March 8, 2023
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Intertwining Ethics and Confidence to Regain and Sustain Trust
By Paul Pastor, Ph.D., David S. Corderman, Ph.D., and John Jarvis, Ph.D.
Law enforcement has become increasingly complex, and, in some cases, controversial practices have attracted scrutiny. Social media, coupled with a mood of distrust in public institutions, has contributed to today’s challenging environment. These issues, along with a difficult political climate and an increasingly polarizing press, have, unfortunately, led to considerable separation between agencies and civilians.
While the police hold some responsibility for this discontent, so does the public. Developing and sustaining a relationship of trust is a principal component of community safety and public order, but so is upholding a partnership of coresponsibility between agencies and the communities they serve. Law enforcement leadership plays a crucial role in establishing and enhancing that trust and shared responsibility.
This article explores how police agencies can take a leading role using ethical, principle-led policing to engender and sustain trust and confidence in the services they deliver.1
How can trust and confidence in police services be attained? A crucial start is to reemphasize that public safety is not just law enforcement’s responsibility. Effective public safety services are a shared obligation requiring considerable effort by both police and the community.
Unfortunately, amid controversial events and general mistrust, the concept of coresponsibility too often gives way to distancing and blame accompanied by resentment and further unwillingness to engage with the police. Sometimes, the dynamics of this are clear. Law enforcement views community members who raise issues or voice objections as simply anti-police. In stark contrast, civilians see officers who object to overgeneralized criticism as unwilling or unable to acknowledge their flaws or move beyond the status quo.
Scrutiny and criticism following some law enforcement actions should be expected as the public has a right and, indeed, a responsibility to question police practices. While this does not make agencies’ work easier, it is a fundamental aspect of life in a free society and needs to be recognized as such, not simply resented.
Police officers operating within democracies have powers and responsibilities that differ from those of ordinary citizens. This requires periodic examination and challenge to assure that boundaries are strictly adhered to, especially when they necessarily change over time with evolving political, social, economic, and ethical concerns. Additionally, this dynamic demands the police to take the lead in working with the community.
While misinterpretations of police actions and unfair accusations do occur, accepting significant levels of accountability and inquiry is a vital component of the job. Only by establishing strong, ethical foundations to direct the conduct of law enforcement agencies and their personnel can such outcomes be realized. And, only through regularly reconnecting and realigning with these ethical borders does a police agency’s long-term path become both correct and self-correcting.
Dr. Pastor, a retired sheriff from the Pierce County, Washington, Sheriff’s Department, is president of the board of directors for the FBI’s National Executive Institute Associates.
Dr. Corderman, a retired FBI supervisory special agent, is an internationally recognized leadership training and counterterrorism professional.
Dr. Jarvis is the academic dean for the FBI’s Training Division in Quantico, Virginia.
What is the common denominator in facilitating each of these actions? The agency’s culture.
Agency culture is important to ethical leadership because it is often one of the surest guides or predictors of behavior in organizations. It is said that “culture overwhelms strategy.”2 While culture can stifle adherence to the law or derail plans, directives, and efforts to reform an agency, it can also help organizations prevent personnel from choosing the easy, unethical path over the more challenging, principled way forward.
This holds especially true in times of organizational uncertainty, which many police departments currently experience.3 Accompanying such uncertainty are calls for a “customer-centered” approach to policing while rapid economic, technological, social, and cultural changes occur both domestically and abroad.4
As a result, law enforcement’s mission has become increasingly complex and, sometimes, less clear. Contributing to organizational uncertainty are recent increases in violent crime, including a resurgence of gang violence, and rises in both property and other minor offenses, fueling even more debate about crime-fighting strategies. Additionally, some policy makers urge greater leniency and tolerance toward violators and question whether certain offenses should be handled as criminal violations at all. Combine these developments with an increase in public incivility and controversy about the role, quality, and general cost of government services, and the clarity of policing’s purpose often suffers.5
At both the executive and line levels, a particular concern in many law enforcement agencies is the community’s questioning of not just officers’ actions but also their perceived intentions. As alluded to earlier, mistrust of the police should be and is of particular concern. Recent Gallup polls, as well as other public opinion studies, reflect this anxiety.
