

Police Discretion

Enforcement of the law in a dynamic and complex society poses numerous problems to all elements of the criminal justice system, the focal point being the police, especially the officer on the beat. The behavioral, political, and social implications of individual police actions during an arrest are so broad that they defy clear-cut definition and analysis.

The human dynamics involved in an arrest introduce into the criminal justice process a multitude of variables that directly and indirectly affects the stated objectives or roles of law enforcement agencies. Taking an individual suspected of criminal behavior into custody generally occurs in an emotionally charged atmosphere. Because the psychological set of the suspect, victim, witnesses, relatives, observers, and the police officer interjects such a great number of variables, police administrators have allowed officers to establish their individual enforcement standards based upon experience. And as anyone who is familiar with police bureaucracy knows, there has been and continues to be a substantial margin for interpretation of the law in particular situations. The obvious consequence, in the judgment of some, has been selective justice without established standards.

Some police officials have suggested that the courts, in their attempt to minimize discretionary decision making by police, have actually "handcuffed" the police. Their general attitude has been that law enforcers need greater discretionary power; this can only be construed as an encouragement for individual officers to enforce the law according to their personal standards. Police administrators who suggest that discretionary decisions made during arrests are indispensable (considering the complexity of the situations) are endorsing the concept of selective justice. This stance affects not only all police line and staff activities, but has a patent effect on individuals suspected of criminal behavior. The person who is in conflict with the law and is aware of the broad discretionary judgments available to police officers is in a more manipulative position than if he were confronted with enforcement standards that provided no leeway in the police response.

It has been suggested that a requisite to begin a reversal of police discretionary justice is the formation of a new ambience requiring a modern rhetoric essentially directed to changing attitudes toward discretion, its application, its control, and its significance to the criminal justice system.

A major reason for the perpetuation of this unresolved issue is that the majority of police administrators has expressed a common ideological response that all laws are enforced.

Continued adherence to the myth of full enforcement of the law results in the police exercising wide discretion without acknowledging that it occurs and without attempting to explain and re-evaluate systematically the criteria by which the discretion is exercised.

Still another failure of public understanding is the widely held fiction that a patrolman's job is not discretionary but is simply the enforcement of the law by catching criminals. This combines several mistaken views: that the crime problem is solely the concern of the police, that their task is mainly one of law enforcement, and that this function requires so little intelligence or imagination that anyone can do it.

Until this frame of reference is altered, police administrators will not support studies that result in empirical knowledge about police procedures. This traditional reluctance will continue unless there is considerable pressure from judicial, legislative, or administrative levels of government.

Numerous police chiefs become arbiters of the conflicting tasks of promoting aggressive police action while fulfilling legal requirements. In fact, the police become "actors" of what they perceive as the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. The development of definite policies would of course require the administrators to acknowledge that some of the police procedures do not conform to legalistic standards. By adopting a "do-nothing" approach, the chief of police avoids a direct confrontation with the issue and supports existing procedures. It should also be kept in mind that many of the extra-legal sanctions practiced by the police have the support of the public. This is particularly true of enforcement of sumptuary laws, although the continuation of such practices raises many civil rights issues.

Charles B. Saunders puts forth the following notion:

This fiction has long been cherished by some apologists for the police who hold that they are "only doing their duty" as well as by civil libertarian critics who maintain that police do not have the capacity to exercise discretion and therefore should not be allowed to do so. But as the skid row study cited above illustrates, discretion is the better part of peacekeeping, which in turn is the bigger part of policing. To deny officers the use of discretion is to misconceive their basic function. The only realistic recourse is to insist that their qualifications and training be sufficient to assure that they exercise discretion well.

No matter how well or how poorly qualified to exercise discretion, the police are forced to do so for a variety of reasons. Many of the laws under which they operate are highly ambiguous, either by intent to permit greater flexibility in enforcement or by accident as a result of the limitations of language or of failure to foresee the day-to-day operating problems encountered in enforcement. In addition, some statutes were never intended to be enforced to the letter, and others are simply obsolete. Limitations on manpower and other resources, and the pressures of community standards, also force the exercise of discretion. Whatever the reason, the policeman must often determine the forms of conduct that are to be subject to the criminal process.

If the extent to which police must exercise discretion is underestimated, this is partly because police themselves usually prefer to project an image of impartial, full enforcement without fear or favor. To admit that they ignore the laws under certain conditions might contribute to a breakdown of respect for all laws, raise the possibility of corruption, and imply that other criteria for enforcement exist which are difficult to spell out and communicate to members of the force as well as the general public.

No code of conduct could possibly cover all circumstances in which policemen must make instantaneous and irrevocable decisions affecting human life and safety, property rights, and personal liberty. Such awesome responsibility for decision making, indeed, sets the police apart from any other profession-after all, the physician may change the diagnosis , and the lawyer the pleading. Decisions affecting human life cannot be made more wisely by reducing them to rote and removing police discretion entirely. Ironically, some proponents of this course describe it as "taking the handcuffs off the police." But without discretion, the police are handcuffed to the limited role of unthinking enforcers, powerless to perform the peacekeeping function which is the most challenging and time-consuming part of their job.

The disinclination of police executives to deal explicitly with critical enforcement policies is reflected in the prevalent attitude toward "tolerance limits" in the traffic field. The reluctance to publicize "tolerance limits" can be traced to:

1. a concern that the administrative action which they reflect would be criticized as a perversion of legislative intent-a concern which gives rise to the basic issue of the propriety of police policymaking;

2. a fear that publication would lead to a public debate as to what constitutes an appropriate tolerance and would lead to arguments between the officer and the offender in a given case-a concern which relates to the willingness of police to be held publicly accountable for the policy decisions which they make;

3. a concern that the existence of such a document might be used as a basis for litigation in those situations in which an officer chooses to enforce the law and be free to deviate from their own policy in an individual case without having to justify such deviation;

4. a fear that widespread awareness of the existence of such tolerances would result in drivers adjusting their behavior, utilizing the established tolerances rather than the posted and published laws as their guides.

While there are some areas where discretion is limited (such as the handling of juveniles), the majority of law enforcement functions remains outside the purview of carefully defined policies.

