Although most policing activities take place in private, away from the public’s view and knowledge, they make special demands on police decision making in a manner that sets the context for broader relationships between the police and the public (Alpert et al. 1; Gorringe, Stott, & Rosie 111). Today, more than ever before, it is indeed true that police officers the world over can enhance the quality of their judgments and improve their confidence in the decisions they make by acquainting themselves with contemporary studies and research in relevant fields (Fitch 3). These studies and researches, according to this particular researcher, facilitate police decision support by enabling law enforcement officers to deal with elements of overconfidence, selective perception, information overload, as well as emotions. It is the purpose of this paper to critically evaluate the impact of studies and research in supporting decision-making in the police field.
The term ‘decision making’ was introduced into the business world amid the 20th century by a retired telephone executive known as Chester Barnard. Another documentation acknowledges that the “historical foundations of decision making in organizations were established in The Functions of the Executive, the seminal work of Barnard (1938)” (Novicevic, Clayton, & Williams 420). Barnard expended much effort in trying to offer a deep insight into the decision-making process in his two closing chapters of the book titled The Functions of the Executive. In his model of individual decision-making, Bernard offered primacy to the social environment as the most fundamental contextual factor that affects individual decision-making. Of importance is the theorist’s claim that “Certain kinds of social conditions primarily evolve and function as material or equipment of decisive behavior” (Novicevic, Clayton, & Williams 421). This implies that the specific social context can activate a decision-making process and cause it to evolve in phases.
Barnard identified seven phases that comprise the process of making and executing individual-level decisions. These phases include (1) the apprehension and acceptance of the end-in-view (goal adoption), (2) the organization of the situation (goal context), (3) the discrimination of the factors of the situation (filtering), (4) the discrimination of alternatives or determining the best alternative, (5) the integration of alternatives and end, (6) the translation of the strategic factors into terms of acts (implementation), and (7) the fixing of choice (execution) (Novicevic, Clayton, & Williams 421). Later theorists such as James March, Herbert Simon, and Henry Mintzberg were influential in the entrenchment of the term and its inclusion in the day-to-day operations of the organization (Buchanan & O’Connell par. 1-3).
The term “decision making” has gone hand-in-hand with intellectual or scholarly acumen owing to its imperfectability, implying that those who routinely consult studies and researches are better poised to make acceptable decisions, if not optimal ones (Smith 7). The growth of the term in the organizational setup has assumed different approaches and trends, though the underlying focus has been to emphasize the actions or processes that individuals consult in making important decisions. The trend of consulting studies and research in making important decisions is quite new and many believe that it has its origins in later years of the 20th century (Corsianos 302; Gorringe, Stott, & Rosie 112). However, despite its critical essence and importance, no resources have been made available depicting the historical background of the trend.
Several theories seem to support effective decision support in the police field. One such theory is the general-purpose model of decision making, which is to a large extent championed by economic theorists. The theory posits that “people make decisions by identifying the problem, defining objectives, generating alternatives, evaluating possible solutions, and selecting the best option” (Fitch 2). Here, studies and research can be used to inform law enforcement agencies in terms of generating alternatives, evaluating possible solutions, or selecting the best option. It should be recalled that studies and research have been used to solve problems using this model of decision making (Smith 2).
Another theory of decision-making is called the rational model. Available literature demonstrates that “the rational manager view assumes a rational and completely informed decision-maker (economic man) as described by neoclassical microeconomic theory around the middle of the previous century” (Turpin & Marais 144). As suggested by these authors, the process of rational decision making comprises four phases namely (1) intelligence – developing occasions for coming up with a decision, (2) design – formulating, developing, and evaluating potential pathways of action, (3) choice – choosing a specific pathway of action from the presented options, and (4) review – evaluating past choices to note their importance.
The last theory of decision-making to be discussed in this section is the logical incrementalist view. This theory “involves a step-by-step process of incremental actions and keeps the strategy open to adjustment” (Turpin & Marais 145). This theory advocates for marginal, realistic shifts and works from the status quo to address existing challenges rather than towards objectives. Although there are many more models, it should be noted that diverse decision models are applicable in diverse problematic situations (Nilsson 108).
Importance of Effective Decision Making in the Police Field
Available literature demonstrates that police officers “make several decisions that, when placed in a continuum, range from very easy to extremely difficult” (Uttaro 1). Police officers, according to this author, are expected “to make quick and spontaneous decisions under real-world conditions that are often dangerous, ill-defined and have a high degree of uncertainty” (Uttaro 2). Ineffective decision-making has been known to injure a police officer’s career, destroy public trust, and expose an agency to expensive litigation (Fitch 1). On the other hand, effective decision-making is closely associated with rational judgments, choice, and exemplary delivery of services to the general public. The importance of effective decision-making is therefore underscored by the fact that it enables the police to make rational judgments and deliver on their mandate (Nutt 6).
Effective, model-based decision-making has been known to “increase the opportunity for discovery and collaboration, which in turn reduces the likelihood for a failed decision outcome” (Benson & Dresdow 997). Most leaders, according to these authors, use a decision frame to structure the decision-making process around discovery (investigating manifold perspectives and taking part in idea generation) and collaboration (developing an awareness that others can assist to come up with joint creativity as opposed to individual creativity). Such a combination can be replicated in the police field as it generates a “think-first” approach that not only enhances the prospect of success premised on a strategy of leveraging varied insight and talent while acquiring ownership of the decision making process and outcomes but also enables the development of a frame that allows the decision-maker to avoid decision traps that lead to failure (Benson & Dresdow 1003).
Additionally, effective decision-making ensures that police can deal with myriad ethical issues affecting law enforcement agencies the world over. Here, available literature demonstrates that “ethical decision making within an organization is a manifestation of ethical conduct, which is dependent upon ethical awareness” (Mills 332). In every decision support mechanism, it should be noted that the ethical dimension of decision-making is concerned fundamentally with the assortment of ethical ramifications attached to the potential outcomes of that decision. As such, law enforcement officers stand to benefit from engaging in ethically sound decision-making processes.
Lastly, effective decision-making processes enable law enforcement agencies to handle a large number of information and a huge volume of records about crime and criminals through the use of intelligent decision support systems. Indeed, available literature demonstrates that intelligent decision support systems can play an important function “in improving outcome in the criminal investigation, criminal detection and other major areas of functioning of police organization by facilitating recording, retrieval analysis and sharing of information” (Gupta, Chandra, & Gupta 513). These decision support systems make critical decisions based on three aspects, namely objectives, alternatives, and risks (Schwarber 1087). Of importance here is the fact that these decision support systems have enabled the proper and efficient functioning of police organizations in jurisdictions where they have been implemented.
This section has evaluated the historical background of decision-making, theories of decision-making, and the importance of effective decision-making in the police field. The general-purpose model, the rational model, and the logical incrementalist view have been discussed. Overall, it is important to undertake effective decision making in the police field to benefit from the issues addressed in this section
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