Dr. Alexander Weiss, one of my colleagues on the Hillard Heintze Senior Leadership Council, has always brought a deeply informed perspective to our work at Hillard Heintze in helping police departments realign their organizational structure with the missions of their agency. Below, he outlines the proactive approach to community-oriented policing.

The Proactive Approach: Community-Oriented Policing

His insights are particularly helpful – to our clients and to the Council – because so many local governments are now trying to focus their police departments on a more proactive approach to community policing. We try to help their leaders understand that police organizations are, by nature, complex.  For decades, police chiefs, government managers, policy makers and academics have sought ways to make these organizations more effective and efficient.  Much of this complexity results because of a gap between (1) the manner in which police organizations are structured and managed, and (2) the way in which police officers do their work.  At different times, they have championed various organizational structures. As Dr. Weiss will tell you, three, in particular, stand out.

1. The Military Model Some experts have argued that police organizations are “paramilitary” in nature and should be organized in a manner comparable to the military, particularly with respect to rank structure, chain of command and an abiding emphasis on numerous rules and regulations. But police work is clearly different than the work done by soldiers.  In a typical military organization, soldiers work in groups under near constant supervision.  In fact, the most fundamental decisions, like when to fire a weapon, are often directed by the supervisor.  Police officers, by contrast, typically work alone or in pairs, and while the supervisor may be on duty, most critical decisions in the field – like the decision to use deadly force – are made instantaneously by the officer without direct supervisory intervention.

2. Professional Model In the 1950’s, one of the key issues in American policing was corruption.  O. W. Wilson, a former Superintendent of the Chicago Police, argued that the solution to the corruption problem was to make the police more “professional” by making their organizations more bureaucratic.  He advocated that police agency structure should include (1) a well-defined hierarchy, (2) inflexible rules, (3) expertise, (4) structure based on job function and (5) limited span of control.

3. The Community Model In his study of police officers on patrol, William Westley pointed out that in spite of a strong formal bureaucracy, police officers often ignore rules, policies and procedures in the performance of their work.  Moreover, he suggested that the “professional” model of policing had, in fact, caused relationships with the community to deteriorate – and proposed that the best model was one that focused much more strongly on the community.

Community-Focused Policing: A National Best Practice

Dr. Weiss’s historical perspective is deeply relevant to challenges in local law enforcement today.  And it helps highlight our point of view on this matter.  We believe the most effective structural model for police departments is what we call “community-focused policing.”  This term describes a compelling blend of (1) traditional policing, (2) problem-oriented policing and (3) community-oriented policing (or community policing). This is the model we recommend for our clients with oversight responsibility for police agencies – because we believe it is the best means of aligning organizational management, structure, personnel and information systems to support community partnerships and proactive police problem solving.