One leading authority identified the following situation that illustrates the application of police discretion:

A 19-year-old standing in a street fired three shots at a woman' standing in a doorway of her home but missed. The police apprehended him and knew that neighbors witnessed the shooting. But they released him when the woman asked them to. They explained that they do not ordinarily arrest when a victim is able to sign a complaint but does not do so.

We asked more than a hundred officers at various levels what they would do in the preceding case, and ,bout two-thirds of them said they would release. One patrolman volunteered that he had witnessed an armed robbery but that he released the robber because the victim so requested.

There is an increasing demand for greater conformity in the application of criminal law at the arrest stage. If the police are to maintain their proper position in the criminal justice system, they must assume a position of leadership in this administrative, policy-making function. Should the police not assume this position, they will certainly become unequal partners within the system. During the last decade there has been a noticeable extension of judicial review through numerous court decisions such as Mapp and Miranda. A similar extension in the 1980s will certainly restrict, if not eliminate, the police as potential policy makers.

Kenneth Culp Davis is a proponent of administrative rule-making for the police who expresses the opinion that they are one of the most important policy-making agencies in government. The procedures to be followed would be those advocated by the Federal Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. 553. Such a program would be implemented by law enforcement agencies publishing proposed rules and requesting written opinions from interested parties. The agency staff then evaluates the proposals and develops a written policy. In the opinion of Davis, this procedure would help to eliminate unnecessary discretionary power and insure equal justice.

An outstanding example of possible accomplishments in the area of policy-making for the police can be seen in the guidelines regarding the, "stop and frisk" law, adopted by the New York State Combined Council of Law Enforcement Officials.

Under the "stop and frisk" law the policy statement listed the following factors to be considered in determining whether or not there is "reasonable suspicion" to stop someone:

1. The demeanor of the suspect.

2. The gait and manner of the suspect.

3. Any knowledge the officer may have of the suspect's background or character.

4. Whether the suspect is carrying anything, and what he is carrying.

5. The manner in which the suspect is dressed, including bulges in clothing-when considered in light of all of the other factors.

6. The time of the day or night the suspect is observed.

7. Any overheard conversation of the suspect.

8. The particular streets and areas involved.

9. Any information received from third persons, whether they are known or unknown.

10. Whether the suspect is consorting with others whose conduct is "reasonably suspect."

(This listing is not meant to be all-inclusive).

Policy statements of this nature serve as guidelines for line officers and clearly limit police discretionary powers, while at the same time they allow the policeman a necessary degree of freedom when enforcing the law.

Consistent with the policies of local government, the police chief should develop policy to guide employees. Where the chief is silent and there is no policy established by higher authority, the next lower person in the hierarchy (the field policeman) may develop his policy. Thus it may not be consistent with that desired by the governing body or police chief executive.

Many chiefs have intentionally avoided establishing written policy in such sensitive areas as the use of force, particularly the use of weapons, because they fear criticism of the policy and other repercussions that could follow employee actions within the scope of the policy. However, employee actions are less apt to have adverse consequences if employees are guided by sound written policy.

With reference to the establishment of policy, the National Advisory Commission on Criminal justice Standards and Goals suggested that every chief of police should immediately establish written policies in those areas of operations in which guidance is needed to direct agency employees toward the attainment of agency goals and objectives. The chief should promulgate a policy that provides clear direction without necessarily limiting the employee's exercise of discretion, and special emphasis should be given to sensitive areas such as use of force, and the use of lethal and nonlethal weapons.

The establishment of clear-cut policies that are reviewed periodically presents a challenge to law enforcement administrators which must be met if the police are to adequately serve the public, and protect life and property (More, 1985).

The following section discuss the nature of police discretion, the problems of controlling discretion, and means of implementing guidelines.

Discretion Defined

Kenneth Culp Davis comments that a public official has discretion whenever he or she is "free to make a choice among possible courses of action or inaction." The key elements of the definition of discretion are (1) a criminal justice official (2) acting in an official capacity who (3) makes a decision on the basis of individual judgment. The official's decision affects the life or liberty of a citizen and is based on the official's experience, training, or agency policy.

Police discretion is not unlimited. A police officer is not legally free to arrest or shoot anyone under any circumstances. The outer limits of discretion are defined by law or official policy. Some of the most important questions in criminal law and criminal procedure involve determining the limits of police power (Walker, 1992).

The Problem of Police Discretion

As Judge Charles Breitel defined it, discretion is "the power to consider all circumstances and then determine whether any legal action is to be taken. And if so taken, of what kind and degree, and to what conclusion." A wide range for personal judgment conflicts, however, with John Adams's idea that ours is "a government of laws, and not of men." The problem of discretion arises out of the police officer's position, caught in a dilemma, the source of which is the tension between law and order, according to Skolnick.

The police in democratic society are required to maintain order and to do so under the rule of law. As functionaries charged with maintaining order, they are part of the bureaucracy. The ideology of democratic bureaucracy emphasizes initiative rather than disciplined adherence to rules and regulations. By contrast, the rule of law emphasizes the rights of individual citizens and constraints upon the initiative of legal officials. This tension between the operational consequences of ideas of order, efficiency, and initiative, on the one hand, and legality, on the other, constitutes the principal problem of police as a democratic legal organization.

The need for law gives rise to the ideal of the rule of law, or "government of laws," to minimize the effects of the "human factors" in ruling. On the other hand, the need for order maximizes the power of the state, hence of the police officer, and permits to it (and him) a wide-ranging discretion, unlimited or limited very little by rules, so as to increase the free play of judgment. The problem is that the officer's judgment might be wise or foolish, benevolent or malevolent, kind or cruel, good or evil, helpful or harmful.

The discretion of patrol officers, like the discretion of the prosecutor, makes it possible for them to make a choice among potentially chargeable crimes, therefore of whom police will arrest, of whom the district attorney will prosecute. The difference between these two officials is that the discretion of the prosecutor is widely acknowledged and generally considered to be legitimate. The discretion of the police, however, has only recently come to be recognized, but is not widely acknowledged and rarely (again, at least until very recently) considered to be legitimate.

