Officer Barton joined a big city police department six years ago. He was a high school graduate from a middle-class family in a small town. His parents spoke French, English, and Spanish, and he was fluent in all three languages. His first six months in the department (after the academy) was an eye-opener and somewhat of a cultural shock. At first he was lost, and he had some difficulty in adjusting to the lifestyles of a big city. It soon became apparent that the police had bonds of loyalty and secrecy and that there was a general feeling of “us against them.” He found that he was part of a subculture that demanded a high level of esprit de corps and solidarity. It was soon apparent that the officers he worked with viewed themselves as the “thin blue line.” His fellow officers that were in his academy class came from varying backgrounds, and most of them had lived in metropolitan areas all of their lives. They shared diverse values, attitudes, and perspectives. Slowly but surely the officers felt the need to belong and assimilated the new subculture, and in relatively short time, they became comfortable interacting with one another. They became a source of mutual support to each other.
Robert Barton, like most of his peers, started out slowly and was somewhat overawed by the total process, but in time he began to think, act, and feel like a cop. He wanted to be a good cop. His goals were to preserve the peace and to protect people and society from criminals. Barton placed a relatively high value on individual rights and due process of law. He really wanted to protect and serve, but with the reality of the street and the social status that he sought, within the group, he quickly accepted the norms and values of his peers and of his field training officers (FTO). Barton was a good candidate for the socialization process and quickly learned the importance of going along with the flow. The taboos were readily apparent such as failure to back up an officer who is in danger and above all exhibit bravery in the face of danger or suffer the consequences and be ostracized by the group. Barton also learned that his immediate sergeant would be the most important in his life while working. This proved to be especially true during the two-year probationary period.
After three years in the patrol division, Officer Barton was reassigned. He was placed in a Joint Gang Task Force, which consisted of 26 investigators and 1 supervisor from 6 jurisdictions who formed a tightly knit work group. This was a group that was just organized, and he wanted to become a full-fledged member of the group.
It consisted of a homogeneous and cohesive group of bilingual people who identified with each other and shared a unique set of values, attitudes, and beliefs related to their job. Based on continual face-to face interaction among themselves and with gang members, they soon became a viable component in the effort to control gang activities. It was immediately apparent that the task force rewarded loyalty, secrecy, and conformity to group-shared expectations. Their highest priority was to suppress gang activity to reduce the occurrence of gang-related crimes. Some of the activities the task force performed skirted the law, and it was not uncommon that they conducted illegal searches and stopped many individuals who were not known to have a gang affiliation. In other instances, arrests were made without probable cause, and many suspected gang members were booked and then released. In other words, get them off of the street. Although Bob Barton tried to remain neutral and adhere to his set of personal values, he needed recognition, support, and approval from the group. Subconsciously, he wanted to be a “stand-up guy,” and he felt compelled to sacrifice his standards to achieve acceptance and status from the work group. Membership in the group became an end in itself. Abstract notions of right and wrong became irrelevant to him. Integrity consisted of loyalty to and protection of the group. The rationalization was that no one really got hurt, and there was a real need to preserve peace in the communities.
Questions: Using concepts related to groups and group dynamics, explain what happened in this situation. When does group cohesiveness cease to be positive and become pathological? Are subcultures in police work inevitable? Explain. What steps might you take, as a police administrator, to prevent this from occurring?