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The culture of the police service

1 Introduction

This paper will focus on the organisational and occupational culture of the police service, clarifying the difference between these two concepts and their impact on members of the service. In particular it will focus on the informal occupational culture of the police service: the way in which it has developed and why, when combined with the peculiar demands of policing, this could create an environment where it is acknowledged that "overt and covert racism still exists" (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabularies (HMIC), 1999: 5.1.5) and bullying might be particularly problematic, " There's a lost [sic] of bullying here. It really shakes your confidence" (HMIC, 2000a:7.14).

2 Organisational and occupational culture

Anthropology identified that the ideologies and behaviours of people from different countries are culturally specific. However, since the 1980's there has also been a growing interest in the notion that cultural influences exist within organisations with employees coming to share the system of meanings, understandings, values and beliefs of their company (e.g. Deal & Kennedy, 1982; Schein, 1985). In this way the culture of an organisation serves to reduce employee uncertainties by providing acceptable and accepted ways of expressing these ideologies (Trice & Beyer, 1993).

Thus the influence of organisational culture is seen as operating from the top down, i.e. from management to workers. As such organisational culture does not reflect the formal stance of the organisation as represented by official documentation and policy: organisational culture is formulated through the actual behaviour condoned by the management. This contrasts with occupational culture where the source of such influence is seen as emanating from the front-line workers themselves (Paoline, 2003). Both provide an explanation as to why individuals who deviate from cultural expectations can be seen as troublesome and may therefore become marginalized.

According to the Concise English Dictionary, culture is 'the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge which constitute the shared basis of action'. It encompasses 'taken-for-granted' emotionally charged beliefs guiding behaviour, and cultural forms, which are the overt expressions of those beliefs (Trice, 1993). Culture is seen as fulfilling the need to construct collective meanings in order to manage uncertainty and anxiety. These meanings may, and indeed do, change over time and space but they act as the guiding principles for members of a community. As such they can also have implications for non-members. For example in a service such as policing the way officers treat each other is seen as an important indicator as to the way they will interact with the public: "If officers treat each other in a fair and non-discriminatory way, this will manifest itself in an improved service to the public" (HMIC, 1999: 5.1.6).

Organisational culture might serve as a unifying mechanism, but Martin (1992) cautions that it should not be thought of as a stable objective reality but as fluid and dynamic changing between and within organisations. Her interpretation of organisational culture recognised that, even intra-organisationally, there is the potential for sub-cultures to exist: perhaps here referring to occupational cultural influences. Therefore, in looking at the culture of the police service, both of these aspects will be explored.

3 The characterisation of police culture

There has been a considerable body of research into the occupational culture of the police service (e.g. Fielding, 1988; Reiner, 1985, 2000; Waddington, 1999a) which has identified the core elements as being "its sense of mission; the desire for action and excitement, especially the glorification of violence; an 'Us/Them' division of the social world with its in-group isolation and solidarity on one hand, and racist components on the other; its authoritarian conservatism; and its suspicion and cynicism, especially towards the law and legal procedures" (Waddington, 1999a: 287). It is further suggested that these occupational cultural elements are to be found in police organisations throughout the world, e.g. Britain, U.S.A. and Japan, despite major differences in national cultures (Waddington, 1999a), and possibly in the organisational cultures embedded within the occupational culture (Paoline, 2003).

It is argued that traces of the present can be located with the heroes and traditions of the past, and that to understand the present police culture it is necessary to consider it in its historical context. Seleti (1998, cited in Marks, 2000) asserts that police institutions retain and even maintain legacies of historical behaviour, which are revitalised through the ceremonial rituals such as passing out parades performed by each new generation of officers bonding the past and present through their shared memory.

