POLICE ORGANIZATION AND HIERARCHY
"It's difficult to get a man to understand when his salary depends on not understanding" (Upton Sinclair)
Becoming a police officer is no easy matter. Let's take the typical example of the city of Clarksville, TN. The following is standard procedure. First, an application has to be submitted. This application needs to be notarized. Next, there are several steps one must go through before they are hired.
1. Applicants go through a physical agility test which tests the individual by having them run through a 400 yard obstacle course complete with a 7-foot chain-link fence, a 6-foot wooden wall, a two foot hurdle, a balance beam and a 165 pound mannequin that must be dragged. All of those things must be completed in 3 minutes and 5 seconds.
2. An online-based written exam is given testing the applicant on basic knowledge -- reading, writing, and math -- and tests the applicants personality. A grade of 70 percent or better is required to pass.
3. The applicant must go before an oral review board, and are asked several questions. Board scores range from 0 to 5.
4. A background check, which could take up to 30 days, is conducted, and can include talking with the six references the applicant listed, former employers, family members, those the applicant grew up with, their neighbors, high school principals and coaches and anyone else the police department can find to get the background of the applicant. There's a pre-emptive background interview, as part of this, that helps the department figure out if the applicant is the best fit for the department and if the department is the best fit for the applicant.
5. A command staff interview consisting of either both deputy chiefs or a deputy chief and a captain is conducted.
6. An interview with the chief of police, followed by a physical exam, a drug screening and a polygraph test.
TRAINING: Once someone has passed the application stage, there's a whole lot of training ahead -- a total of 1,165 hours, not including regular yearly training for an officer. New recruits go through anywhere from 160-180 hours of in-house training which includes general orientation, firearms training, a driving course, TCA and city ordinances, chaplain services and other things. The recruit then goes through 425 hours of Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy training which includes physical training every morning starting around 6 a.m. and various classes on hazardous material, reports, testing and other subjects. Once the recruit gets back, they must go through spike strip training, radio procedures, traffic stops, mounted patrol, K-9 unit, drug and other in-house training. After the 1,165 hours of training, the officer is then allowed in the patrol car on their own, but the training isn't over. Each officer must go through 40 hours of training every year including 8 hours in firearms, driving and child sex abuse, tailored training to their position and use of force and policy and law change training. They might also be required to go through specialty training and roll call training.
EQUIPMENT: The cost to completely equip an officer, not including their vehicle, is around $5,600 -- including their $409 Glock 40 caliber handgun and $805 taser. The vehicle cost, including the Ford Crown Victoria, emergency equipment and striping, radio, in-car video system and computer system costs around $41,300. Add into that $43,000 in salary and benefits plus $2,000 for police academy training and it costs around $89,600.
Because of the quasi-military nature of every police department, the only method of organization is by formation of rank. The following figure depicts the most commonly found rank structure. At the top are the administrators, which include Chiefs, Deputy Chiefs, and Majors who are called "Command Level" Personnel. Captains, Lieutenants, and often Sergeants are called "Middle Level" Management. Officers are referred to as "Line" Personnel.
Chiefs are considered by most observers to be either "locals" or "cosmopolitans". A local chief is oriented to issues and conditions of the home town. A cosmopolitan chief is oriented to national issues and conditions of the police profession as a whole. Deputy chiefs (as well as chiefs themselves) exhibit one of three career patterns:
Move-up -- a pattern in which they are upwardly mobile, always seeking a raise in pay and position
Move-on -- a pattern in which they consistently move from department to department at the same job level, like "gypsy cops"
Move-out -- a pattern in which they are looking for second careers, like in teaching, private security, or business, anything other than policing
Majors (the ones most likely to be out of uniform most of the time, and not all police departments have them) tend to not only look and act like civilians, but are concerned mostly with civilian-type duties, like budgeting, liaison with the city fathers, and so forth.
Captains (along with Chiefs and Corporals, your FTO) tend to be the most important people in an officer's career. They are bureau or shift commanders. They sign off on every thing you do and everything that's done on their watch, as well as manage budgets very closely.