The cause of deterioration in the traditionally elevated levels of trust in police can be debated. Some point to scrutiny and criticism associated with recent use-of-force incidents in numerous communities, particularly those that resulted in the death of minority citizens. These include, for instance, the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014; Freddy Gray case in Baltimore in 2015; Breonna Taylor case in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2020; and George Floyd case in Minneapolis, later in 2020.
These sources of disapproval of law enforcement practices and anger toward the police appear to drive the decline in public trust — reported to be just 45% among the American population.6 However, this differs among some racial and ethnic groups. Trust levels have been reported to be as low as 20% or less among African Americans in similar polls. Recently, there have been slight improvements, but trust remains low compared to past ratings.7
While polling data shows decreasing levels of trust in almost every American institution over the last few years, dismissing this issue as “the new normal for everyone” should be of little solace to law enforcement agencies. They depend heavily on mutual trust and cooperation from the public to accomplish their mission and serve their community, just as the public depends on the integrity of its police to enforce the law fairly.
However, that trust is very fragile, and its dissolution can be exacerbated in many ways, including uncertainty by the public because of crime increases as policy makers try poorly considered approaches to police reform. These may include a lack of criminal prosecutions or unwarranted police behavior, such as inaction — also known as “de-policing.”
Attitudes of intentional disengagement, similar to de-policing, may also occur among officers in these circumstances as a result of confusion, lack of training and preparation, or simply resentment. This derives from official management directives, legislation, or court rulings that set new or revised guidelines for police practices or establish law enforcement policies that vary from former common practices.
Both problems may be found in many jurisdictions around the nation. De-policing as a result of inaction or intentional disengagement contributes to increased crime rates.8
“Effective public safety services are a shared obligation requiring considerable effort by both police and the community.”
Policing is by no means unique as it struggles to accommodate environmental and organizational change. In business, industry, or other organizations, police agencies notwithstanding, existing cultures tend to maintain long-standing practices and preferences. This is true even despite changes in official policies and practices and in de facto deviations in the organization’s social environment. In these terms, agency culture is regarded as regressive, but that need not be the case.
A strong, ethically based agency culture can also serve to resist pressure toward unethical or illegal conduct by segments of a department or local government officials. The key aspect that merits underscoring is that agency culture tends to be an informal and abiding factor in the common practices of police departments. The more ethical these practices become, the more likely a virtuous agency culture can be realized, which, in turn, leads to more credibility and trust — the necessary path forward for law enforcement.
Guiding culture and attitudes; developing positive, ethical norms; and seeing that they become customary, accepted practices allows for the delivery of credible, effective services. This garners community respect, ownership, engagement, and trust.
How does one start this process? Reconfiguring internal agency cultures through police executives who recognize the need and the means to do so is essential.
In recent years, there have been numerous calls to reform police methods. Many times, upgrading police practices has, legally and ethically, been seen as the right thing to do. However, among some agencies and communities, such efforts have had unintended consequences that have been met with public anger and frustration and sparked intense debates. In these cases, reform efforts have created a “fault line” between anti-police and pro-public safety sentiments. Such debates have resulted in more anger and recrimination without providing viable solutions.
This does not suggest that police reform is never needed. Nonetheless, recent approaches to reforming law enforcement agencies are limited as most efforts are an outgrowth of piecemeal responses to the latest headlines or rising political issues. Acting in haste to “do something,” decision makers have too frequently settled for rapid action, rather than a well-considered, more comprehensive change that maximizes effectiveness.
Police reform should combine knowledge of the organizational terrain with ways to build on honorable aspects of existing positive cultural norms within the profession. Reaffirming the core ethical baselines of police conduct will yield dividends of mutual trust and more effective services.
Agency executives must stop passively reacting to police reform ideas from outside of law enforcement and start approaching issues from a more active, proactive, internally directed perspective. Macro approaches to overall analysis of community police services, rather than ad hoc and anecdotal responses to police reform, will more likely produce results.
A case in point can be found in the United Kingdom. Police Scotland recognized these limitations as early as 2013 and transformed its services in recent years to be responsive to community needs via a data-driven and citizen-centric approach.9
“Agency culture is important to ethical leadership because it is often one of the surest guides or predictors of behavior in organizations.”
