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Toward a Life-course Perspective of Police Organizations
Article Type: Perspectives on policing From: Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, Volume 34, Issue 2
William R. King,Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency,Vol. 46 Number 2,2009,pp. 213-44
In this article, the author advances a life-course perspective of police organizations. He defines life course perspective, explains how it is applied to police organizations, elaborates six events along the organizational life course, and lastly portrays the advantages of the perspective.
Life-course perspective is defined as a viewpoint claiming that organizations are better understood when research incorporates time, history, and process. “Time” in the definition is flexible and depends on the temporal dimension of the phenomenon of interest (i.e. quick changes in response to riots in police organizations). This perspective highlights the importance of thinking about time as a continuous variable. Accordingly, using cross-sectional data may not reflect the true story in that a researcher using cross sectional variable (proportion of civilian staff employed) in a year might reach a different conclusion a year later. The other component, “process”, explains the manner in which cause and effect interact over time. At this point, the author draws attention to the studies that are lack of time dimension from the data and methods since they mostly used cross sectional designs. He argues that this design does not let researchers to disentangle causal relationship from the correlation.
The author discusses two theories of Police organizational change and continuity: structural contingency theory and institutional theory. Both theories view organizations as engaging in dynamic interactions with their environments over time. However, contingency theory posits that external environment rewards effectiveness and efficiency. The optimal course of action is dependent upon the external situation. On the other hand, institutional theory argues that organizations have to include institutional values in its environment. As with contingency theory, institutional theory has been applied to police organizations. The author incorporated life-course perspective into both organizational theory and argues that both theories should avoid cross-sectional studies not to miss temporal dimensions of continuity and change.
The study proposes six important events across the life course of police organizations: birth, early founding effects, growth, decline, crisis, and disband.
The author argues that the creation of new police agencies differ from those created during 1800s. He also explained “early founding effects” founders’ ideology effect, and emulating similar other police agencies. He argues that founding effects act to cement processes and structures into organizations and persist for long time periods. Growth is viewed as success and creates opportunities for employees such as specializing and promotions due to enlargement of the structure and need for control. Decline coincides with centralization, scape-goating, and lay-offs which are often viewed as failure. Crises might emerge due to either internal (corruption) or external (increase in number of burglaries) sources. The managerial skills required to deal with crisis are different from growth or decline stage decisions in that they might require making hard decisions and taking bold actions. Last, variables that kill some police agencies are likely the same things influencing other agencies. What happens to personnel and equipment after the death of a police organization can be also a field to be studied.
A life-course perspective brings some supplementing advantages to the current theories. It draws attention to the roles of process, change, and continuity across an organization’s life span. It is useful to describe what aspects of these organizations change, nature of and reason for the change. The perspective can guide these explanations since it introduces a historical and temporal dimension to organizational researches.
The author argues and additional methodological benefits of his perspective. It can use a range of research designs and methodologies. It facilitates studying; past events via historical and retrospective methods, events unfolding presently via contemporary data collection, and future events using hypothetical and experimental designs.
In sum, the life course perspective is a supplemental view, which highlights the importance of time in studying processes, changes, and stability in police organizations. It can also be incorporated into organizational theories. The life course perspective enriches tests of these theories by drawing attention to historical and temporal dimension of the processes. Finally, it highlights the six stages across the life course of police organizations and put its finger on cause and effect of processes, change, and continuity.
Rustu DeryolUniversity of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA