Command Issue December 2018

3 Keys To Effective LE Leadership

By Thomas L. Trice, Jr.
With Naomi-Denise Oudshoorn, Peyton Rose, and Courtney Smith

A little more than three years ago, in 2014, Trice (2014) published an article that examined a theoretical framework for improving the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. That framework was based on empirical research of several scholars who investigated the impact of leadership characteristics and empathy. In that writing, and based on previous research, empathy appeared to be an antecedent to fostering trust. Trice (2014) further theorized that when the public perceives that the law enforcement agencies have empathy for the citizens it is charged with serving and protecting, community relationships may be strengthened. In this writing, we have expanded on Trice’s (2014) previous theoretical framework by conducting extensive research on leadership, cultural competencies, and empathy.

While this is not a literature review, we reviewed a significant number of scholars’ empirical research findings related to these three concepts. From this, we have developed a suggested theoretical framework that brings together, for the first time, these three variables. We postulate that if the right leaders are identified, their leadership can be transformational to the organizational culture of that law enforcement agency. This transformation within can be pushed out into the community, significantly improving on existing community relationships, as well as improving negative relationships. When all three variables are present, we theorize them to be significant contributors in reversing the sliding tide relative to the negative relationships and perceptions between law enforcement and the public’s trust.

It should always be the mission of law enforcement agencies to recruit and identify individuals with leadership qualities, high integrity, a good moral compass, and a proven ability to demonstrate they can work with diverse populations. In this article, we discuss three theoretical concepts (Leadership, Cultural Competency, and Empathy) that empirical research shows could be invaluable framework for law enforcement leaders to consider. These constructs have been shown to have a significantly positive correlation between law enforcement officers currently serving in the field and the communities they serve. Law enforcement professionals must move to utilizing more evidence-based and proven practices in policing their communities. We acknowledge upfront that this article does not offer a fully developed framework. However, it does provide a generalized framework of valuable evidence-based concepts for leaders of the law enforcement community and calls for law enforcement to examine policies that may impact their relationship with the community.

In a time where videos of law enforcement officers having negative encounters with citizens are released and viewed by hundreds of thousands of citizens on multiple social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, thereby driving the “us versus them” narrative, law enforcement needs to show they are learning organizations. Utilizing evidence-based practices related to recruit and promote those individuals with the best leadership ability, cultural competencies, and empathy for the communities they serve may prove to be significant factors in changing this negative narrative. The three concepts propose taking theory to practice. They also bring together these three theoretical concepts that have independently shown to have positive impact in other public service fields such as Social Services, Health Care, and Education.

The current perception of law enforcement as a result of highly publicized incidents (e.g., Tamir Rice, a 12-year-oldshot and killed by an officer while playing in a park with a toy handgun; Michael Brown, after being shot left lying in the street; and Eric Garner, died after being taken down by an officer) and many others have undeniably sparked a backlash resulting in a negative narrative about law enforcement. The public is demanding that leaders examine and consider ways to reverse this sliding tide of negative perception through the practice of “real” leadership. The public will not support and/or trust in leadership that appears to be fraudulent or counterfeit. In the book Lincoln on Leadership, Donald Phillips describes effective leadership as the ability to mobilize people for a socially useful outcome (Phillips, 1992). Today’s law enforcement leaders more than ever must find new and innovative ways to effectively convey the agency’s strategic mission as it relates to community policing, and hold their personnel accountable for both criminal and administrative violations. Finally, they must do away with nepotism and promotional politics.

Much of the academic literature focuses on leadership styles (i.e., trait leadership, servant leadership, transformational leadership and adaptive leadership) and how these styles impact the follower-to- leader relationship. We propose instead an argument for what we refer to as “real leadership.” Utilizing Heifetz’s (1994) definition, we define real leadership “as an activity of a citizen from any walk of life mobilizing people to do something” (p.20). Law enforcement agencies must have effective and real leadership at every level within the organization. Real leaders are ethical, honest, and elevate others under their command both in performance and morally (Heifetz, 1994). One of the ways real leaders can be judged is by their ability to orchestrate conflict. Moreover, real leaders have an uncanny ability to teach others, they have an unbendable moral compass, they set clear expectations for their personnel, and they hold people accountable (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002).

Cultural Competency

Other evidence suggests many of the negative views held by some communities related to law enforcement are a result of lack of cultural competency on of the part of leaders and line officers (Brown and Frank, 2006). Hickey (2016) highlights this in detail and raises the question whether or not law enforcement officers needed to be tested on this prior to hiring. We have elected to use Rice’s (2008) definition for the purpose of this applied research. According to Rice (2008) cultural competency is defined “as the integration and transformation of knowledge about different cultures into possible standards, practices and attitudes used in appropriate cultural settings to increase the quality of response from police officers” (as cited in Hickey, 2016, p.26). Research suggests law enforcement leaders and officers with greater cultural competencies develop better relationships with the citizens they serve. Community trust between the two groups is vastly improved and this is found to especially be true when dealing with minors and minority communities (Hickey, 2016).

In taking theory to practice, we use a real-world case example (2008, St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department) involving a homicide investigation of a young black male murdered in a predominantly black community being investigated by predominately Caucasian investigators. The two lead investigators were an African-American male investigator and a Caucasian male investigator. Both had spent significant time cultivating a relationship with the citizens in that community as patrol officers over the course of their careers prior to becoming investigators and had a deep knowledge of that community’s culture. They knew knocking on doors and asking questions about the homicide in the open view of other residents would result in negative information. Instead, they worked through sources they had developed within the community. Additionally, several of the residents met with them outside of the community neighborhood willingly because they knew they could trust them, and they knew their identities would be protected in exchange for information. Due to the relationship between the investigators and the citizens, the homicide case was solved within 72 hours of it occurring.

