5 ways supervisors can improve police-citizen relations

Amid demonstrations, riots, and presidential action, police leaders must address citizens’ assertion of police wrongdoing — one way of doing that is emphasizing strong supervision strategies

American law enforcement today — seemingly more than any other time in history — needs strong, caring and engaged leaders. Leaders must be supported by conscientious and scrupulous supervisors who have a steadfast determination to serve and protect citizens with honesty and respect. 

Supervisors who have regular contact with front line officers, like lieutenants and sergeants, are the link between the workforce and senior leaders. A caring leader will create performance standards which will foster high ethics in the department and support continuing ethics training. Field supervisors accept policy, sometimes even defending it, and turn policy into actions which professionally protect all citizens. 

Some officers have the appropriate social skills to communicate well, while others are more authoritative and demanding. Some are sensitive to public demands and individual wants, while other officers are unconcerned and show obvious detachment from citizen dilemmas. A supervisor who cares to do his or her best can promote modern policing by fostering greater citizen-police relationships with ethical encounters by all officers under their command. A supervisor can improve service and protect officers using the following five steps:

1. Don’t be afraid to supervise.
Some supervisors are only in it for the money and rank. Some supervisors can be uneasy or afraid to supervise. They complete required paperwork and ignore how policing is being conducted on the street. 

Others can effectively lead a policing action but cannot deal with personnel issues. Some may avoid correcting an unethical or unprofessional action by a subordinate because they cannot bring themselves to confront controversy with another officer. 

A supervisor is no longer part of the crowd — he or she is above the crowd. From that elevated position, the supervisor can better bridge the officers he or she is leading, and the community they all serve. 

2. Be fully engaged with those you supervise. 
A supervisor must be present physically and in spirit. A true supervisor knows the strengths and weaknesses of each subordinate, stays positive and is respectful and offers equal time to each. Each officer should be mentored to overcome work problems and reach their full potential, and be given words of praise, awards and letters of commendation when appropriate. 

Every subordinate should know the supervisor’s expectations and ethical standards. A supervisor should enforce department policy while understanding an officer’s discretion. All discretion will be used for the benefit of citizens served while maintaining order and enforcing the law. There are times when a supervisor must take a deep breath and take control and do the right thing for citizens served, the department, other officers and for him or herself.

3. Understand the many cultures served. 
There is an undeniable history of some law enforcement officers treating minorities in an unethical or unprofessional manner. That mistreatment was not universal by any means, but this facet of history exists, and it plays into our current landscape. Continuing into the 21st century, some officers do not acknowledge, fully understand, or even perceive their bias. 

Current complaints are a mix of reality, perception, misunderstandings, and foremost, an apparent lack of respect shown to citizens by some officers. As a public servant, showing respect is a requirement. The best supervisor will understand realities and pass along the knowledge to subordinates. An officer must know the complexities of discretion. 

4. Stop regressive pull. 
Unprofessional and sometimes illegal behavior by officers in many cases demonstrates regressive pull. Regressive pull is a behavior that is learned as an officer spends a great deal of time with an unrefined culture or a criminal element and begins to act in an unprofessional or criminal manner. 

Worldwide, there are untold numbers of cultures. Each culture has its own characteristics, level of sophistication, and rules of conduct. A supervisor must help officers to understand and accept the varied cultures served and respond accordingly. An officer cannot be allowed to fall into a mindset that is contrary to department policy, ethical standards and common sense. 

5. Resist groupthink. 
Groupthink is a mindset developed within a group. There are varied reasons for the occurrence but in law enforcement it can be used as a defense mechanism. Individuals are drawn into regressive pull and search for self-therapy. A group is formed and begins to isolate itself, makes unsound decisions, refuses to accept outside opinions, behaves outside social norms and denies any wrongdoing. 

A supervisor must not allow subordinates to fall into a norm that is contrary to department policy and regulations.  A supervisor who is fully engaged with the ranks can quickly recognize any such behavior in an individual officer or a group of officers and be able to quickly address it, thus preventing its spread. 

Self-protection and the use of force is, rightfully, a large part of law enforcement training. Instruction of social skills, ethics, persuasion and compromise must become equal partners with traditional law enforcement tactics. If current citizen complaints are to be addressed, a police approach of insensitivity must be changed to one which embraces the understanding of others and a new sense of service to the public.

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