Law enforcement agencies don’t have to create a culture from scratch. Police work comes with a long history of traditions and deeply held values. Police all over the world share core values such as honor, bravery, and the duty to protect.
Values drive behavior. People make decisions based on their deepest core values. And employees make decisions at work based on what they perceive that their organization values.
So, to create a culture of accountability in law enforcement, departments must emphasize values such as integrity, responsibility, and transparency.
Formal and informal values
To shape a healthy culture, it’s important for your police department to have a formal statement of core values. These values form a foundation for policies, procedures, training, and everything else your department does.
Even if your department doesn’t have a formal statement of values, you have unofficial values that officers live out.
You can see this in how officers talk about their roles and responsibilities. What do officers take seriously? What do they joke about? Are there unspoken expectations new recruits have to conform to be accepted?
To create a culture of accountability in law enforcement, you have to start with these informal values. Some of these values may be healthy.
For example, your officers may feel a strong sense of commitment to serving their community.
However, there may be some unhealthy values mixed in. Officers may value bravery and justice over honesty and compassion. They may feel that they are justified in going to any lengths in order to lock up criminals.
This kind of mindset can lead to unethical behavior if not addressed.
To create a healthy department culture, you need to make sure your formal values match what your officers and leaders are living out in their day to day duties.
As the National Institute of Justice points out in Perspectives on Policing,
“The problem is that police departments, like many organizations, are guided by implicit values that are often at odds with explicit values. This breeds confusion, distrust, and cynicism rather than clarity, commitment, and high morale.”
In order to foster a culture of accountability in law enforcement, make sure your agency’s values are repeated regularly and reinforced in everything your department does.