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Wilson's theory of local political culture revisited in today's police organizations: Findings from longitudinal panel study

Jihong Zhao (College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, USA)
Ling Ren (College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, USA)
Nicholas Lovrich (Department of Political Science, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 1 June 2010

Abstract

Purpose

Over the course of the past 40 years Wilson's theory of local political culture has influenced many students of policing. Wilson argued that variation in structural arrangements in police organizations can be explained largely by the form of municipal government structure in place. For example, police departments using a strict law enforcement style of policing tend to work within a more bureaucratic structure (e.g. hierarchically differentiated) than their counterparts employing a watchman style of policing. The purpose of this study is to test the application of Wilson's theory of local political culture in today's police organizations.

Design/methodology/approach

Longitudinal agency survey data for 280 police departments collected through the 1990s were analyzed using a random‐effects panel technique.

Findings

The findings observed suggest that there was only a very limited relationship between local political culture and the five principal dimensions of organizational structure — formalization, centralization, functional differentiation, specialization differentiation, and occupational differentiation derived from Peter Blau's measures among these police agencies during the 1990s.

Research limitations/implications

The theory of local political culture may have limited utility in the analysis of the structural arrangements in contemporary police organizations. At the same time, a longer period of time is required in the study of local political culture.

Practical implications

The identification of key determinants of structural arrangements in police organizations is an important issue because there is a lack of consensus on the role of local political culture. The research used two approaches and found that organizational structure in police agencies is largely determined by socioeconomic factors.

Originality/value

The study represented an original study of police organization, using panel data collected by the authors during the 1990s.

Keywords

Citation

Zhao, J., Ren, L. and Lovrich, N. (2010), "Wilson's theory of local political culture revisited in today's police organizations: Findings from longitudinal panel study", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 33 No. 2, pp. 287-304. https://doi.org/10.1108/13639511011044894

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited