Ethical leadership can be strengthened, survey finds
Published Wednesday, February 15, 2012 7:05AM EST
VANCOUVER - A key indicator of whether police will call out their fellow officers for bad behaviour scored low in Canada's first-ever study of policing ethics across the country.
The indicator, which also predicts whether officers are committed to their force and if supervisors and colleagues behave with integrity, stood out for Ottawa-based researchers studying ethics and professionalism among police.
"This study provided all Canadian police agencies with valuable insights," Chief Dale McFee, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said in a news release.
He said it underscores a need among police forces to strengthen ethical leadership.
"(It) showed us we need to do a better job of communicating that commitment internally to our front line police officers."
Results of the study were released Tuesday in New Westminster, B.C. by two Carleton University researchers and funded by the police chiefs association.
Officers across 31 police services were surveyed, amounting to more than 10,000 people — though representing only 24 per cent of potential respondents.
While many questions pertaining to issues around work environment, supervision, decision-making and community engagement were ranked highly, several red flags were raised.
Officers' evaluations of "procedural justice" by their managers — which looks at their views about the fairness and openness of procedures and decision — garnered the poorest ratings.
For example, the study found a majority of officers didn't agree decisions are unbiased or consistently applied. They also believe decisions are made by managers who don't talk to the people involved, and that information used to make those decisions is sometimes inadequate.
When such situations do occur, one-third of officers said that they are allowed to challenge the decision.
Another stand-out result was that 48 per cent of officers said they aren't happy with the leadership of their senior managers.
Over half of respondents disagreed that senior managers act on what employees have to say, have the best interests of employees at heart, explain their decisions, and listen to what employees' say or can be trusted.
"Some of these concerns may derive from senior managers' need to make decisions which are unpopular with employees," the study said. "Nevertheless, the data suggest that officers would appreciate more two-way communication around decisions."
Typical respondents to the study were white men older than 40. Women only accounted for 19 per cent, and were generally younger and less experienced.
The major differences in response, based on sex, was that women were "significantly" less likely than men to believe their colleagues would report problematic behaviour.
Women, on average, also saw their agencies as less supportive and felt their agencies weren't as highly regarded by the community. Women also were more likely to say they did not internalize the force's values.
The researchers made 52 recommendations for police agencies to consider. Those include developing standards to guide discretionary judgment and in-house ethics expertise, be more supportive of professional development and providing more training to supervisors on being supportive.
Answering tough questions about how front line officers feel about their colleagues' integrity was part of the reason for the survey, said Assistant Commissioner Norm Lipinski, who heads the ethics committee for the police chiefs association.
"The goal was to provide a benchmark for all police forces, and guidelines on how we might better structure policing."