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Transforming robocops? : a case study of police organizational change in the Durban Public Order Police unit.

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This dissertation provides a sociological description and explanatory account of the organisational transformation in the Durban Public Order Police (POP) unit following the transition to democratic governance in South Africa in the mid-1990s. In contrast to other more cursory commentary on police organisational change in South Africa, an in-depth case study is used to provide a close-in examination of the details of successes and limitations of particular aspects of the transformation project. Through the use of an ethnographic approach - supported by quantitative research methods - I explore the mechanisms that were used to bring about change in Durban POP and assess the extent to which this change process has been successful. Extending the work of Janet Chan and Edgar Schein, I argue that for police organisational change to take place, there needs to be a shift in both the field (objective, historical relations or the structural conditions of police work) but also in existing 'police culture' (basic assumptions and values). Police organisational transformation can only be partially brought about through conventional mechanisms of change such as new policies, revised training, or even new entrylevel recruitment programmes. Rather, fundamental shifts in assumptions and values requires a) changes in the way in which police work is structured and evaluated; b) daily experiences 'on the streets' that demonstrate that new policing responses achieve desired and positive outcomes; and c) a work environment that is supportive whereby all members feel acknowledged and where the diversity of members (and consequently of communities more broadly) is valued. To empirically validate this argument, three key areas of the organisational life of Durban POP are examined. First, the extent to which the behaviour of members of the unit toward the public has changed following the implementation of new training and policy is closely examined. I argue that mechanical change in police behaviour was not difficult to achieve. However, this behavioural change was only partly accompanied by more fundamental changes in the basic assumptions that police held about their work and their environment. Changed behaviour was, as a result, contingent on immediate circumstances and on the extent of supervision and gUidance provided to unit members by their officers. Second, in order to explain this low level of change, I examine the nature of management and supervision in the unit. Despite the emphasis in the South African public service legislation on participatory and professional management practices, police supervisors and managers had retained an autocratic management style. In addition, police supervisors and managers did not always provide sufficient direction to rank-and-file officers, much needed during times of police organisational change. Third, in further explanation of the limited level of change, the extent to which pre-existing social cleavages (based on race and gender) that existed within the unit have changed is explored. Despite affirmative action and equity legislation and programmes, the unit continued to be plagued by deep racial and gender divisions which were reinforced by the structural make-up of the unit and the inability of middle management to challenge them and to provide alternative ways of organizing and interacting within the unit.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal,Durban, 2002.


Police--Durban., Organizational change--South Africa., Organizational behaviour., Theses--Sociology.