Organizational Theories of Police Agencies, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Police departments have traditionally been organized in accordance with classical organization theory, producing organizations characterized by the principles of scientific management, bureaucracy, hierarchy, and specialization. Police departments so organized are mechanistic organizations on the quasi-military model. Human relations theory offers a better model for police departments, one that will ameliorate the increasing disaffection of citizens and officers with the traditional model: a model that promotes employee morale in organic, flexible organizations, characterized by better communication and adaptability.

Police departments have traditionally been run in accordance with classical organization theory, which emphasizes bureaucracy, hierarchy, and specialization. While classical organization theory is well-suited to many of the needs of a police department, it is far more mechanistic, rigid, and hide-bound than human relations theory, which emphasizes participation and motivation. Human relations theory offers the best model for police departments: a model that emphasizes flexibility, participation, and capacity for independent decision-making. Traditionally, classical organization theory has been the mainstay of police organization (Gaines & Worrall, 2011, p. 93). Classical organizational theory is chiefly the brainchild of two great intellectuals: Frederick W. Taylor (1856-1915) and Max Weber (1864-1920) (p. 94). Taylor’s scientific management was guided by the novel approach of focusing on the employee: by observing and improving workplace conditions, tools, and routines, Taylor devised new ways of increasing productivity and employee satisfaction (p. 94). Taylor’s approach, also known as Taylorism, promoted workplace standards, development of employee skills through training, cooperation between management and employees, and equity in the distribution of work (p. 95). A very crucial aspect of scientific management is the emphasis on job design: Taylor believed in analyzing the constituent elements of any given task, in order to promote precise, skill-specific training that would in turn result in more productive and more contented workers (Conser, Paynich, & Gingerich, 2013, p. 110). Taylor also believed in a meritocratic approach to organizational structure and management: in scientific management theory, pay should be linked with skill and productivity, in order to promote professionalism (p. 110). All of these elements have proven to be seminal to the organization of police departments.

The great sociologist Max Weber portrayed organizations as societal expressions of “rationalization” (Conser et al., 2013, p. 108). As Gaines and Worrall (2011) explained, efficiency was Weber’s concern: he wanted to know what made some organizations efficient, while others languished in inefficiency (p. 96). For Weber, hierarchy was the quintessence of organization, and the hallmark of hierarchy was bureaucracy (Conser et al., 2013, p. 108). Organizations structured in this fashion evince a number of rationalist principles in Weberian thought: “a division of labor, clear lines of authority, specialization and communication between superior and subordinate,” stratification through hierarchy, with clear ranks distinguishing status, and, as with Taylor, meritocracy (p. 108). Weber’s basic idea was that such organizational structures were more rational, in that they established systems of authority and power based on criteria, objective outcomes in performance, rather than personal charisma, politicking or tradition (p. 109).

The main model of police organization, derived from classical theory, has been the so-called quasi-military model, which emphasizes discipline, integrity, efficiency and nonpartisanship, in opposition to the politicized, scandal-ridden, and ineffective models of organization that had prevailed in the 19th century (Gaines & Worrall, 2011, p. 93). As a result, police departments might be characterized as mechanistic organizations, as opposed to organic organizations (p. 123). However, this quasi-military model, with its mechanistic structure, has increasingly generated opposition and disaffection from two quarters: the citizenry, and the police themselves (Gaines & Kappeler, 2011, p. 150). The main criticism from citizens and communities seems to be that this mechanistic approach lacks humanity (p. 150). In particular, mounting criticisms of police brutality and racial profiling have begun to produce a movement towards a model of community policing, a model that will foster better ties between police departments and the communities they serve (p. 150).

For their part, police officers have increasingly begun to resent the heavily top-down, bureaucratic, and hierarchical approach of the traditional model (Gaines & Kappeler, 2011, p. 150). Complaints include little scope for participation, significant communications problems, distrust of leaders by subordinates, lower morale, and poorer performance (p. 150). Thus, the dominant paradigm is still the mechanistic approach and classical theory, but it is beginning to give way to the community policing approach (p. 150).