Yet it is clear that the police have a vast amount of discretion-and exercise their power within a wide range, uncontrolled by, and even defiant of, rules specified by legislative bodies, which make laws presumably with the intention that they will be implemented. For example, if a speed limit is set at 40 miles per hour by county ordinance, but the police choose to arrest only those who exceed 50 per hour, one may well ask who gave them authority to change the rule, to permit drivers an extra 10 miles per hour above the statutory maximum? This is to say nothing of the selection of drivers to be issued tickets among the total number of speeders who are ignored or given written or spoken warnings. Who authorized the police to exercise such a selectivity in their law-enforcement practices? The answer is that no one did; they assumed the power because it seems sensible to do so. Full enforcement of the traffic laws would require many times the number of police officers on the force. In any event, the legislature has observed "selective enforcement" of its laws for so long that, as Kenneth Culp Davis observes, we must infer that the legislature approves this administrative amendment of the law, this alteration of policy in the course of its implementation, as a reasonable response to the realities of the situation. But this amounts to something quite different from the understanding most people have of law-enforcement authority, as the President's Commission stated:

At the very beginning of the process-or, more properly, before the process begins at all-something happens that is scarcely discussed in law books and is seldom recognized by the public: law enforcement policy is made by the policeman. For policemen cannot and do not arrest all offenders they encounter. It is doubtful that they arrest most of them. A criminal code, in practice, is not a set of specific instructions to policemen but a more or less rough map of the territory in which policemen work. How an individual policeman moves round that territory depends largely upon his personal discretion.

Two studies have indicated the range of factors that influence the judgment of police officers in the exercise of their discretion. Nathan Goldman, using a sampling of police in four communities, found the following determinants of selection or arrest:

(a) The policeman's attitudes toward the juvenile court.

(b) The impact of special individual experiences in the court, or with different racial groups, or with parents of offenders, or with specific offenses, on an individual policeman.

(c) Apprehension about criticism by the court.

(d) Publicity given to certain offenses either in the neighborhood or elsewhere may cause the police to feel that these are too "hot" to handle unofficially and must be referred to the court.

(e) The necessity for maintaining respect for police authority in the community.

(f) Various practical problems of policing (e.g., distance to the court).

(g) Pressure by political groups or other special interest groups.

(h) The policeman's attitude toward specific offenses.

(i) The police officer's impression of the family situation, the degree of family interest in and control of the offender, and the reaction of the parents to the problem of the child's offense.

(j) The attitude and personality of the boy.

(k) The Negro child offender is considered less tractable and needing more authoritarian supervision than a white child.

(l) The degree of criminal sophistication shown in the offense.

(m) Juvenile offenders apprehended in a group will generally be treated on an all-or-none basis.

Another set of reasons for the selective invocation of the criminal sanction was found in the research of Wayne R. LaFave, author of one of the studies in the American Bar Foundation's Survey of the Administration of Criminal Justice: (1) Ambiguous statutory language causes the police to resolve their uncertainty on the side of caution, lest the uncertainty be resolved later in civil litigation for false arrest. (2) Conduct, such as loitering, may have been declared criminal as a basis for investigatory arrests, which the police permit unless some additional reason is present. (3) Conduct may be criminalized broadly to avoid loop holes. For example, gambling might be defined to include social gambling to avoid the difficulties of theoretically distinguishing between social and professional gambling, leaving to the police the decision in each instance. (4) Conduct may be criminalized to reflect community ideals, for the uplifting effects of law but, as in the criminalization of adultery and fornication, without a serious intention that it be strictly enforced. (5) Conduct which is no longer regarded as intolerable may not have been decriminalized because the legislature has not updated the criminal code. (6) Minor offenses, for which a warning-at most-is called for, may be covered by the statute but not singled out for arrest, especially if no one is injured or complains. (7) Conduct reflecting subcultural standards, such as the carrying of knives by blacks, may be left alone, resulting in confiscation but not arrest. (8) Unenforcement is common in cases of uncooperative victims, who do not or will not support police intervention because the victim prefers some other remedy, because of the relationship of the victim and offender (battery victim continues to live with her assailant), or because the victim is a member of the offender's family. (9) Similarly, when the victim is involved in the criminal activity, arrest of the other party seems inappropriate. (10) Arrest is avoided when it would be ineffective, as in many cases of public drunkenness. (11) Arrest is also avoided where it would cause loss of public respect and support, where charitable gambling is customarily supported by churches. (12) Arrest is avoided when nonarrest would benefit law enforcement, as when an informer is "licensed" to continue his criminal behavior in exchange for his service as informer. (13) Arrest is avoided where nonarrest would harm the offender or victim less than an arrest, as when the officer knows that a "good boy" who has not been in trouble before can be "straightened out" with a reprimand (Kirkham and Wollan, 1980).

LaFave also points out that discretion also permits the police to make arrests in cases when they ordinarily would not. (1) Arrest may be made in a situation, as in family disputes, when the police anticipate that they will be back again and again, so they make the arrest sooner rather than later. (2) Arrest is made to maintain respect for the police, as when a subject has been abusive. (3) Arrest may be made to create an impression of full enforcement, as when social gambling, which is ordinarily tolerated, becomes notorious and is stopped from time to time for the sake of appearances. (4) Arrest may be made to punish someone who is suspected of other criminal activity, by its harassment effect. (5) Arrest may be made for investigation of another offense or offender, as when a traffic or vagrancy arrest is made to provide an opportunity for interrogation about someone or something else.

Selective enforcement of the foregoing kinds is the focus of much of the study of discretion. But, as Herman Goldstein points out, there are other important forms of discretion which do not get much attention. One is the discretion to select among objectives. For example, the police department's style of policing, whether it emphasizes law enforcement, order maintenance, or service, is in part a matter of the department's selection, for which it has substantial discretion.

Second, police have discretion not only as to whether or not they should intervene, but if they do so, by what means:

. . . the officer must often decide, under great time pressure, whether to conduct an investigation, whether to freeze a situation, whether to stop and question, whether to frisk, whether to make an immediate apprehension, or whether to use force. And once the initial determination is made, several of these alternatives require additional discretion. Thus, if the officer decides to investigate, determination must then be made about the scope and intensity of the investigation to be undertaken.