However, to produce the promise of ethical organizational cultures as agents of change, agencies face three obstacles to real transformation.
The power of existing agency cultures to resist change
The apparent current atmospheric context of public skepticism and distrust
The emergence of piecemeal reactive approaches to reform that can cause unwanted second-level effects
These obstacles can frustrate the goals of change — effectiveness, accountability, and fairness.
Effective police reform must result in greater fairness in decision-making as well as clearer means by which communities can help create conditions where this occurs. The process can best be started, and these outcomes best assured, by law enforcement leaders who examine agency culture and seek ways to alter cultural assumptions and practices and their rationale where necessary. This should be combined with consideration of what should be expected from the community to complement internal agency efforts.
The difficulty of political methods to address police reform is that they seek change through compliance to regulations and oversight outside the culture and norms of policing rather than fully examining opportunities for law enforcement to police itself. This oversight approach is condescending to police professionals and ignores the promise that self-initiated change can have for sustaining desired behaviors as normative practices.
Any approach to improving public safety also requires changes in what community members should expect from themselves. The public has responsibilities to fund and facilitate legitimate police and criminal justice goals. For example, community outreach and accountability can be found in the threads of most calls for police reform, but policing is not possible without citizen involvement in daily law enforcement efforts.
This idea is a key component of Sir Robert Peel’s “Principles of Policing,” the foundational document of the London Metropolitan Police. Peel’s principles assert that “the police are the public and that the public are the police.”10 The importance of law enforcement extending dignity and respect to the public is clear. However, scant attention is typically given to citizens’ responsibilities in this symbiotic relationship.
In 21st century America, Peel’s nine principles might constructively be extended to include some public obligations of responsibility to support the quality and effectiveness of policing as well as the safety and dignity of those involved in delivering police services. Of course, civilians should expect an elevated level of dignity and respect from police. But, there should be a reciprocal expectation of the public. Basic principles of civility should be expected of citizens even as stronger standards of civility must be expected of officers. If the social expectations and obligations of the public are simply ignored, a key component of police-citizen encounters is neglected. Mutual civility is a basic element of coresponsibility.
Values, Ethics, and Police Practice
Law enforcement is organized in America — and many places around the world — as the most decentralized, community-linked government institution. In many ways, it serves as the public’s most easily accessed, frequently encountered government agency, always open and available. Police are expected to respond to myriad calls for service, issues, concerns, and incidents in their jurisdictions.
“Police reform should combine knowledge of the organizational terrain with ways to build on honorable aspects of existing positive cultural norms within the profession.”
Assessing and reinvigorating agency culture to respond to these issues is challenging, but many law enforcement executives already have the needed materials and tools. While no perfect organization or workforce exists, police departments attract people with a commitment to public service. Further, nearly all agencies have statements of vision, mission, and guiding principles meant to provide direction and standards for personnel to follow.
Agencies can follow three steps to upgrade their culture and enable the best qualities of law enforcement personnel.
First, executives should consider the degree to which the content and outcome of police actions square with the agency’s vision, mission, and guiding principles. No department can or will register perfect conformity. While all will fall short of the ideal, a clear-eyed assessment of what an agency stands for and how it delivers its services is both necessary and revealing.
The process will pose questions like “Are we, in our attitudes and conduct, who we claim to be?” This will identify areas in need of attention and change. It will also likely reveal instances of personnel honoring department goals and commitments and “getting things right.” From here, the agency can provide an assessment of what needs to be changed or built upon and reinforced and consider how both might be accomplished.
Second, top leaders should work with staff to acknowledge noted shortcomings as well as strengths and successes. For most agencies, strengths and weaknesses do not exist in a random vacuum. Almost all organizational cultures have existing ethical anchors. The effort of realigning and upgrading can be built beside and around existing strengths.
Beyond these anchors, the work of upgrading and strengthening might involve changes to vision and mission statements. Defining and elaborating on key words may be necessary. Providing examples and actual events in which personnel did the right thing under trying circumstances or made the wrong choices can be useful, providing the latter does not result in gratuitous shaming. This will shine light on the idea that the agency not only has rules, procedures, and policies to guide conduct but also needs to have ongoing commitment from each member to uphold high ethical standards in challenging and risky situations.
The third step involves considering how the mission, vision, and guiding principles will be absorbed into the organization, its social and emotional identity, and its respiration and metabolism. This will require attention and follow-up over the long term. It will also need reinforcement and repetition. The ethical standards need to be adopted, absorbed, and applied in all aspects of the agency’s operations; administration; and interactions with the governing jurisdiction, community members, and external partners.
The proposition offered here is that a clear, straightforward, and simple set of expectations can serve as a behavioral guideline, which blends with the organization’s image.
Building a consensus, elevating the importance of ethical conduct, and then establishing clear expectations for infractions is not complicated. But, it requires strenuous reminders and reinforcement. Fortunately, when it becomes part of the culture, it becomes a strong, self-perpetuating behavioral boundary.
“While no perfect organization or workforce exists, police departments attract people with a commitment to public service.”
Leaders’ responsibilities include preparing the organization for the future — building and developing leaders at all levels and guiding the best personnel into leadership positions. The understanding and commitment of the next generation of leaders is essential to upgrading and maintaining the momentum of an ethically focused culture. This creates the ability to anticipate the need for course corrections in the agency. It establishes a means by which future efforts at law enforcement reform can more frequently emerge from within the profession.
Undergoing a challenging course and doubling down on focus and effort will be necessary to lift the profession; enhance public trust; attract more and better recruits; gain stronger support from elected officials for changes in law, policy, and funding; and pursue the overall mission of policing more effectively.
Building and upgrading an ethical law enforcement agency derives from an idea that is at once profoundly simple as a concept but tremendously complex to realize in practice. The idea is to bring police conduct and culture in line with expressed beliefs and ethical principles.
This method provides agencies with a stronger role in improving the profession and authoring reforms as well as building stronger relationships with the communities served. It gives law enforcement a voice in achieving real police reform. Further, the approach affords a means to reduce the gap between what law enforcement agencies say they stand for and where they stand. In many ways, it is the essence of integrity in policing.
Most important endeavors are difficult. Former President John F. Kennedy, in an address at Rice University on September 12, 1962, spoke to this as he described the emerging American space program. He said, “We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard. ...”11 President Kennedy also insisted that the United States was at a critical crossroads in the space program and that the country’s future depended on whether it took action before the close of the 1960s. Perhaps it is not too melodramatic to suggest that the country is once again at a crossroads relative to the future of policing.
Police executives and their staffs choose to lead America’s law enforcement agencies in a time of incivility, mistrust, deep controversy, and increasing violence. They do so not because it is easy or hard but because strong, ethical law enforcement is necessary to the functioning of the United States and the safety of Americans, now and in the future.
“Building and upgrading an ethical law enforcement agency derives from an idea that is at once profoundly simple as a concept but tremendously complex to realize in practice.”
Any errors or omissions are incidental to the drafting of this document, and apologies are offered in advance should any be determined to exist. Additionally, websites or internet resources are not endorsed by the authors or any of the institutions they represent. Further, specific agencies, companies, products, or services are for illustration only and should not be considered an endorsement by the authors, the FBI, or the U.S. Department of Justice.
Pillars of Truth in Law Enforcement’s Past
By Taylor Patterson
Discussion on policies and laws that aim to manage police officer behavior as a means of improving department-wide issues is ongoing. When looking toward the future of law enforcement, it is important to recognize the important insights and pillars of truth embedded in its past.
The principles and values that form a foundation for policing must not only direct officers to act ethically and lawfully but also encourage the building and strengthening of public trust and increase legitimacy. They must foster “rightful policing.”1
Acknowledging the necessity for cultural change that forms an atmosphere for minimizing misconduct is not a new concept and has been part of every significant commission centered around policing.2 Sociologists have expressed the importance of department culture shaping officer behavior since the 1960s.3
Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing, or the Peelian Principles, were devised in 1829 to better guide England’s first modern police force, the Metropolitan Police. These standards were issued to every new officer and laid the foundation for policing.4
Major Patterson serves with the Miccosukee Police Department in Miami and is a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 281.
Although Peel is most often credited for the Peelian Principles, it is unknown who penned them; they were likely written by Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, the first London police commissioners.5 However, Peel espoused the essence of many of these principles in his speeches and other communications.
