Review the Officer Robert Barton case study in Ch. 12 of Organizational Behavior

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.

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?


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