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Structural Arrangements in Large Municipal Police Organizations: Revisiting Wilson's Theory of Local Political Culture

NCJ Number
Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management Volume: 26 Issue: 2 Dated: 2003 Pages: 231-250
Date Published
20 pages

This paper re-examines the influence of local political culture on police organizational structure and the utility of Wilson’s theory in the study of today’s structural arrangements in large police organizations.


One of the most popular theories in how to predict organizational behavior in American policing is Wilson’s theory of police behavior. Wilson’s theory focuses on the relationship between local political culture and organizational behavior in policing. This paper, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, tests the utilization of Wilson’s theory in today’s police organizations. The focus is placed on large municipal police agencies. The sampling frame used for analysis included 482 police agencies, of which 401 were surveyed asking several questions regarding their organizational structure. The study did not find significant impact of local political culture on four dimensions of organization structure in the sample of large police agencies: formalization, vertical differentiation, functional differentiation, and centralization. The significance of this finding is that these four dimensions are commonly and routinely used to measure organization structure in both public and private sectors. The findings of the study suggest that today’s police organizations are much more professional and bureaucratic in organization structure than their counterparts some 30 years ago, when Wilson’s research was conducted. In conclusion, it is uncertain that Wilson’s measurements of local political culture are valid for study of the relationship between type of government and police organizational behavior for contemporary study and analysis. References

Date Published: January 1, 2003