The Fugitive Task Force: An Alternative Organizational Model

By Buhler, Milan L. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, April 1999 | Go to article overview

The Fugitive Task Force: An Alternative Organizational Model


Buhler, Milan L., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


The use of task forces in law enforcement has grown steadily over the last decade. The ability of multiagency operations to effectively investigate drug trafficking and other crimes that cross jurisdictional boundaries has led to other applications. Today, police departments across the country pool personnel and resources to address concerns from automobile theft and asset forfeiture to juvenile gangs and serial murders.

According to Bureau of Justice Assistance data, over 1,000 multijurisdictional antidrug task forces exist in the United States.(1) This figure does not include operations that focus on other offenses, such as organized crime or stolen vehicles, but it does suggest the extensive use of the task force concept by law enforcement agencies and the value placed on its role in addressing widespread problems and enhancing the effectiveness of police in general.

Law enforcement agencies remain largely identical in structure, and for the most part, they use the same enforcement, investigation, and prevention techniques to fulfill their missions. At any particular time, police departments allocate labor and resources by addressing either acute criminal activity or a perceived problem. Therefore, law enforcement agencies often find common interests and cooperative incentives that easily suit task force formation.

Because the hierarchical structure most law enforcement agencies employ provides an adaptable and common model, most task forces adopt this same design. Although it seems practical, this approach uses features similar to most police departments (e.g., same command structure) but ignores other issues of organizational behavior in mixed-group settings. In order to provide for both its success and continuing existence, a task force must identify and eliminate potential negative influences, as well as promote positive ones.

TRADITIONAL TASK FORCE PROBLEMS

Several factors affect the degree of success or failure task forces can achieve. Dissension among members within the unit may develop along formal (agency) and informal (personal) lines. These problems affect any group undertaking to some degree but especially those where each participating entity may represent a different type of organizational bureaucracy and culture.

First, mixing personnel from different agencies usually requires that each individual officer work with, or for, someone from another department under a common organizational structure. Although agencies may agree on equal representation in participation, command, and control, most task forces do not necessarily function that way. Division of labor, jurisdictional focus, and personnel performance issues can destroy the equal and common aspects of the operation. Conflict among members working in a traditionally structured task force remains the most frequent problem that arises in this environment. Conflicts can occur because of unequal workloads, competition over case credit and seized assets, or alliances that develop among agencies or personnel for control or influence in the unit. Unit effectiveness eventually deteriorates as factions emerge along formal lines and informal groupings by rank, experience, and assignment.

Moreover, police departments, generally well-defined bureaucracies, are rank-oriented from their overall administrative structure to the smallest subunit. Because this style of organization works for individual agencies, it often appears equally effective in a combined-agency setting. In fact, smaller groups from similar organizations frequently do not adjust to a larger integrated configuration; they tend to retain their individuality?

Specifically, despite emphasis on a shared goal and administration, agency affiliation and influence may negatively impact task forces in the following ways:

* Input from governing boards and department heads can interfere with task force administration, depending upon the level at which it is made. …

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