U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Myth(?) of the Police Subculture

NCJ Number
Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management Volume: 26 Issue: 1 Dated: 2003 Pages: 88-117
Date Published
30 pages

This article discusses the extent to which there is evidence of an endemic subculture of policing among a sample of sheriffs’ deputies.


Adherence to the police subculture includes negative attitudes toward various legal restrictions placed upon police; negative, skeptical attitudes toward legal institutions; negative and suspicious attitudes toward police administration and bureaucracy; and negative, cynical attitudes toward the citizenry. The purpose of this study was to examine the degree of adherence to the police subculture in terms of deputies’ work/role orientations; attempt to construct a typology of police officers; and to validate the typology by examining the extent to which significant differences exist between these types. Data were obtained from self-administered questionnaires distributed to patrol deputies and other sworn employees of the Hillsborough County, Florida Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). Five distinct work/role orientation scales measure the respondents’ degree of adherence to the subculture of policing: crime control, service, cynicism, traditionalism, and receptivity to change. The results failed to find any evidence suggestive of a police subculture that is endemic and widespread. Evidence was found of subcultural adherence by a segment of the deputies studied. In addition, evidence was found of a potentially nouveau police subculture that is strongly oriented toward community service. An empirical typology of sheriff’s deputies was produced and replicated based on their degree of subcultural adherence. This typology suggests the existence of three types of sheriffs’ deputies: (1) subcultural adherents, (2) normals, and (3) COP cops. The subcultural adherents come closest in their profile to the ideal of the police subculture but comprise only one-sixth of the sample. The COP cops, the nouveau police subculture, places strong emphasis on the importance on the community service roles associated with policing and is composed of approximately 25 to 30 percent of the deputies sampled. About half of the subjects studied make up the primary type of deputies that are average--the normals. The typology fails to have any predictive validity in that “external” sociodemographic and work experience variables do not effectively discriminate between the types. 6 tables, 4 notes, 63 references, appendix

Date Published: January 1, 2003