Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Managing the Stress of Organizational Change

Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Managing the Stress of Organizational Change

Article excerpt

Law enforcement agencies are in an era of change. The needs of communities and constituencies, rapid technological growth and enhancements, and the changing capabilities and structures of law enforcement organizations demand that agencies regularly examine and improve their ways of operation. According to some futurists, changes in a society occur in several major areas, directly affecting law enforcement and compounding the stress inherently associated with the profession.


From a social perspective, communities are undergoing major and rapid demographic change. Police agencies have increased their racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity and have continued to improve the educational level of officers. At the same time, the employment of persons of heterogeneous age ranges has added new challenges and opportunities.

From a technological perspective, advanced information systems now allow citizens to have real-time information relating to crime, and many departments provide officers with their own computers. From 1993 to 1997, the percentage of local police departments using infield computers grew from 13 percent to 29 percent, which includes 73 percent of all officers employed. (1) Information once dependent upon access and transmission by dispatchers from antiquated computer systems is now instantly at officers' fingertips in their patrol cars.

Technological advances go beyond mere access to information. DNA technology and automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) foster the more definitive and rapid identification of unknown offenders, and enhanced ballistics technology allows for identification of weapons from shell casings instead of merely retrieved projectiles.

From an economic perspective, the United States is in an era of unparalleled growth, and many local governments, especially those relying upon property and sales taxes, have enhanced their tax bases. Concurrently, revenues available for law enforcement agencies, including federal funding, have increased. On the other hand, with unemployment rates at one of the lowest levels in history, law enforcement finds itself competing with the higher pay and better benefits of the private sector to hire the best and brightest young persons beginning their professional careers.

Additionally, environmental changes now pose a major concern to law enforcement. In such states as California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona, the infrastructure cannot handle the population explosion. Dealing with the urban sprawl, traffic congestion, and water restrictions have become law enforcement matters. Disasters, from hurricanes to tornadoes to fires, increasingly occupy the attention of law enforcement agencies and their personnel.

Finally, political change has tremendous impact on law enforcement agencies. Significantly, an increased focus on communitarianism (2) and the emergence of strong grassroots involvement at the neighborhood level have increased in recent years. Now, more than before, citizens want to be involved in the governance of their communities. As a direct result, community-based criminal justice (policing, victim services, corrections, and prosecution) is increasingly the norm, (3) and criminal justice agencies continue to remold their philosophy, structure, and tactics to meet community expectations and needs.

Concurrent with increased community-based efforts, many law enforcement agencies, like their private sector counterparts, are flattening their organizational structure, reducing the steps between entry level personnel and the chief executive officer (CEO). "The effect of flattening the hierarchical structure is to devolve decision-making authority and responsibility to the working level. This allows the principle of 'empowerment' to operate. Empowerment is the organizational principle of allowing those at the operational level of an organization, who know local conditions and needs, to make their own decisions about how their work should be done to best effect. …

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