LAW ENFORCEMENT AS BIG BUSINESS
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
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
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
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;
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.
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,
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
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).
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,
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
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,
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
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
THE DOMINANT STYLE OF AMERICAN POLICE ORGANIZATION
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).
FUNCTIONS OF POLICE IN MODERN SOCIETY
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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).
SUBCULTURE OF THE POLICE
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
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).
WORKING PERSONALITY OF THE POLICE
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).
POLICE PREJUDICE AND AUTHORITARIANISM
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).
DO THE POLICE DETER CRIME
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
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
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
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).
"GRASS EATERS" AND "MEAT EATERS"
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).
IMPACT OF CORRUPTION
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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
10. Whether the suspect is consorting with others whose conduct is
(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
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
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
The following section discuss the nature of police discretion, the
problems of controlling discretion, and means of implementing guidelines.
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
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
(f) Various practical problems of policing (e.g., distance to the
(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,
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).
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
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
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
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"
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
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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 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
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
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
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.
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).
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).
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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