The structure of the police service was based on a military model: hierarchical and disciplined and recruiting primarily from the blue-collar and working-class communities and as such associated with a form of masculinity that emphasises physical strength (Miller, 1977; Miller, Forest & Jurik, 1999). As such it retains traces of the military ethos reflected in the cultural forms of uniform, rank, drill and saluting and in the ideological focus on exclusivity, masculinity, desire for action and an exalted view of violence. Dunivin (1994) describes the traditional model of military culture as based on conservatism, masculinity, warrior status, exclusivity, homogeneity, hostility towards minorities, and separatism. The band of brothers represented in the thin red line of soldiers defending the country is replaced in policing terms by what Reiner (1992:112) describes as the thin blue line between anarchy and order.

It might be expected that modern-day police officers are far removed from their military inception and that they would be better represented in Reiner's terms as 'citizens-in-uniform' (Reiner, 1992:68). However, Scraton, Sim & Skidmore (1990) argue that the powers invested in the office (e.g. the use of the truncheon and firearms with restrictions) and armed and special powers status, mark a perceived return towards para-militarism.

Even in day-to-day policing where much of the work is both routine and tedious the myth persists of frequent high-speed chases and violent encounters with criminals (e.g. Smith & Gray, 1983; Fielding, 1994). In more recent research, Ford (2003) describes the role of 'war stories', which recount tales of heroic extreme, presenting images of policing removed from tedium and often contradicting official procedures. This emphasis on danger and violence strengthens the perceived importance of the cohesive informal occupational group and heightens the barriers to informal acceptance for anyone perceived as an 'outsider', and who, therefore, cannot be counted on to conform to the group norms (Martin, 1989). It also perpetuates the notion of the police service as a masculine culture, and one in which the denigration of women, an intolerance of homosexuality (Smith & Gray, 1983), and an expectation that members should be physically and mentally brave and reliable is normative. Blumenfeld (1992) noted that any suggestion of feminine traits such as gentleness or sensitivity encouraged colleagues to brand men as 'sissies' or 'faggots'.

Bem's (1974) Sex Role Inventory provides some additional explanation as to why the focus on masculinity is relevant to issues of bullying. Bem lists as typical and exclusively masculine traits, aggressiveness, assertiveness, forcefulness, willingness to take a stand, and willingness to take risks. Whilst the masculine trait of aggression has been directly linked to bullying (e.g. Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Einarsen & Raknes, 1997; Zapf & Leymann, 1996), the association between masculinity and risk-taking has also been linked with attitudes confirming the importance of toughness and lack of feeling (Ainsworth, 1995) and contempt for the more "caring" aspects of police work (Stanley, 2002). Findings are also available that would suggest that continuous testing, even to excess, of member's ability to tolerate teasing, ridicule and horseplay is a characteristic of male-dominated organisations (Brodsky, 1976; Collinson, 1988) and that this may lead to normalisation of intimidation or bullying behaviour (Workers' Compensation Board of British Colombia, 1995). An over-emphasis on masculinity could therefore be seen as contributing towards a bullying environment.

There has been a considerable amount of interest in the ways in which the traditional culture of the service is reflected in the treatment of its officers. HMIC (2000a: 2.3) reporting on their discussions with officers and staff across a number of constabularies stated, "There was a general feeling that the Service lacked a cultural or managerial ethos on how to treat staff". This finding has been supported by a recent study investigating resignations and transfers from ten constabularies, in which 67% of the respondents reported that management behaviour and 53% that organisational culture had fallen below expectations during their probationary period (Cooper & Ingram, 2004). These figures rose to 75% and 60% respectively if the time-frame reflected the last six months' service.

HMIC might have been referring to the organisational culture of the police service, but the traits of conservatism and authoritarianism forming part of the occupational culture have been linked to police officers' reluctance to tolerate divergence from the norm in their own colleagues and society generally (Reiner, 1992). This might also lead to unfair treatment of those not conforming to expectations.

In addition to carrying out audits on individual constabularies, HMIC also carries out thematic investigations into subject matters of concern to the service generally. There have been no thematics addressing the issue of bullying per se, but there have been seven major reports on race and diversity issued by HMIC in the last ten years (Equal Opportunities within the Police Service, 1993 (HMIC, 1993); Developing Diversity in the Police Service, 1995 (HMIC, 2000a); Winning the Race - Policing Plural Communities, 1997 (HMIC1997); Winning the Race Revisited, 1999 (HMIC, 1999); Policing London - Winning Consent, 2000 (HMIC, 2000b); Winning the Race Embracing Diversity, 2001(HMIC, 2001a); and Diversity Matters, 2003 (HMIC, 2003a).

