Police Organization, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Abstract

In this paper I discuss three of the newer sources of police organizational change, being post 9-11 security, post 2008-recession budget cuts, and increasing use of social media. The introduction briefly surveys the background of the general topic, and is followed by several specific examples, with names and locations, of how police departments are responding to the need to at least partially reorganize to deal with security and budgetary pressures. I mention what some of the problems with these approaches are. I then discuss the wide acceptance of social media by law enforcement, and cite a real-world example of why police departments will be using it more in the future. In closing I compare that acceptance with likely reasons why budget-based changes will likely be resisted.

New Ideas for Police Organizational Change

Institutional change, like any kind of change, occurs for a reason or a multiplicity of reasons. There are fundamentally different forms of change (and their effects)  that we might classify as tactical or strategic; micro and macro; or local, state, and national. These differences also imply different active levels of leadership, which is critical because although the forces for change may come from many different directions and sources, internally it must be led by specific individuals of different talents.  Both those leaders and the rank-and-file police personnel, working as they do within governmental organizations, both seek and resist change, either collectively or individually, for their own reasons, both organizational and personal. Finally, new ideas that affect these organizations spring from old problems and new problems, but they can also spring from areas totally unrelated to anyone’s specific problem or set of problems. In this paper I will summarize what new (or relatively new)  ideas are being used to change police organizations. I will focus on two problem-areas forcing such changes, specifically: post-911 security and budget cuts; and one new tool proving itself irresistible for both cops and robbers: the growing use of online-based social media.

Obtaining effective higher security has probably been the most urgent concern that the police have faced since the 9-11 attacks, and budgets have themselves been under attack from the recession dating from 2008. The effects of these events have not been kind to police departments, local, state, and federal.  We might even say that both have combined to threaten to reconstitute the field of law enforcement as Americans have known it.

Security of course implies bigger budgets for more manpower and new technologies, and budgets implies finding new ways to fund those  expenses in the face of declining state and municipal tax and bond revenues. This means either cutting other expenses or relying on increased federal grants, and all that that implies or requires (Frieden, 2010).  Still, it seems that increasingly, police chiefs are looking at the budget crises as an opportunity. Gerry McCarthy, the police director of Newark, N.J., has been trying to institute a meritocratic regime within a civil service structure.[1]  Before the budget crisis hit, he could not seriously have considered this approach. Dr. George Kelling, a criminologist at Rutgers University, urges the police to rethink how patrolling is done, asking whether horse-mounted units and school-patrol officers are really needed. Minneapolis police chief Tim Dolan has gone even further than that, questioning whether that city’s narcotics unit was worthwhile. He decided it wasn’t, and dismantled it. Los Angeles Assistant Police Chief Michel Moore believes that the plain, unavoidable fact of less funding now means that issues can better be communicated to the public because the police need not fear (as much) the political repercussions of an unfavorable news story: that budget-cuts, in a sense, protect them if they can show that a counterintuitive policy or outcome nevertheless makes the best practical use of the funds they have available (Wexler, 2010).

There is another approach that the public is by now well aware of, as much as it is uncertain of it: the use of paramilitary forces. Local and state governments now outsource certain aspects of policing to the private sphere, both through the use of security guards paid with public monies and authorized to engage in routine police work (such as the writing of traffic citations); and through the use of private prisons, prisons which are paid based on how many prisoners are housed. The prisoners can then be exploited further as revenue sources, for example by forcing them to pay exorbitant rates (as much as $5/minute) for use of the prison telephones (Bradford, 2011). This practice can be expanded by redefining what it means to be an incarceration-worthy criminal in the first place, thus increasing both the public- and private-prison population (Sullivan, 2012). The problem with this approach, however, is that it is the taxpayers who are paying for the private prisons for all those extra prisoners and prisons in the first place. Nevertheless, having this outlet takes some pressure off local municipalities even as it adds pressure to their respective states, and politics always follows the path  of least resistance until it absolutely cannot anymore. That point has (apparently) not yet been reached, but when it is, we can expect that public spending for private guards and prisons and increased prison populations will decline. Regarding all this, one may argue that prisons, public and private, are not specifically a part of the police organizational structure. However, the need for more prisons is driven by changes in day-to-day police operations, whether that be due to the increased federalization of crime, mandatory sentencing policies, or uniform sentencing guidelines, and similar factors. They impact, even if only indirectly, who gets arrested, and who stays for how long in public jails until they are either released or imprisoned.

In the midst of these seemingly intractable problems (or at least intractable until the next economic bubble brings renewed tax revenues for awhile), comes the social media revolution. The potential for this to change the way police departments work is that the technical tools of social media — smart phones and ubiquitous internet access — are increasingly cheap and pervasive. More and more police personnel carry their own smartphones (which are themselves getting more and more powerful) and are willing to use them on the job, even while paying for the airtime out of their own pockets, as long as the payoff makes that expense worthwhile.

