Exemplary Policing: Ethical & Policing Values

15 Core Ethical & Policing Values

Ethical & Policing Values – An Exemplary Policing Agency seeks to inculcate into its culture, training and all interactions with officers core ethical and policing values so they are internalized, not as external standards imposed on them, but true beliefs adopted by them.

Core values are deeply held convictions or beliefs that drive attitudes and actions. Values shape the culture of a policing agency and establish criteria for making and evaluating decisions.  Values concern views as to what is effective (e.g., diligence, hard work), desirable (e.g., achievement, power), and morally right (e.g., honesty, responsibility).

Core values are intended to guide and inspire us in all we say and do. Making sure that our values become part of our day-to-day work life is our mandate, and they help to ensure that our personal and professional behavior can be a model for all to follow. (Derived  from Los Angeles Police Department statement)         

Values are not words to be memorized; they are fundamental principles to be internalized.  Values are actual beliefs and convictions, not commands, declarations or formal statements. An agency can state but cannot mandate values.

An Exemplary Policing Agency publicly proclaims its core values in formal statements, on wallet cards and posters, and in policies and training. Generally, however this is not sufficient to ensure that all employees actually adopt and believe in the principles underlying each stated value. The agency seeks to inculcate into its culture and interactions with officers the concepts embodied within each value.

Stated vs. Operational Values

Values become operational through the enforcement of standards, policies and rules that mandate or prohibit conduct in accordance with the value. Thus, treating “the sanctity of human life” as a core value will generate policies and training that establish restrictive standards for the use of force, especially lethal force. The value of “honoring the badge” results in regulations that prohibit on and off-duty conduct that may discredit the agency or the policing profession and  the value of accountability overrides loyalty instincts resulting in a code of silence and imposes upon officers a strict duty to do what is necessary to prevent or report misconduct of fellow officers.,

Values Underlying Laws

Policing effectiveness and credibility is greatly enhanced when an agency makes it a top priority to assure that all personnel understand and are committed to the values that underlie the laws they are asked to uphold, support and defend.

Understanding the values underlying laws and rules (often referred to as the “spirit of the law”) is a critical to making a rational interpretation of a law to apply it to unanticipated situations. Thus, understanding the values embodied in the concept of privacy makes it easy to determine that constitutional provisions regulating searches and seizure would be extended to protect phone conversations and data stored on computers and smart phones.

Organizational vs. Personal Values

The exemplary core values essential to an exemplary agency are organizational values. Members of the organization are expected to adopt and exhibit these values, whether or not they agree with them. Personal values, on the other hand, refer to the individual convictions and beliefs possessed by each officer and civilian employee. A problem can arise when personal values conflict with institutional ones.

For example, individual employees may have very strong beliefs about drug use, abortion, gay and lesbian relations, flag or cross burnings, or other issues that evoke passionate reactions that conflict with their duty to enforce the law or protect individuals they find despicable (e.g., protecting a Nazi or Ku Klux Clan rally or a virulent anti-police protest).

Policing professionals must not allow their personal beliefs to affect their official conduct in a manner inconsistent with positive policing values. An exemplary agency is vigilant for any indication that the personal values of one or more officers are negatively impacting professional behavior. All policing employees must be held accountable to abide by the law and the core values of the agency.

Core Ethical and Policing Values 
IB. Values. The agency articulates and pervasively promotes adoption and adherence to core ethical and policing values.
Core Ethical Values. All policing communications and actions demonstrate:
1)    Trustworthiness. The agency, recognizing that credibility is critical to success, requires officers to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in all communications; expects them to keep their commitments; demonstrate integrity by exercising the moral courage to do what’s right and lawful despite physical danger, self-interest, temptations or the possibility of criticism, or scorn.
2)    Respect. Officers demonstrating respect for individual privacy, dignity and autonomy by treating all persons with professional courtesy and refraining from words and actions that are officious or reflect personal malice, animosity, prejudice or bias.
3)    Responsibility/Accountability. All personnel hold themselves and those they work with accountable to prevent or report illegal, unethical, unprofessional, or irresponsible conduct and to remedy deficiencies in policies or training, and eliminate attitudes, customs, traditions or practices that promote, condone or conceal improper conduct.
4)    Fairness & justice. Policing powers are employed in a manner that demonstrates unwavering commitment to the pursuit of justice, honoring due process and treating all persons fairly and equally without partiality or prejudice and providing all persons equal service and protection of the law.
5)    Caring. Officers demonstrate empathy, compassion, and caring for the safety and well-being of all persons.
6)    Citizenship. The agency promotes scrupulous adherence to the letter and spirit of law.
Policing Values. In addition to commitment to core ethical values, exemplary policing agencies demonstrate commitment to fundamental policing values.
7)    Sanctity of human life. A fundamental premise of police training and action is that officers demonstrate the highest regard for the sanctity of human life, dignity and liberty of all persons, including officers.[1]
8)    Restraint in use of force. Physical force should only be used if professional efforts to employ persuasion, counseling, warning and de-escalation strategies are insufficient to obtain co-operation and then only the extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order. Lethal force is employed only in the most extreme circumstances and where all forms of de-escalation or lesser force have failed or could not be reasonably employed.[2]
9)    Commitment to constitutional and civil rights. Officers are devoted to American democratic values and principles and their duty to uphold and safeguard constitutional civil rights and liberties.
10) Professionalism. Officers demonstrate commitment to the highest standards of policing excellence and professionalism in their appearance, demeanor and bearing and by pursuing mission objectives with competence, courage, dignity, composure, respect, objectivity and restraint in a manner that inspires trust and upholds the highest standards of public service and policing ethics.
11) Honoring the badge. Officers view their badges as symbols of professional policing and the public’s trust and in their professional and personal lives avoid conduct that could discredit our agency or the policing profession.
12) Pursuit of excellence. The agency promotes and expects the pursuit of excellence in methods and results.
13) Selfless public service. All personnel are passionately committed to selfless public service and understand and honor their special responsibilities  to provide quality policing services to the community and to use their positions and powers only for the public benefit and never for personal gain.
14) Transparency. The agency demonstrates commitment to transparency by granting prompt and easy access to information concerning its performance and the official actions their officers, including videos, except where it would be unlawful or an unjustified violation of privacy.
15) Community policing. Commitment to the community policing is demonstrated in personnel decisions, training and policing strategies and the agency’s commitment to obtain support, engagement and cooperation from all segments of the community.


EPA Values Graphic

[1]In March 2016, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) issued Guiding Principles on the Use of Force listing 30 Guiding Principles “intended to take policing to a higher standard of performance and services, and to make policing safer for everyone.” Principle 1 states: “The sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does. Agency mission statements, policies, and training curricula should emphasize the sanctity of all human life—the general public, police officers, and criminal suspects—and the importance of treating all persons with dignity and respect.”

[2] Sir Robert Peel, widely considered the father of modern policing created the “London Metropolitan Police” based on nine principles including; “The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.” Principle 4. – “Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.” Principle 6.

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