Section 2.4: Changing Police Organizations

Police Methods by Adam J. McKee

As you delve into the section “Changing Police Organizations,” it’s crucial to understand its significance in the context of modern policing, particularly in relation to community partnership and problem-solving. This section offers an insightful exploration of the evolving roles and structures within police organizations as they adapt to community policing models. Key points to focus on include the shift in responsibilities and decision-making to patrol officers, emphasizing their critical role in community engagement and problem-solving. The text highlights the importance of a flexible management style, encouraging students to appreciate the value of empowering officers with greater discretionary powers and managerial responsibilities.

Pay close attention to the discussion on the implications of these changes for organizational management and structure. The section underscores the need for a collaborative, decentralized command approach, encouraging bottom-up decision-making. This shift challenges traditional policing hierarchies and necessitates a rethinking of supervisory roles, emphasizing guidance over control.

Note how the text elaborates on the essential values guiding community policing, such as trust, cooperation, and initiative. It emphasizes the importance of aligning organizational values with actions, which is key to successful implementation. As future law enforcement professionals, understanding these dynamics is critical for adapting to and excelling in a community-focused policing environment.

Finally, consider the strategies suggested for managing internal change and mobilizing support for community policing, both within the police force and the broader community. This comprehensive view provides a blueprint for transforming traditional policing methods to more community-centric approaches, preparing you for the challenges and opportunities in your future roles in law enforcement.

Implications for Management and the Organizational Structure

Effective community partnership and problem solving will require the mastery of new responsibilities and the adoption of a flexible style of management. Community policing emphasizes the value of the patrol function and the patrol officer as an individual. Patrol officers have traditionally been accorded low status despite the scope and sensitivity of the tasks they perform. Community policing requires the shifting of initiative, decision making, and responsibility downward within the police organization. The neighborhood officer or deputy sheriff becomes responsible for managing the delivery of services to a community, and “. . . everything of a policing nature [in that community] ‘belongs’ to that person.

With this responsibility comes wide-ranging discretionary and decisionmaking power. Under community policing, patrol officers are given broader freedom to decide what should be done and how it should be done in their communities—they assume managerial responsibility for the delivery of police services to their assigned area. Patrol officers are the most familiar with the needs and strengths of their communities and are thus in the best position to forge the close ties with the community that lead to effective solutions to local problems.

The shift in status and duties of the patrol officer is critical to the community partnership and problem-solving components of community policing.  Assignment stability of these neighborhood officers is also essential if they are to develop close working relationships within their communities because

“. . . they are expected to engage in activities other than simply reacting to calls for service. Having officers periodically rotate among the shifts impedes their ability to identify problems. It also discourages creative solutions to impact the problems, because the officers end up rotating away from the problems. Thus, a sense of responsibility to identify and resolve problems is lost. Likewise, management cannot hold the officers accountable to deal with problems if the officers are frequently rotated from one shift to another.”

The enhanced role of the patrol officer has enormous organizational and managerial implications. The entire police organization must be structured, managed, and operated in a manner that supports the efforts of the patrol officer and that encourages a cooperative approach to solving problems. Under community policing, command is no longer centralized, and many decisions now come from the bottom up instead of from the top down. Greater decisionmaking power is given to those closest to the situation with the expectation that this change will improve the overall performance of the agency. This transformation in command structure is not only sound management, but is also crucial to the creation of meaningful and productive ties between the police and the community. To establish a partnership with the community,

“. . . the police must move to empower two groups: the public itself and the street officers who serve it most closely and regularly. Only when the public has a real voice in setting police priorities will its needs be taken seriously; only when street officers have the operational latitude to take on the problems they encounter with active departmental backing will those needs really be addressed.”

Community policing alters the contemporary functions of supervisors and managers. Under community policing, management serves to guide, rather than dominate, the actions of patrol officers and to ensure that officers have the necessary resources to solve the problems in their communities. Creativity and innovation must be fostered if satisfactory solutions to long-standing community problems are to be found.

The transition to community policing requires recognizing that the new responsibilities and decision making power of the neighborhood patrol officers must be supported, guided, and encouraged by the entire organization. In addition, it requires establishing clearly stated values that provide both the police organization and the public with a clear sense of policing’s expanded focus and direction.

Values: The Guiding Principles 

Community policing is ultimately about values—specifically, the change in values that is needed to adapt policing to these changing times. Values must be ingrained in the very culture of the organization and must be reflected in its objectives, in its policies, and in the actions of its personnel.

“Values are the beliefs that guide an organization and the behavior of its employees….The most important beliefs are those that set forth the ultimate purposes of the organization ….They provide the organization with its raison d’etre for outsiders and insiders alike and justify the continuing investment in the organization’s enterprise . . . . [They] influence substantive and administrative decisions facing the organization, they lend a coherence and predictability to top management’s actions and the responses to the actions of employees. This helps employees make proper decisions and use their discretion with confidence that they are contributing to rather than detracting from organizational performance.” 