It is argued that parallels can be drawn between the way the service treats minority groups and the way it treats officers on grounds of individual difference, and that the thematics focussing on diversity may therefore hold some relevance to bullying. It has also been noted that harassment on specific categorical grounds such as sex, race or religion, which may be mentioned in investigations into racism or sexism within the police service, can equally be regarded as manifestations of bullying (Björkqvist, Österman & Hjelt-Back, 1994). However, unlike generic bullying these specific forms of harassment are subject to anti-discrimination legislation such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, 2003, and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

The number of thematic investigations into issues of tolerance and diversity has increased in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (McPherson, 1999), which again raised awareness of issues of racism within the police service. These have highlighted the difficulties encountered by black officers trying to integrate into a predominantly white police service, and on the ways in which this impacts on the interactions of the police with a multi-cultural public. For example in their report 'Winning the Race - Revisited' (HMIC, 1999:9) HMIC note that "A minority of officers and some civilian staff still exhibit inappropriate racist language and behaviour with and towards colleagues. It stretches credibility to accept that the use of such language or behaviour does not surface in their dealings with the public."

HMIC in their report Diversity Matters (2003a: 3.46) concluded that some sections of "the force/organisation did not seek to embrace or deliver change" in respect to diversity amongst officers. If the acceptability of recruits or probationers is based on a favourable comparison with the existing proto-typical service member then any person who does not conform to the 'white, working-class male' may be seen as unacceptable. Furthermore if acceptability to the current service members is confused with suitability to the police service then these same officers might be subjected to those informal practices designed to discourage 'unsuitable' or 'unreliable' probationers (Fielding, 1988). According to Fielding these activities are considered justified by experienced officers, who seek to maintain the coherence and integrity of the service. As such they may be explained in terms of the core cultural component of conservatism.

Women officers may be similarly discriminated against. 'The Gender Agenda' (British Association of Women Police, 2000) was developed to address the issues affecting the ability of women officers being able to reach their true potential and to challenge inappropriate and gender-biased testing. In so doing it recognised that the traditional masculine culture of the police service may create an environment that is unfavourable to women. This would seem to be supported by findings that there is an imbalance of women officers across the rank structure and the specialisms of the service (HMIC, 2000a: 7.6). In that testing procedures and promotional boards are determined at higher levels it might be supposed that these reflect the organisational culture of the police service. As such the message as to the equality of women officers might be perceived as ambivalent. McNeill (1996: 5) argues that until the overall composition of the police service is changed dramatically women will never be totally accepted because they belong to the one of the 'out-groups' in an environment where the 'in-group' is 'white, Anglo-Saxon, and male'.

It is not only members of obvious minorities such as blacks, women and gays who might be perceived as different from the mainstream. There are cultural similarities, e.g. ranks, discipline and uniform, between the fire service and the police service, so that lessons learned in one may be applicable to the other. In looking at bullying within the fire service Archer (1999) reported on the arbitrariness of individual differences, or 'otherness', resulting in bullying, these included: not liking football, not wishing to go to the pub every day, possessing a university degree, being young, being female and being black.

McNeill (1996) notes that the cult of masculinity encourages the drinking of alcohol and other behaviours serving as signs of manliness. Archer's (1999) findings regarding the bullying of individuals not wishing to join in such activities, resonate in McNeill's work which features quotes from officers, such as:

    "New people come in, they find out quickly that this is the way you've got to be: you've got to slag off your wife, you've got to slag off women, you've got to talk about sex, and if you don't there's something wrong with you and you won't fit in. And the people who don't join in are seen as outcasts, and I guess, effeminate for the guys, maybe, or just not good police officers." (McNeill, 1996:4).

