Producing Change in Police Organisations: The Story of the New South Wales Police Service


Dr Christopher Reynolds
Contemporary Issues, Butterworths, 1996

| A Strategic Plan | Change in the New South Wales Police Service| Organisational Culture And The Need For A New Paradigm | Community Based Policing | Is Change Possible | People and Change | People and Change |



Since 1984 when John Avery became Police Commissioner, the New South Wales Police Service has been in the process of change. These changes have been a result of reforms in administration policy and in policing methods, and have affected the focus of policing as well as the way police services are delivered. The resolve of the Avery years was too change the nature and efficiency of the police service by introducing a new strategy known as community based policing. The aim was to ‘focus on community sensitive responsive services as the keystone of policing in the State’.

The issue of police credibility in New South Wales had been in question for more than 20 years when Commissioner Avery sought to introduce a new and unified approach to policing, as a community service. The objective was to encourage a high standard of professionalism within the New South Wales Police Service, and to see it become more proactive and preventive in its service and approach to law enforcement. It was also hoped that the implementation of these reforms would rid the organisation of corruption. The high ideals of the Avery years brought hope and set policing in New South Wales on a new course. These reforms are still being implemented today.

The New South Wales Police Service, like many other contemporary police organisations in English speaking common law countries, is in need of reform. However, reform everywhere has proved difficult. Some attempts have been successful, but there is a common history of success coupled with failure, and scandal followed by sensational headlines. Yet there are people who continue to believe that reform is not only necessary but is also achievable.

While social expectations have placed new demand upon policing, especially in terms of becoming more sensitive and responsive to community needs, many of the problems now evident in policing arise from the nature of policing administration itself. Contemporary policing has evolved into a military-bureaucratic system of command and control and while this model has had its strengths in law enforcement, it has also produced many problems by way of inflexibility and insensitivity to community needs.

A look at policing in many countries, including England and the United States, reveals that quick-fix and short-term answers to these problems are not good enough. Generally, current methods of reform tend to not go far enough and often have only increased the problems of top-heavy and costly administration. The Avery administration saw the necessity for a radical rethink and redefinition of the nature and purpose of policing so to incorporate crime-preventive measures along with law enforcement and thereby refocus policing toward community need.

The policies of community based policing as introduced under the Avery administration are widely accepted in international policing but, unfortunately, have become too readily part of the rhetoric, rather than the common practice, of policing. It may well be that community based policing has been absorbed into the military-bureaucratic systems as another tactical device rather than a strategy for an alternative approach. Yet the Avery years and those that followed must be seen as a genuine attempt to bring a radical new focus and implement a fundamental new strategy, in the form of community based policing, to the New South Wales Police Service.

The reform process, however, is far from complete for the New South Wales Police Service. New methods of reform, such as communication professionalism, need to be considered to ensure the process of change does not slow down. If implemented, this approach would affect the very nature of police administration while maintaining a community service focus. It would revise the chain of command system and draw upon the support services of general and specialist practitioner groups, thereby broadening police resources.

The community based policing initiative was perhaps the first step toward making policing relevant to contemporary social need and at the same time a challenge to the established police culture which has become so problematic. Continued reform is inevitable if, among other things, there is no argument which supports the status quo.


A Strategic Plan

The introduction of community based policing was effectively a change in strategy for the delivery of policing services in New South Wales. It was a departure from the traditional definitions of policing and an attempt to become more relevant to social change and community need. In implementing the strategic plan the challenge was to introduce management systems that could effectively serve the community based policing approach. However, this new approach, positive as it was, did not seek to ignore the problems of corruption that had become obvious in the early 1980s. The overall administration strategy was threefold: ‘attack corruption first, then build an accountable corruption resistant management team and organisation, and focus on community-sensitive responsive services as the keystones of policing in the State’. One of the aims of the strategy was to incorporate management within its vision as much as community relations.

Peter Drucker, who introduced the modern version of strategic planning, makes a distinction between forecasting and planning. In the context of government bodies, he says, departments do not so much need efficiency – in terms of confining costs – but effectiveness. In this regard the ‘force’ model, with its emphasis on effectiveness, had something to bring to the ‘service’ model. Drucker says: ‘The skill we need is not long-range planning. It is … strategic planning.’ This was true for the New South Wales Police Service: if a new plan and direction was to be implemented it would have to be based on a new strategy.

