Chief, How Do You Lead Your Values?


Unknown-4The following post has been written by a dear friend whose relationship with me touches back to the late 1960s. I am sure we were teen-agers then — I as a young chief, Mary Ann as a newcomer to police research. I remember her and Tony Pate giving a report to the Minneapolis-St Paul Metro Council Criminal Justice Committee of which I was a member in the late ’60s. Just like today, the President’s Commission, now Task Force, had invigorated movement in policing.

As a researcher, Mary Ann Wycoff has played an important part in the improvement of our nation’s police. I am pleased to post her reflection here on a very important topic.


Mary Ann Wycoff


The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) has just released a study of police training curricula,* the key finding of which is that use-of-force training occupies a disproportionate number of training hours compared to training in methods of de-escalation of volatile situations. In light of this report and in the face of the numerous shootings that have occurred in the last two years, several police leaders are now re-thinking and re-engineering their academy programs.

While revision of curricula may be crucial to police reform, this is also the appropriate time to consider the issue of “training leadership”. Who in the department is responsible for training? The obvious answer is the person who heads the training division but the correct answer might be “the chief”. In virtually all departments, training is a delegated responsibility and the chief has little involvement in it beyond making the commencement address and handing out badges.

How many chiefs regularly review the organization’s training curriculum?

How many chiefs know whether the “21 foot rule” is taught in the academy? And, if it is, how it is interpreted.

Or spend time in recruit classes?

Or, talk with recruits?

These are the actions of the chief who is the Lead Trainer.


*Police Executive Research Forum. Re-Engineering Training on Police Use of Force. Washington, DC. 2015.

One of the crucial roles for a chief is that of Conveyor of Organizational Values. If there is hope for improvement in policing, the change will begin with the introduction and indoctrination to values (protection of life and liberty, human dignity, community welfare, civility, fairness, etc.) that are pronounced often by the chief and reinforced regularly by internal processes, especially incident review and sergeant-led conversations with officers.

The introduction and indoctrination could begin on the first day the recruit is in the organization and it would happen in the chief’s office. The chief would discuss the organization’s values and the expectation that the officer-to-be will uphold them. If this is not the way the recruit has envisioned policing, the chief might say that this is the time to consider another career. S/he might further say that, although activity levels may be an element of personnel evaluations, estimate of the officer will depend ultimately on whether the actions were taken for motives and with methods that promote the values. The conversation could end with the chief asking the recruit for a verbal commitment to the values. Is there a graduate of any institution who remembers a word of a commencement address? Would there be a recruit who would forget that first conversation with the chief?

That initial conversation could be followed by a presentation made by the chief on the first day of formal training that essentially repeats the private conversation and reminds recruits again that, if they cannot adhere to the values, they need to consider a new career path. Ideally, the chief would appear frequently at training but, most critically, as recruits are about to begin use-of-force training. Again, the chief would remind them that use of force always should occur, and will be reviewed, within the context of organizational values.

The chief also should be the lead trainer for sergeants, emphasizing for them their role as the purveyor and primary monitor of organizational values. The newly promoted sergeant would participate in the same kind of personal meeting with the chief as the new officer, with the emphasis being on the role of the sergeant as the Keeper of Organizational Values. Training for sergeants should include instruction on how to accomplish this. It will be easier, of course, in departments that adopt the practice of regular, one-on-one conversations between sergeants and officers.

Deputy Chief Mark Perez (ret.) of the Los Angeles Police Department has argued that “an effective personnel management system will prevent people from getting into the disciplinary system. In his view, an effective system is one that adjusts undesirable behavior and affirms the desirable. If sergeants and lieutenants are constantly engaging their people, “affirming and adjusting” their behavior, people will be less likely to get into trouble. He argues that officers who get into trouble often do not know they are violating the values of the organization. He believes that teaching organizational values should be a critical part of the supervisory role and that talking about values is an essential aspect of affirming and adjusting behavior. And yet, in a survey of 4000 sergeants across several departments, Perez found that only 1% of respondents reported that they ever had talked about values with their officers. It is assumed that officers know them. Perez believes that upper level police managers need to stress to sergeants the importance of teaching values, of discussing values any time they talk to officers about behavior.

A chief’s involvement in the training process can happen most conveniently in departments that have their own academies. In the case of regional academies, the initial one-on-one conversation can occur in the chief’s office and the chief can address his or her recruits at a group meeting in the department before they begin training. The chief might travel to the regional academy and, the night before use-of-force training begins, meet with his or her recruits for the discussion of the relationship between values and the use of force. Or this conversation could be held as soon as recruits return to the department from the academy.

Some organizations (the NYPD and LAPD, for example) may be too large to permit the chief to meet with each new hire or even each new sergeant. In lieu of this, the conversations about values would be conducted by persons of significant rank.

An argument will be made that many chiefs have schedules that already are impossibly full; asking them to be the Lead Trainer is asking one thing too many. As with all items on a schedule, it is a matter of priority. There may be few other things a chief can do that will have the potential to powerfully impact the attitudes and performance of new officers. In this time of renewed commitment to improvement in policing, the change-oriented chief will consider embracing and enacting the roles of “Conveyor of Organizational Values” and “Lead Trainer”.

The result may be the cheapest organizational change in history. Nothing is added to the training budget. The only equipment required is head, heart, and leadership.



  • How about it? Is this one of the roles that you play — a leader of organizational values?
  • If not, why not?

[Mary Ann Wycoff began conducting research on policing for the Police Foundation in 1972 and, in 1995, with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Her first project was a study of the efforts of the Dallas Police Department to reshape the organization and its approach to policing. Decades later, similar efforts would be recognized as efforts to establish community policing. It is a development that Ms. Wycoff has observed from its inception and it has been the focus of her research throughout her career. She evaluated the implementation of “Quality Policing” in the Madison, Wisconsin Police Department. She has researched performance evaluation in policing and, specifically, with the Houston Police Department. She currently is a consultant with the Police Executive Research Forum for its project with COPS, “Establishing Procedural Justice Within Police Organizations”. She worked for the Police Foundation for over two decades and retired from PERF in 2000.]




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