A clear statement of beliefs and goals gives direction to the organization and helps ensure that values are transformed into appropriate actions and behaviors. The entire agency must be committed to the values embodied by such a mission statement. This mission statement should be widely disseminated both inside and outside the police organization to garner public support and to facilitate accountability. In the move to community policing, where problem-solving efforts and accountability are shared by the police, the local government, and the community, explicitly defined values become critically important in assigning responsibility and attracting and mobilizing support and resources. Community policing

“. . . relies heavily on the articulation of policing values that incorporate citizen involvement in matters that directly affect the safety and quality of neighborhood life. The culture of the police department therefore becomes one that not only recognizes the merits of community involvement but also seeks to organize and manage departmental affairs in ways that are consistent with such beliefs.”

An organization’s mission statement should be simple, direct, and unassuming. Values must be unequivocally communicated so that officers understand the influence on their actions:

“Planners need to assess what specific behaviors by organizational members support or undermine the stated values. This assessment requires that the values be defined in operational terms such that an observer can know whether any particular employee action is on target or off target . . . . Planners must also think clearly about how management will know whether the desired changes are taking place; feedback and evaluative steps must be developed.”

 Community policing relies on the establishment of a clear, unambiguous link of values to behaviors. By creating a system of performance measurement, specific operational meaning can be given to seemingly abstract values. The guiding values central to community policing are trust, cooperation, communication, ingenuity, integrity, initiative, discretion, leadership, responsibility, respect, and a broadened commitment to public safety and security. A succinct mission statement that embodies these values and that is widely communicated to personnel, local government, and members of the community will form the basis of assessment systems that match actions and behaviors to the goals of community policing.

Source: Understanding Community Policing:  A Framework for Action. p. 22 – 25.

Mobilizing Support

The police executive will be called on to display exemplary leadership in the move to community policing. Change must come from the top down. The behavior of the chief executive will set the tone and pattern for the entire organization. Management must create a new, unified organizational outlook, and strategies must be developed to deal effectively with obstacles to change.

“For the police it is an entirely different way of life….The task facing the police chief is nothing less than to change the fundamental culture of the organization….Throughout the period of change the office of the chief executive is going to be surrounded by turbulence, like it or not. It will require personal leadership of considerable strength and perseverance.”

Early mobilization of support for community policing is critical. Internally, the chief or sheriff must develop support at all levels of the organization; externally, the chief executives must gather support from the local government, public and private agencies, the media, and other policing agencies in the region. The cooperation of the local mayor or city manager is imperative to the successful implementation of a community policing strategy, as is the cooperation of local government decision makers and community organizations. A lack of commitment from any of these key groups could result in failure.

A certain amount of opposition to community policing should be anticipated, both inside and outside the agency. Elected officials may be too impatient to await the results of a community policing effort or may prefer to have a newer version of current policing procedures. Some groups within the community may be suspicious of the concept in general.

Resistance within the agency is inevitable as restructuring occurs. During the implementation of any change, employees may feel threatened and seek ways to resist. This will be especially true if community policing is incorrectly perceived as being “soft on crime” and as making social service activities the patrol officers’ primary responsibility Those at the highest level of command must be aware of the concerns of mid-level managers, who may be particularly sensitive to the shifts in decision making responsibility and to the wider discretion accorded patrol officers.

“Teamwork, flexibility, mutual participation in decision making, and citizen satisfaction are concepts that initially may threaten the supervisor who is more comfortable with the authoritarian role and routinized operations inherent in traditional policing. Thus, the education of supervisors in new styles of leadership and management must be given a high priority if they are to carry out their responsibility for the success of community policing.”

Keeping all personnel well informed, involving them in ongoing planning and implementation, soliciting their input and suggestions, and encouraging feedback in all areas of implementation are essential to obtaining organization wide support. Management must instill the agency with a new spirit of trust and cooperation that will be carried over into the relationships between the agency and its community policing partners. The early cooperation and influence of management is key to gaining support throughout the ranks. 

“Chiefs who do not invest in assessing and responding to the honest attitudes of managers, who do not invest in defining the new roles managers are expected to play, and who do not provide their managers with the training they need to effectively fill these new roles are likely to be frustrated in their efforts to implement change. In their frustration with managers, they will be tempted to bypass them and to go straight to the first-line officers with implementation plans….But without the support of the supervisors and managers, few first-line officers will be willing to risk changing their behaviors.”

Agency leaders can also move to counter intraagency resistance by building a strong external constituency. The chief or sheriff might make a public commitment to community policing and elicit from special interest groups a statement of their concerns. The chief may be able to support the work of commissions and committees that support ideas for change. These efforts would allow the top management to approach the organization backed by a public mandate for community policing.

In anticipation of a move to community policing, a chief might also disband some squads that emphasize traditional methods of policing, redesign evaluation systems to give credit for contributions to the nature and quality of community life, expand training to include community partnership and problem-solving strategies, and establish new communication channels with other public service organizations.


Managing Internal Change

Community policing necessitates the introduction of fundamental and comprehensive change to the police agency. Organizational efforts must support the evolving responsibilities of patrol officers. For example, information systems should move beyond the efficient processing of criminal offense reports to the delivery of timely and accurate information to officers. Training will govern the pace of change and should affect more than just the new recruits. Performance evaluation should no longer be a mere feedback mechanism, but instead should be a tool to facilitate the change process. Successful implementation of community policing entails careful examination of the following organizational issues.

Deployment of Personnel 

Permanent or long-term shifts and beat assignments must be instituted if patrol officers are to form lasting and productive partnerships with the community. Community policing depends on this stability. In addition, community boundaries should be carefully drawn to preserve the integrity of existing neighborhoods and to encourage cooperation within the community.

A comprehensive analysis of workloads across shifts and areas is essential to guide the deployment of personnel. This analysis should include data for each community covering the following areas:

  • The frequency and nature of calls for service 
  • The frequency and nature of criminal activity
  • The expectations for response time
  • The estimated time needed for community partnership and problem solving activities

Some agencies will need to increase the number of officers who are assigned to patrol operations and to readjust existing patrol assignments. Criminal investigation units may need to be surveyed to determine if efforts are being duplicated, which could allow some officers to return to patrol. Civilians could also be hired for support positions not requiring policing skills, in order to reassign police personnel to community patrols.


Consistent supervision is necessary for effective community policing. Supervision will suffer if sergeants or lieutenants have schedules that only partially overlap those of the patrol officers. Close collaboration between patrol officers and their supervisors is as critical to successful community policing as the partnership between the officer and the community members.

While patrol officers need constant supervision, “The attitude that police officers must be guided and directed at every turn must be discarded….” Supervisors should function as mentors, motivators, and facilitators. Community policing’s broad approach to problem solving can enhance communication and interaction between departmental levels. If middle managers are made an integral part of the problem-solving process, they will become another resource for patrol officers, rather than just another level of supervision.  By acting as liaisons, running interference, and suggesting appropriate auxiliary support, supervisors can help patrol officers respond to a wide variety of service demands.

Among the community policing responsibilities for first-line supervisors and mid-level managers are the following: 

  • Maintaining beat integrity.
  • Overseeing the creation of beat profiles.
  • Working with officers and community residents to create a system for the allocation and utilization of resources.
  • Working with officers and community members to develop, implement, and manage problem-solving systems.
  • Assessing results and providing feedback on accomplishments and progress made in addressing problems of crime and disorder

Supervisors should also bring patrol officers into the management process, facilitate group cohesiveness, and assist personnel in reaching their maximum potential.

Mid-level managers should eliminate impediments to the process of problem solving and to the attainment of results. They must learn to manage multifunctional teams and to assume more responsibility for strategic planning, as well as become actively involved in mobilizing the community in crime prevention activities.

Mid-level managers should conduct regular meetings with their staff to discuss plans, activities, and results. They should evaluate the progress or failure of strategies, programs, or responses based on performance indicators supplied by officers, supervisors, and community members. Managers have a responsibility to enrich the jobs of their personnel by delegating authority, acting as mentors, and overseeing training and education. They also must meet frequently with their superiors to provide updates, seek direction and guidance, and help expand strategies to address crime and disorder within communities.

Human Resource Development 

Training is key to the effective implementation of community policing. Training should communicate and reinforce the changes taking place in organizational values and policies, and should help build consensus, resolve, and unity both inside and outside the police organization. 

Community policing skills should be integrated into the training curricula, not treated as a separate component of the training program. Training in community policing should supplement law enforcement techniques with communication and leadership skills that will encourage participation from the community. All personnel must become skilled in the techniques of problem solving, motivating, and team-building. Training should involve the entire agency and should include civilian personnel who can enlist participation in community meetings, help the police organization sharpen its marketing message, and incorporate sophisticated technology into the organization’s service-oriented operations.

Initial training efforts should be directed at managers and supervisors, who may feel their authority is being eroded by the modified priorities of the organization.  More important, they must be relied on to transmit and translate the new concepts to those they supervise.

The training of mid-level managers should emphasize their role in facilitating the problem-solving process by coaching, coordinating, and evaluating the efforts of patrol officers.  To prepare mid-level managers for their community policing responsibilities, one agency chief required all personnel with the rank of sergeant and above to attend training sessions that had three goals: to show supervisors how to manage officers’ time so that problems could be addressed without diminishing police capability for handling calls, to describe how problems should be analyzed, and to ensure that all trainees knew what was expected of them and their officers.