Third, after that decision, the police must decide how to dispose of the case. As Goldstein puts it:

They may decide to arrest and prosecute, or to use some alternative to the criminal justice system-to warn, mediate, or make a referral; to use the juvenile justice system or the mental health system. They may decide to charge a person with violating a city ordinance rather than a state statute, or they may decide to do nothing.

Fourth, the police have discretion in choosing what investigative methods they will employ:

They can decide to frisk; stop and question; search persons and property; use informants; conduct surveillances, eavesdrop or wiretap; take photographs and motion pictures; go undercover; infiltrate an organization; employ decoys; or in other ways place themselves in a situation that invites a person intent on committing a crime to attempt it (Kirkham and Wollan, 1980).

The Real Problem: Uncontrolled Discretion

Experts on policing have reached the consensus that discretion itself is not bad. The real problem is uncontrolled or unregulated discretion. Most experts agree that discretion cannot, and probably should not, be abolished. Instead, they argue, police departments should seek to control or regulate it. Strategies for controlling discretion are discussed later in this lecture (Walker, 1992).

Underlying Sources of Police Discretion

There are a number of underlying sources of police discretion as the study by LaFave shows. In this section we will discuss four of these sources in detail. We will begin with the nature of the criminal law.

The Nature of the Criminal Law

The criminal law is one of the underlying causes of police discretion. First, definitions of crime are inherently vague. What is the difference between assault and aggravated assault? The criminal code of each state provides a definition, but the officer on the scene applies the law; making a decision about whether the facts of the situation fit the definition of a crime. LaFave argues that "no legislature has succeeded in formulating a substantive criminal code which clearly encompasses all conduct intended to be made criminal and which clearly excludes all other conduct."

Second, criminal law in the United States is influenced by conflicting public expectations about enforcement. The law covers many aspects of morality, including behaviors that some people regard as immoral but that others regard as legitimate recreation (gambling, drinking, certain forms of sexual behavior). These conflicting expectations encourage police discretion. The community may not want a particular law enforced, or the individual officer may not regard a particular behavior as a serious crime. The result is a general tendency to underenforce many laws.

Third, criminal law in the United States has been widely used to deal with many social and medical problems, particularly alcoholism and mental illness. Alcohol-related problems represent the largest single category of arrests, even though many experts argue that arrest and prosecution are not appropriate responses to the underlying problem. Police officers recognize this and use their arrest powers only rarely in alcohol-related cases. At the same time, the police often do make arrests in these situations for reasons other than prosecution and punishment. An intoxicated person may be arrested for his or her own protection: An overnight stay in jail may keep the person from freezing to death. Or the police may arrest a mentally ill person simply to remove him or her from the scene so that order can be restored (Walker, 1992).

The Work Environment of Policing

The work environment of policing contributes to the use of discretion. Patrol officers generally work alone or in pairs. In many critical situations there is no direct supervision. Also, the majority of police-citizen encounters occur in private places, with no other observers present-observers who might be able to testify about the officer's behavior.

As a result, policing has been described as low-visibility work. The most important decisions are hidden from public view. Skolnick comments that "police work constitutes the most secluded part of an already secluded system of criminal justice] and therefore offers the greatest opportunity for arbitrary behavior." One of the special features of policing is that the lowest-ranking employees-patrol officers exercise the greatest amount of discretion. James Q. Wilson comments that, in policing, "discretion increases as one move down the [organizational] hierarchy." Thus, patrol officers have been described as "street-level bureaucrats" who make the most important decisions regarding agency policy (Walker, 1992).

Bureaucracy and the Control of Discretion

The bureaucratic setting of policing and the criminal justice system imposes some limits on police discretion. Albert Reiss noted the apparent contradiction in the fact that three-fourths of the officers observed by his research team made verbal expressions of racial prejudice, but the data on arrests did not indicate an extreme pattern of racial discrimination. Officers' attitudes did not automatically translate into behavior. One explanation is that officer behavior is constrained by other criminal justice officials. An arrest is a "visible" act; it comes to the attention of other police officers (in many departments sergeants sign off on all arrests) and of prosecutors and judges. The visibility factor encourages officers not to arrest. As a result, it may discourage improper arrests but, at the same time, permit systematic failure to arrest (Walker, 1992).

Limited Police Resources

Police discretion is influenced by the fact that departments have limited resources. There are more violations of the law than the police can possibly cope with. An arrest is an extremely time-consuming event. Arresting, transporting, and booking a suspect may take anywhere from one to three hours-and in some cases may involve more than one officer. As a result, police officers make decisions about how to use their time and energy. This is one of the main reasons that arrests are less frequent for misdemeanors than for felonies. Alcohol-related arrests as a percentage of all arrests have declined significantly in the past thirty years. One factor is the increase in serious crime and a consequent decision by the police to spend less time and energy on minor offenses.

Some experts argue that the decision not to enforce the law is the major positive aspect of police discretion. Because their decisions are hidden from public view, officers are able to make reasonable judgments about the relative importance of different offenses. According to Davis, "The common sense of the officers very often prevails over the legislative excesses in criminal legislation." Police decisions not to enforce the law help the criminal justice system cope with its workload (Walker, 1992).

Factors Influencing Discretionary Decisions

Why do police officers make the decisions they do? What factors influence them in making discretionary decisions? The most important ones can be divided into four categories: situational factors, the immediate work environment, official department policy, and characteristics associated with individual officers (Walker, 1992).

Situational Factors

Police discretion is influenced by the circumstances of each potential crime situation. The decision to arrest, for example, is affected by the seriousness of the alleged crime, the strength of the evidence, the preference of the victim or complaining party, the nature of the relationship between victim and suspect, the demeanor of the suspect, and moral judgments about the victim (Walker, 1992).

Seriousness of the Crime

The more serious the crime, the more likely the officer is to make an arrest. Black found that officers made arrests in 58% of suspected felonies but only 44% of suspected misdemeanors. "The probability of arrest is higher in legally serious crime situations than those of a relatively minor nature."

A similar patten has been found with incidents of mental illness. The more serious the disorder, or the more likely it is to offend other people, the higher the probability of arrest or commitment to a medical facility (Walker, 1992).