Lieutenants tend to be morale specialists. They don't exercise regular supervision, but are called in when an employee is having problems of some sort or another. Their talents and leadership come into play when something unexpected happens.
Sergeants are first-level supervisors. They are either stationhouse oriented or street oriented, depending upon how much they have abandoned the patrol officer's mentality. The sergeant rank is one of the most sought-after positions, and perhaps the hardest one to obtain if not gained by seniority alone.
Corporals tend to be field training officers (FTOs) and they are rewarded for their length of service by breaking in rookies or given other duties related to employee development.
Officers are the rest of the department with patrol officers being the "backbone" of the force. This is not normally a career rank, but it is worth considering the concept of Master Patrol Officer (MPO) where it is a professional career.
If you had to sum up everything about police organization in one sentence, the following would be it:
Police organizations are tall, hierarchical, quasi-military bureaucracies.
By "tall" is meant there's a lot of intermediary ranks between the top and the bottom. One look at the tall-ness of the organization chart tells you this, and you can also infer that certain organizational principles like chain of command are going to be important in tall organizations. By "hierarchical" is meant that power resides in the hands of a few at the top, Michel's Iron Law of Oligarchy, or the Scalar Principle, as it's called. Ironically, one of the few things different about police organizations is that "discretion" mostly resides at the bottom. We'll take a look at discretion, and its power, in a later lecture, but nothing at this point should imply that police organizations are anything but hierarchical. A non-hierarchical organization would be a hippie-style democratic commune, and those are rarely found in modern, complex (absorbing conflicts from many sources) organizations. By "quasi-military" is meant that the police have incorporated military-style characteristics, although imperfectly. Veterans who have worked in policing will often tell you that the police need to become totally military or none at all; it doesn't work half-heartedly. The quasi-military model is much better than the political patronage model, however. By "bureaucracy" is meant a certain set of structural arrangements that predispose a certain set of human behaviors. In other words, arrangements designed for organizational efficiency lead to impersonal human relations.
In addition, police organizations tend to be "closed" rather than "open" organizations. By "closed", this means that they are not sensitive to their environment. Every organization has two (2) environments: an internal one (their personnel) and an external one (the general public). It's the external environment that police organizations are mostly closed to. This is pretty obvious when we realize that many of the clients of a police organization are not legitimate consumers; they're criminals. Fortunately, other clientele include the public being protected. It's not all that different from other organizations that wish to remain closed. It's easier to point the general public at your mission statement than it is to actively involve them in your goal- and objective-setting. In addition, the general public is often to blame for actually wanting traditional police service, thus leading to bureaucratic inertia and a more closed organization.
Let's examine the characteristics of bureaucracy and quasi-militarism (also called paramilitarism) in more detail. The German sociologist Max Weber first introduced the idea of bureaucracy as a way to eliminate managerial abuses that would lead to inefficiencies. Subsequent writers, like Bennis (1966) have enumerated the characteristics of bureaucracy. Auten (1985) was one of the first to draw attention to paramilitary characteristics.
|Characteristics of bureaucracy||Characteristics of paramilitarism|
|1 - division of labor by
2 - well-defined hierarchy of authority
3 - system of rules for rights and duties of staff
4 - system of procedures for work situations
5 - impersonal relations between people
6 - promotion and selection by competence
|1 - centralized command
2 - rigid differences among ranks
3 - military terminology
4 - frequent use of commands and orders
5 - rules and discipline strictly enforced
6 - creativity and change not encouraged
EXPLANATION OF BUREAUCRATIC CHARACTERISTICS
Functional specialization provides the bureaucracy with efficiency, and for specialization, you normally need at least 10+ line personnel. In other words, functional arrangements are easy to create, but specialization depends on size. All bureaucracies are hierarchical, and hierarchy of authority mainly determines communication channels. Vertical, or top-down, communication is usually more important than horizontal, or lateral, communication in a bureaucracy, and all sorts of other communication rules can be drawn from a hierarchy of authority. Rules and procedures dominate bureaucracies and give them their aspect of formality, with "formal" meaning documentation (everything is written down). As a general rule of thumb, policies are more important than procedures which are more important than rules and regulations (policy > procedure > rules & regulations). Impersonality is the human characteristic of bureaucracy. It's what humans can't avoid doing under such circumstances, not out of any negative reaction to all the rules and regulations, but because of the atmosphere or climate of the organization. When you work in a bureaucracy, you begin to notice that people come and go. There's staff turnover, but the jobs stay the same. You look at the building at night when most of the people are all gone, and you begin to realize that you work in a thing that's bigger than the sum total of the people who work there. This sensation describes the feeling of being an interchangeable part, and that's what is intended with bureaucracy. Authority and power are supposed to reside in specific places in the workplace, not in the people who inhabit them. Appointment and promotion on the basis of merit or competence means that rewards are not supposed to be given out in a manner based on familiarity, favoritism, or nepotism. I wouldn't go so far as to say this characteristic of bureaucracy involves independence from politics, however.
