‘Police Culture’ or the Professional Culture in Police Organizations: The Integration of Three Research Traditions

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Police officers operate in a highly dangerous and demanding environment. To deal with the strains created by their work environment, they develop coping mechanisms. These mechanisms are considered to be part of a specific subculture (e.g. Vinzant & Crothers, 1994). There is a long research tradition that focuses on this kind of ‘police culture’ (e.g. Chan, 1996; Scripture, 1997). The broad literature in this domain attempts to describe and explain cultural aspects of police organizations and more in particular the professional culture of police officers. Issues like ‘the blue code of silence’, ‘the thin blue line’ and ‘social isolation’ point out that the concept of ‘police culture’ has a rather negative connotation (e.g. Terrill, Paoline & Manning, 2003). Interestingly, the literature on police culture has been developed quite independently, and is not so much in line with the general research tradition on organizational and professional culture (e.g. Schein, 1992; Hofdstede, 1998; Bloor & Dawson, 1994), which address the concept of ‘culture’ in a more neutral way. This is an interesting observation, because these traditions clearly have a joint research topic. Some scholars made, however, a first attempt to identify the common ground for these research traditions (e.g. Paoline, 2003). This paper will attempt to provide a more thorough integration of the literature on police culture on the one hand and organizational and professional culture on the other hand. We hope our contribution to be twofold. First of all, we will attempt to provide a comprehensive review of the different approaches of police culture, both negative and positive (e.g. Sklansky, 2007). But our main objective is embedding the literature on police culture in the broader research traditions on organizational and professional culture, which will hopefully lead to a more profound and richer understanding of different types of (sub)cultures in police organizations.


Keywords: Police Culture, Organizational Culture, Professional Culture, Integration of Research Traditions
Stream: Organisational Culture, Organisational Change, Business Ethics
Presentation Type: 30 minute Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Kim Loyens

Research Assistant, Leuven Institute of Criminology
Faculty of Law, University of Leuven

Leuven, Belgium

After a four year study in criminology and a one year study in public management, Kim Loyens started her academic career in September 2005 at the Public Management Institute (University of Leuven). She focused on a diversity of topics, like citizen and expert participation in decision making and ethics management. In September 2006, Mrs. Loyens started as a research assistant at the Leuven Institute of Criminology (University of Leuven), where she is now preparing a PhD on the topic of police ethics, with Prof. J. Maesschalck as her promoter. In her research, she will attempt to describe and explain the ethical decision making processes of police officers by using mainly qualitative research methods, like observations and interviews.

Ref: M08P0153