The Expendables: A Qualitative Study of Police Officers’ Responses to Organizational Injustice

Date01 March 2018
Published date01 March 2018
Subject MatterArticles
The Expendables:
A Qualitative Study
of Police Officers’
Responses to
Organizational Injustice
Paul D. Reynolds
Brett A. Fitzgerald
and Jeremiah Hicks
The purpose of this study was to identify events linked to police officers’ assessments
of fairness within their departments, identify how officers’ felt about events they
perceived as unfair, and record officers’ responses to perceived organizational
injustice. This was a qualitative study that applied a phenomenological approach
and information was collected from 24 officers through the use of semistructured
interviews. The predominant organizational events linked to fairness assessments
among participants included disciplinary actions, citizen complaints, blocked career
aspirations, and officer–supervisor conflicts. Overwhelmingly, officers reported these
events made them feel angry. These events fostered feelings of increased skepticism
and not being supported or feeling expendable. Analyses of data revealed two salient
forms of negative work outcomes as responses to perceived organizational injustice:
production deviance and self-protective behaviors. This study expands our
understanding of which events foster negative perceptions of injustice while exposing
how police officers react to those experiences. These findings should be of particular
interest to individuals interested in policing, organizational justice, or organizational
University of North Texas at Dallas, TX, USA
Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, OK, USA
South Texas College, McAllen, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Paul D. Reynolds, University of North Texas at Dallas, 7300 University Hills Blvd., Dallas, TX 75241,
Police Quarterly
2018, Vol. 21(1) 3–29
!The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611117731558
organizational justice, organizational theory, police misconduct, procedural justice
Police performance and actions have recently come under increased scrutiny in
response to high prof‌ile events including Ferguson, Staten Island, and Baltimore
(MacDonald, 2016; Nix & Wolfe, 2016). Much of the media attention has
focused on allegations concerning police misconduct and excessive force,
particularly toward minorities (President’s Task Force on 21st Century
Policing, 2015). These events have not only led to increased tensions between
police of‌f‌icers and the community but also between police of‌f‌icers and their
departmental leadership (President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing,
2015). While there has always been conf‌lict within the police subculture between
line of‌f‌icers and organizational leadership (Paoline & Terrill, 2013; Reuss-Ianni,
1983)—most of which may be rooted in of‌f‌icers’ perceptions of perceived
mistreatment from organizational leadership—there is reason to believe it will
continue to escalate. Although it is unclear to what extent, if any, these events
will impact police of‌f‌icer behaviors moving forward (e.g., Ferguson Ef‌fect), fair-
ness within the organization may inf‌luence police behavior (MacDonald, 2016).
For example, Nix and Wolfe (2016) suggest that of‌f‌icers’ perceptions of
increased fairness within their departments may mitigate the ef‌fects of negative
police publicity and decrease of‌f‌icers’ likelihood of feeling unmotivated and
perceptions of increased danger.
Although police accountability is paramount, fairness (e.g., organizational
justice) is essential to promoting an ef‌fective and supportive work environment
and is at the core of fostering healthy relationships (Boateng, 2014; Kurtessis
et al., 2017). When of‌f‌icers perceive their departments do not have their backs or
when of‌f‌icers feel mistreated, these perceptions can have real consequences.
Research has consistently supported that fairness is associated with many
work-related outcomes and attitudes among police of‌f‌icers (Donner, Maskaly,
Fridell, & Jennings, 2015; Holtz & Harold, 2013). For instance, organizational
justice has shown to decrease police misconduct (Wolfe & Piquero, 2011). We
know from empirical research that perceived fair organizational treatment
(internal procedural justice) translates into of‌f‌icers supporting external proced-
ural justice (Van Craen & Skogan, 2017), having positive attitudes toward citi-
zens (Myhill & Bradford, 2013), and having decreased perceptions of community
cynicism toward the police (Nix & Wolfe, 2016).
Many of‌f‌icers do not perceive their organizations as fair, according to a study
conducted by Reynolds and Hicks (2015). Of‌f‌icers described police departments
as having biased and inconsistent policies, Machiavellian or harsh disciplinary
processes, and issues with nepotism concerning the distribution of rewards
4Police Quarterly 21(1)

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