In adopting a strategic approach, it was hoped that community based policing would penetrate every other aspect of the organisation and give a new cohesion and meaning to police work. The objective was for the strategy to carry the New South Wales Police Service into the future as it continued to reassess its relationship with the community. Alfred Chandler, in his work on goal formation, coined the phrase ‘strategy determines structures’, and it was believed that the right strategy was the key to fundamental change. The strategic plan was to become the controlling factor in the change process and it was hoped that ‘the application of the strategic management paradigm [would provide] a framework for developing abilities to anticipate and cope with change’. It was also to be a guide to change; to allow a decentralisation of tasks and authority; and to encourage regional autonomy as much as possible.

The strength of the strategic plan was in its positive approach to difficulties and social demands. Furthermore it gave the Service a chance to manage is own destiny.

‘Strategic planning is necessary precisely because we cannot forecast’, says Drucker . The New South Wales Police Service’s strategic plan did not seek to predict future, nor did it seek to control the future, butt the plan was devised to give the Service a means to marshal and organise itself into achieving a goal in the future. Taking control is the key concept of strategic planning, and in this sense the Service sought to become proactive rather than reactive. In parallel to asking ‘what is our business?’ the organisation also asked ‘where are we going?’

Strategic planning does not eliminate crisis or, indeed, the almost continual need to react and respond to new demands for attention and service, but it gives a reason for responding, a process for responding, a framework and a means to determine the best response. This is not to say that strategic planning eliminates risk. Quite the contrary; it involves taking risks in decision-making. Strategic planning is the continuous process of marshalling information and utilising feedback for the purpose of making risky, but systematic, decisions. For the New South Wales Police Service, the risk were in areas such as internal acceptance of the changes in policy, the effectiveness of the management system to implement the community based policing strategy, and how police related to the community.

Any organisational culture, with its entrenched value and traditions, tends to stand in the way of real and substantial change. The New South Wales Police Service has made remarkable effort to bring a change to its own internal culture as well as to redefine itself in the community. However, the change remains incomplete. The strategy continues to unfolds as it affects the culture and the people that make up the organisation, as well as the nature of police service delivery.

Change in the New South Wales Police Service

Change is inevitable, but it is important that where possible, the change process is managed in order that appropriate changes are made. In ‘making things different’, change management requires a sensitivity to external social forces as well as a vision of the future. Peter Drucker, writing on management principles, points out: ‘Management has no choice but to anticipate the future …’. At the instigation of Commissioner Avery, the New South Wales Police Service ventured to change both its structures and the very nature of service delivery. The challenge was to design a model that allowed for change and would be flexible enough to accommodate the future needs of the Service.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s police efficiency was questioned and came under extensive political scrutiny. In 1981, Justice Lusher, as head of the Commission of Inquiry into the New South Wales Police Administration, recommended the establishment of a Police Board and at the same time noted that the Force lacked clarity of purpose and direction. Prior to the appointment of Commissioner Avery in 1984, Hay & Associates were employed to implement a system of job evaluation and make recommendations on management and work structure. In their report they noted the dichotomy and different approaches to policing that existed between the Police Force and Police Department administrations. These assessments were valuable to Commissioner Avery and helped pave the way for a new vision of policing, in the form of a community based service.

In 1987 Commissioner Avery became had of both the Police Department and the Police Force. In that year, the New South Wales Police Board and the Police Minister introduced community based policing as the principal operational strategy for major philosophical and structural reforms to both the Department and the Force. In response, the Force developed a ‘Statement of Values’ whereby police offers were to deliver service in a manner ‘which preserves individual’s right and freedoms, seeks to improve quality of life by community involvement in policing [and] places integrity above all else’.

The structural reforms brought about by community based policing involved dividing the state into four regions with 24 districts and 176 patrols. Each region came under the control of an Assistant Commissioner and the new system reduced reporting levels from 14 to seven, producing a flatter structure within the organisation. The restructuring also created a broad-based career development framework where promotion was achieved through merit rather than seniority.

During the 1980s, it is perhaps fair to say that the New South Wales Police Force and Department experienced something of an identity crisis as it sought to redefine itself and its services. The Department and the Force were effectively combined and re-established as the New South Wales Police Service in 1990 with the passage of the Police Service Act 1990. The creation of the Service was an endeavour too unify the two functional arms of policing and at the same time try to address the two different and sometimes conflicting models of operation, or paradigms, within New South Wales policing: a mechanistic model and a functional model which were in fact evident in both the Force and Department. Together these models create a military-bureaucratic model of operation. Community based policing was developed as an alternative approach and an alternative paradigm.

