A lthough most leaders are keenly aware of this new reality, patrol officers are the ones directly confronting the citizens who, cellphone in hand, are shouting: “I’m recording you! I’m recording you!” Day in and day out, these patrol officers take the calls, knowing each incident might be the one that makes them an unwilling star in the next social media circus. Officers have had to acclimate themselves to this reality. Realistic or not, many officers fear their agency might not support them if they are the subject of controversial call. Particularly in the current climate, this concern seems prevalent. Some have called it the Ferguson Effect , the belief officers are feeling less confident about doing their job and might decrease their level of self-initiated activities. 1 This has led to the belief that crime may increase as a result of declining proactive and enforcement efforts by front line personnel. While researchers have not been able to demonstrate a connection between any recent shifts in proactive officer conduct and local crime rates 2 , law enforcement leaders should treat this issue seriously and look for ways to address both the fears of their officers and their community. As leaders, the last thing you would want is for your officers to lack confidence or be scared to do their jobs. You want your officers to maintain their sense of professionalism even if they perceive they are facing increasing hostilities. You want the public to have confidence in your officers and your agency. Your agency’s legitimacy is contingent in many ways on citizen trust. That trust is contingent, in part, on the professionalism shown by officers. In an era where we seem to be having a “legitimacy crisis” the common solution may be found in one simple leadership trait— fairness! The President’s Taskforce on 21st Century Policing noted what many have known for a long time; citizens are more likely to obey the law when they perceive the police as treating them fairly and with the proper amount of respect, something commonly referred to as procedural justice . Academics have used the term for a long time, but it has increasingly found its way into the policing world. In addition to demonstrating the role of procedural justice in promoting external legitimacy (between your officers and citizens), the President’s Taskforce describes what the academics have more recently shown to be true. “When an agency creates an environment that promotes internal procedural justice, it encourages its officers to demonstrate external procedural justice”. 3 Specifically, when supervisors treat officers fairly, the officers are more likely to be fair with those they encounter on the street. If we expect officers to treat citizens with professionalism and fairness, we must first treat officers with professionalism and fairness as leaders. Within police organizations, procedural justice often falls under an umbrella of what most scholars call organizational justice. 4 As the Taskforce highlights, when officers report perceptions of greater organizational justice within their department, they report more support for democratic principles of policing and increased officer well-being. 5 Organizational justice has been linked with favorable work-related behaviors, such as increased policy compliance, 6 greater job satisfaction 7 and even better attitudes concerning the value of body-worn cameras. 8 Of particular interest, organizational justice has been linked to police officers’ self-confidence in their own moral authority—their self-legitimacy. 9 In simple terms, when officers feel like their agency supports them, they may feel more confident about what actions to take, and that sense of self-confidence in their authority may encourage officers fairly
address citizens—avoiding damaging confrontations that might be labeled “contempt of cop.” Unfortunately, these results are not widely discussed in most leadership training courses. It is important that police leaders consider the level of justice within their organizations. How do front-line officers view the agency’s personnel evaluation process and procedures? Are they viewed as appropriate, fair, and helpful in developing better employees? How do officers perceive the way the agency receives and reviews citizen complaints, conducts internal investigations, and ultimately administers discipline? Are officers satisfied with how they treated by their supervisors and executives? Do officers feel they have an appropriate voice in how the organization operates and makes decisions? None of this suggests that leaders do not reserve final decision-making authority; rather, organizational justice pushes leaders to consider how they lead and how they are perceived by those they seek to lead and influence. If leaders want their officers to police in a democratic and just manner, they must first lead those officers by that example. Top leaders should consider not only the views of front- line personnel, but also the views of mid-level managers. Those in the middle are often overlooked in discussions about police leadership and organizations. 10 Collectively, this group manages many of the tasks that cause front-line employees to determine if the organization is just to them or not. Despite their management responsibilities, mid-level leaders often do not have full control (or any control) over the values and decisions of top executives. While they are charged with carrying out the will of the chief or sheriff, do these mid-level police leaders believe their organization (and by extension, the agency head) is fair (i.e.- organizationally just)? From a leadership perspective, the level of agreement between those in the middle and those at the top is critical to the organization and to the perceptions, experiences, and attitudes of front-line employees. Mid-level leaders who work for an unjust boss can feel a little like a used car salesman trying to move a bad inventory and the consequences can be disastrous. These leaders are crucial to the success and health of an organization. If they do not buy-in to the decisions, policies, or the goals of their agency head(s) because they seem unfair, then those below them in the organization are not likely to buy-in either. Additionally, the effects of working in an organizationally unjust environment may increase their personal feelings of burnout and stress. This internalized conflict could cause them to second-guess decisions and lead to a host of other negative outcomes. Surveys from four FBI National Academy sessions in 2017 demonstrate that lieutenants, as mid-level leaders, did not feel as though their departments were as organizationally just as those at the top of their organizations, including majors, assistant/deputy chiefs, and chiefs/sheriffs. As a group, lieutenants (n = 227) consistently had lower perceptions of organizational justice than those at the top of the command structure (n = 135). These differences included, lower perceptions that employees were treated with dignity and respect by supervisors and command staff; lower perceptions that officers were given a voice during investigations and adjudications of citizen complaints, and lower perceptions of transparency in communications and explaining the nature of, and reasonableness of policies or procedures.
F B I N A A . O R G | A P R / J U N 2 0 2 0
continued on page 36
Made with FlippingBook flipbook maker