“If we think of Colquhoun as the architect who designed our modern police, and of Peel as the builder who constructed its framework, we must remember that there were others who had a hand in the good work, and that a long time elapsed between the drawing of the plans and the erection of the edifice.”6
Peel’s principles are timeless and as relevant as they were in 1829. The ideals contained within these standards can guide any officer today. Though they are not officially a code of ethics, they dictate necessary ethical behavior of law enforcement.
Prevent Crime and Disorder
The first Peelian Principle underscores proactive crime prevention strategies over a reactive crime suppression mindset. It says officers should “prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.”7 Although this principle was shaped within the context of history at the time it was written, it remains relevant.
Public Approval and Respect
Peel’s second principle states “the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.”8 With the media focusing on every questionable law enforcement action, it can be argued that adherence to this principle is more vital today than ever before. Interactions between law enforcement and the community have a huge influence on how the public views policing.9
Establishing and implementing community-oriented policing is instrumental in gaining public assistance and approval. The third Peelian Principle states that “to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.”10 This does not solely mean gaining the community’s willing compliance of the law; it also underscores the necessity of fostering public cooperation and maintaining legitimacy. When this is coupled with a coordinated effort to resolve problems, prevent crime and disorder, and solve crime, the outcomes will allow a department to act lawfully and fulfill its mission.
As quoted by J. Edgar Hoover, “The most effective weapon against crime is cooperation. The efforts of all law enforcement agencies with the support and understanding of the American people.”11 This is reflected in the fourth Peelian Principle: “[T]he extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.”12
However, distinctions must be made — officers must realize that, as with their duty belt, they have different tools for the job, and they need to transition quickly and effectively when needed. By acknowledging the inherent dangers of police work, that every situation and encounter is different, and remaining firmly focused on the founding principles of policing, officers can achieve public cooperation.
“When looking toward the future of law enforcement, it is important to recognize the important insights and pillars of truth embedded in its past.” Impartial Service to the Law
Law enforcement has a moral and ethical duty to provide impartial service in the performance of its duties regardless of a person’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic factors, or politics. Any deviation from this obligation results in an unfavorable impact with legitimacy and public opinion and violates the founding ethical principles of policing. This is the idea behind the fifth Peelian Principle, which says police “seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law. … ”13
Officers cannot be complacent regarding the potential and material violence inherent in law enforcement and must commit physical force as a last resort when warranted. The sixth Peelian Principle states that officers should use physical force “to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order” only when “the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.”14 Police officers are guardians, warriors, servants, and so much more.
The seventh Peelian Principle states that police must “maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”15 This underscores that the police are fundamentally not at odds with the public but rather a part of the public itself, and there is a shared responsibility for the community and the police to further community well-being.
“Peel’s principles are timeless and as relevant as they were in 1829.” Adherence to Police Functions
In the eighth principle, Peel advises officers to “recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.”16 In other words, police are not expected to be part of the judicial system but rather the front line of the criminal justice system. Officers must remember everyone is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law, a concept embedded in the Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
Absence of Crime and Disorder
It is important not to lose sight of one of the founding tenets in policing, exemplified in the ninth Peelian Principle: “To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”17 Law enforcement fails the officer, department, and public when its measure of efficiency becomes solely driven by numbers. Policing’s primary goal is preventing crime and disorder, not effecting arrests. As J. Edgar Hoover stated, “Justice is merely incidental to law and order.”18
How officers prevent crime and disorder is critical to their legitimacy. A department’s leadership that has a solid foundation of ethical standards guides officers, helps form an ideal culture, and influences police behavior within that agency.
The principles of today’s officers will shape and determine what their ethical conduct will be as future leaders. Law enforcement leadership must form an equitable culture of accountability founded in an ethical code. This promotes the idea that implanting and maintaining a culture consistent with core policing principles encourages ethical conduct and decision-making. This will foster legitimacy, trust, and engagement within communities; minimize corruption; and complete law enforcement’s mission more effectively.
January 10, 2023
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Bridging the Gap in Law Enforcement Strategy
By Joseph F. Garbato, M.S.S.
“A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.”