In the context of the new Service, community based policing aimed to focus police on involving the community in the enforcement and prevention of crime. This change of focus involved a restructuring of the way the police managed their business but it is also involved reappraising the value and the role of police in service delivery. That is, it was recognised that if police structures and behaviour were o continue to change then the values and the attitudes of people who manage and work within the structure must also be allowed or encouraged to change.

However, the changes and improvements in the structure and method of policing have not come easily for the New South Wales Police Service. There are always those who resist change, or wish for the ‘good old days’. However, in this case, the problems were more fundamental. The police system was governed by two different management styles, characterised by Commissioner Avery as ‘force’ and ‘service’. The way each division understood and carried out their work was different. While the Force had a task to be fulfilled and functions to perform, the Department, fundamentally, had information to process. The newly developing Service presented an alternative strategic management model that aimed to reach designated goals rather than perform routine functions.

The major factor necessitating the redefinition of policing services was social change. Essentially, the New South Wales Police Service had failed to keep a pace of a changing community and community expectations. Where police had traditionally believed that they existed to fight crime, the majority of calls from citizens required service rather than crime detection. Dissent within the Service showed that the expectations of police themselves were also changing. Once the role of police had been questioned, any view that police were beyond reproach was discarded. Both the police and the wider community were enabled to question other things about the nature of policing such as the possibility of police corruption, violence, abuse of power, and lengthy police procedures.

During the time of Commissioner Avery, the New South Wales Police Service had begun to redefine the nature of the organisation’s policing, but police officers too were having to adjust to the new definition. Traditionally, police officers had a fixed role in society, providing a particular kind of service. However, social attitudes and needs have changed and increasingly police are required to be general practitioners of law enforcement and prevention. Safe and Whittaker suggest that changes in social expectations mean that police cannot expect the world to remain the way it was. In an article written for The Australian Magazine, Queensland Police Inspector Jack Mason tells of changing attitudes towards police, and how constables are having to take on a new persona as they get involved with community activities. He says: ‘Constables starting out now have … more paper work, more accountability and more stress, but they also have more support. Just as the public knows police re fallible so too the police have accepted it’.

Before community based policing, the police organisation was introspective, believing in its autonomy. Police perceived themselves as hard-nosed people not afraid of a fight and in the business of locking up ‘crooks’. Management was militaristic in style and police were not expected to deliver any particular form of service or interaction with the community. The Force relied heavily on a codified process of procedures, and the bureaucracy tended to self-perpetuate these procedures as it implemented the policies that were set for it. In practice this was frustrating. Operational police had difficulty in dealing with the vast quantities of repetitious and time-consuming paperwork. The effect of a haphazard set of process upon the police was negative as the seemingly meaningless paperwork appeared to have little relevance to the job of actually fighting crime.

Changes in society’s perception of the police, and police perceptions of their own role, meant that the New South Wales Police Service needed a change in its method of operation. It also needed to deal with corruption within the ranks and improve and develop the ethical standard of service. At the same time, it needed new self-image and approach to its work and the community. Staff wanted more reasonable working conditions and opportunities. In a survey conducted in 1994, it was revealed that 50% of staff believed they were not valued and 46% believed they could not express their opinions without fear of reprisal. While there have been some great improvements in the Service, frustration among police officers indicates that here remains a need to improve management systems.

Since the process of change began, however, there are definite signs of improvement in both service delivery and crime prevention. Community satisfaction with police is at its highest recorded level: up from 78% to 83%. There has also been increased reporting of domestic violence and child abuse and increased use of negotiation and reduced use of violence by police. In addition, there have been reductions in crime rates (for example, a 40% drop in car theft since 1987), increased road and driver surveillance and reduced deaths in custody. While it is difficult to draw a direct correlation between the introduction of community based policing and improvements in police service, there is little doubt within the Service that community based policing has had a positive effect on policing itself as well as on community-police relations.