Strength of the Evidence

The police are more likely to arrest in situations where the evidence of the crime is strong. In crimes against persons, and in many property crimes, the primary evidence is the testimony of a victim or witness. When that kind of evidence or testimony does not exist, arrest is much less likely. One study found that over 80% of all crimes were cleared when the police were immediately given the identity of a suspect, but less than 20% were cleared when no such identity was provided (Walker, 1992).

Preference of the Victim

Even when a victim or witness is available, the police officer's decision depends on the willingness of that person to cooperate. The expressed preference of the victim for arrest is a major influence over police discretion. When the evidence is weak, arrest is much less likely. Black found that "arrest practices sharply reflect the preferences of citizen complainants." When the complainant urged the officer to make an arrest, an arrest was very probable.

The race of the complaining party has some impact on police discretion. Smith, Visher, and Davidson found that police officers were more responsive to white victims who complained about black suspects, particularly in property crimes. Donald Black, meanwhile, found some indication that black officers were more responsive to complaints by black victims and, thus, more likely to arrest in those situations.

Police officers may influence citizen preference. Officers may encourage arrests by asking whether the victim would like the suspect arrested. Or the officers may discourage an arrest. Bayley and Garofalo found that New York City police officers "urged" victims to sign a complaint in about 1% of all cases and attempted to talk victims out of signing a complaint in about 1% of all cases. Officers can also influence citizen preference indirectly. They can encourage a request to make an arrest by showing concern about the problem, asking detailed questions about the incident, or giving advice on possible legal actions. On the other hand, they can discourage the victim by showing little interest in the problem and/or leaving the scene as quickly as possible (Walker, 1992).

Relationship Between Victim and Suspect

The nature of the relationship between complainant and suspect also influences police decisions. First, police officers are more responsive to people of higher social status. For example, they are more responsive to complaints by adults against juveniles than to complaints involving two adults.

Arrests are also influenced by the degree of intimacy in the relationship. Arrests are less common in more intimate relationships (when the two parties are married or living together). Police officers regard these incidents as private matters that do not justify an arrest. They are more likely to make arrests in the case of crimes involving strangers.

Whether or not the relationship between complainant and suspect should be a factor in the arrest decision is a matter of great controversy. Traditionally, the police have tended not to arrest in domestic violence incidents that involve private disputes between spouses or lovers. Women's groups have protested that this failure to arrest discriminates against women. It denies them equal protection of the law and leaves women vulnerable to further violence. Many departments have recently adopted policies requiring the police to arrest in domestic assault cases, in an attempt to eliminate discretion based on this factor (Walker, 1992).

Demeanor of the Suspect

Black and others found that the demeanor of the suspect is a very important factor in arrest decisions: "The probability of arrest increases when a suspect is disrespectful toward the police."Along the same lines, Reiss found that the police used physical force most often against people who were disrespectful (Walker, 1992).

Moral Judgments About the Victim

Some discretionary decisions reflect a moral judgment about the victim by the police officer. Uviller described this as the, "credibility call." Officers are forced to make decisions about whether or not a crime occurred, using their judgment to determine if the complainant is telling the truth. He found little evidence that officer judgments reflected an assessment of the status or character of the complainant. LaFree, however, found substantial evidence that police officers discounted the allegations of rape victims whose life style was "nonconformist" (Walker, 1992).

Situational factors affect not only police decisions but other parts of the criminal justice system as well. The seriousness of the crime, strength of the evidence, preference of the victim, and demeanor of the suspect have been found to have a major influence over the decision of prosecutors to charge and to plea-bargain, as well as over sentencing decisions by judges (Walker, 1992).

The Immediate Work Environment

The characteristics of the immediate setting in which the event takes place has a major influence over police discretion. Fyfe found that officers working in high-crime neighborhoods fired their weapons more than twice as often as officers working in low-crime areas. Higher-crime areas have more incidents (especially robberies) in which an officer is likely to confront an armed criminal and use deadly force in response. Smith, Visher, and Davidson, meanwhile, found that police officers were more likely to make arrests in low-income neighborhoods than in higher-income areas (with the result that poor whites and poor blacks were both more likely to be arrested than those in higher-income areas). Arrests for vagrancy are rare on skid row but more common when a homeless person wanders into the central business district (Walker, 1992).

Department Policy

Written department policies have a powerful influence over police discretion. Fyfe found that a restrictive shooting policy adopted by the New York City police department in 1972 reduced firearms discharges 30% over the next three and a half years. Meanwhile, the total number of citizens shot and killed in the fifty largest cities in the country dropped by 50% between 1971 and 1984; experts attribute this decline to the impact of restrictive shooting policies (Walker, 1992).

Characteristics of the Individual Officer

Contrary to popular belief, the characteristics of individual officers do not have a major influence over police behavior. Race, sex, and education are not significant factors in decision making.

The behavior of white and black officers is remarkably similar. White officers are not more likely to use deadly force or physical force, or to make arrests, than are black or Hispanic officers. Fyfe found that when assignment and location were controlled, white and black officers fired their weapons at the same rate. Reiss found that black officers were slightly more likely to use physical force than white officers, but that all officers were more likely to use force against members of their own race.

Studies comparing male and female officers, meanwhile, have found their behavior to be very similar. In a comparison of new officers in New York City, male and female officers used the various "control" techniques (arrest, orders, reasoning, display of weapon, and so on) at similar rates. Studies of the effect of higher education on the police have failed to identify any significant differences in the behavior of officers with different levels of education (Walker, 1992).

The Control of Discretion: The Need for Control

Virtually all experts agree on the need to control police discretion. The President's Crime Commission, the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, and the American Bar Association standards all recommended that police departments adopt policies to control discretion. They argue that while a certain amount of discretion is inevitable and even desirable, uncontrolled discretion creates serious problems. These include the denial of due process, the denial of equal protection, ineffective personnel supervision, and an inability of police departments to plan and carry out law enforcement policies (Walker, 1992).

The First Step: Candor

Davis and Goldstein argue that the first step toward controlling police discretion is candor: admitting that it exists, that it creates problems, and that control is necessary. Traditionally, the police have denied that they exercise discretion, claiming, instead, that they fully enforce all laws.