CRITIQUE OF BUREAUCRATIC CHARACTERISTICS
Most critiques of bureaucracy are on one of two grounds. Either the organization is said to be inflexible and unresponsive to changing needs and times; or it is believed to stifle creativity and self-realization of staff. Leadership is also of concern because bureaucracies tend to insulate command staff from line staff and clientele of the organization. A typical way to baffle a bureaucracy is to give it an unforeseen problem, something that cannot be solved easily or has never come up before. You'll note that the problem is routed up the chain of command for guidance and instruction, but the upper levels of the organization will insist that the problem be solved at the lower levels. This results in the problem being delayed at the middle management levels.
Bureaucracies are also not conducive to so-called "career paths", or the kinds of things you often hear about in guidance counseling. Lateral movement is the exception rather than the rule, which means that desk jobs aren't easily obtained by those in field positions. Upward mobility is also somewhat difficult, as it's fairly easy to "lock in" to some "dead end" job.
EXPLANATION OF PARAMILITARY CHARACTERISTICS
Centralized command and rigid rank differences tend to facilitate close supervision. They give the appearance, at least, that employees are always being watched, that there's someone "up there" who is keeping an eye on you. Military terminology is used primarily to create a warriorlike mentality, which along with frequent commands and orders, produces the sense of an enemy to hate, fear, and destroy. Strict discipline has many effects, but the main one is a bond of solidarity, or camaraderie, that develops between all employees. Militarism, in general, works by bonding people against a common enemy and by bonding them together in a system of discipline against themselves. Discouragement of creativity is selective. It is not discouraged if it helps the cause of fighting the enemy. This generally means that anything scientific or technological, or field of academics which has an "applied" focus, might be considered for possible inclusion in the organization, albeit only skeptically.
CRITIQUE OF PARAMILITARY CHARACTERISTICS
Probably the visible characteristic of a military-style organization is the dress. Along with dress restrictions come various other restrictions on who you can associate with, where you should not be "seen", and how you should conduct or express yourself. Although these may have some potential benefits, such as preserving the integrity of the uniform, they also have the effect of restricting positive, or substantive freedoms because uniforms are all about what you cannot do with them. Paramilitarism suffers from the same kind of communication blockages and inhibitions as bureaucracies, except that decisions don't get stymied in middle management, they get implemented in a dozen different ways, so that one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. Military-style organizations are full of tradition; in fact, they worship it. This causes a commitment to outmoded methods of operation. Finally, although career paths may be a bit more obvious than in bureaucracies, there's a distinct tendency for military-style organization to mismatch talent with job positions. Because so many positions are vital and have to be filled, people tend to wind up in jobs they're totally not suited for.
Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in Police Departments
Auten, J. (1985). "The Paramilitary Model of Police" In The ambivalent force by A. Blumberg and E. Niederhoffer (eds). NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Bennis, W. (1966). Beyond Bureaucracy. NY: McGraw-Hill.
Dantzker, M. (1999). Police Organization and Management. Boston: Butterworth Heinemann.
Palmiotto, M. (2000). Community Policing. Gaithersburg: Aspen Publishers.
Wilson, O.W. and R. McLaren. (1977). Police Administration. NY: McGraw-Hill.
Last updated: Aug 28, 2010
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