Structural change in large municipal police organizations during the community policing era

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Scopus citations


The organizational structures of large municipal police departments in the United States have changed substantially during the twentieth century. Many of these changes can be attributed to new technologies, increasing demands from communities to broaden the scope of their services, and efforts to prevent corruption. Precinct-based police organizations employing only sworn police officers have been transformed into highly centralized, specialized, formal organizations with tall hierarchies and large administrative units. Community policing reformers have attempted to reverse this progression toward more “bureaucratic” organizational forms. They argue that police should thin out their administrative components to cut red tape and to focus more resources on the goals of the organization than on the organization itself; deformalize, eliminating unnecessary rules and policies; despecialize, to encourage departmentwide problem solving; “delayerize,” to enhance communications and decision making by flattening the organizational hierarchy; and civilianize, to use departmental resources more efficiently. By altering many of their key administrative arrangements, critics argue, police departments can develop more flexible, more responsive service delivery. Using a quasi-experimental design combining data from a variety of sources, this paper examines whether the community policing movement has succeeded in altering the organizational structures of large municipal police departments over the six-year period from 1987 to 1993. The sample agencies experienced only minimal changes in organizational structure during the study period, and there were no significant differences in levels of change between agencies that claim to practice community policing and those which do not.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)548-576
Number of pages29
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Structural change in large municipal police organizations during the community policing era'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this