Patrol officers must also receive extensive training that encourages and develops both initiative and discretionary ability—a dramatic departure from traditional thinking.  They must develop planning, organization, problem solving, communication, and leadership skills through ongoing, thorough training. Eventually, these officers will be able to assist in the training of others.

Performance Evaluation and Reward 

Performance evaluation can be a valuable management tool for facilitating change and can help communicate agency priorities to employees.

Systems for evaluating personnel performance should reflect the goals of community policing. “Emphasizing quality over quantity represents a major difference between traditional policing and community-oriented policing.” Patrol officers could be evaluated on how well they know their beats—a prerequisite for identification of problems—and how effectively they and their supervisors have adopted problem-solving techniques. Other relevant performance measures include the extent to which personnel have formed partnerships with the community and the nature of their contributions to this team effort. Since officers are working as part of a team, they should not be evaluated as if they were operating alone.

The occasional mistake made by an officer seeking to solve community issues in a proactive manner would be an inappropriate measure of performance. “Managers cannot have it both ways. They cannot ask officers to be risk takers and then discipline them when occasional mistakes occur.” The insight, initiative, and creativity shown by personnel should be considered in the performance appraisal; the motivation behind the action also must be considered. Mistakes made in an honest attempt to solve a problem should not be evaluated in the same manner as mistakes made through carelessness, lack of commitment, or deliberate disregard for policing policies.

Retaining the services of personnel who are skilled in community policing depends, in large part, on appropriate rewards for solid performance. Rewards must be consistent with the values and methods associated with community policing. Patrol officers and supervisors should be evaluated and rewarded for exceptional skills in problem solving or community mobilization efforts, rather than on the number of calls handled or parking tickets issued.

Rewards also include the establishment of well-defined and suitable career paths for all personnel. Specific career development opportunities should reward past effort and allow room for growth, especially for patrol officers. The backbone of community policing is the patrol officer and the status, pay, and working conditions of this position should encourage people to spend an entire career in patrol. “In effect, what is needed is a system that rewards advancement through skill levels in the same job as much or more than it rewards advancement through the ranks.

Management should also consider expanding the criteria for the existing award program and placing more emphasis on community partnership and problem-solving skills. Some departments have invited community members to help select police award recipients. Others have added awards for community members who participate in police efforts. These awards will help solidify commitments and encourage continued cooperation among community policing participants.

Workload Control and Information Systems 

The efficient management of service calls is essential for officers to have sufficient time to interact and work with community members to solve problems of crime and disorder. Most agencies control 911 calls for service by determining which calls demand an immediate response and which can be handled with alternate responses or through a referral to another agency. Nonemergency calls can be handled by delayed officer response, by telephone, by mail, or by having the caller come to the station. Research shows that the public will not insist on an immediate response to a nonemergency service request if the alternative response is both appropriate and performed as described.

The problem-solving orientation of community policing requires a greater emphasis on analytic skills and expert systems management to obtain the most valuable information support. Information support will have to be provided for problems that have not been previously studied and for the incorporation of data from outside the department. Analysis must go beyond identifying and forecasting crime patterns; tactical analysis should be supplemented with strategic analysis.

“….strategic analysis seeks to identify factors that contribute to crime and non-crime problems. Strategic analysis is a natural byproduct of the problem-oriented approach ….Strategic analysts should attempt to identify why problems exist in neighborhoods as well as identify the conditions that contribute to and perpetuate crime. This information will certainly prove useful in the planning and implementation of tactical responses and crime prevention strategies.”

Strategic analysis will require that information be collected by a number of unconventional methods, e.g., conducting neighborhood victimization surveys, canvassing rehabilitation centers and hospitals, interacting with school officials, and assessing the impact of environmental changes on criminal activity.

Technology tends to heighten the isolation of the police from the public; therefore, management must ensure that technological innovations are integrated into community policing activities in a way that fosters meaningful cooperation and aids in the process of problem solving.

Modern CAD (computer-aided dispatch) systems can assist in prioritizing police response to service requests. Cellular telephones, pagers, fax machines, and voice mail can also relieve the overburdened 911 systems and provide vital communication links between communities and the police. In addition, geocoding and mapping technology can prove invaluable to the problem-solving process. ….

All data should be made available through an integrated management information system that can be conveniently accessed by patrol officers, supervisors, command staff, and support personnel. This might entail the use of laptop computers and other mobile communications equipment. Wide dissemination and information sharing are essential components of community policing. Pertinent and appropriate information should be made available to members of the community whenever possible. For example, statistics showing an increase in burglaries or rapes in a specific section of town should be shared with the community to further the problem-solving process.

Source: Understanding Community Policing:  A Framework for Action. p. 31 – 40.

Modification History

File Created:  08/10/2019

Last Modified:  01/11/2024

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