Creating the Thin Blue Line: Social Network Evolution Within a Police Academy

Norman Conti, West Virginia University
Patrick Doreian, University of Pittsburgh

Research on police recruits finds significant changes within cohort groups over the course of their training. These changes constitute the transformation of a group from civilians into "real" police officers. This entails an alteration of self that goes far beyond the set of skills and proficiencies covered in the training. This transition is examined by questioning how "police figures" are created within newly formed recruit networks. Necessarily, these networks are abandoned upon graduation but they do endure to some extent in the professional lives of police officers. We examine social processes that generate social knowledge, network formation and network evolution within the training environment. Which other individuals a recruit knows, how pairs of recruits came to know each other, and the type of interaction in which they engage are shown to be key factors in manufacturing police "types". Results demonstrate that there are a series of mechanisms that serve in shaping relationships within the group. Pre-academy relations, knowledge at prior time points during the training, seating arrangement, work group membership, car pooling, shared lunches, and humor all serve in determining social knowledge and friendship at subsequent time points. It is then argued that these relationships and the role of paramilitary, or experienced recruits, are fundamental instruments within the re-socialization processes of a police academy.

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Updated 05/20/2006