Organisational Culture And The Need For A New Paradigm

Williams defines culture as the ‘commonly held and relatively stable beliefs, attitudes and values that exist within an organisation. The New South Wales Police Service, like any other organisation, has developed patterns of social interaction and task behaviour which form its culture. Organisational culture is more than the sum of interrelationships and behaviours; it incorporates the very principles and values of the people who make up the organisation. It could be termed the ‘group-think’ of an organisation.

An organisation’s social structures, decision-making processes and even the organisation’s goals and strategies are all influenced by its culture. ‘The characteristic patterns of behaviour in the organisation, the rites, rituals and symbols are consequently seen as manifestations [of culture]. These manifestations of culture are important because they are the means by which values and attitudes are communicated to others and tradition is passed on. Indeed, actions are endowed with meaning.

Through the analysis of an organisation’s culture, people are able to define their own behaviours and predict the behaviour of others in the organisation. In any organisation, the dominant beliefs and patterns of behaviour work to control and bring order and stability. The culture, then, is the prevailing view of the purpose, function and task of the organisation and involves both the conscious and unconscious infrastructure of management. Thus the organisation provides its own rationalisation for its role, action and, in the context of the New South Wales Police Service, definition of the nature of the criminal justice process.

As patterns of behaviour and value form an organisation’s culture, so its model of ‘thinking’, or its theme, is its paradigm. This model becomes the context for decision-making and the reference for all culturally acceptable behaviour. Kelling and Moore explain: ‘There is a certain professional ethos that defines standards of competence, professionalism and excellence in policing … at any time one set of concepts is more powerful and more widely shared and better understood than others…’.

Currently within the New South Wales Police Service two quite distinct and identifiable paradigms are in operation. The first can be identified as a combined functional-mechanist paradigm and has been referred to as the military-bureaucratic model that is prevalent in policing across democratic countries. The second is the strategic paradigm, with its distinctive proactive planning model as evident in the community based policing approach.

The concept of the mechanist paradigm arises out of natural law theory and perceives the mechanisms of society as related to human nature. Natural law and natural drives for survival lead to competition and conflict. Society, it is suggested, has its own way of finding equilibrium as a balance is found between the forces of conflict. While policing is a service which exists to help maintain social equilibrium by maintaining law and order, it is subject to its own internal forces of control. Its military perspective seeks to regulate the police service and to enforce the law and, indeed this view of policing as a ‘war on crime’ is a powerful influence upon role-definition. Kelling points out that: ‘Using the focus on criminal law as the basic source of police legitimacy, police … moved to narrow their functioning to crime control and criminal apprehension.’

In the context of the New South Wales Police Service, mechanistic thought is primarily evident in its focus on achieving a task efficiently. Adherence to the task is controlled through a hierarchy of officers and a system of checks and balances. The use of force and the experience of conflict are part of the job for most officers and this is mirrored in internal operations by a strict code of regulations. Consistent with mechanistic theory, change, in essence, is seen as deviance and therefore resisted.

It is not difficult to understand how his model has become a tradition in the New South Wales Police Service in its evolution from the Force. As Bryett points out, policing in Australia has its roots in a colony where the military-styled police force was in charge of an entire populace of criminals and ex-criminals and the use and even the abuse of power became ingrained into the fabric of policing. However a mechanistic approach to crime and delinquency has not been confined to the New South Wales Police Service. Conventional criminology theory supports a mechanistic approach to crime and holds that the criminal must be held accountable for his or her crimes and dealt with accordingly. This model has persisted due to tradition and the resistance of organisations to change.

Along with the ‘war on crime’ tradition has come an image of police as intimidating and racially prejudiced. While such perceptions are not isolated to Australia, the relationship between police and Aborigines in particular has had, as Finnane points out, a long and bitter history. Similarly, Chan’s study into the policing of a multicultural society, conducted in New South Wales, points to ongoing police racism in that state. It is believed that such racism has not come about through the recruiting of racially prejudiced persons into policing but arises from the occupational ethos of police culture.

In contrast, and indeed, sometimes in conflict with the mechanistic workings of the ‘force’ model, is the functionalism of the ‘bureaucratic’ model. This model is concerned with functions 9and dysfunctions) and ‘social systems’, and is a theory of interactions between systems and their interrelated parts.

