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Organizational Structure of the Police and the Police Discretion

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Although most police organizations perform the same tasks, there are variations in the structure of individual organizations. Maguire extensively studied police agencies and placed them within the parameters of organizational theory (10). He has also examined the behavioral aspects of the American police agencies and what affects them both internally and externally (12). A normal police department may have several divisions including administration, drug unit, patrol division, traffic safety, alcohol program, domestic violence unit, canine program, bile patrol and emergency response unit. The criminal investigation unit performs such functions as intelligence analysis, general investigation, financial crimes investigation, evidence management and other criminal investigations. The formal structures of large police agencies are based on the context of its age, size, environment and technology. This makes the police organization, formal or informal more like other organizations but unique in its own ways. The formal structure of the police organization is the framework within which a police organization “arranges its resources to conduct its activities” (Maguire 60). The structure may be divided into administrative overhead, functional, occupational, spatial, and hierarchical differentiation. 

Until the early 1960’s, the operations of the police were closed to the public ears and eyes and the representatives of the public. Maguire discusses that the American citizens did not have knowledge on the work of a policeman/woman and the courts did not scrutinize the actions of the police either (217). The use of force and discriminatory treatment of the citizens was closely observed during the Vietnam wars when citizens protested over civil rights. Urban riots emerged due to police actions which constituted traffic stops, shootings and raids. Court cases restricted police powers in conducting searches and obtaining confessions. This called for the restoration of order in police discretions. The police organizational structure, more so the internal affairs division has the exclusive role of examining” professional and ethical conduct of police officer” (Worrall and Gaines 131). Although discretion is based on individual judgments on the best course of action given a specific scenario, it must be ethical and professional as supervised by the higher officials in the administrative structure of the organization.

The organization of the police provides a blue print of how a police officer is expected to act under given circumstances while observing the law. The law may not be all inclusive on the conduct of police officers while on duty. The organization is hence mandated to provide direction on the way an officer may act without violating the law especially where human rights issues are concerned. Given that discretion may be used as a license, liberty, discernment, judgment and choice, the organization provides room as to when a police officer may apply legal sanctions, for example using force against the public and has the discretion in decision making on how police officers are distributed among various service duties.

On the other hand, the involvement of the organization may sometimes prove counterproductive on the officers who follow them. Worrall and Gaines argued that there are laws that may be considered petty in the public eye (138). Insistence on bringing such mistakes to book would mean that the freedom and liberty of the officer to practice his/her work based on individual discretion is limited. In addition, the law may give an upper hand to the citizens at the expense of the life of the police officer on duty. For example, college students who go on strike and then pelt stones at passersby are a security threat both to the officer and the public that he/she protects. The organization may require the officer to put back when ethically everyone else is put at security risk. This affects how the police carryout their “mandate of law enforcement” (Maguire 129). It would be proper id the organizational commitment motivates the police officer to work professionally and ethically while teaching the citizens on their role in law enforcement and peace keeping.

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