Police Leadership and Ethics: Training and Policy Recommendations

By Owens, Katherine M. B.; Pfeifer, Jeffrey | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Police Leadership and Ethics: Training and Policy Recommendations


Owens, Katherine M. B., Pfeifer, Jeffrey, Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


ABSTRACT

Past research indicates that the issue of police leadership and ethics may be informed by many approaches and theories which speak to areas such as individual moral development as well as organizational and situational factors. It is argued that leadership ability, like moral decision-making, is a function of both the individual and the situation. As such, in order to provide the most effective approach for training police leaders regarding ethics, individual, organizational and situational leadership factors are discussed. It is suggested that a more comprehensive understanding of these factors would increase the effectiveness of police leaders to encourage ethical behaviour within their services. Specific recommendations for designing and implementing ethics training for leaders of police services are outlined.

It may be argued that police are perceived as upholders and exemplars of the law and that such a position affords its holders power, status, and respect. This position, however, results in extraordinary expectations and, as such, police personnel are expected to be mindful, dutiful and, perhaps above all, ethical. Specifically, police agencies and their members are understood to not only uphold the law, which may be described as a formalized system of ethics, but also serve as examples of unfailingly ethical behaviour (Pfeifer, 2003). In fact, it may be argued that more ethical precision is expected from the police than from almost any other segment of society. When this expectation is breached (e.g., an officer engages in ethically questionable behaviour or makes a poor ethical decision) the attention of society becomes riveted upon the 'offending' member and trust in the profession as a whole may be compromised. As such, it is clear that a broad and deep understanding of ethical decision making, not simply the letter of the law, is a vital component of police training as with other professions (see e.g., Pfeifer, 1997; Pfeifer & Hadjistavropoulos, 1998).

Although a firm background in ethics is essential at all levels of policing, it is suggested that the attitudes and behaviours of senior members (i.e., leaders) are vitally important due to their influence over other members of the service. Leaders play a paramount role in setting the ethical standards of an organization through their acceptance or rejection of particular philosophies as well as through reinforcing behaviours. As such, it has been argued that the perceived ethics of leaders will significantly impact the ethical behaviours of subordinates. In fact, the behaviours of leaders often produce more ethical influence than written organizational codes of ethics (Kronzon, 1999).

Given the above, the primary purpose of this article is to examine the relevant literature on leadership and ethics and employ this information as a basis for formulating practical training and policy recommendations. Specifically, this article will review the individual, organizational and situational factors that impact ethical decision-making in a policing environment. Following the review of these factors, specific recommendations will be made regarding ethics and the training of police leaders.

It should be noted that, although a review of the literature on ethics and leadership indicates that the majority of research was not fashioned specifically for police services, on the whole, hierarchical organizations (i.e., those in which there are clear distinctions between levels of subordinates and leaders) function similarly in terms of leadership, ethics, and training. As such, the following article reviews information on ethics and leadership from a variety of sources including corporate environments, military services, and professional organizations. In addition, special care has been taken to highlight the potential application of these ideas to a police context as well as the specific demands of those in police leadership roles. …

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