It will increasingly do so, but not necessarily in straightforward ways like helping the proverbial cop on the beat (foot, hooved, or automotive). Instead, it may very well reduce payroll expenses by increasing the use of long-term volunteers who can be trained to monitor publically viewable social-media websites and chat rooms, either from their own homes or onsite at the departmental center. This scenario was satirized in a 2010 episode of The Simpson’s [To Surveil with Love] yet this year a semi-similar but serious volunteer-based social-network policing initiative was launched in Flint, Michigan.  A team of about twenty off-duty firefighters and paramedics, 911 dispatchers, active duty military personnel — and, a harbinger of things to come (and The Simpsons to the contrary), ordinary citizens — began monitoring 911 dispatch radio-traffic, posting each item they hear to Facebook and Twitter.

Another manifestation of public involvement in police work can be found in London. It is called Facewatch. The program works in conjunction with the city’s many surveillance cameras, both police-based and the private ones typically found in stores, restaurants, and other public places. When a registered member (usually a merchant or property owner of some kind) reports a crime, Facewatch allows for full incident reporting online, rather than requiring crime-victims to wait for a patrolman to arrive, or to report it themselves in person. The video showing suspects or actual known perpetrators is uploaded and  made available to the public on Facewatch’s website, where it can be viewed online and via cellphone. It is legal for innocent bystanders to be shown, so the unintended public display of someone’s picture is not grounds for a lawsuit.

The following is a description of why the police will be increasingly familiar with social media sites. The incident occurred on Compassion Alert, a group with a website on Tumblr (a microblogging site) dedicated to preventing those contemplating suicide from carrying it out (many suicidal people seek help before attempting to end their lives, and increasingly they use blogging websites to do so). A young woman monitoring Compassion Alert’s site noticed a posting by a teenager who seemed suicidal. Following the thread, she determined the teen probably lived in Arcadia, California. What followed is from a website: Concerned for the safety of the suicidal teen, the volunteer called the Arcadia Police Department and reported the posts, asking the police for assistance. The police dispatcher taking the call was not familiar with Tumblr, other than it was a social media platform.  The dispatcher took the information and sought the advice of a patrol supervisor, who was better versed in Tumblr.  The supervisor was able to cross-reference the possible victim’s information between Tumblr and Facebook, with other departmental resources, and located a friend of the victim. From there the suicidal teen was found and given appropriate assistance (LeVeque, 2012).

The inclusion of social media will probably encounter no more organizational resistance within police organizations as it has anywhere else in modern life. But the same can’t be said for the forces unleashed by 9-11 and post-2008 cycles of budget cutting. Being essentially a quasi-military organization, we can expect that individual officers as well as their departments will resist any change that does not reflect well on how there are perceived in society, that is, how changes will affect their status or caste standing. For example, any movement that might tend to consolidate or confuse the distinction between Highway Patrol departments and their municipal police counterparts would probably encounter resistance from both sides. To understand this point, think of the distinction between security guards and police. Neither wants to be confused with the other: security guards aren’t paid to take a policeman’s risks and will not do so. As for the police, it would be an insult to be perceived to as a mere guard. This is probably the purest form of institutional resistance to change to be found. Union resistance is another.

There will always be cops and new robbers, new terrorists, and their victims. Police organizations must change to make the best use of whatever new tools come along. Some, like social media, will be quickly accepted. Others will be mandated by short budgets. Either way, the police must continually adapt just to keep up, barely keeping pace in full view of the public.

References

Bradford, H. (2011, November 18). Huffington post. Inmates in Private Georgia Prison Charged Five Dollars Per Minute for Phone Calls. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/17/prisoners-in-private-georgia- prison_n_1099669.html

Frieden, T. (2010, September 2010). CNN. Federal Grants to Fund Police Positions Announced. Retrieved from http://articles.cnn.com/2010-09-30/us/cops.funding_1_police-officers-federal-grants-police-positions?_s=PM:US

LeVeque, T. (2012, April 19). Volunteerism and social media saving lives. Retrieved from http://connectedcops.net/2012/04/19/volunteerism-and-social-media-saving-lives/

Sullivan, L. (2012, May 28). Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2010/10/28/130833741/prison-economics-help-drive-ariz-immigration-law

Wexler, C. (2010, December). Critical issues in policing series. Retrieved from  http://policeforum.org/library/critical-issues-in-policing-series/Econdownturnaffectpolicing12.10.pdf

[1] A parallel example is the long-running attempts to impose merit-standards on public schoolteachers.

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