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The Importance of Ethics & Professional Conduct in Law Enforcement Leaders

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Law enforcement relies on supervisors and managers to make effective decisions and oversee processes, but true leaders can emerge from any hierarchy rank. Leaders within law enforcement might be respected for their compassion, reliability, decisiveness and other individual characteristics, according to Police One. It’s more likely, though, that leadership represents an overall picture that involves a strong sense of personal ethics and adherence to high standards for professional conduct. Leaders impart these values implicitly through modeling and setting a good example or by explicitly mentoring others.

Emergence of Shared Leadership

Law enforcement leadership has gradually evolved away from its previous hierarchical model and toward a more democratic model, embracing teamwork and collaboration, according to Police Chief Magazine. Because of this more cooperative framework, existing leaders have the opportunity to advocate for more ethical and professional decision-making as others take on greater responsibility. Supervised law enforcement workers get the chance to expand their sense of personal ethics when faced with larger challenges and problem-solving opportunities. Rather than relying only on pre-established processes and direct orders, supervised personnel might have the chance to contribute to community programming or represent their profession with pride -- both inside and outside the squad car.

Positive Public Opinion

The general public might be more familiar with police department missteps or national scandals associated with law enforcement professionals who did not make appropriate decisions, according to Law Enforcement Today. To contribute to the overall positive image of law enforcement leadership, individuals should strive to promote ethics and professionalism not only within the department, but also in ways that the community can recognize. Law enforcement might not be able to share details about arrests, drug busts or pending investigations with the press. However, leaders can encourage officers to cooperate with the media with professionalism and tact and to be careful about positive, professional word choice when speaking to members of the public.

Pragmatic Protection

Law enforcement leaders can use pragmatic protection as an argument for promoting ethics and leadership to skeptical supervised employees. The International Association of Chiefs of Police states that civil litigation has become more common among citizens who feel their rights have been abused. Charges of excessive use of force, racial discrimination, age discrimination and sexual harassment can be ruinous for a law enforcement agency. Careers can be ruined, leading to professional or personal devastation. Committing to ethical, professional ideals can help agencies avoid these situations.

Decision-Making Focus

It’s possible that law enforcement workers feel connected to their ethical and professional obligations in theory, but the field’s unpredictable and sometimes dangerous nature means that appropriate decision-making must be automatic, even in emergency situations. Well-intentioned officers might make the wrong decision when feeling panicked or pressured, according to The Police Chief. Offering trainings and role-playing scenarios, and openly discussing real-life mistakes in the field can help prepare professionals for making on-the-spot decisions that reflect their integrity.


Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.

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