Skip to content

Ethics:The Challenges Facing Police Leadership Today


Kenneth D. Gisborne, MA, CISSP, CPP

“There are no insoluble problems. Only time-consuming ones.” – James A. Michener

True leadership is not well understood, evidenced by the numerous and varied theories that often confuse more than clarify this important subject.
EthicsbooksIt is still useful to start with a definition for the purposes of review. Although a precise definition is elusive, some central features are generally agreed. They include the following:

Leadership is an Activity:
Leadership is an activity or a process. For example, leadership cannot occur within a static position, even if formalized within an organization. By definition, leaders must go out and lead others, and as such, are seen as Change Agents. 
Leadership is Relational: 
Leadership is relational, where leaders influence others to work together within some kind of social structure. Such influence may be transcriptional in that a quid pro quo relationship exists (the most extreme example would be a mercenary soldier of war) or is persuasive in that followers come to agree with the reason for the activity in question — or some combination of the two.
Leadership is Visionary:
Leadership is visionary — leaders identify the common purpose that motivates others to work together, generally understood in terms of a shared objective or goal. A common sense definition has been presented by Gardner (1990), who suggests that:

“leadership is the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue an objective held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers” (p.1).

This definition is different in that it includes the “leadership team” and so adds an interesting dimension to the leadership discussion that fits well with Transforming Leadership. 


There are three different challenges facing police organizations today that may be classified as operational, administrative and political (Layton, 1992, pp. 5-37).

“A real leader faces the music, even when he doesn’t like the tune.” 

1. Operational: 

These challenges generally involve crime control and order maintenance functions of police in society, including that of investigating organized crime, drug-trafficking, violent crime, social disorder, gangs.. and so on. Here, police response must be consistent not only with society’s expectations but also with the law.

2. Political: 

These challenges involve being accountable to the political environment, yet not being vulnerable to inappropriate political interference or control. Inappropriate political interference (or control/direction) is usually not related to policy issues (which are the proper responsibilities of politicians), but those relating to issues involving police operations, such as criminal investigations.

3. Administrative: 

These  challenges involve leading the police organization, which include defining service quality, allocating resources, dealing with union issues, transfers, and other day-to-day management/administrative issues. These are critical challenges for police leadership, which “is subject to determination by factors which are external to the organization, as well as by internal group factors” (Stodgill, 1997, p. 121).

Got-ethics2-475x316Police organizations have historically responded to these challenges in a very formal way, often in a form and manner than resembles the military. The hierarchy or chain of command is formal (reinforced by wearing rank insignia on uniforms), as if the flow of information and direction — i.e., superiors give order to subordinates — all of which is underpinned by policy and legislation.

“Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for — because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.” – Peter Marshall.


Post a comment
  1. December 8, 2012

    For more about police leadership I suggest you follow my blog at And here’s to great leadership development!

  2. hcg #
    December 16, 2012

    Good site. My thanks for taking the time. I’ll definitely return to your site to find out more and tell my coworkers about this site, hcg.

  3. Norberto Sinatra #
    May 3, 2013

    The general meaning of ethics: rational, optimal (regarded as the best solution of the given options) and appropriate decision brought on the basis of common sense. This does not exclude the possibility of destruction if it is necessary and if it does not take place as the result of intentional malice..-

    Most up-to-date article on our blog page

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: