Change experienced in contemporary society, marked by concepts like globalization and technology, among others and their effects, describe the constantly-changing environment that also traverses into the criminal justice profession. This is affirmed by Batts, Smoot & Scrivner (2012) who indicate that effective police leaders like police chiefs in large cities or county sheriffs must adapt and respond to change and challenges especially involving accountability and ethics. As such, police leaders should have various skills and personal competencies such as integrity, excellent leadership skill as well as creativity, decision-making and problem-solving skills necessary to lead effectively and ethically.
Leadership, Ethics and Criminal Justice
Considering the potential negative outcomes tied to failure of the criminal justice system, police leaders have to ensure that they accomplish their duties including initiating appropriate change while effectively dealing with relevant challenges. Middleton-Hope (2007) highlights dealing with and stemming officer misconduct, managing poor public perception of police as well as relevant stakeholder relationships as the major challenges facing police chiefs. Poor public perception of police is linked to police chief responsibility as officer misconduct escalates; especially involving drugs, racial prejudice and corruption, among others. Positive public perception of police is important as it engenders trust and invaluable cooperation from citizens necessary for better policing. Dealing with and stemming officer misconduct is also problematic for police leaders amidst scarcity of resources especially funds and the human resource as well as calls for greater accountability. Beech (1998) provides various examples of officer misconduct ranging from sexual and drug-related offenses to evidence tampering, illegal arrests and other line-of-duty offenses by police officers in New York, New Orleans and Florida. As a challenge, managing relevant stakeholder relationships involves maintaining good relationships with the community, the officers, relevant commissions and committees and city government officials; each with different expectations (Middleton-Hope, 2007).
To overcome these challenges, police leaders require various vital skills and personal competencies like integrity, excellent leadership skills as well as decision-making and problem-solving skills as advocated for in a report on police leadership by Campbell & Kodz (2011). Taking on a primarily ethical orientation, integrity is viewed by Martin (2011) as incorporating elements such as trust, prudence, loyalty, justice and courage, effacement of self-interests as well as intellectual honesty and responsibility. The importance of these elements, lie in their provision and definition of appropriate direction and conduct in relation to police chiefs accomplishment of their duties in leading and managing police organizations; including enhancing transparency and accountability. Another skill is excellent leadership; embodying the elements of transformational leadership including individualized consideration, inspirational motivation, idealized influence and intellectual stimulation, which Bennett (2009) reports, is most favored by subordinates. The advantages cited for transformational leadership are closely related to activities engaged in by good police leaders including problem solving, driving and managing change and stimulating organizational commitment (Pearson-Goff & Herrington, 2014). Like excellent leadership, effective decision-making and problem-solving skills, informed by good judgment and creativity, are important to police chiefs for their contribution to dealing with stakeholders, especially when decisions may have irrevocable consequences. Generally, these skills enable police leaders to appropriately and effectively lead and manage their organizations amidst adaptation pressures in a constantly-changing environment.
The aforementioned forms of officer misconduct and their potential negative outcomes especially loss of public trust highlight the importance of integrating ethics in policing. Ethics are standards of right and wrong which set out how and what people ought to do in relation to rights and obligations and defined by elements like virtue, integrity, fairness, honesty, trust and character, among many others (Pearson-Goff & Herrington, 2014). These aspects should be reflected in actions and behaviors of police chiefs which should generally involve not crossing the line from good to bad actions that are injurious to other people. However, considering the complexities and realities involved, ethical police chief behavior would include leading by example through ethical behavior and engendering a sense of honesty, integrity and trustworthiness in and amongst one’s subordinates, among others. Other forms include treating people appropriately and without discrimination, advocating and enforcing ethical training and policies as well as accountability and transparency and adherence to human rights principles especially when dealing with law breakers, among other ways.
The need to prevent and reduce potential liability as well as erosion of public trust and reputation of law enforcement and other criminal justice organizations, among other potential negative outcomes informs the necessity for integrating ethics in criminal justice. Fitch (2011) indicates that public trust is intimately tied to ethics which means that ethical training is, and will continue to be a prerequisite for enhancing law enforcement’s ability to carry out their duties and responsibilities. The author affirms that this will inform and stimulate creation of a culture of ethics and participation in ethical decision making in law enforcement in dealing with changes and associated challenges. As such, one way to use ethics to improve decision making involves ethical training which, through various forms of instruction including video documentaries and discussions about ethics, is identified as having great potential to inculcate ethical perspectives in decision making (Fitch, 2011). Payne (1993) advocates for institutionalization of ethics into daily decision making and departmental policy making through formal codes even though greater effort will be required to create a culture of ethics and stimulate practice of ethical decision making.
In conclusion, it is evident that police chiefs face various ethical, political and relationship challenges that require skills and competencies like integrity and excellent leadership, among others to effectively deal with; defined by ethical behavior in the workplace. Additionally, through ethical training and institutionalization of ethics into daily decision making and departmental policy making through formal codes, future decision making in criminal justice especially law enforcement will be defined by integration of ethics. This is in light of changing dynamics in criminal justice including increase and change in the nature of crime especially shifts into white collar crime as well as financial constraints among other resource, political, ethical and relationship challenges.
- Batts, A.W., Smoot, S.M. & Scrivner, E. (2012).Police leadership challenges in a changing
world. New Perspectives in Policing: National Institute of Justice, 1-20.
- Beech, B. (1998). Ethics in policing: Not just shoulds, coulds, and ought tos. Florida Department
of Law Enforcement: SLP Research 5, 1-14.
- Bennett, T.M. (2009). A study of the management leadership style preferred by it subordinates.
Journal of Organizational Culture, Communication and Conflict, 13(2), 1-25.
- Campbell, I., & Kods, L. (2011).What makes great police leadership? A rapid evidence review.
Research, Analysis and Information: National Police Improvement Agency, 2–27.
- Fitch, B.D. (2011). Focus on ethics: Rethinking ethics in law enforcement. FBI Law Enforcement
Bulletin, 80(10), 18-24.