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THE ORGANIZATION OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES

Municipal police and other law enforcement agencies are structured along the lines of complex bureaucratic organizations (see Figure 3.2) and feature formal division of labor. In addition to their bureaucratic characteristics, law enforcement agencies are structured like quasi-military institutions, which gives these agencies their special character. As Egon Bittner (1970:53) once commented on the military and law enforcement,

Both institutions are instruments of force and for both institutions the occasions for using force are unpredictably distributed. Thus, the personnel in each must be kept in a highly disciplined state of alert preparedness. The formalism that characterizes military organization, the insistence on rules and regulations, on spit and polish, on obedience to superiors, and so on, constitute a permanent rehearsal for "the real thing."

One Form of a Well-Organized Municipal Police Department

Figure 3.2 One Form of a Well-Organized Municipal Police Department

The municipal police system of law enforcement is built on a subordinating chain of command (Dempsey and Forst, 2016). Although all units of a particular department may be related to a central command, the overall chain of command is divided into units so that different precincts or squads are immediately responsible to a localized authority. The functional divisions of police departments follow the kinds of activities they handle, such as traffic patrol, investigative work, undercover work (for example, in vice and narcotics), crowd control, and uniformed patrol.

Police departments do not require special education. Most officers entering the force have no more than a high school education, although lately some college education without any specialized training has become the norm. Police training is pragmatic, not intellectual or theoretical, and usually takes place in a police academy Most officers come from lower-middle-class or working-class backgrounds. For many, becoming a police officer is an opportunity for upward social mobility. Women are slowly making inroads into law enforcement, and in 2013, they comprised about 12% of all full-time, sworn officers in local police departments (Reaves, 2015).

Among police officers, there is a high degree of cohesion and solidarity, much more so than in other occupational groups. Because of the nature of their job, police officers tend to be suspicious of civilians and skeptical toward outsiders. These traits in turn mean that police tend to exhibit an authoritarian character (Reaves, 2015). Their subculture includes a code of silence if an officer is corrupt or brutal, and fellow officers rarely incriminate each other.

Contrary to popular image, police officers, with the exception of detectives, spend only about 20% of their time in criminal investigations (Brown, 1988). The primary activities of police instead consist of routine patrol and maintaining order—such duties as attending to domestic disturbances, handling drunks, assisting motorists, controlling traffic, escorting dignitaries, and processing juveniles.

In an influential study, James Q. Wilson (1968) identified three styles of police work— the watchman style, the legalistic style, and the service style. Although elements of all three can be found in any law enforcement agency, different agencies tend to emphasize one style more than the others and, as a result, practice different law enforcement policies.

The watchman style emphasizes the responsibility for maintaining public order, as contrasted with traditional law enforcement. The police officer in such an agency is viewed as a peace officer, ignoring or handling informally many violations of the law and paying much greater attention to local variations in the demand for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The role of peace officer is characterized by a great amount of discretion, because peacekeeping is poorly structured by law or by agency regulation. Underenforcement, corruption, and low arrest rates characterize watchman-style departments.

The legalistic style is the opposite of the watchman style. Agencies characterized by this style tend to treat all situations, even commonplace problems of maintaining order, as if they were serious infractions of the law. Members of such agencies issue a high rate of traffic tickets, arrest a high proportion ofjuvenile offenders, and crack down on illicit enterprises. They tend to focus on some groups, especially juveniles, blacks, and migrants, rather than on others they consider “respectable.” Although this style of law enforcement is characterized by technical efficiency and high arrest rates, it also results in inequality in law enforcement, with complaints of harassment and police brutality by groups who are most often subjected to police scrutiny.

The service style combines law enforcement and maintenance of order. An emphasis is placed on community relations, the police on patrol work out of specialized units, and command is decentralized. This style differs from the watchman style in that the police respond to all groups and apply informal sanctions in the case of minor offenses. It differs from the legalistic style in that fewer arrests are made for minor infractions, and the police are more responsive to public sentiments and desires. In this sense, the service style is less arbitrary than the watchman style and more attuned to the practical considerations of public service than the legalistic style. There is little corruption, and complaints against police in service-style departments tend to be low. The emphasis is on problem-solving policing, in which attention is focused on the problems that lie behind incidents, rather than on the incidents only. This style aims at reducing alienation and distrust between police and people of color and between police and the poor.

 
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