June 25, 2011
James Q. Wilson, an American criminologist, identified the primary functions of police departments as law enforcement, order maintenance, and service delivery (Liederbach & Travis, III, 2008). In 1968, he observed patterns of discretionary behavior in eight police departments (Police: Organization and Management - Variation in Style and Structure, 2011). From these observations he concluded that police organizations, depending on their approach to these functions, could be categorized into three basic styles of policing. These operational styles are the Watchman, the Legalistic, and the Service styles.
The Watchman style is based primarily on the use of uniformed police patrol (Grant & Terry, 2008). Wilson noted that the patrolman’s role was defined more by his responsibility for maintaining order than by ...view middle of the document...
In this form of policing, there is a high level of commitment to professionalism and considerable importance is placed upon research and planning. In legalistic-style departments, officers initiate formal contact with citizens and structure their work according to the criminal law (Police: Organization and Management - Variation in Style and Structure, 2011). These police departments have no interest in social problems and individual officers are less inclined to exercise curbside discretion, preferring instead to refer to the law for solutions.
In the Service style, police officers are viewed as helpers of the community. Emphasis is on community relations and the use of proactive strategies towards preventing crime. There is a strong commitment to public service, with frequent and informal police interaction with citizens. Individual officers prefer to avoid referencing the law when dealing with the public, noting that legal solutions are not the only solutions.
In my opinion, the theory that would best serve police organizations would be a combination of legalistic and service styles. I believe that although an officer has a commitment to professionalism, he can also be a servant to the community. I agree that policies and procedures are very important, but legal solutions are not always the only ones. Overcrowding of jails may be reduced if more legalistic-style departments incorporated some service-style characteristics.
Grant, H. B., & Terry, K. J. (2008). Law Enforcement in the 21st Century (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Liederbach, J., & Travis, III, L. F. (2008, December). Wilson Redux: Another Look at Varieties of Police Behavior. Police Quarterly, 11(4), 447-467. Retrieved from http://pqx.sagepub.com
Police: Organization and Management - Variation in Style and Structure. (2011). Retrieved from http://law.jrank.org/pages/1669/Police-Organization-Management-Variation-in-style-structure.html
Wilson, J. Q. (1978). Varieties of Police Behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-93211-0.