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Negotiating the decision : what is a police matter Errington, Barbara Gene

Abstract

Most sociological studies of the police tend to be concerned with aspects of their social control function in society. Few researchers have treated the day to day duties of the police as part of the performance of a work role. This study reports on the social activities performed by police and civilian personnel in a specific phase of police organization — the phone room. It is through these routines and practices that this aspect of police work is done. The study is based on observations made in the phone room of the Vancouver Police Station. Tape recordings were made of a number of calls. As an adjunct to observational data, interviews were held with members of the staff. Members of the community phone in to the police to report a variety of troubles. Staff, through their routine practices, select and work up from these calls, those which will be treated as "police business." "Police business" is thus viewed as produced by the routine practices of the phone room staff. This study examines some of these routine practices through which police business is accomplished. A section of this study deals with the kinds of callers staff consider are entitled to make a report because of their relationship to the event they are reporting; callers who stand in a special relationship to the police; and those features of the caller's account that police attend to in assigning the event described in the call to an administrative category. The police mandate to take action is discussed, and consideration is given to some of the organization factors that phone room staff take into account in exercising discretionary power to use that mandate. A final section deals with two typifications of people commonly made by phone room staff — "missing persons", and "crank callers." Phone room staff make these typifications based on their knowledge of the community and the exigencies of phone room work.

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