Police forces are the ultimate subject for studying organisational pathology.
One approach is to do a survey across countries through experience, such as the one undertaken by Paul Salopek on a slow journey across the world. He recognises however that as a white traveller he seldom falls in what the local police perceive as a member of a dangerous out-group.
Let’s look at the average police recruit. Police forces never recruit outside managers, so everyone at the top has started as a recruit and has risen up. If one looks at the bell curve of IQ scores of high school graduates, it is likely that most of the police recruits will be coming from the left hand side. Police work of course it’s not just about being a Sherlock Holmes, it should be primarily about preventing crime, a job for which emotional intelligence is a necessary skill. But even in this case, graduates on the right hand side of the bell curve are likely to be attracted to other jobs, where they will assume their skills will be better appreciated, such as in social services, NGOs, the medical sector, etc. Similarly, with so many opportunities in other industries it is unlikely that young people with creative skills are attracted by a career in the police force.
So what attracts many of the police recruits? Important factors are a job for life, being part of an organisation that demands respect, fighting the “bad guys”. Once a recruit is inside the organisation, s/he soon realises that the organisation is mired with corruption and inefficiency, but as long as s/he plays the game, s/he will be all right. Remember that the police doesn’t recruit outside managers, so everyone at the top has thrived throughout their career in a climate of corruption and inefficiency.
Recruits also soon find out that the police not only have legal monopoly of violence but also are blessed with impunity; essentially they can get away with anything, even murder. This impunity is bestowed to them by the ruling class, to which the police is fully subservient.
To summarise, the police is a powerful organisation, holding monopoly of violence, serving the ruling class, staffed by dim, dull people, and mired with corruption and inefficiency. If you are a member of one of society’s outgroups, e.g. a young black male, a European, or someone who doesn’t use cars, the police is no friend of yours; either you accept your lower status or if you dare protest you will get clobbered.
If you represent an outgroup, there is little point appealing to common sense. The police understands two things: power and money. I suspect most campaigners will not be willing to bribe the local cops to enforce a 30 kph speed limit. So how do road safety campaigners change police attitudes so that they start to take traffic violence, the number one reason of violent killing in the country, seriously? By gaining power. Traffic violence is indiscriminate. The victims are not just members of an out group. Sooner or later everyone is touched by the daily massacre. That is why we highlight the stories behind the figures; the human lives suddenly cut short by killers.
We expect that soon a national wave of revulsion and shame will force the police to deal appropriately with criminals who kill and leave the scene of the crime; who kill cyclists from behind and claim that they were invisible, or who, like Martin Low, Westminster’s Transport supremo, refuse to lower the speed limit in the centre of town.
P.S. When one generalises, inevitably the honest are tarred by the sins of the majority. I want to mention Simon Wickenden, in the Traffic Management Unit, who has impressed us with his integrity and thoroughness in investigating the circumstances surrounding traffic collisions.