Government bureaucracies are by nature involved with the processing of information and are characterised by the endless search for better information and better programs. Contemporary policing has experienced uninterrupted growth of its departments as part of a continuous process of improvement to structures, policies and methods. The need for internal organisation and external accountability has led to the development of a multi-layered division of functions and committees of review. Given time and the ease with which new divisions are formed, the search for better solutions to problems and needs can create an institution that appears to have a life of its own. These superstructures which have grown up in contemporary policing promote progressive advancement and create a system hierarchy.

In the context of policing where the military and the bureaucratic approaches are combined, promotion and rank became symbols of success and authority. Seemingly, the best and the brightest are promoted to managerial positions:

In conventional policing, analysis and decision-making are regarded as higher-order functions. The brains of policing are concentrated, implicitly, at the top, and this situation is reinforced by the rank system.

Inevitably the ranking system creates its own problems with top-heavy management and frustration among lower ranks who tend to feel a lack of organisational support. Of itself, the managerial and ranking system inherent in the military-bureaucratic model does not guarantee the level of professionalism demanded by the public. To change the paradigm, however, requires more than tinkering with the methods or divisions of the organisation. It requires a redefining and even a reforming of the ethos and purpose of policing: It requires a new context for police service delivery. Community based policing is a step in this direction.

Community Based Policing

The Lusher Inquiry’s 1981 Report opened the way for the reform of policing in New South Wales. The appointment of John Avery as Police Commissioner made that reform possible. Avery acknowledged the problems of corruption and a cumbersome military-bureaucratic system and brought to the position a new philosophy of policing focused on community service. In his book, Police, Force or Service?, Avery proposed that policing needed to move toward a model of community involvement and a sensitivity to community problems. Essentially, community based policing was introduced to the New South Wales Police Service as a change in the focus of policing and as a new agenda for police operations.

While community based policing was a new direction for the New South Wales Police Service, it was also a reassessment of the nature of police work and a realisation that policing was always intended to be a community service. Sir Robert Peel, who supervised the establishment of the Police Force in England in 1829, believed that police and the community could work together:

… police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen, in the interest of community welfare and existence.

Historically, contemporary policing has developed upon a broad foundation that always included the concept of community service. Reiner suggests that: ‘The function of policing is essentially to regulate and protect the social order, using legitimate force if necessary’. Police have always had the dual role of peace-keepers and law enforcers, and the emphasis on community based policing has been an attempt to refocus policing toward the welfare of the community.

By 1988, the policy for a unified strategy for the Force and the Department was in place. The objectives as stated in the New South Wales Police Service Corporate Plan for that year were:

To make the New South Wales Police Service the best in the world: to rid the organisation of the dark shadow of corruption; to encourage a high degree of professionalism; and to introduce community based policing as the principle operational strategy.

In reclaiming the tradition of public service, community based policing aimed to have police work in cooperation with the community to create a safer social environment and reduce violence, crime and fear. Community based policing and the values behind it began to permeate every aspect of the New South Wales Police Service. The organisation was restructured, with the centralised power base shifting to a more local, community based system, causing a rural-urban mix in each new region, and sworn and unsworn police were no longer segregated, and were all put under the command of the Commissioner. The decentralisation process created local regional autonomy and ensured that each of the state’s 175 patrols were responsible for the delivery of the whole range of police services. In addition, promotion by merit was introduced and recruitment and training were given more emphasis to attain higher standards of professionalism.

Operationally, community based policing meant that the New South Wales Police Service attempted to respond to a changing society by changing the nature of policing. ‘Traditional’ concepts of policing as command and control-oriented had been found inappropriate because they failed to reduce crime and the fear of crime. The Police Service Act 1990 gave statutory endorsement to the system of community based policing:

6.1 The mission of the Police Service is to have the police and the community working together to establish a safer environment by reducing violence, crime and fear.

6.3 In this section ‘police services’ includes:
(a) services by way of prevention and detection of crime; and
(b) the protection of persons from injury or death, and property from damage, whether arising from criminal acts or in any other way; and
(c) the provision of essential services in emergencies; and
(d) any other service prescribed by the regulations.

While still involving police in law enforcement, s 6.3 of the Act broadens the role of police to include a range of regulatory and community service activities.