The basis of the community policing approach, and the source of the organic model of organizations, is human relations theory (Gaines & Kappeler, 2011, p. 151; Gaines & Worrall, 2011, p. 123). Organic organizations are considerably different from mechanistic organizations: these organizations prioritize more employee input and participation in making the decisions that run the organization, producing a less heavily centralized and generally more democratic approach (Gaines & Worrall, 2011, p. 123). A key advantage of the organic model of organizations is that they are much more dynamic, flexible, agile, and responsive to internal and external circumstances (p. 123). What this means for police departments adopting the organic approach is a better ability to respond with alacrity to the needs of citizens in the communities they serve (p. 123).

This organic approach to organizations, the hallmark of human relations theory, is based the human relations philosophy (Gaines & Worrall, 2011, p. 123). The essence of the human relations philosophy is that management should be a social process, a process that focuses on the needs and capacities of the people within the organization, as well as making use of particular techniques to effectively run the organization (p. 123). The central objective is to manage the organization in a way that is good for both the organization and the employee, i.e. to produce an alignment between organizational objectives and needs, and the objectives and needs of the employees within the organization (p. 123).

And of course, the key element to achieving such an alignment between the goals of organization and employees is employee morale: employees must have a good sense of motivation with regard to their work (Conser et al., 2013, p. 116). As Conser et al. explained, motivation is only explicable through three very simple elements: firstly, the worker must believe that they will be rewarded for their performance; secondly, they must find said rewards desirable, and thirdly, they must believe that performance is achievable (p. 117). Of course, motivation in the real world often takes more complex forms, and a number of confounding variables can enhance or detract motivation along the three dimensions just mentioned (p. 117). For example, participation is a well-known way to increase motivation: if people feel that they are allowed to have input in the process of setting goals, they will feel more of a stake in those goals, given that the goals reflect their interests (p. 117). As a consequence, they will feel more motivation to see those goals accomplished (p. 117). Another motivation strategy entails giving individuals interesting tasks, and giving them enough leeway to have at least some say in how those interesting tasks are performed (p. 117).

This is the quintessence of human relations theory: motivate individuals with goals and rewards that actually mean something to them, by giving them enough latitude to allow them to take a hand in determining how the outcomes are actually realized (Conser et al., 2013, p. 117). And then there is the matter of satisfaction, which is another distinct drive influencing performance in human relations theory: satisfaction is distinct from motivation, because it is concerned with how individuals feel about the results of their labors, and the rewards that they have received (p. 117). Of course, for police departments, the main motivator and source of satisfaction is salary and promotion (p. 117). Here, however, the main problem is that in law enforcement agencies, officers are likely to be rewarded for length of tenure rather than pay for performance (p. 117). A related problem is the fact that unlike in the private sector, control of salary is largely out of the hands of the departments, being regulated by legislative bodies, while “promotion is largely controlled by civil service rules” (p. 117).

But monetary compensation and promotion are not the only sources of motivation and satisfaction (Conser et al., 2013, p. 117). In fact, there is no shortage of other potential motivators: firstly, a more open and communication-friendly workplace can serve as an endless source of motivators for law enforcement personnel, much as for any other work environment (p. 117). If superiors demonstrate a willingness to lend an ear to subordinates and explain their actions, subordinates will feel a greater degree of inclusion, acceptance, and participation, which will increase morale (p. 117). Another strategy concerns the allocation of tasks: how jobs are defined in the department can have significant effects on how motivated officers are to do those jobs (p. 117). Temporary assignments and special task forces and teams offer other ways to motivate police officers, as can reassignment (p. 117).

Police departments need organizational models that promote the human factors in the workplace environment. Classical organization theory has a laudable focus on professionalism, and its emphasis on chain of command and specialization is still relevant. However, the main problem with classical organization theory is its rigidity: it is too hierarchical, and promotes too many barriers to communication. Human relations theory puts the focus on human motivation, conceptualized in terms of rewards for performance, and satisfaction in a job well done. For police departments, human relations theory offers an organizational model that is flexible and dynamic, a model that promotes good communication and officer morale.

References

Conser, J., Paynich, R., & Gingerich, T. (2013). Law enforcement in the United States (3rd ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Gaines, L. K., & Kappeler, V. E. (2011). Policing in America (7th ed.). Waltham, MA: Anderson Publishing.

Gaines, L. K., & Worrall, J. L. (2011). Police administration (3rd ed.). Clifton Park, NY: Delmar.

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