How does the initial socialisation of police officers and police occupational culture affect officer’s decision-making on the front-line?

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Leicester

Principal Researcher

Amy F Pickering

Level of Research


Project Start Date

May 2021

Research Context

The purpose of this study is to expand on the current literature about police occupational culture and the socialisation of police officers. The overall aim of this research is to advance an understanding of how police officers make decisions on the front-line and investigate how they are influenced by police occupational culture. Specifically, within the context of policing, the objectives of this research are to identify the current nature of police occupational culture and how officers view this. The research will further explore how this influences their decision-making and how these change at different incidents such as, assaults and stop searches.

There will be four main research questions:

  1. What are police officers’ current reviews of their socialisation process in policing?

  2. What current practices are available to officers to allow them to challenge ‘negative culture’ and what would they consider this to be?

  3. Looking at different incidents can officers identify where their decision-making changes and why they think this happens?

  4. How does the socialisation of police officers and police occupational culture affect officers' decision-making on the front-line?

Currently the police service is experiencing a high level of recruitment which is leading to a relativity new in-service workforce. As such, at the moment there are police officers who would not have experienced policing outside of the pandemic. Moreover, police decision-making is under high levels of scrutiny regarding how they have responded to the protests following the death of Sarah Everard. This highlights the importance of this research project in the current climate. The research project will review the current literature around this topic and establish the current context of police occupational culture, socialization and decision-making.

This research project draws on police occupational culture to explain decision-making in policing. It is important for this research project to acknowledge the wider context of occupational culture in society to be able to analyse the development of policing culture. The police as an institution is a macro-culture that can be defined nationally which is further divided into smaller subsets of different factors that contributes to the wider culture. Police occupational culture is a concept that emerged in policing studies in the 1960s and 1970s due to concerns over police discretion and the behaviour of police officers. Police occupational culture has been used by scholars to explain negative behaviours in policing such as corruption, violence and stereotypes. The theory is based on various elements of a behaviour among officers (e.g., suspicion, group loyalty, conservatism, machismo, pragmatism and racial prejudice) (Reiner, 2010). Although most connotations of police occupational culture are negative others note it has positive functions, such as, how it helps officers respond to the stressful nature of their role (Van Maanenn 1978, Paoline 2003). Moreover, it is said to teach newer officers about police work as ‘war stories’ are passed on by more experienced officers, this notion is referred to as ‘craft’ knowledge (Manning 1995; Van Maanen 1974).

Research Methodology

​This research project is concerned with researching the police and new recruits to address the gaps identified in the literature review. This research project is being conducted as a part of a Criminology MSc dissertation at the University of Leicester during May – September 2021. This research aims to carry out 10 semi-structured interviews with front-line police officers with under 2 years’ service. This research will collect qualitative data via semi-structured interviews and has chosen to analyse the data using thematic analysis.

Date due for completion

October 2021
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