The Act allows for the context of policing to change, and its broader definition of policing meant that a move away from the narrower military-bureaucratic model was possible. Policing had become involved in a ‘rethink’ of its operations and the traditional model of a military-bureaucratic system, as conceptualised in the ‘thin blue line’ model, can be contrasted with the alternative operational view of the community based policing:

Thin blue line Community based policing
Mechanistic/Functional Strategic
Reactive Preventative
Crime fighter Peacekeeper
Law enforcement Service and law enforcement
Rapid response Differential response
Retrospective investigation Case screen/Intelligence
Mobile patrol Beat and mobile patrol
Time-responsive Geographical responsibility
Centralised Decentralised
Squads Teams
Ranks Multifaceted positions
Assessment through: Assessment through:
crime statistics quality of life
citizen satisfaction
reduction of fear
Male dominated Open to both men and women
Authoritarian Cooperative
Efficiency oriented Effectiveness oriented


The new organisation was to be deregulated, equitable, flexible in its work practices, multi-skilled, professional and more open to women and other traditionally under-represented groups. It is probably true to say there was a feminising of the previous masculine-mechanist dominated approach, bringing a new balance to the New South Wales Police Service.

Community based policing is not a tactical device. It is a strategy to that starts from the needs of the community and seeks to have police engage in proactive and preventative measures that require officers to become involved in solving the problems of communities of citizens. ‘In order to prevent crime, modern policing must be reorganised so that thinking takes precedent over reaction.’ This approach has required a change in the organisation to accommodate an operation which is more supportive of the community and empowers police officers using their initiative. Goldstein argues that police managers who are committed to introducing this problem-orientated policing must be prepared to be flexible in their management style and give greater freedom to their command officers.

The concept of community based policing is not new. It has been publicly discussed for more than two decades. In so many ways, it is what police should have been doing all along. Yet, continually, it has been shown that the real problems in successfully implementing such a policy lie with organisational structure and management style. Without a r-engineering of the structure of the police organisation to produce both different attitude and a different context for policing, community based policing has come as far as it can. There needs to be congruence between the desire for police to be available to the community in the problem-solving process, and the management of police services to ensure that that is possible. As Braiden suggests, people need to be moved into a ‘new organisational context that imposes new roles, new responsibilities, and relationships upon them’.

As a further step in the community based policing approach, communitarian professionalism may well be the change in direction that is needed. Communitarian professionalism seeks to provide professional police officers to identified communities as facilitators, analysts and advisers in the crime prevention and problem-solving process. While acknowledging the authoritative and symbolic role of police, communitarian professionalism seeks more effective and sustained ways to combat crime other than through reactive mechanisms. However, such a change of context and the introduction of communitarian professionalism would require a radical step by all those who govern the nature of policing in New South Wales.

The New South Wales Police Service is still involved in the process of change as the community based policing strategy continues to unfold. The questions that now concern the Service involve the ability of people within the police system to responsibly allow the changes to take place.

Is Change Possible?

To initiate change to a policing service is a formidable challenge. Policing is an inherently conservative institution and like other government organisations, has its own culture arising from attitudes and patterns of behaviour that make change difficult. Because of the inherent resistance to change, endless red-tape and the sheer size government bureaucracies everywhere, changing public sector service institution has become a study and a challenge in itself. Often the private sector is compared unfavourably with the public sector when the subject of change inertia is discussed. In terms of public sector non-performance, the problem isn’t so much that government bodies aren’t businesslike, or that they need better people, but that ‘the objectives of service, institutions are “intangible” and so are their results’, according to Drucker.

To seek to clarify the functions and tasks of a government organisation is always controversial because of a confusion of goals. As Bracey suggests, ‘government organisations are often faced with goals that are vague, abstract and often in conflict with each other, or whose ability to deliver their product is impacted by factors over which the organisation has no control’. In a budget-driven institution, efficiency is not always a virtue; goals remain unclear, numerous and unattained; and the results remain unmeasurable. In their own way, bureaucracies aim to provide comprehensive and neutral service to the community, but this in itself can become a problem as the community want involvement and resolution of their problems, rather than neutrality.

For any bureaucracy, the process is often more important than the outcome and to large extent, this explains why the New South Wales Police Force and Department were destined to conflict with each other during unification, as their desired work outcomes were incongruent. While the Department was concerned mainly with due process, the Force was crisis-oriented, always needing to react and ‘take control’ or ‘put out fires’. Without a new strategy that focused the Service in a new direction, long-term goals were unattainable. Planning, at best, was little more than long-term forecasting and goals were crowded out by the endless lists of objectives which remained intangible and unrealised.

