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1.6: Professional Image in Criminal Justice

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    The "culture" of a police department reflects what that department believes in as an organization. These beliefs are reflected in the department's recruiting and selection practices, policies and procedures, training and development, and ultimately, in the actions of its officers in law enforcement situations. Clearly, all police departments have a culture. The key question is whether that culture has been carefully developed or simply allowed to develop without benefit of thought or guidance. There are police agencies, for example, where police use of force is viewed as abnormal. Thus, when it is used, the event receives a great deal of administrative attention. Such a response reflects the culture of that department: the use of force is viewed and responded to as an atypical occurrence. Contrast such a department with one that does not view the use of force as abnormal. In the latter case, there may be inadequate or poorly understood policies providing officers with guidelines regarding the use of force. There probably is no administrative procedure for investigating incidents where force is used, and, most importantly, the culture of the department is such that officers come to view the use of force as an acceptable way of resolving conflict.

    Over the past few years, there has been significant progress in improving police-community relationships. Yet, the major problem creating friction between the police and the community today--especially in communities of color--is police use of deadly force. Only in recent years has the public become aware of this age-old problem. The fact that this problem existed for such a long time before receiving widespread attention can again be related to the culture of the police.

    Until the Tennessee v. Garner decision in 1985, few if any police departments had developed their firearms policy around a value system that reflected reverence for human life. Rather, those agencies which did have written policies (and many did not) reflected the prevailing police culture in those policies. The prevailing culture centered on enforcement of the law. Thus, the official policies of most police agencies allowed officers to fire warning shots, to shoot fleeing felons, or to use deadly force in other circumstances reflected less than the highest value for human life.

    It is clear that the culture of a police department, to a large degree, determines the organization's effectiveness. That culture determines the way officers view not only their role, but also the people they serve. The key concern is the nature of that culture and whether it reflects a system of beliefs conducive to the nonviolent resolution of conflict.

    How do you establish a positive departmental culture that in turn manifests professional standards? In answering this question, it is important to emphasize again that all departments have a culture. It is also important to recognize that the culture of a police department, once established, is difficult to change. Organizational change within a police agency does not occur in a revolutionary fashion. Rather, it is evolutionary.

    The beginning points in establishing a departmental culture is to develop a set of values. Values serve a variety of purposes, including:

    • Set forth a department's philosophy of policing
    • State in clear terms what a department believes in
    • Articulate in broad terms the overall goals of the department
    • Reflect the community's expectations of the department
    • Serve as a basis for developing policies and procedures
    • Serve as the parameters for organizational flexibility
    • Provide the basis for operational strategies
    • Provide the framework for officer performance
    • Serve as a framework from which the department can be evaluated

    In developing a set of values for a police department, it is not necessary to come up with a lengthy list. Rather, there should be a few values which, when taken together, represent what the organization considers important. For example, if it is the objective of the department to create a culture that is service oriented, then that should be reflected in its set of values. In other words, the importance of values is qualitative, not quantitative.

    Finally, an essential role of the police chief is to ensure that the values of the department are well articulated throughout the organization. To accomplish this, the chief as leader must ensure that there is a system to facilitate effective communication of the values. This includes recognizing and using the organization's informal structure. This is important because, in addition to the formal structure, values are transmitted through its informal process as well as its myths, legends, metaphors, and the chief's own personality.

    Each police department should develop a set of policing values that reflects its own community. Fortunately, there is a general set of values that can serve as a framework for any department to build upon to meet local needs. Developing a set of organizational values is not difficult. A police executive should first clearly explain what values are to those in uniform. Then the executive should ask each member of the department to list what he or she considers the five most important values for the department. The findings of such an exercise will represent a consensus on the values department members hold most dear--an excellent starting point for creating a set of departmental values.

    The police department must preserve and advance the principles of democracy.

    All societies must have a system for maintaining order. Police officers in this country, however, must not only know how to maintain order, but must do so in a manner consistent with our democratic form of government. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the police to enforce the law and deliver a variety of other services in a manner that not only preserves, but also extends precious American values. It is in this context that the police become the living expression of the meaning and potential of a democratic form of government. The police must not only respect, but also protect the rights guaranteed to each citizen by the Constitution. To the extent, each officer considers his or her responsibility to include protection of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of all individuals; the police become the most important employees in the vast structure of government.

    The police department places its highest value on the preservation of human life.

