Effectiveness of Organization in a Police Department

by Tom Lutzenberger; Updated September 26, 2017
Police department organization is customized to the community protected.

Police agencies and departments function very much as teams of specialized units. As a result, their management and staff must rely on each other to hold up what can range from a small to large organization, depending on resources available and the jurisdiction covered. The organization model used then becomes critical for management success in meeting department strategic goals.


Many police departments evolved from a long history and generations of officers. Due to this long development, many departments are formed and influenced by local cultures and history. Because each department is very localized, their approach to organization is fragmented when looked at as a whole government level nationwide. While this potpourri of organizational styles offers some gems, it very likely includes some inefficient models as well.

Effective organizational management needs to first accept the current reality of a given department and then work towards changing it rather than trying to force personnel and operations into a new paradigm box arbitrarily.


Three specific influences retain big impacts on modern police agencies and their organization today. Effective organizations pay priority attention to these issues as a police department develops.

The first is the size of the department. The bigger the police department, the more organization matters to maintaining efficient information management and direction.

Second, the use of technology bears a direct impact on how well archive information is managed and used by police.

Finally the environmental factors of workplace culture, politics, stakeholders, funding and resources, the media and unofficial information distribution sway organizational behavior considerably as well.


Of the three above factors, environmental influences have been studied significantly when examining police organizations and their internal effectiveness. The importance of workplace culture has much to do with ingrained practices and processes, which sometimes have to be broken to make progress. While there will always be top-level managers that dictate large ideas and goals, police rank and file and mid-level management push the daily work through following internal cultural rules. Effective organizational management identifies these cultural norms and then uses them as tools to effect desired changes or performance.

Social Subcultures

A unique aspect in modern, large departments today is that, despite the public view of police all thinking the same as pseudo military units, departments are in fact broken up into subcultures frequently based on their function. The anti-drug unit looks at the world very differently from the beat cops versus the homicide detectives. Organizational management needs to frequently take this into account when making changes or seeking improvements in performance. Using a broad-brush approach only results in subculture conflicts and risks of perceived management favorites versus non-favorites.

Structural Control

For any organization in a police department, there will be elements of structural control. These are the overt, official areas of authority that official run the operations. Many police department organizations are split into at least two areas, field operations and support operations. Both have a deputy officer over each area, with subordinate middle managers/officers managing the day-to-day business. Underneath are the first line managers/officers who direct the rank-and-file personnel. Very centralized departments have authority placed in a few decision-makers; decentralized departments place authority as far down as first line managers to provide flexibility for specific needs. Effective police organizations use structural controls as a last, formal resort in defining department direction. If cultural processes are utilized well, many police units perform to their team function automatically without much hand-holding needed from structural controls.

About the Author

Since 2009 Tom Lutzenberger has written for various websites, covering topics ranging from finance to automotive history. Lutzenberger works in public finance and policy and consults on a variety of analytical services. His education includes a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science from Saint Mary's College and a Master of Business Administration in finance and marketing from California State University, Sacramento.

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