Public Administration ETDs

Publication Date



This study addresses the problem of police discretion, and the extent of administrative and organizational control over the policeman in the field. In the past several years, police administrators have been impelled by judicial decisions, government studies, and various interest groups to reduce and in some cases eliminate the police officer's power to utilize his judgment by implementing a body of articulate rules. There is no question that department guidelines are essential if the organization is to function properly. However, it has been proposed that an overemphasis and overdependence on rules cannot adequately serve as a means of control. Organizational rules cannot be applied to govern the officer's behavior in all law enforcement and order maintenance operations. This in turn enables the policeman in the field to make certain decisions relating to his work. Secondly, as demonstrated from other large public and private organizations, bureaucratic rules can generate dysfunctional consequences. Thus, it is paramount that police administrators be aware of the unintended and unanticipated ramifications of department guidelines. The method of inquiry used in this study relies mainly on a review of selected literature relating to human behavior, organizational theory, jurisprudence, and law enforcement. An examination was also made of several surveys that were conducted nationwide, as well as a study initiated in Albuquerque by the Institute of Social Research and Development. And finally, a review was made of department guidelines of several law enforcement agencies in New Mexico. Based on the material presented herein, the fol­lowing conclusions were drawn:

1.) Police administrators cannot establish total control over the rank and file members through the use of organizational rules.

2.) It is inevitable that the police officer in the field exercise discretion.

3.) Overemphasis on rules can lead to dysfunctional and unintended consequences. Bureaucratic regulations can prove contrary to the goals of the department as well as to the needs of individual members within the organization.

4.) As an alternative approach to the problem, emphasis should be placed on recruiting the kind of person that will utilize discretion intelligently.

Degree Name

Public Administration

Level of Degree


Department Name

School of Public Administration

First Committee Member (Chair)

Donald Winston Smithburg

Second Committee Member

Edwin Francis Connerley

Third Committee Member

Gerald Joseph Boyle



Document Type