In a sense, policing has been shaped by its own history. The philosophy of law enforcement and the maintenance of social order that developed in colonial times has evolved into the self-definition of the policing function today. Like other government services, as the size of the task grew, so did the bureaucracy and management structure that attended to it. History and public service support have produced the military-bureaucratic model that is now evident. In Australia, as is evident in other democratic countries, police agencies have had to cope with problems of public accountability and operational autonomy. The police bureaucracy has responded by increasing layers of regulation and enforcing firmer procedural discipline in its management systems. This, however, has not proved to be a formula for efficiency, and neither has it necessarily required accountability. According to Bayley, ‘the traditional discipline-centred management system, given the higher discretionary nature of police work, is a fig leaf that not only conceals but poisons’.

Changes in policing practice and culture have evolved since colonisation and different generational expectations, economic determinants and even internal discontent have had an influence on that evolution. By the late 1970s, however, policing’s evolutionary process had not kept pace with social demand, and the system was increasingly seen as inefficient. To address the inherent problems of structure and management within the New South Wales Police Service, a reformed approach needed to also consider the organisation’s culture and involve the people of the organisation in the change process if it was to be successful.

In the past decade, movements toward change in the New South Wales Police Service have met with resistance. Those people with a vested interest in maintaining the culture, for a variety of reasons, have resisted change and weakened the initiative. Such resistance was made easier because of the two additional factors of needing to fulfil various political agendas under changing governments and the almost continued redeployment of staff. Change takes time but in a context of such dissident and divergent forces, it also requires tenacity and continuity.

In order for change to occur the driving force must be stronger than the resisting forces. Consequently, there needs to be a focus and an impetus to change. The Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland provides an example of the impetus to change. In this situation members of the community, and a number of courageous police officers, exposed the level of police corruption in the Queensland Police Service and demanded change. In New South Wales a similar situation occurred in the early 1980s, commencing with the Lusher Inquiry and continuing with Commissioner Avery’s amalgamation of the New South Wales Police Department and Force. What, perhaps, distinguished this program for change from other attempts at reformation was that its focus was not on just changing tactics or structures, but on changing the fundamental strategy. Of course, structures and management systems also changed but the focus for change lay with designing a strategy that would create a community based policing service.

While the New South Wales Police Service is changing its methods and management, essentially its problem has been to change its organisational culture. In bringing the two conflicting areas of Department and Force together, the new Service faced the challenge of developing an appropriate culture which is able to respond to social need and expectation.

Fundamental to a change in culture is a change in the beliefs and values that underlie that culture. In order to change, the New South Wales Police Service had to look at what police believe most about society, crime and themselves. Police came to see that their values were the glue that held the organisation together. Accordingly, the community based policing strategy was an attempt to challenge traditional values and to try to develop a new culture.

People and Change

After the statistics
The Cultural Survey Report for the New South Wales Police Service carried out by Aptech Australia suggest that, despite generally positive findings, there are many police still discontent with elements of the Service. The Aptech report says there is a general feeling that: ‘there is a lack of support for the beats from headquarters and that headquarters is out of touch with the patrols’. The survey also indicated that the strongest aspect of the organisational culture was the enjoyment people gained from working in a team or workgroup. However, teams work well only if everyone in the group is accepted. Where there is prejudice or exclusion of any kind then those on the outside often fond it difficult to utilise work and relationship support mechanisms.

If anything, the survey demonstrates that with all the best intent and even with the best of strategies, changing an organisation’s culture is a difficult and time-consuming activity. While it is important that the policing function becomes more ‘community customer focused’, it is just as important that the police culture becomes more open to valuing people and appreciating their efforts. Given that 75% of the Service’s budget is directed at paying its people, it would seem that the people themselves are the most important part of the organisation and working with them to acclimatise to the new culture is absolutely essential.

Too often people find change difficult because they have succumbed to the pressures of the system to conform and believe they are powerless to make a difference. The nature of bureaucracy is such that managers, particularly lower level managers, in the Service would naturally find little incentive to change things or even to jettison processes and jobs that are needlessly built into the organisation. Similarly, managers at the top are naturally reluctant to make changes that might affect their control over their departments. The problem is further compounded by staff in semi-permanent positions, who feel they have little say in where they work and consequently don’t feel empowered to make improvements to their organisation. The Aptech survey results tend to support these arguments and indicate that the attitudes of the people in the police organisation are just as important a factor in the change equation as the structures and programs.