    Above all, the police department must believe that human life is the most precious resource. Therefore, the department, in all aspects of its operations, will place its highest priority on the protection of life. This belief must be manifested in at least two ways. First, the allocation of resources and the response to demands for service must give top priority to those situations that threaten life. Second, even though society authorizes the police to use deadly force, the use of such force must not only be justified under the law but must also be consistent with the philosophy of rational and humane social control.

    The second concept is the most challenging and controversial due to accountability.

    Police officers are expected to adhere to the laws provided by elected officials, judicial case law, as well as the policies of the Departments which employ them, that is not in dispute. Social rational and humane social control are moving targets and continually evolving, thus how can officers legally (civil and criminal) adhere to the rational of society, when the society encompasses differing groups?

    The police department believes that the prevention of crime is its number one operational priority.

    The department's primary mission must be the prevention of crime. Logic makes it clear that it is better to prevent a crime than to put the resources of the department into motion after a crime has been committed. Such an operational response should result in an improved quality of life for citizens, and a reduction in the fear that is generated by both the reality and perception of crime.

    The police department will involve the community in the delivery of its services.

    It is clear that the police cannot be successful in achieving their mission without the support and involvement of the people they serve. Crime is not solely a police problem, and it should not be considered as such. Rather, crime must be responded to as a community problem. Thus, it is important for the police department to involve the community in its operations. This sharing of responsibility involves providing a mechanism for the community to collaborate with the police both in the identification of community problems and determining the most appropriate strategies for resolving them. It is counterproductive for the police to isolate themselves from the community and not allow citizens the opportunity to work with them.

    The police department believes it must be accountable to the community it serves.

    The police department also is not an entity unto itself. Rather, it is a part of government and exists only for serving the public to which it must be accountable. An important element of accountability is openness. Secrecy in police work is not only undesirable but also unwarranted. Accountability means being responsive to the problems and needs of citizens. It also means managing police resources in the most cost-effective manner. It must be remembered that the power to police comes from the consent of those being policed.

    The police department is committed to professionalism in all aspects of its operations.

    The role of the professional organization is to serve its clients. The police department must view its role as serving the citizens of the community. A professional organization also adheres to a code of ethics. The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics must guide the police department. A profession polices itself. The police department must ensure that it maintains a system designed to promote the highest level of discipline among its members.

    The police department will maintain the highest standards of integrity.

    The society invests in its police the highest level of trust. The police, in turn, enter into a contractual arrangement with society to uphold that trust. The police must always be mindful of this contractual arrangement and never violate that trust. Each member of the police department must recognize that he or she is held to a higher standard than a private citizen. They must recognize that, in addition to representing the department, they also represent the law enforcement profession and government. They are the personifications of the law. Their conduct, both on and off duty, must be beyond reproach. There must not be even a perception in the public's mind that the department's ethics are open to question.

    Recognizing that society is undergoing massive changes, police agencies are confronted with a great challenge. The essence of that challenge is to be able to respond to problems created by social change, while at the same time providing the stability that holds a society together during a period of uncertainty.

    By setting forth a clear set of values, articulating what it believes in, the police department has a foundation to guide itself. Such a foundation also allows for organizational flexibility. In addition, a set of values provides the community with a means of assessing its police department without having to become involved in technical operations. Value statements serve as the linkage between the ongoing operations of a police department and the community's ability not only to participate, but also to understand the reason for police department strategies.

    Act It Out! Law Enforcement Professionalism Activity

    To promote and facilitate law enforcement professionalism, three (3) ethical dilemmas are listed below for discussion.

    As learned in this first chapter, law enforcement officers have a difficult job. They are often placed in difficult situations and community tensions can increase the conflict between the community and law enforcement agencies. Knowing this, it is important to prepare yourself for how you will deal with difficult, uncomfortable and ethical issues you will face in the community.

    Break up into groups and discuss the scenarios below. Using what you learned in this chapter, how will you handle the following situations.

    1. You are on a DWI Checking Station when you hear a fellow officer says: Hey Bozo, move your *&^%%! car off my %$^^&% highway! What will your response be?
    2. Upon initial contact with a citizen, an officer is met with an aggressive attitude. The officer responds by mirroring the behavior to show he/she will not be intimidated and telling the person, calm down or you’re going to jail! What should be done?
    3. In many cultures, saving face is of vital importance and could open or close communication from the outset. Your partner immediately intimidates the person to keep control of the situation. What will you do?

    1.6: Professional Image in Criminal Justice is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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