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.
1) Using concepts related to groups and group dynamics, explain
what happened in this situation.
2) When does group cohesiveness cease to be positive and become pathological?
3) Are subcultures in police work inevitable? Explain.
4) What steps might you take, as a police administrator, to prevent this from occurring?
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