The study of any human organisation has to begin with its recognition as such an organisation, with its social entity following its objectives. An organisation is a lasting social entity with a behaviour, specialisation, and structure oriented towards the same objective.

Organisations are complex and plural social formations made up of individuals and groups, with relatively fixed and identifiable boundaries that constitute a system of roles, coordinated through a system of authority and communication, and articulated by a system of norms and values that integrate the activities of its members to achieve previously established goals. Of relatively stable and continuous duration, they are immersed in an environment that influences them. According to this definition, it is clear that the police institution is an organisation.

The police is a structured human group with a certain degree of specialisation. It is an organisation focused on achieving results outside the organisation.

The police is an organisation focused on achieving results outside the organisation. It is an organisation that brings benefits to its members regardless of the objectives of the organisation.

The analysis of the police organisation can be carried out using the model used by Brown and Moberg, based on the organisation’s perspective as a system and the theory of contingency. A system is a whole that interrelates the parts of which it is composed while differentiating them from the environment in which they move. Organisations are also open systems that interrelate with their environment.

The contingency theory starts from the same consideration of the organisation as a system composed of different subsystems and integrated into a larger supra-system. Among the diversity of internal and external relations of the system, it is necessary to look for those contingents for the system’s best efficiency. Following Brown and Moberg, their model for organisational analysis considers the organisation as a whole composed of five interrelated units: the organisation’s environment, its technology; its structure; its administrative processes; and its decision-making processes.

The police organisation’s environment is generically constituted by society and its inherent processes, where its function takes place. However, within the police organisational domain, i.e. when assessing the aspects of the environment relevant to the organisation (such as the type of services the police have to provide and to whom they have to direct them), the notion of prevailing social control appears to be fundamental, as an element that conditions the social environment in which the work of the police organisation is carried out at any given moment.

The organisational technology of the police encompasses the entire specific cognitive field in which police work is carried out, i.e. the framework of knowledge, standards of action and the like.

Thus, the police would be an organisation of small production batches, as each police intervention produces a sequence of actions with individual characteristics. On the other hand, it is a non-routine work organisation, given the raw material it works with (human beings). Finally, it is a technology-intensive organisation since knowledge that needs to be mobilised in each conflict situation is very varied.

The police organisation is dedicated to the field of services and is characterised by its non-profit objectives.

The structure of the organisation. Organisational design and work are elements that make up the structure of any organisation. The fundamental objectives of any structure are the division of the organisation’s global work among the different units that make it up and the general coordination among all of them to achieve the most efficient attainment of the proposed objectives.

The first consideration is the top-down nature of authority in the police organisation and a hierarchical pyramid structure. On the other hand, the organisation’s structure allows us to understand its objectives, which is why it is important to analyse it. In the police sphere, the structure of the different forces is different but significant:

  • The Guardia Civil is structured in small units distributed throughout the rural area, especially in areas close to the coast’s borders.
  • The National Police Force and some regional police forces are distributed in large units in population centres and police stations in the cities.
  • Local police forces are distributed in urban centres, basing their structure on patrolling.

In all of them, the tendency is to design the structure by functional departments. In some cases, there are isolated departmental divisions by objectives, but in practice, these structures are the least common, as functions strongly departmentalise police organisations. However, in the police forces, all the conditions are met to apply other types of structure, such as the matrix structure, where functional and objective departmentalisation are superimposed. Still, these and other possibilities are currently only studies and projects in Spain, where these organisations are currently structured according to a divisional design by functions, territorial decentralisation and strongly hierarchical structures.

Management processes in the police, such as objectives, work planning, work control, personnel selection and professional training, are very backward in our country. The only management indicators that are currently produced are institutional reports, reports and internal communications.

In short, they present characteristics of administrative obsolescence that lead to rigid and highly bureaucratised organisations.

Decision-making has similar characteristics to administrative processes.


The use of the term social control is relatively recent, as it was first used in 1910 by the American sociologist E. Ross.

As an integral part of the social elements as a whole, the police must be considered a professional agent specialised in the overall defence of the quality of life of the community. From this perspective, it constitutes the apex of the pyramid of social self-protection and can be a generator of civic awareness.

Traditionally, the police officer has been considered a mere executor of social control. Their mission has been primarily to protect society from any disturbance of order. It is only very recently that they have begun to be considered as a profession.

Modernly, the idea of preventive policing has been added to the old merely repressive conception. The police have to prevent anti-social situations through their presence on the street, their vigilance and their permanent dissuasive effect. The police must use all the means at their disposal to protect the community, if necessary, by taking action against members of the community who disturb the good coexistence, but especially by helping to prevent, within their powers, these acts contrary to social order. In this context, repression is a tool but never an end in itself.

The role of the police today is not limited to the prosecution of criminals. Still, most of their work (about 80% according to some authors) is devoted to activities not directly related to criminal law. Most of these actions are to inform and assist the citizen or collaborate with social life, avoiding those conducts that alter the normal development of coexistence. All these conducts must be included under the concept of uncivic acts.

We can classify uncivic acts according to the material damage they cause to the community. However, for the person who carries out the uncivic act, their objective is to achieve their comfort and convenience, regardless of the price others have to pay for it.

Uncivil acts have a common factor: the lack of solidarity, which is not the exclusive property of a class, status or social group. It is not possible to establish a classification between civic and uncivic people. Thus, the police constantly intervene in conflict situations, but these do not necessarily have to constitute a crime. Police action will be preventive if it succeeds in making the alleged offender assume the need for civic behaviour as a matter of course. In other words, the police must act as a true civic educator.

Today’s society is a society in conflict, and the police reflect most of the social contradictions. Today’s society asks the police to act in the face of any disturbing or uncomfortable presence. Vagabond beggars, rowdy children, abandoned dogs, annoying gipsies, youngsters with bongs, madmen, drunks, prostitutes, drug addicts etc., are all police matters. The demand for social control by the police is mostly focused on petty crime, hooliganism and everyday nuisance.

The police have to deal with these small daily conflicts without abandoning the pursuit of organised crime, economic crime or more sophisticated crime. The grassroots police must perform all these tasks. To do so, they must be fully integrated into society and detect those activities that are most detrimental to the good coexistence of the community. More organised or more sophisticated crime should be left to the more specialised police groups.

In a democratic state, the role of the police should not be limited to social control. Still, it should be a generator of civic self-control, which should not replace the preventive and, when necessary, repressive functions of the police but should complement them.

The police officer must be a community member, a professional with a name and surname, integrated into his community.

The police officer is a professional who is in a good position to prevent or reduce the consequences of uncivil behaviour, and his action must be directed in three directions simultaneously, which are: minimising the benefits of the uncivil act, increasing the difficulties in carrying it out, and providing information about its consequences. It is therefore important to personalise actions aimed at promoting civic behaviour as much as possible. In this context, the police officer is a decisive factor in contributing to collective social integration.

This vision of the police does not correspond to the general perception that is usually held of them. Still, it is necessary to change these perceptions and, therefore, the police’s expectation of what the police should be. In a democratic society, no one has the right to renounce their small contribution to improving citizen coexistence, quality of life and social progress. The police must use all the means at their disposal to generate in society itself the civic-mindedness necessary for its normal functioning. This civic-mindedness is the basis for structuring a habitual framework of citizen collaboration in all fields, especially in public safety.