U.S. flag

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

Patrol Officers and Problem Solving: An Application of Expectancy Theory

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 18 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2001 Pages: 31-61
Date Published
31 pages

This article considers the use of expectancy motivation theory to explain variation in police officers' problem solving behavior.


Problem solving has been recognized as a key aspect of community policing. It is a rational, empirical approach to police intervention that calls for much thinking, observing, analysis, and collaboration. This study attempted to determine the extent to which the approach had been implemented and what promotes or impedes its implementation. The study expected that the amount of officers' problem solving would be explained by: (1) the opportunity to do so; (2) the ability to do so; (3) the likelihood that officers would be recognized by their performance in this area; and (4) police officers' calculation of the costs and rewards of such behavior. Data collected from ride-alongs with police officers disclosed that officers who engaged in more problem solving were motivated by potential recognition of such behavior. Expectancy motivation theory provided a more likely explanation for the behavior of community police officers than that of traditional "beat" officers. The article concludes that the single most important thing a department can do to increase its problem solving efforts is to assign more officers to those specialist jobs. Notes, tables, references

Date Published: January 1, 2001