— Proverbs 24:51
In November 2021, the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin published an article by the author titled “History Can Inform Contemporary Law Enforcement Strategy,” in which he assessed that today’s strategy is insufficient to meet modern challenges.2
Recently, the author conducted a study of U.S. law enforcement organizational strategy that highlighted potential vulnerabilities. This follow-up article will reveal the purpose, methodology, and results of the study; explain the importance of its findings; and offer recommendations for the law enforcement community.
Based on his experience in law enforcement, the author has questions about the community’s ability to create, articulate, and implement effective strategy at the organizational level. Law enforcement must develop a theory of success separate from corporate vernacular, metrics, and influence — better suited for a mission to protect and serve rather than generate profit.
Supervisory Special Agent Garbato, FBI chair and graduate of the Marine Corps University, is a retired U.S. Army reserve captain.
Analysis focused on the organizational strategies of 279 randomly selected agencies, including a mixture of those at the local, county, state, tribal, and federal level. The study’s driving force lies in the current domestic context of the United States, where law enforcement feels under siege and communities feel betrayed, with hope that research and education can reveal solutions.
This research was based only on open-source data. To this point, if a law enforcement strategy, in part or in whole, is not shared with the public, this leads to questions about transparency and, therefore, trust. Any strategy, however well-crafted, is vulnerable if it lacks sufficient transparency.
The Marine Corps War College Strategy Primer3 establishes the strategic components evaluated. It offers an effective strategic model and a clear, concise, and complete explanation. While its applicability is broad, to include law enforcement, this model is genius in its simplicity. Strategic components offered by the book can be grouped into three categories.
Organizational context includes an agency’s community climate; guiding policy4; and mission, vision, and values. This category establishes the organization’s operational and philosophical environment and its overarching strategy.
Theory of success5 encompasses an agency’s comprehensive plan, consisting of established ends (goals), ways (intermediate objectives) to achieve these ends, and means (necessary resources). For a strategy to be successful, it must include a unifying idea6 that harnesses human capital, more creatively described as a central idea that motivates individuals to pull in the same direction.
Strategic evaluation answers a critical question up front: Why will this strategy work? It includes a detailed risk evaluation; results of an applied strategic validation tool; and an assessment of overall transparency.
Within the categories, each component is evaluated and awarded 1 to 4 points, based upon assessment of significance. There are three critical individual components: “guiding policy,” “unifying idea,” and “overall transparency,” each worthy of 4 points. The highest score per category is 10, with a grand total of 30 points overall, as shown in Figure 1.
Download Garbato Figure 1.pdf — 523 KB
A closer examination of Figure 1 reveals that the maximum number of points an agency can earn is 26 without bonus points awarded for transparency.
Figure 2 outlines how an agency’s overall rating is determined. Ratings are grouped into two separate categories: “effective” and “ineffective” — the result of the assessment detailed in Figure 1. Bonus points are awarded for agency transparency, beginning with 1 point for strategies determined to be “marginally effective,” 2 for “moderately effective,” and so on. An agency that earns the maximum of 26 points receives 4 bonus points, achieving the grand total of 30.
Download Garbato Figure 2.pdf — 266 KB
Based on the rubric, organizational strategies were categorized as either “effective” (rated “moderately effective,” “effective,” or “highly effective”) or “ineffective” (rated as “nonexistent,” “ineffective,” or “marginally effective”). As a community, only 7.2% of the evaluated strategies were rated as “effective,” with 92.8% “ineffective.” A mere 1% met the threshold for “highly effective”; in stark contrast, an alarming 61% were “nonexistent.”
A closer look inside the numbers reveals 16% of the organizational strategies for large agencies — headed by major city chiefs, sheriffs, and federal equivalents — were rated as “effective.” Only 4.3% of midsized departments achieved this mark. Unsurprisingly, 1.9% of small agencies — those with fewer than 50 sworn officers — had an organizational strategy deemed “effective.”
This analysis suggests there is significant room for improvement across the community in strategy development and/or transparency.
Why does this all matter? The national context continues to evolve. In the current climate, law enforcement is increasingly criticized because of use of force concerns attributed to bias and racism.7 A resulting political conflict, which has become violent throughout the United States, gives relevance to the assertions of Carl von Clausewitz, the 19th century Prussian military strategist. Clausewitz established war as a continuation of politics by other means, thus, making it an instrument subservient to policy and “absolute war” as war without political purpose.8
“The study’s driving force lies in the current domestic context of the United States, where law enforcement feels under siege and communities feel betrayed, with hope that research and education can reveal solutions.”
