The Exemplary Officer

image of gold stars on blue backgroundMany law enforcement departments have embraced the philosophy of community policing by building problem-solving partnerships within their communities to address public safety issues and increase trust in the police. Currently, there are many views on how departments should train their officers to help their actions build community trust.   At a recent meeting hosted by the Office on Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office), Michael Josephson of the Josephson Institute of Ethics presented on “Community Oriented Policing and the Exemplary Police Officer.” Josephson shared his philosophy on how creating a values-based ethical culture that focuses on problem solving can enhance an officer’s ability to build community trust. Below is a summary of some of the key ideas behind Josephson’s philosophy.

The Exemplary Leadership Culture

Josephson explained that an exemplary leadership culture is a culture “where all employees acknowledge and fulfill their personal responsibility to pursue the organization’s mission effectively and ethically.” Departments that adopt this culture can promote ethical leadership amongst their officers by being committed and supportive   to the development and continuous improvement of its officers. Officers who display exemplary leadership qualities are rewarded by promotion and recognition. Officers who are unethical are retrained or fired.   

Creating an Ethical Culture

“Stopping crime directly and making good arrests will always be an important part of policing, but it is not enough,” Josephson said. “To achieve the modern mission of their departments, peace officers must not only display personal courage and expert techniques in dealing with violent situations and uncooperative suspects, but also demonstrate leadership abilities including problem-solving and mediation skills.”  Officers are encouraged to think beyond the question as to “if the decision was within policy guidelines?”  Instead they are encouraged to ask themselves “is the decision the right thing to do?”  It goes beyond the question as to “whether the officer’s decision is acceptable?”  It questions whether the officer’s decision was the best one. It is no longer enough for a police officer to simply be the enforcer of laws, but it is the officer’s duty to think about the best ways the laws should be enforced.

The Exemplary Officer

“Exemplary officers are encouraged to make ethical decisions that involve considerations of moral principles that go beyond just ensuring legal compliance,” according to Josephson. These moral principles include: 1. Trustworthiness, 2. Respect, 3. Responsibility, 4. Fairness, 5. Caring, and 6. Citizenship. Josephson described these values as the Six Pillars of Character. Exemplary officers are trained to incorporate these core values into how they police and build partnerships within the community. 

In conclusion, under Josephson’s philosophy, when an exemplary leadership culture is created within a department, officers are encouraged to respond ethically based on core moral values. Creating a values-based ethical culture within departments that allows officers to change the way they think about responding to public safety issues and to members in the community they serve, helps officers to understand and value their community and perform their duties in a way that continuously gains the trust of the public.

For additional information about Josephson’s training series or the Josephson Institute of Ethics, contact:
The Josephson Institute of Ethics
9841 Airport Blvd., Suite 300
Los Angeles, California 90045


— Nicole Dennis, J.D.
     Program Specialist
     The COPS Office

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