The so-called myth of full enforcement exists for several reasons. First, the police want to maintain a public image of authority. Admitting that they sometimes do not enforce the law would undermine their authority in encounters with citizens. It would give suspects a basis for challenging an arrest, with comments like "Why me?" and "You don't arrest everyone."

Second, for the police to admit that they do not arrest everyone would open the door to questions about equal protection. Civil rights groups alleging discrimination would have a basis for arguing that some people are arrested and some are not.

Third, to admit to the exercise of police discretion would open the door to challenges about all police policies. It would raise questions about how the police exercise discretion and how these decisions are made. Police departments have traditionally been "closed" bureaucracies, resistant to public scrutiny of internal policies and procedures.

Fourth, most states have legislation that requires the police to enforce all laws fully. Some states have criminal penalties for police and other officials who do not enforce the law. For this reason, some legal scholars have questioned whether police discretion is legal.

Finally, denying that discretion exists enables supervisors to allow officers under their command to use exercise personal judgment. It frees supervisors from the burden of closely reviewing officer behavior, developing standards for conduct, and disciplining officers who violate policy. Moreover, commanders call justify this neglect on the ground that they trust the professional judgment of officers on the street. Uviller's study of New York City officers found that supervisors approved of the exercise of discretion far more than the officers under their command believed.

Leading experts on the subject of police discretion argue that the myth of full enforcement creates a number of serious problems. Most important, it represents a denial of the basic reality of police work. The full-enforcement myth makes it impossible for the police to deal effectively with problems related to the denial of due process or equal protection. It also makes meaningful planning impossible. Planning involves decisions about the use of scarce departmental resources; it requires a realistic understanding of what decisions are currently being made and how those decisions might be changed. Finally, denying that discretion exists puts the police in a defensive position when controversies arise. When critics make accusations about police performance, the police fall into the habit of denying that anything is wrong (Walker, 1992).

Strategies for Controlling Discretion

There are three basic strategies for controlling discretion. The first two are extreme responses; the third is a middle-of-the-road approach (Walker, 1992).

Abolishing Discretion

Some experts have recommended abolishing discretion. Joseph Goldstein, who published the first serious article on police discretion, concluded that it was illegal and should be abolished. Others have argued that-in the case of discretion not to arrest-the police do not have the legal authority to nullify the criminal law.

Virtually all other experts have rejected the idea of abolishing discretion. They argue that discretion is both inevitable and, in some instances, desirable, given the nature of the criminal law, conflicting public expectations, and the reality of police work. Davis adds that discretion has certain positive features: It allows the police to make sensible decisions about what offenses are really serious. He argues that "the common sense of the [police] officers very often prevails over the legislative excesses in the criminal legislation. . . . That is the police accomplishment."

The debate over abolishing police discretion parallels similar debates over other practices in the criminal justice system. The National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, for example, recommended abolishing plea bargaining. Despite some attempts to do so, most experts argue that plea bargaining serves some useful purposes and cannot be completely abolished in any event. Along the same lines, "mandatory" sentencing systems represent an attempt to abolish the discretion of sentencing judges. Research on sentencing reform indicates that mandatory sentencing provisions are easily evaded and, thus, ineffective. Experts on sentencing reform argue in favor of controlling (but not eliminating) discretion by narrowing the range of sentences available to judges (Walker, 1992).

Enhancing Professional Judgment

A second approach to the control of discretion is to enhance the ability of police officers to make professional judgments. This professional model of policing seeks to make police work a true profession, similar to medicine, law, or education.

In many other professions, individual practitioners are granted broad discretion to make judgments about how to handle specific incidents. The doctor, for example, relies on training and experience in treating a patient, not on a formal set of written rules. The lawyer relies on training and experience to make a professional judgment about a case or legal question. Advocates of the professional model argue that police officers are experts in their particular realm and should be granted a similar degree of freedom to make professional judgments.

The professional model has not developed the way its advocates have urged. Critics have pointed out that policing does not resemble other professions in important respects. Police training has never been as extensive as professional training in law, medicine, or education. Policing does not involve the development of specializations, in which individuals become expert in one area of activity (surgery, pediatrics, or psychiatry in medicine; criminal law, securities, or family law in the legal profession). Police officers are generalists rather than specialists. As patrol officers, they handle anything and everything; and during their careers they typically move from one specialty to another (e.g., criminal investigation; juvenile) (Walker, 1992).

Regulating Discretion Through Written Policies

Most experts reject the two extreme approaches to the control of discretion. Instead, a middle-of-the-road approach has emerged that involves an effort to control or regulate discretion through written policies. This approach is called administrative rulemaking. Because it is currently the dominant approach in American police management, it is discussed at length below (Walker, 1992).

Administrative Rulemaking

Administrative rulemaking seeks to control police discretion through written departmental rules. These rules are intended to guide discretion, rather than eliminate it. Rules typically indicate what an officer may not do and identify areas where an officer may use discretionary judgment. The CALEA accreditation Standards require that departments have "a written directives system" that includes, at a minimum, statements of agency policy, procedures for carrying out agency activities, and rules and regulations (Walker, 1992).

Examples of Rulemaking

Deadly Force. In 1972 the New York City police department adopted a restrictive policy on the use of deadly force. The policy limited the use of discretion to situations where there was a clear threat to the life of the officer or another person. Under the old "fleeing felon" standard (which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 1985), an officer could shoot a citizen who was suspected of having committed a felony and who was fleeing for the purpose of avoiding arrest.

The new policy limits discretion by clearly indicating a range of situations where deadly force may not be used. For example, if a person is suspected of having committed a burglary and is fleeing, the officer may not shoot. The policy also limits discretion by prohibiting warning shots and shots to call for assistance. It leaves the officer with discretion in a narrower range of situations: The officer must use his or her judgment about whether the suspect poses a threat to life (Walker, 1992).

Domestic Violence. In 1979 the Oakland (California) police department adopted a policy on domestic violence. The policy was part of a settlement of a lawsuit in which women's groups charged the department with discriminating against women by failing to arrest men suspected of domestic assaults.

