Knowledge Management

By Colaprete, Frank | Law & Order, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Knowledge Management

Colaprete, Frank, Law & Order


The concept of knowledge management is an emerging field of study in both the business and educational realms. Likened to such concepts as the learning organization, total quality management (TQM), and others, it remains a timeless, yet untapped area. Philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle identified the value of knowledge centuries before the Common Era. However, this phenomenon has only recently begun to take shape in modern society. In the ranks of policing, knowledge management is still relatively unexplored.

Studies suggest that knowledge and intellectual capital account for as high as 70% of an organization's assets. Organizations in both the private and educational realms are struggling to develop knowledge management systems.

How does this apply to policing? One ominous factor that looms over the police profession is attrition. While police personnel sever employment for myriad reasons, one significant reason is retirement. In the past, private organizations offered so-called womb-to-tomb employment. In fastidious economic times, this has become an anomaly. Policing, however, has always faced this problem. So much so, that it is accepted as part of doing business. Therefore, when departments lose their most precious resources, the seasoned officers, they take it for granted that this is the way it's always been. And worse yet, always will be!

While knowledge garnered at all ranks is valuable, the rank of criminal investigator seems to suffer the greatest losses. In reflecting on the best detectives, chiefs must ask, "What made them the best?" Most often, it was the detective's experiences and his willingness to learn that defined him in the field. As detectives move on in their lives, they take with them the vast storehouse of virtual knowledge that took a career to amass. Much of the problem lies in organizations that fail to provide a supportive structure for the transfer of that knowledge. This is a trend that can be reversed, however through knowledge management systems.

Contemporary Concepts, Issues, and Practices

What is knowledge management? First agencies have to define what knowledge is relevant to an individual versus an organizational context. Many times knowledge is defined as an abstract construct, most often equated to the force by means of experienced and seasoned employees. Knowledge identification, acquisition, and diffusion can be a vexing issue for any organization. Policing is no different than other organizations in that agencies also need the knowledge, skills, and abilities transferred to subsequent generations of New Centurions.

Knowledge can be delineated into two categories: 1) Explicit Knowledge-codified rules, regulations, laws, and policies; 2) Tacit Knowledge-the experiential knowledge possessed by the individual employee that is culled from their actual and cumulative work experiences. While most employees possess a mix of both explicit and tacit knowledge, it is the tacit knowledge that proves to be the most beneficial to the organization.

A second concept is enterprise knowledge management. Enterprise knowledge management takes managing to the next level in the organization, building upon all internal and external sources knowledge. Enterprise knowledge management, as applied in many major organizations, is used to tap those precious resources of employees internally and customers and suppliers externally.

Knowledge in these types of organizations is diffused without question and used for the greater good. Knowledge is not hoarded for political or positional gains, but rather disseminated to foster advanced performance in all employees. Progressive organizations reward rather than punish knowledge diffusion, some even going so far as making this a significant factor in the promotional process.

A third concept of knowledge management is perhaps the most important. Ascribing to the belief and practice that "knowledge management is people" as a mantra is the key. …

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