Understanding Core Values of Policing

In today's society, choosing the appropriate policing strategy for our communities is no simple task. Increased violence against police officers, terrorism, school shootings, and illegal immigration are only a few of the things that have significantly altered the role of police. However, every strategy must adhere to a set of core values.

Above all else, we, as police officers, must remember that we are servants to the Constitution. We must understand that policing is a dangerous business and not use officer safety as an excuse to trample the rights of citizens. Too often we see cases of unlawful searches, unlawful arrests, or other intrusion into the rights of the people. It is imperative that police officers understand why we must first protect the rights of the people - even if it means protecting the criminal. Sometimes our instincts tell us we have the right person and we know there's a violation of law. It just may take a little extra effort to develop the appropriate probable cause.

Chief David C. Couper (Ret.) lines out the qualities which should be prevalent across all police agencies. I agree with these qualities and seek to integrate them into department policies, procedures, and operations on a daily basis.

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We believe the following qualities are essential for our nation’s police to practice in order to be full partners in our free and democratic society:

Qualities of Police in a Free and Democratic Society

1. Accountable
Police recognize the nature and extent of their discretionary authority and must always be accountable to the people, their elected representatives, and the law for their actions, and be as transparent as possible in their decision-making.

2. Collaborative
Police must be able to collaborate, as appropriate, with community members and other organizations in settling disagreements, choosing policing strategies, and solving policing problems. This collaborative style must also apply to the way police departments are led and managed. This means police leaders must actively listen to their officers and work with them in identifying and resolving department and community problems.

3. Educated and trained
All police officers with arrest powers should begin their career with a broad and advanced education in the sciences and humanities. Training should consist of rigorous and extensive training courses in an adult-learning climate that teaches both the ethics and skills of democratic policing.

4. Effective and preventive
The mark of a good police department and the officers who work within it is that they continuously seek to handle their business more effectively and fairly, emphasizing preventing crime and disorder and not merely responding to it, and applying research and practical knowledge, using problem-solving methods, toward that end.

5. Honest
Honesty and good ethical practice are essential. The search for and cultivation of these traits begin with the selection process and continue throughout an officer’s career. Only those police candidates who have demonstrated good decision-making so far in their lives should be selected.

6. Model citizen
Police officers must not only be good police officers, but good citizens as well, modeling the values and virtues of good citizenship in their professional and personal lives.

7. Peacekeeper and protector
The police role is, above all else, that of community peacekeepers, and not merely law enforcers or crime fighters. Their training, work, and values all point towards the keeping of peace in the community. As gatekeepers to the criminal justice system, police must see themselves as defenders and protectors of Constitutional and human rights, especially for those who cannot defend or care for themselves in our society.

8. Representative
The members of police organizations must be demographically representative of the communities they serve, both because it reflects fair employment opportunities and because it enables the police to be more effective in achieving their objectives.

9. Respectful
Police officers should treat all persons with unconditional courtesy and respect, and be willing to listen to others, especially to those without social power or status. Likewise, police leaders should treat their workers with courtesy and respect their employment rights.

10. Restrained
The preservation of life should be the foundation for all police use of force. Police officers should continually prepare themselves to use physical force in a restrained and proper manner, with special training in its application to those who are mentally ill. Deadly force should be used only as a last resort and only when death or serious injury of the officer or another person is imminent. Less-than-lethal force should be preferred where possible.

11. Servant leader
Every police officer, regardless of rank, must simultaneously be a good leader and a good servant, to the public and to the police organization. Servant leaders use their authority and influence to improve others’ welfare.

12. Unbiased
Although some bias is inherent in human nature, police officers recognize that they can and should train themselves to reduce their biases and deal with all people fairly and without regard to their race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic condition, national origin, citizenship status, or sexual orientation.