The Oakland domestic violence study specifically grants officers the authority to exercise discretion ("officers shall exercise discretion"). It limits that discretion by instructing officers that they may not disregard assaults in domestic situations and that arrest is the "presumed" response. The report also gives examples of "less punitive" actions officers may take, when appropriate (Walker, 1992).

High-Speed Pursuits. In 1984 all of the law enforcement agencies in Dade County (Miami) adopted a written policy on high-speed pursuits. The policy limits discretion in several ways. First, it advises officers that safety (of all persons) is the primary consideration. In other words, the officer should not automatically pursue each and every fleeing suspect. Second, it establishes criteria for deciding when to pursue. Pursuit of persons suspected of traffic infractions, misdemeanors, or nonviolent felonies is prohibited. Hazardous road conditions and the presence of many other citizens are other reasons for terminating a pursuit. Third, the policy provides specific instruction on how to conduct a pursuit. In particular, it forbids ramming or driving alongside the pursued vehicle (tactics that are used in almost every police movie) and "caravaning," or firing a weapon during a pursuit (another popular movie tactic). Fourth, the policy limits discretion by giving the supervisor specific authority to terminate a pursuit. Finally, the immediate supervisor is required to fill out a report on each pursuit (Walker, 1992).

Handling of Chronic Alcoholics. In the 1960s, a pioneering detoxification center for chronic alcoholics opened in St. Louis. The police department responded with a policy on how to make referrals to the program. Officers were instructed to transport a person arrested for public drunkenness to the detox center if (1) there were no other criminal charges against the person, (2) there were no signs of injury requiring medical treatment, (3) there was no complaining party present who wished to pursue criminal charges, and (4) the person did not indicate a desire to be prosecuted.

The detox program represents a "diversion" tactic: Arrested persons can have the criminal charges against them dropped if they successfully complete a treatment program. Police officers have enormous discretion in deciding which persons are referred to the program. The police department policy attempts to guide that discretion by setting standards for who should be referred (Walker, 1992).

The Theory of Administrative Rulemaking

Kenneth Culp Davis, a leading authority on administrative law, describes the theory of administrative rulemaking in terms of a strategy to fill the gap between law and practice. Laws are typically written in very broad language. The criminal law, for example, describes categories of criminal behavior in general terms ("threat to do serious bodily harm"). In practice, someone has to apply those general definitions to a specific situation. That application calls for discretion. Administrative rulemaking is intended to guide police discretion by providing additional detail on what an officer should and should not do (Walker, 1992).

The specific objectives of administrative rulemaking, according to Davis, are to confine, structure, and check discretion.

Confining Discretion

Rules confine discretion by "fixing the boundaries." The defense-of-life standard on the use of deadly force, for example, fixes the boundaries by clearly indicating situations where an officer may not shoot. Domestic violence policies fix the boundaries by instructing officers that an arrest is presumed in cases of domestic violence (Walker, 1992).

Structuring Discretion

Discretion is structured, according to Davis, when there is a rational system for developing policies. Such a system calls for an "open plan, open policy statements, open rules," and so on. This eliminates the secrecy surrounding discretion and gives citizens an opportunity to know what the policy is and, if they object to it, a chance to participate in developing a different policy. Both Davis and Joseph Goldstein argue that creating an atmosphere of openness within police departments has a positive effect on police-community relations (Walker, 1992).

Checking Discretion

Discretion is checked when decisions are reviewed by another person. The use of deadly force is checked by the requirement that officers fill out reports after each firearms discharge and by having those reports automatically reviewed by supervisors. New York City policy on deadly force specifies such a report-and-review mechanism. It puts officers on notice that their decisions will be set in writing and examined by other people, including the chief of police (Walker, 1992).

The Impact of Written Rules

Fyfe examined the impact of the restrictive policy on deadly force adopted by the New York City police department in 1972. Analyzing firearms discharges between 1971 and 1975, he found that the weekly mean number of discharges declined by about one-third (29.1%). The most significant reduction occurred in the category of shootings to "prevent or terminate crime." These incidents are usually the most controversial, since there is no imminent threat to the life of the officer or other citizens. Fyfe also found that the reduction in the use of deadly force was not accompanied by an increased number of police officer injuries or deaths. He concluded:

In most simple terms, therefore, the New York experience indicates that considerable reductions in police shooting and both officer and citizen injury and death are associated with the establishment of clearly delineated guidelines and procedures for the review of officer shooting discretion.

On the other hand, there is evidence that police officers do not always comply with mandatory arrest policies in domestic violence situations. One study found that officers made arrests in only about 15% of all domestic assault incidents, despite the existence of a mandatory arrest policy (Walker, 1992).

The Advantages of Written Rules

Written rules offer obvious advantages. They provide directions for officers on how to handle critical incidents. Since they are in writing, there can be no dispute about official policy. Because policy directives are circulated to all sworn officers, and collected in a standard operating procedure (SOP) manual, they promote consistency of performance. This, in turn, helps ensure equal protection of the law. Written policies provide the basis for effective supervision. Officers can be rewarded for following policy and can be disciplined for violations.

One of the main arguments in favor of administrative rulemaking is that it is likely to be more effective in controlling police behavior than other means. Police officers are more likely to respect and follow rules developed by the police department itself than rules imposed externally. A number of observers, meanwhile, have argued that the major alternatives (the exclusionary rule, civilian review, and so on) have serious limitations precisely because they are external (Walker, 1992).

The Limits of Written Rules

There are limits to how effectively written rules can control police discretion.

First, it is impossible to write a rule that covers every possible situation. In this respect, a police department rule is similar to the criminal law: The language is inevitably vague, and someone still has to exercise discretion in interpreting it. The reply to this criticism is that although a rule inevitably leaves some room for discretion, it narrows the range of situations in which the officer has to make a decision. Virtually all police rules on deadly force, for example, prohibit shooting at unarmed fleeing felons or firing warning shots.

Second, formal rules may only encourage evasion and lying. Some observers have argued that the exclusionary rule encourages police officers to lie about how they obtain evidence. With respect to narcotics, observers cited the "dropsy" phenomenon: Officers lied, claiming that the suspect dropped the narcotics on the ground (thus making the seizure legal).

