Understanding the Organizational Factors That Impact Police-Community Relations

Andrea Marie Headley, Florida International University


There has been a significant amount of attention refocused on problems surrounding police and communities of color. The most consistent remedy identified has been reforming police departments, which is an organizational-level solution. However, only minimal strides have been made in empirical research to understand the organizational correlates associated with police-community relations. Thus, this research investigated the impact that police departments’ organizational and managerial characteristics have on police-community relations. The key contributions of this research to the literature are three-fold. First, a composite indicator of police-community relations was developed by compiling a large nationwide dataset of local police-departments. This multidimensional indicator includes citizen complaints, police use of force, assaults against police officers, and civilian deaths by police. Second, the role that specific organizational characteristics—community-oriented policing, passive representation, professionalism, and control mechanisms—have on police-community relations was estimated using ordinary least squares regression analyses from over 250 police departments. The findings portrayed that only specific (and very few) organizational and managerial characteristics of police departments impact police-community relations. Specifically, police departments that had formal partnerships with the community, dedicated beat patrol officers, and minority representation were found to have lower levels of use of force. Police departments with higher numbers of officers dedicated to problem-solving activities in the community had lower levels of citizen complaints; in contrast, departments that were more formalized had higher levels of citizen complaints. Lastly, to understand the causal mechanisms undergirding organizational factors and police-community relations, an in-depth case study was conducted in Hartford, Connecticut. The case study included (a) 88 interviews with police officers, public officials, and community leaders, (b) 67.7 hours of participant observations, and (c) a review of secondary sources. A thematic content analysis of the data underscored the importance of police departments cultivating soft skills, investing in human resources, and being intentional about engaging the community. Specifically, police departments can influence police-community relations by impacting the level and quality of service provision and/or officer attitudes and behavior. Taken as a whole, this study adds to the knowledge base of organizational behavior, public management, and policing studies while also providing implications for policy and practice.

Subject Area

Public administration|Criminology|Public policy

Recommended Citation

Headley, Andrea Marie, "Understanding the Organizational Factors That Impact Police-Community Relations" (2018). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI13805664.