The notion of otherness or separateness when applied inter-organisationally is not unique to the police service. Indeed it is a well-documented aspect of group process underpinning social psychological theories such as Social Identity Theory (Tajfel, 1981). It does, however, have particular ramifications within the police setting when it is applied intra-organisationally. It has been pointed out that individuals not matching the social prototype may face artificial problems that make it extremely difficult for them to perform successfully in their work (Miller et al, 1999). Officers seen to be different in any way from their colleagues are also at risk of becoming marginalized and losing the support of fellow officers. This form of isolation, which may be regarded as bullying (e.g. Einarsen, 2000; Leymann, 1989) can also result in psychological stress. As collegiate support has been shown to serve an important function in mitigating the effects of stress on police officers (Brown & Campbell, 1994), it might be expected that the stress associated with social isolation would be compounded by the withdrawal of such support.

Ainsworth, (1995: 148) reports that in a study of the training priorities of law enforcement agencies in America the ability to handle personal stress headed the list. This therefore represents something of a 'Catch 22' situation for a bullied officer: in order to stay in the service and stop the bullying (s)he would need to complain, but if (s)he was ideal officer material (s)he would not be isolated and would have the support of colleagues and would be able to withstand bullying and would not need to complain, in complaining (s)he might be seen as not being able to handle personal stress and therefore not ideal officer material. At the same time from the perspective of the bully the victim's act of complaining confirms their unsuitability for the job and justifies the bullying.

This association between otherness and bullying is a problem recognised by the service. For example the report 'Diversity Matters' (HMIC, 2003a) which addressed the need for the service to accept and appreciate officers from different backgrounds and with different skills, attitudes and experiences expressed the need for a "working environment free from any unfair practice, bullying, prejudice and discrimination, in order to underpin their retention and to enable them to develop to their full potential." (HMIC, 2003a: 1.10).

Prenzler (1997) explains how the division of the social world into 'us and them' lead police officers to experience a sense of isolation from the public, and how this coupled with cynicism of the law results in shared feelings of solidarity within the service. This may be considered as unsurprising given the dependence upon fellow officers in both the working and social environment: shared histories, shared challenges and shared fates. However, this system, which encourages an esprit de corps, and as such is good for morale and efficiency (Hain, 1979), can also have negative repercussions for outsiders or even insiders seen as different in some way from the norm or seeking to question the activities of other group members.

Examples have already been given as to the way in which this 'us/them' division may extend internally within the police service such that officers perceived in any way as 'other' may be excluded from this solidarity. Research has also shown that an adverse effect of group solidarity is manifested in the covering up of officers' mistakes (Holdaway, 1983) and a reluctance to co-operate with investigations into misconduct (e.g. Stoddard, 1968; Westley, 1970). Goldsmith (1990) draws attention to the reciprocity of solidarity:

    "In an environment perceived as hostile and unpredictable the police culture offers its members reassurance that the other officers will pull their weight in police work, that they will defend, back up and assist their colleagues when confronted with external threats and that they will maintain secrecy in the face of external investigations. In return for loyalty and solidarity members of the police culture enjoy considerable individual autonomy to get on with the job." (Goldsmith, 1990: 93)

The notion of solidarity with its associated code of silence would also help to explain the reluctance of victims and witnesses of bullying to report such incidents to senior officers. A similar effect has been recorded on the other side of the forensic divide where the presence of a code of silence in the inmate subculture of prisons leads to the expectation that prisoners should not inform on fellow inmates. Individuals who report bullying are not only likely to be ostracised but their action is taken as justification for further bullying (Ireland, 2000).

HMIC recorded levels of formal complaints resulting in grievance procedures are low. In the HMIC (2000a: 9.2) equal opportunities thematic report 'Developing Diversity in the Police Service' a quote from a male constable interviewed during the process serves to illustrate the problem as reflected in the low usage of the grievance procedure, "I felt if I raised a grievance it would ruin my career".

Copyright Dr. K.M.McIvor 2005

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