In this sense, it is comforting knowing the current context will not divulge into the latter. However, war does reveal itself in many forms, to include a “state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism” or a “struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.”9 The law enforcement community, which falls under the executive branch of government (e.g., federal, state, county, local) meets these struggles every day. Through this lens, it has an obligation to the communities it serves to adapt sensibly.
Although this obligation should be sufficient reason itself, more significantly, adapting sensibly is a matter of national security. Traditionally, the instruments of power (IOPs) wielded to protect U.S. national security were confined to historical tools, to include diplomatic, informational, military, and economic (DIME) methods.10 The war on terror led to an expansion of this model, which currently includes financial, intelligence, and law enforcement tools (DIME-FIL).11
Consisting of approximately 18,000 federal, state, county, tribal, and local agencies that employ about 660,000 sworn officers,12 the U.S. law enforcement community is a massive IOP with tremendous capability and influence. Yet, data collected by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) indicates this IOP uses great restraint. The most recent BJS report indicated that only 2% of persons 16 or older who had at least one contact with police experienced force or threats of force.13
“[A]dapting sensibly is a matter of national security.”
Yet, one egregious incident involving despicable, criminal actions by a handful of officers can tarnish the profession and negatively impact the United States’ influence across the globe in a matter of minutes.14 Each subsequent incident of this type further erodes the nation’s faith, trust, and confidence, domestically and abroad.15 One can even argue it undermines the American experiment and the future of democracy.16
Law enforcement agencies have three courses of action to consider related to strategy, education, and transparency.
First, agencies should develop thoughtful organizational strategies, complete with an organizational context; a theory of success, including a unifying idea; and a thorough strategic evaluation. An adaptive, mindful strategy is imperative for all agencies, large and small. Such a strategy sets an overarching goal, binds subordinate strategies, broadly reduces organizational risk, and maximizes the likelihood of reaching established ends because leadership can anticipate the need for adaptation before it is too late.
Although there are many ways to proceed, law enforcement executives should maintain three specific roles: 1) identify and empower a design team of individuals with the requisite skill sets to develop strategy; 2) provide overall guidance to the team, to include the desired end state; and 3) judge proposed strategies.
Chief executives should ensure the design team is armed with the organization’s guiding policy and a unifying idea. Because diversity is critical, the team should possess a mixture of backgrounds; experience; knowledge; personalities, based on an assessment tool; and perspectives. Further, it needs a process-oriented leader.17 If executed correctly, the process should take time for development to identify potential ways to meet desired ends, address assumptions and drivers, evaluate risk, and account for means. Executives should allow this freedom.
Design teams should provide executives with options (alternative plans), but no plan should be presented before going through a stringent validation process. This process evaluates the strategy’s suitability (test of ends and ways), desirability (test of ends and means), acceptability (test of ways), feasibility (test of means), and sustainability (test of time and means).18
Second, agencies should educate the workforce. This will require strategies to be crafted so all employees can fully understand the desired ends, ways, and available means in context, as well as the unifying idea. Acceptable and unacceptable risks should be clearly delineated. The simpler the strategy the better. A concerted effort must be made to ensure every employee understands and commits to the plan.
Third, agencies should embrace transparency. They should share approved strategies with the public so people may better understand the organizational and strategic context from a law enforcement perspective. Communities have the right to know what the organization intends to accomplish, why, and how. The public also deserves to know the expectations for agency employees, to include a use of force policy.
Simply publishing strategies, policies, and expectations is insufficient. To enhance community impact — that is, to build, restore, or maintain faith, trust, and confidence — these documents should be made readily available in a user-friendly manner. They should be in the form of strategic narratives and exist in a variety of formats to build the trust and acceptance needed to acquire the necessary resources for implementation.
This assessment is offered for the benefit of the U.S. law enforcement community with the purest of intentions and should not be interpreted as either an attack on or indictment of its purpose or practices. The path toward restoring faith, trust, and confidence in this most noble of professions is through acknowledgement, collaboration, education, persistence, relationships, and understanding.