Values are deeply held beliefs about what is right and how to achieve it. A value system combines one’s collective beliefs and places them in order of importance. Values trace back to early years, and encompass the formative influences of family, society, and institutions. Values play out in thoughts, emotions, and actions. The world is perceived through the prism of values. Goals, and how to achieve them, are directly related to values. Values are beliefs that guide the individual’s behavior. It is through values that people perceive events, resolve conflicts within themselves, and make decisions. In police work, values are taught formally at the police academy, and then through a combination of formal and informal training on the streets with a field training officer. It is not uncommon for police to feel that the formal police training does not adequately prepare them for actual police work and survival. It is the job of the field training officer to teach values such as integrity, respect, and fairness, but it is police officers who are obliged to sustain those values throughout their careers.
Many police officers are drawn to police work for highly idealistic reasons, such as the appeal of protecting society, giving back to society, and helping people. Others have strong moral values or a family tradition of law enforcement. It is common for police to feel a sense of pride in their selection for the police academy and to proudly wear the police uniform. Police officers learn that they must value honesty, integrity, dependability, teamwork, and respect.
Organizations, too, have their own value systems that are conveyed to their employees in order that employees act consistent with the mission of the organization. At times the organizational values are different than, and may even conflict with, the individual’s values.
Traditionally, police departments were shaped by bureaucratic values such as efficiency, productivity, and accountability. The organization tended to focus on policing to the detriment of the organization itself. It was not uncommon for managers to excel at policing related tasks yet sorely undervalue the human resources side of the operation. More recently, police departments have moved toward an emphasis on humanistic values, such as quality of life issues. As a result, the nature of communication, interactions, and cooperation receive more attention than in decades past. There is a sense that the growth of the individual is important in and of itself, as well as paramount to the growth of the organization. This represents a seismic shift in what was essentially a paramilitary system, and one that is not embraced equally by all police managers.
A police manager must be able to provide oversight that includes knowledge and expertise of police matters but also of general management principles. The police manager must have credibility and be respected within the ranks, be able to manage personal stress while providing guidance to supervisees on managing their stress, and demonstrate basic leadership skills.
In terms of police work, the values of the organization typically include crime prevention, enforcement of laws, community interaction, professionalism, and responsiveness. Values may change as political pressures change. One example of this is community policing. In the early 21st century, community–police interactions became a priority value, which entailed building community relationships by collaborating with community agencies, groups, businesses, and individuals. The premise was to reduce crime by virtue of improved community relations. However, the time spent enhancing community involvement meant less time available to enforce laws, so these two values have clashed at times.
Honesty and integrity are values that are taught in the training academy and reiterated by the field training officer and supervisors. The public both expects and demands integrity from police officers, especially given their broad powers to enforce laws and use lethal force in the execution of their duties. However, there is a disconnect between the ideal of honesty and the reality of possible consequences for that honesty in certain circumstances. In some instances, honesty may lead to disciplinary action, such as an officer admitting to an unauthorized use of force. In other instances, such as following critical incidents or admissions of depression, honesty may lead to a fitness for duty evaluation. In the course of the assessment, the police psychologist may have concerns about the officer retaining a specific job assignment, carrying a weapon, or continuing employment as a police officer. From the officer’s perspective, honesty in this circumstance does not lead to a positive result, so he or she may be less than forthcoming. From the organization’s viewpoint, the process, including potentially self-incriminating honesty, is critical in maintaining the integrity of the police force.
There is another conundrum that results from the opposing forces of honesty versus negative consequences for such honesty, and that is the area of self-care and suicide prevention. The extraordinary stress of police work, combined with interpersonal problems, may result in suicidal ideation. In such cases, when officers admit to such serious feelings, they might be removed from duty; in the face of such an overwhelming loss, they may be disinclined to admit to suicidal thoughts and thereby limit their access to suicide prevention services.
Just as individuals develop values through reinforcement, modeling, and the socialization process, police also develop certain values as they progress through their careers. They may be reinforced either positively or negatively through arrest records, recognition, rewards, and/or acceptance by their peers. New recruits typically model themselves after more seasoned police and their mentors. They become socialized to the police culture through the spoken and unspoken expectations of their fellow officers and the mores of the job. Through this process, the police officer may develop a set of implicit values that may conflict with the organizational values as well as the idealistic values they initially brought to the job. The implicit values may include a code of silence, being protective of other police officers, and a sense of entitlement or privilege. These particular implicit values may actually be illegal and/or unethical, thereby placing the officer’s career and personal life at risk.
Sense of Loyalty
Police commonly feel a very strong sense of loyalty to the job and to each other. Sometimes this is perceived as secrecy because police officers are reluctant to divulge incriminating information about other officers. In fact, police are often reluctant even to talk about the job because they fear outsiders will not understand, might question their tactics, and may even judge their behavior. This sense of loyalty is deeply ingrained and has as its foundation the need to protect each other against the dangers of the job.
However, a sense of us-versus-them develops, with police seeing themselves as different not just from criminals but also from non-law-enforcement civilians as well. The reluctance to open up about the job might become a refusal to talk about the job; this secrecy distances the police even from family and friends while drawing them closer to fellow officers.
When police segregate their world into an us-versus-them mentality, there is a further isolation of themselves from society and within the police culture. Police become suspicious about the motives of others, they fear revealing their weaknesses, and they become untrusting of others. A sense of hypervigilance grows, which can lead to emotional susceptibility. The distrust and anger some police feel on the job slowly turns against the police department, such that police feel wronged by inquiries, investigations, and consequences.
The us-versus-them philosophy may apply to police versus everyone else including criminals, the media, the administration, and civilians. Encounters with the public could be dangerous for any number of reasons, ranging from those who interfere with the performance of their jobs up to potential criminals. The police learn to mistrust others since they are vulnerable on so many fronts; they might be investigated, sued, charged criminally, and/or put physically in danger. This mistrust leads them to self-isolate from nonpolice while drawing closer to their fellow officers. As they value collegiality with other officers more and more, their police identity replaces their family values.
A caveat to this is that values may be different among police agencies depending on the locations and sizes of the police departments. Furthermore, values are impacted by levels of police training, education, and background of the police officer.
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- Miller, L. Practical Police Psychology: Stress Management and Crisis Intervention in Law Enforcement. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 2006.
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- Scaramella, G., S. Cox, and W. McCamey. Introduction to Policing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2011.
- Wasserman, R. and M. Moore. “Values in Policing.” Perspectives on Policing. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, 1988.
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