The Power of Police Civility

By Borrello, Andrew | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, August 2012 | Go to article overview

The Power of Police Civility

Borrello, Andrew, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

People refer to ethics with a certain level of reverence. Numerous subdescriptors define it and its systemic roots, especially when applied to policing. It touches all aspects of society. Academies present classes on ethics, and law enforcement personnel attend courses and seminars to ensure that their professional decorum remains intact and harmonious in concept and action. Officers abide by a code of ethics.' Society scrutinizes and holds expectations of police conduct at a higher level than many other professions.

The ethical wheel has many spokes, including integrity, principles, values, morals, honesty, virtue, altruism, courage, character, and honor. While the contemporary pillars of ethics are taught and learned, mainstream theories and applications serve officers' daily needs. Mother spoke in the wheel civility--often is overlooked and not on the list of most popular moral descriptors. Often inconspicuous and overshadowed by professionalism, civility serves as a tangible application of professional standards where concept and theory become. ... overt action. It represents a powerhouse of potential. Law enforcement organizations seeking to reduce personnel complaints, enhance public image, deliver a high level of public service, and increase the effectiveness of community policing must understand the power and potential of police civility.


Civil service, civil unrest, and civil rights represent common terms. Less familiar is civility, often practiced haphazardly, sporadically, and unintentionally, if at all. Applied civility, however, requires well-focused purpose and deliberate intent.

Simply, civility entails treating others with respect; practicing good manners; and considering the feelings of other persons, their positions, and their situations. It represents self-disciplined behavior and patience with those who may not deserve it. Civility creates behavior that reduces conflict and stress and is void of self-interest.

Employee conflicts become healthy and productive with the application of civility. Sexual harassment cannot exist in a respectful, self-disciplined environment. Politicians dedicated to civil discourse will not use smear campaigns. Civility is right behavior that serves as an ethical sentry encouraging the prevention of and guarding against misconduct.


Civility differs from weakness. Practicing respectfulness does not mean officers must display extreme, overt kindness in all situations. As with the application of force, officers can use decorum subtly or with such depth that it can change a person's life. This practice has existed for centuries.

As a 13 year old, George Washington based his Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation on the English translation of a French book on manners. The first rule of 110 reads, "Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those ... present." (2)

Dale Carnegie's bestsellers, including How to Win Friends and Influence People, have sold more than 50 million copies in 38 languages. He bases his work largely on the practice of civility. In his Golden Book, Carnegie discusses the simplest components of decorum: smiling, controlling criticism, avoiding arguments, being sincere, demonstrating overt appreciation, listening, considering all opinions, seeing other people's point of view, and sympathizing.' Civility diminishes the gap between cliques, prevents divisional lines from becoming walls, and promotes healthy collaborative teamwork. One can imagine the value of officers and supervisors who exemplify these traits.


Common civility involves a driver slowing down to let a merging vehicle in the lane or a father who, despite his anger and frustration, resists cursing or yelling at a referee during a soccer game. It entails an act of kindness, such as helping a stranger change a flat tire, using patience and tolerance when not slamming the door in a solicitor's face, or extending courtesy by not reading a text message in a movie theater. …

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