The Commitment to Professional Standards in Law Enforcement

The Commitment to Professional Standards in Law Enforcement

At PRADCO, we assess and coach law enforcement officers routinely and appreciate the dedication and level of professionalism brought to the job. The overwhelming majority of officers initially go into the field because they want to make a difference. They truly care about citizens and sincerely want to do their part to maintain the safety of their communities.  That is why the information shared below we still find troubling for both officers and their departments.

The Department of Justice filed a report on the City of Minneapolis Police Department following the death of George Floyd. The findings detailed in an 89-page report were both eye opening and disappointing. The results indicated that excessive force was used more than six times the average when encountering African American and Native American citizens. Further exploration of the research found that other officers routinely did not intervene when excessive force was being used. In addition to the setback to their public image, the City of Minneapolis now faces years of oversight into the practices and reform of the police department (Reuters, 2023). One cannot even imagine the additional costs that will be incurred by the city and department with this oversight. Those funds could have been better used to develop the leadership skills of supervisors, for example.

Unfortunately, the negative spotlight on the city of Minneapolis is not unique. The family of Jayland Walker filed a lawsuit against the City of Akron due to a foot chase that resulted in him being shot 46 times as he ran from police unarmed (ABC News, 2023). A case such as this detracts from the good work that the department carries out daily.  PRADCO recently assisted the department in a promotional process for Captain, and it was clear the candidates cared deeply about doing a good job for the citizens of Akron.

Although many agree that the information and statistics presented here are unsettling, the pressures faced by law enforcement officers on a regular basis must be acknowledged. Without excusing cases of excessive force, it should be recognized that police work, although rewarding, is also taxing both mentally and physically. A study conducted in 2019 by the University of Texas at Dallas found that as many as 25% of police officers suffer from a mental health condition and show signs of cumulative post-traumatic stress. Unlike soldiers in combat who experience traumatic events in a specific period of time, police officers experience multiple horrific events over their entire career. Further, with the nationwide shortage of police candidates, officers are putting in longer hours and are working extra shifts. The combination of sleep deprivation and emotional exhaustion can result in irritability and poor decision-making (NPR, 2021). A study completed by the National Institute of Justice measured police officer stress levels in 2019 and it was concluded that officers aged 40 years and older are at higher risk of developing cardiac related problems (NIJ, 2019).

The results of these recent studies indicate that command staff would be prudent to build in education about self-care into training with newly recruited officers. Some well-established coping mechanisms include having friends outside of the department to help officers destress outside of their jobs. Command staff can also create a Patrol Partner system that allows officers to make time in their day to check on one another (NIJ, 2019).

A first step toward prevention and acknowledging the problem at hand is through training which is a likely strategy the Minneapolis Police Department will take. Researchers are learning that the first few moments of a traffic stop can often predict the outcome. A study conducted by Eugenia Rho from Virginia Tech viewed 500 tapes from bodycam footage and found that escalation during stops occurs three times more frequently if the officer starts the traffic stop with an order without thoroughly explaining the reason (NPR, 2023). Officers who thoroughly explain the reason for the stop are using an essential skill that increases their ability to gain compliance and reduce the anxiety of the citizen from the beginning of the interaction.

The takeaway from this new study is that clear, transparent communication is key to a law enforcement agency’s ability to build trust within the community it serves. Services currently exist that can aid law enforcement agencies in building and sustaining a high performing department with strong community relations. Over 200 departments have used PRADCO’s assessments to help determine which candidates would likely be strong performers for their departments as well as those who may be unsuitable for the position.  Good assessments also should highlight training needs to help with onboarding. In addition to tactical training on the job, agencies should consider adding training in leadership and performance management which would allow them to perform at their best. On an individual basis, coaching can be used as a preventive tool to build awareness in police officers and command staff to help them make the necessary adjustments to their approach leading to better interactions with the public.

The reality is that these events present new challenges for police departments in enhancing public trust and effectively serving citizens. There are no quick fixes for this ongoing problem. But, coaching and training provide a forum for officers as well as command staff to talk about solutions. It is an investment that agency leaders can make to help their staff feel supported and ready to tackle challenges they face on a daily basis.

Is this a difficult time for law enforcement? Yes, it is. However, we are confident that the vast majority of departments will take the necessary steps to strengthen performance for the good of their communities and the people they serve.

Picture of Lisa White

Lisa White

Dr. Lisa White supports the assessment team by drawing on her ability to relate to people of all levels and backgrounds. She interviews safety forces candidates in order to match candidates with positions and agencies that align with their skills and passions. Her interviewing expertise assists departments in making informed and data-driven decisions. Lisa also focuses on empowering effective business leaders. She leads discussions at PRADCO to provide thought leadership regarding various diversity and inclusion topics such as unconscious bias, multi-generational differences, and cultural competency. Lisa has assessed and coached individuals from various industries and management levels to refine their leadership skills by empowering them to communicate effectively and lead with confidence. In addition to her duties with PRADCO, Lisa has served as a consultant for the City of New Albany’s Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity Action Committee (IDEA). Dr. Lisa White graduated from Jackson State University with a B.S in Psychology, a Master of Social Work from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and her Ph.D. in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Capella University.