Police Discretion with Young Offenders

IV.  Organizational Factors Affecting Police Discretion

1.0  Size

The size of an organization - usually measured by the number of employees or members - is seen by some organizational theorists as its most fundamental characteristic, since so much else about the organization is determined by its size. The larger the organization, the more complex and bureaucratic it becomes, as those at the top struggle to coordinate and control the activities of more and more people (Blau & Schoenherr, 1971; Caplow, 1965; Grusky, 1961; Meyer, 1968). On the other hand, some organizational researchers have found that organization size is not necessarily a crucial determinant of other organizational characteristics and behaviour (Hall et al., 1967).

The police services and detachments in the sample vary enormously in size. The smallest has 2 sworn officers, and the largest has 5,028. The average size is 274 officers, but the median size - i.e. the size of the police service which is midway between the smallest and largest in the sample - is 40 officers. The distribution of the size of the police organizations in our sample - measured by the number of officers - is shown in Figure IV.1.

Figure IV.1 Distribution of the sizes of police services in the sample

Figure IV.1 Distributio of the sizes of police services in the sample - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description

We did explore the relationship between the size of the police organizations in the sample and aspects of their exercise of discretion. However, we were unable to draw any conclusions from the interview data about the impact of organization size on police discretion, because of the confounding effect of community size. The size of a police service - unlike that of most other organizations - is very strongly determined by the size of the community which it serves (Figure IV.2). The ratio of community population to officers ("Pop to Cop" in police jargon) varies within only a narrow range in Canadian police services; rarely less than 500 or more than 1,000 (see, e.g., Dunphy & Shankarraman, 2000). Thus, all the aspects of police decision-making which are associated with the size of the community are related in just the same way with the size of the police service, and the impact of agency size cannot be distinguished from that of community size. [57] Since the size of the community is antecedent to the size of the police agency which serves it, we have treated the aspects of police decision-making from the interview data which are associated with both of them as effects of community size, and discussed them in Chapter III, Section 4.1, above; and will not repeat the discussion here.

Figure IV.2 Size of police services, by type of community2

Figure IV.2 Size of police services, by type of community - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description

In Chapter III, Section 4.1, we found that rates of apprehended youth who were charged by police during 1998-2000, according to the UCR Survey, varied with the type of community: metropolitan police services charged, on average, 66% of apprehended youth, suburban/exurban services charged 57%, and rural and small town agencies charged 61%. There is no simple relationship between the size of the police service and its propensity to charge: the smallest agencies (1-24 officers) had the highest average rate of charging of apprehended youth (69%), followed by agencies with 100-499 officers (67%), 500 or more officers (66%), 25-49 officers (63%), and agencies with 50-99 officers (56%).

Footnote

[57] This is true although, in our study, communities were not classified strictly by population (see Chapter III, Section 4.1).

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