Over the past ten years the New South Wales Police Service has experienced all of these forces and continues to struggle to implement and reinforce the strategy of community based policing against the conservative and discordant forces of tradition. Change to an organisation’s paradigm and culture are possible, however, strategies that are able to utilise the best features of an organisation’s culture stand a better chance of succeeding.

Policing is essentially the provision of human resources in service to the community for the purpose of maintaining social order. But good policing requires good people and, accordingly, the people in the police organisation need to be appreciated as he primary ‘asset’ or ‘resource’. Any new approach to policing must take into account the value of people as the primary human resource and provide adequate mechanisms for the ongoing training and education, job support and career development needed to maintain professional service by professional people.


Social expectations of police services have changed and the community will no longer tolerate the closed-rank, paramilitary type of operation that has been evident in the past. The ‘war on crime’ scenario that depicts police as something different to the community has to be replaced by one of community service because, essentially, the community demand it. As Justice Wallace Opal reporting on the state of policing in British Colombia has pointed out: ‘The paramilitary model has clearly outlived its usefulness’.

The changes taking place in society are not superficial, rather they are quite fundamental, and as Alvin Toffler suggests, we are on the edge of the realisation of what may be a whole new civilisation. As part of this process, people are being empowered and have more control over their life options and this has come to include their personal and commercial security needs. The growing private security policing industry reflects this growing demand for security in the community and the redefining process of policing as proactive and crime prevention services. Public policing services have become vulnerable to the same redefining process. Within this rapidly changing social environment, traditional policing methodologies have become obsolete and experienced a withdrawal of public support and respect.

The Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service, as headed by Justice Wood, has found the Service wanting as significant police corruption has been discovered. There will naturally flow from the Reports of the Commission recommendations that will point to the need to make systematic and professional changes in order for the Service to become more accountable for its community service and internal operations. The discovery of police corruption speaks of the need for greater accountability, but those implementing change in the light of Justice Wood’s findings must avoid the temptation of adding more rules and regulations to an already failing system. The present system of policing has systematic faults which increase the probability of serious police corruption and makes the identification and eradication of extant corruption very difficult. A new system of policing, as proposed in communitarian professionalism, should give powerful impetus towards the generation of an ethical organisation as well as an efficient and effective one.

The promise of community based policing was to bring an alternative strategic model to the military-bureaucratic model that has dominated policing for so long. It was to refocus and reorientate policing towards community service and preventative problem-solving. The New South Wales Police Service has rediscovered the purpose of policing in the context of community service. The Wood Royal Commission will give the opportunity for the changes initiated by Commissioner Avery to be taken even further. The creation of an ethical and effective police service requires organisational and occupational reform that will generate a police culture which continuously celebrates good policing and continually attacks the formation and spread of corrupt practices.

There is no reason why the New South Wales Police Service should not aspire to become a model of international best practice by the year 2000. Indeed, such anticipation should strengthen the capacity and resolve of our people to work through the radical changes required in the next few years. Let us be clear about this: no amount of rhetoric should disguise the fact that nothing less than a new system of policing is needed, and that achieving it will be very hard work.


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6. New South Wales Police Department, Annual Report: 1986-87, p 6.
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15. Aptech Australia, note 8 above.
16.. New South Wales Police Service, note 1 above
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28. W Lusher, note 5 above.
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30. A Williams, note 29 above, p 11
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41. J Avery, note 7 above.
42. L E Poulton, ‘Justice in a Multicultural Society – a Police Point of View’ in Police Forces in History (J L Moore, ed), Sage, Los Angeles, 1975, p 7.
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45. New South Wales Police Service, note 1 above.
46. D Bayle, note 26 above, p 157.
47. H Goldstein, Problem-Oriented Policing, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1990.
48. C Braiden, ‘Enriching Traditional Roles’ in Police Management: Perspectives and Issues, (L Hoover, ed), Police Executive Research Forum, Sam Houston State University, Texas, 1992, p 108.
49. D Bayle, note 26 above.
50. Aptech Australia, note 8 above, p 3.
51. The Hon T Wallace Opal, Closing the Gap: Policing and the Community, Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Policing in British Colombia, Victoria, British Colombia, 1994
52. A Toffler and H Toffler, Creating a New Civilization, Turner, Atlanta, 1995.