There are some lousy jobs in policing.
Back in my time in the Met police, being a custody sergeant was generally seen as the worst job in the nick, and I can imagine being a diver searching for dead bodies with your hands in the zero visibility of the Thames River isn’t exactly a giggle either. There are however also certain roles that can create some measure of job satisfaction. In my work with colleagues in Philadelphia, we found that many officers enjoyed foot patrol (when they volunteered for it) during the Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment, and community policing officers have indicated positive job satisfaction with that role. Job satisfaction is important, because it is a pretty reliable indication of job performance.
Because of the work of Victoria Sytsma and Eric Piza, we now might also be able to add problem-solving to the list. In a recent article in the journal Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, they report on a survey they gave to over 900 police officers in the Toronto Police Service (Ontario, Canada). While they only got 178 responses (come on TPS), there were sufficient to get some understanding of response and community policing in Toronto. The vast majority of officers were either ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ satisfied with their job, which is a credit to TPS, and maybe Canadian cops in general.
It gets interesting when they look at the relationship between job satisfaction and frequency of public interaction. 38% of officers who answer calls for service reported being very satisfied in their current job assignment, compared to 62% of those who had contact with the public primarily for the purpose of problem-solving. As they explain, “Engaging in problem-solving increases the odds of selecting a very positive ranking of job satisfaction over the combination of each of the three lower categories by 112% (OR = 2.12), controlling for frequent public interaction.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how often you interact with the public, it is the nature of that interaction that is important.
When I was a young cop, it was clear to me that response officers only ever encountered people who were stressed. This was either because they were recently the victim of crime (hence the police crime report) or they had been stopped by the police as potential suspects. Foot patrol and other community roles can bring officers into contact with people in more normal circumstances, often in very positive ways. As Evan Sorg and I discuss in our book Foot Patrol: Revisiting the Cornerstone of Policing, officers with more engagement with the ‘normal’ community in an area can have higher levels of job satisfaction.
There are some limitations to the research reported by Sytsma and Piza, not the least of which is the absence of pre-post measures. In other words, they didn’t survey groups of officers before and after their assignment to Toronto’s Community Response Unit and compare those results to a group of control officers. But that being said, this is work that suggests a positive relationship, and the research was a really nice idea that opens up all sorts of different ways to think about job satisfaction in non-response roles. Problem-solving and problem-oriented policing have repeatedly been shown to reduce crime and are effective tactics to combating both crime and disorder. We might also be able to add job satisfaction as a further benefit of problem-solving work.
(The full article is in press as Sytsma, V. A. & Piza, E. L. (2017). Quality over quantity: Assessing the impact of frequent public interaction compared to problem-solving activities on police officer job satisfaction. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice. Photo source: http://cplc-51division.blogspot.com/2012/05/ blog post Thursday, May 24, 2012)