The question of compliance with rules is an extremely important issue. One of the easiest ways to cover up an improper use of deadly force is to claim that the discharge was accidental. Fyfe found that under the restrictive shooting police in New York City, reported accidental firearms discharges did increase-from 3.6% to 9% of all discharges. Nonetheless, the fact that the percentage reported as accidents remained below 10% of the total suggests that officers generally complied with the policy. Compliance with written rules governing discretion is enhanced by the requirement that officers file reports after each incident and by having those reports automatically reviewed by supervisors. Virtually all policies on deadly force in effect in American police departments today have this report-and-review requirement. The CALEA accreditation Standards require that a police officer file a written report whenever a person is killed or injured through use of deadly force or "applies force through the use of nonlethal weapons." Some of the high-speed pursuit policy used in this country have a similar requirement. Yet few of the current domestic violence policies have report-and-review requirements. Some critics have argued that written policies are not likely to be effective when there is no reporting mechanism.

Another factor influencing compliance is the immediate work setting. Firearms discharges are, by definition, highly "public" events: They occur in public areas and are accompanied by a loud noise and the presence of at least one citizen, along with other potential witnesses. All of these factors put pressure on the officer to comply with the reporting requirement. There is always the chance that a citizen might report the incident and/or contradict the officer's report. High-speed pursuits are public events in the same way. Domestic violence incidents, however, are very private events. They occur indoors, usually with no witnesses other than the immediate parties. Thus, it is easier for the officer to ignore both the policy and the reporting requirement.

In Working the Street, Michael K. Brown argues that written rules may only make the situation worse, creating more uncertainty for the police officer rather than less. He observes that "simply enveloping policemen in a maze of institutional controls without grappling with the grimy realities of police work does not necessarily promote accountability and may only exacerbate matters." Harold Pepinsky agrees, citing the example of the Miranda decision. He argues that the decision created more uncertainty: When is the suspect "in custody"? What is an "interrogation"? This serves to increase discretion.

Advocates of written rules reply that a police officer's job is easier when clear, written guidelines are provided on bow to handle critical incidents. Although some incidents still leave room for discretion, the range of situations is greatly limited. Davis refers to this as confining discretion.

Compliance is also affected when rules are too complex. An officer working the street is not likely to remember a long and detailed policy. A policy that is not used is worthless. For the same reason, if there are too many rules, officers are not likely to remember all of them.

Finally, the existence of many rules creates a negative atmosphere in the department. Police organizations have been characterized as "punishment-centered bureaucracies." They have many ways to punish an officer for doing the wrong thing and few ways of rewarding officers for performing well. Officers learn that the safest course of action is to do as little as possible, to avoid making a mistake. In the absence of tangible rewards for good behavior, the development of rules only adds to the restrictions on police productivity (Walker, 1992).

Codifying Rules: The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Manual

Written rules and policies are collected and codified in SOP manuals, which have emerged as the central tools of modern police management. The typical SOP manual in a big-city department is several hundred pages long.

SOP manuals have certain limits. First, they have traditionally overemphasized relatively trivial issues (such as proper uniforms) and ignored critical issues in the use of law enforcement power (such as arrest and deadly force). In recent years some departments have adopted written policies on deadly force, pursuits, and other important matters. Yet many important issues remain uncovered. Many departments still do not have policies on the use of informants or on arrest discretion in situations other than domestic violence.

A second problem is the process by which manuals develop. Police departments typically adopt new policies in response to an immediate crisis: a citizen complaint about police misconduct, a community protest, or a citizen lawsuit against the police. This process has been called crisis management. Peter Manning quoted a British police sergeant as saying that his department's procedures manual represented "140 years of screw-ups. Every time something goes wrong, they make a rule about it." The result of crisis management is that SOP manuals are generally unsystematic. Some areas of police discretion are covered, but many are not. Manuals are often not revised for many years and, as a result, important subjects are not reviewed or updated (Walker, 1992).

Proposals to Make Police Rulemaking More Systematic

Leading experts on police discretion have urged the police to engage in systematic rulemaking. Davis and Goldstein argue that a systematic approach allows the police to anticipate problems before they become crises and represents a professional approach to planning. Despite these recommendations, police departments have not engaged in systematic planning. Davis points out that the "research and planning" units in most police departments are usually occupied with trivial matters.

Several attempts have been made to encourage systematic rulemaking. The CALEA accreditation Standards for the police require accredited departments to have a system of written directives governing police policy, but the Standards are not specific about what areas of policing should be covered by a written policy. In addition, accreditation is a voluntary system. In 1974 the Texas Criminal Justice Council, in cooperation with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), published Model Rules for Law Enforcement Officers: A Manual on Police Discretion, which contained a comprehensive set of policies on different discretionary decision points. The document was a model, however, with no requirement that it be adopted. In 1987 the IACP established the National Law Enforcement Policy Center, which began publishing model policies on specific discretionary decision points.

Accreditation and the various model policies are entirely voluntary. No police department is required to adopt them. Because the police have been slow to act voluntarily, some experts have proposed methods of requiring systematic rulemaking.

Wayne Schmidt proposed that each state create an administrative council on law enforcement. This agency would have the authority to develop policies for all local police departments in the state. Samuel Walker recommended that states enact laws requiring police departments to develop rules on a specific set of critical decision points. To a certain extent, this approach already exists for some decisions. Police use of deadly force, for example, is covered by state statute. The 1985 Supreme Court decision in Tennessee v. Garner ruled as unconstitutional state laws embodying the "fleeing felon" standard. Some states have enacted laws governing police pursuits. Walker's proposal would require the police to adopt rules on a broader range of police decision points (Walker, 1992).


Discretion is a pervasive part of policing. Officers routinely make critical decisions affecting the life and liberty of citizens. Uncontrolled discretion results in serious problems, including denial of due process and equal protection of the law.

Discretion can be controlled through formal written policies adopted by police departments. Written policies do not completely eliminate discretion; they guide it by providing directions on what the officer should or should not do in certain situations. There is evidence that written policies have reduced the number of persons shot and killed by police. Some controversy remains, however, over whether written policies can effectively control all discretionary decisions (Walker, 1992).


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