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Effective Police Leaders: A Vital Component of Law Enforcement

Effective leadership behaviors create better police officers. Police leaders – and any leader within the field of law enforcement – set standards, uphold policies and foster a positive culture within an organization.

If police leaders use effective leadership behaviors, their agencies will have higher morale and increased ethical standards. Also, their officer will provide better service to their communities. Conversely, if police leaders are ineffective, then corruption, increased attrition, increased lawsuits, low morale and decreased officer police performance is much more likely.

Developing Effective Police Leaders

One important role of police leaders is to set standards that promote accountability and community trust. Efficient leaders know that misconduct, a misunderstanding of police capabilities, a lack of transparency and negative media coverage creates public mistrust.

Also, effective leaders know that local citizens base their perceptions of the police on their own interactions with officers and secondhand reports from family and friends. Often, one negative incident regarding police behavior can take an agency years to recover public trust, and most citizens don’t understand everything that is involved in policing.

Police leaders who want to develop more effective leadership behaviors should be transparent about police capabilities and promptly investigate allegations of misconduct. They should also clearly explain crime control strategies to the public.

Leaders Should Understand Victim Psychology and Follow Up with Crime Victims

Police leaders who study and understand the psychology of victims are more likely to train their subordinates to display empathy and compassion for victims. These qualities are often lacking in police work due to burnout and police stress.

The majority of public perception is based on the communication style police officers use when they talk with crime victims. Police leaders should require subordinates to remain professional when they communicate with citizens and hold accountable any officers who don’t demonstrate the proper behavior.

[Related article: How to Address Toxic Leadership within the Police Force]

Effective police leaders should also understand the impact of stress on both victims and officers. For victims, one strategy that police leaders can use is to have patrol officers follow up with victims.

For less serious crimes, victims typically only interact with law enforcement once a report is made. However, having road patrol officers follow up with a victim several days after a 911 call displays empathy toward the victim and is a powerful step in gaining public trust.

In more serious cases, detectives may follow up with victims. However, having a patrol officer follow up to let victims know that their case is being looked into or to just check on the wellbeing of victims is useful.

Police Leaders Should Closely Monitor Subordinates’ Behavior

Police leaders should closely monitor their subordinates for indicators that officers are not managing their stress well, such as increased anger or depression. When negative behaviors are observed, police leaders should have a one-on-one private discussion with an individual officer to find out what can be done to provide support.

Traditionally, when officers experience changes in their job performance, the decrease in performance is met with punitive repercussions, such as write-ups and verbal counseling as a form of discipline. However, effective leadership behavior involves taking the time to speak with the officer about the source of the performance change.

For instance, a change in an officer’s performance could involve a personal problem such as a divorce or substance abuse. Police leaders should assist an officer by providing additional time off or guide the officer to services to help that officer overcome a substance abuse problem. In situations where supervisors take time to hear and understand the root of their subordinates’ problems, they can provide mentorship and help individuals officers to get back on the right track.

Developing More Effective Leadership Behaviors Can Mitigate Law Enforcement Agency Problems

Effective leaders praise in public and criticize in private, and developing more effective leadership behaviors can more quickly mitigate many problems that exist in within law enforcement agencies. Motivating subordinates through recognizing their efforts and hard work fosters high morale and improves working conditions and culture within a law enforcement agency.

Leaders should also invest in their subordinates by seeking out educational opportunities for them. Effective leadership behaviors are often developed through learning and experience. Transformational leaders create a sense of purpose, ethics and values in others when they talk optimistically about the future. They can also inspire subordinates to create better solutions to problems by considering different perspectives and explain why tasks are necessary to build rapport and trust from subordinates.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. For more information on Jarrod and links to his social media and website, check out

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