Although law enforcement officers have a stressful job and often respond to unknown situations, not understanding the individual(s) they are there to assist or confront, coupled with implicit biases, increases the potential of make things worse. Moreover, in many of these cases it has resulted in the death of individuals unnecessarily. Training in cultural competency may allow for law enforcement officers to be more self-aware of their biases and prevent micro- aggressions. As defined in the article, “Tackling Micro-Aggressions in Organizations,” micro-aggressions are verbal and nonverbal messages towards an individual that insults them due to gender, race, disability, and many other categories (Prieto, Norman, Phipps, & Chenault, 2016). Moreover, public service areas such as counseling and health care have instituted training of their personnel on cultural competency as part of their institutional objectives. As a result, research on these organizations found that these trainings have assisted with preventing language barriers and distrust between the providers and their clients. The research also suggested that law enforcement would have similar outcomes as the other public services did (Hickey, 2016). In a country that has become more diverse over the course of a half a century and is stratified by race, economic inequality, and social status, we need leaders and officers that are open-minded and understanding of these factors.

Empathy in law enforcement officers has been found to be a significant factor related to building trust with citizens and case solvability. While empathy is often confused with sympathy, there are very distinct differences between the two. Therefore, we provide clear definitions of both to differentiate them. Sympathy is the emotion of wanting to alleviate the suffering of another, while empathy is “the attempt of a self-aware person to comprehend without making judgments on both the positive and negative experiences of another” (Inzunza, 2015, p. 60). While much of the research related to empathy and police characteristics have been conducted outside the United States, it has shown promising correlations related to effective community policing, effective communication skills, honesty, self- control, common sense, integrity and increased confessions during interviewing and interrogation (Inzunza, 2015; Oxburgh, Ost, Morris, & Cherryman, 2015; Denham, 2014; Oxburgh et al., 2014; Oxburgh, Williamson & Ost, 206). Furthermore, empirical research has shown that officers’ profiles that show them to have empathetic attributes have significantly higher levels of positive relationships and trust within the communities they serve, including communities that were primarily African-American and regardless of the officers’ ethnicity (Inzunza, 2015; Schuck and Rosenbaum, 2005).

Review of videos
Between 2015 and the start of 2018, there were more than 500 videos that captured law enforcement officers throughout the United States using force, such as: body slamming individuals, punching subjects with their fist, striking them with a baton, using a taser or mace and ultimately their
assigned duty weapons. Many of these incidents involved officers responding to non-life- threatening calls, with the responding officers apparently escalating the situation as opposed to deescalating them. We reviewed more than 300 of these videos and discussed them with more than 800 law enforcement officers throughout the United States during trainings. In the initial onset of the conversations, 70 percent of the officers’ visceral response were to initially defend the actions of the officers. While noble from a loyalty and brotherhood perspective, law enforcement must move from this tribal perspective of justifiable versus non-justifiable actions of officers into a deeper analysis of the incident and ask the question, “What if this was your family member?”

Not surprisingly, when this question was asked of officers, more than 90 percent of them looked at the incidents differently and discussed a number of factors that could have potentially deescalated the situations. Self-awareness and the ability to put themselves in the shoes of others is at the core of empathy. If law enforcement truly wishes to regain the public’s trust and respect, then leadership, cultural competency and empathy appear to be concepts that need to be considered going forward. Law enforcement officers must realize a paradigm change is happening, and those officers refusing to change will only continue to make the same miscalculation related to the treatment of American citizens. Leaders must reinforce within their organizations that it is an honor to wear the badge and that underneath that badge, officers are no more than a citizen with powers to take individuals’ liberties. With that comes enormous responsibility and public trust that law enforcement agencies will only hire the individuals who can see their job duties through the lens of a citizen, which means being ethical, critical thinkers, and morally sound.

In the President’s Task Force Report on 21st Century Policing (2015) that was conducted by an independent task force of law enforcement officials and academic scholars, building trust and legitimacy were highlighted as the number one pillar out of six pillars for law enforcement agencies to work towards. While they looked at five other areas pertaining to policy, technology and social media, community policing and crime reduction training and education, and finally, officer wellness, trust is the variable that moderates all other factors. Officers who are effective leaders, culturally competent and empathetic to their communities are the most self-aware and best perform their duties through the eyes of the citizens they serve. Law enforcement is one of the most complex and demanding occupations but has constantly been treated like a trade rather than a profession in some cities and states. If law enforcement wants to regain the community’s trust, they must first turn an eye inward and address the cultural complexities inhouse, as well as the lack of minority leadership.

For these reasons and many others, it is imperative during the pre-employment screening process leaders consider ways to implement and utilize the concepts introduced in this article. They must also consider the diversity within their own agencies and how the lack of minority leadership and officers may be impacting the relationship with the communities they serve. Law enforcement is one of the most rewarding public service occupations in the world, and most law enforcement officers serve with integrity and courage. While the latter is true, law enforcement leaders and officers must also be wide-eyed about officers who behave poorly and call them out in order to show the public that the masses in law enforcement do not support this behavior.

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