Morals and Morale: Two Sides of the Same Coin

July 11, 2018

I’ve been in law enforcement for 38 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes in the profession. I’ve also seen a consistency in some protocols and behavior when it comes to organizational knee-jerk reactions by bosses to complaints and/or the ever-changing political winds.

Some of those reactions include management kowtowing to the media masses and assigning their officers to ass-covering ‘check-the-box’ training. Often the two go hand-in-hand.

It seems as though anytime there’s a perceived violation of policy, the CEO of the effected police organization starts talking about “values” and “ethics” and promises a reevaluation of the agency’s culture that will include training and policy initiatives to strengthen its moral fiber.

Blah, blah, blah.

Growing Cynicism

Pretty cynical way to start an article, right? Bashing managers and management practices?

I was a boss for 18 of my 30 years on the job, and 15 as a commander. I’ve been to extensive management training, have a master’s degree in management and have taught leadership, management, and ethics courses for more than 20 years. I absolutely believe in the need for hierarchal supervisory ranks, education, and training.

I stand by my observations. Much of what comes out of the mouths of too many police managers is designed to appease, not to improve.

Every cop in this country has been forced to sit through ethics training of some sort. And few in those chairs, heads resting in hands, believe they are there for serious changes in the organizational culture.

I know this because when I teach such classes and I ask at the outset, “Why are you here?”

“The chief wants to prove we take ethics seriously,” paraphrases the most common response. That’s leadership for you.

Elected Leaders

What’s makes matters worse today is the behavior of many in elected “leadership” positions in this country. Scores are out of control with their rhetoric against law enforcement, taking any and every opportunity to condemn. The latest target is Border Patrol and ICE.

“Abolish ICE!” is a rallying cry from some office holding politicians and others running for public office. Several major media organizations are heralding their “bravery” for taking such a stand. My belief—my sincere belief—is that they don’t have a clue who ICE is or what are its duties and Mission.

Dick Durbin, a sitting U.S. Senator from Illinois two weeks ago said in an interview with CNN, “Look at ICE, what a group of incompetents.”

Elected officials are getting arrested for obstructing Border Patrol and ICE agents who are literally trying to protect children and arrest predators.

In a Calibre Press seminar a few weeks ago someone showed me video of ICE and Border Patrol bosses vigorously defending their organizations, their respective missions, and, most importantly, their personnel.

A group of officers from a large midwestern city were talking with me about those bosses when one said, “If our chief ever did anything like that I think we’d all drop dead from shock!”

Further conversation with a commander revealed something I’ve heard way too often in the past several years, “Our chief talks a big game about ethics and morals, but all he cares about is his own position. He doesn’t care about the mission and certainly doesn’t care about us. He’ll throw us under the bus if it is between us and his reputation. He’s a politician who wants to be part of these national groups and PC think-tanks. He wants to hobnob with the bigwigs after he retires from us.”

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Hypocrisy. Cops can spot it a thousand miles away. They are professional BS detectors.

Bosses can’t scream about ethics violations over a cop taking a free cup of coffee while the leaders in congress and at the Department of Justice behave the way they are today. Almost daily there are new revelations about rules and ethics violations at the DOJ and FBI, the very organizations in charge of consent decrees and determining whether local police agencies have ethical issues and are complying with constitutional requirements.

This is not going unnoticed by the 800,000 cops in the country. “Do as I say, not as I do” is what all these so-called leaders are unintentionally, but clearly, communicating.

So why would the average police officer take ethics training and bosses talking about morals seriously?

If you are a chief and you pontificate about righteousness and ethics, but kowtow to activists screaming “abuse”and discipline or publicly criticize an officer before an investigation is completed, then your true morals are obvious and officer morale will plummet.

If you, as the CEO of a police agency, don’t stand up to your bosses when they prematurely and publicly blast your agency or an individual member for political reasons, don’t be surprised when your officers shutdown.

What happened to civility? Due process? Respect and decorum—even for those with whom you may disagree? It seems these days that if it appeases the group to whom you’re speaking, then go ahead and say it. This is most poignantly obvious among the media and political class. To hell with the facts and the process.

As we say at the outset of our Finding the Leader in You seminar: “The only reason your organization exists is to accomplish a Mission. The only way to accomplish that Mission, the one-and-only way, is through people. If you, as their leader, don’t have their trust, they won’t follow you. They will do the bare minimum. The Mission will not be fulfilled.”

So bosses, please stop talking about morals and ethics and recognize that doing is what’s important. Walk your talk!

Unfortunately, many chiefs—by no means most, but many—have become more akin to thinking politically than like a cop. And, like politicians, they’re always on the lookout for the next lavish gig.


All the formal education I have in management, all the classes I’ve taken and countless books I’ve read, none gave me a more succinct and accurate description of what a police supervisor should be than the one my father gave me the day I made sergeant. And it took him no more than ten seconds.

Dad took me in his room, sat me down turned, put his finger in my face and said, “The only reason you exist is to help them do their jobs and make sure they go home safe at night. They don’t work for you, you work for them. The second you forget that, you’re failing to lead!”

He turned and walked out.

And he never even went to college.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join the 125,000+ law enforcement professionals who receive the weekly Calibre newsletter filled with analysis of force encounters caught on video, training articles, product reviews, expert commentary and more.




Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

“The body does keep score.” Powerful Feedback From a Calibre Newsletter Reader

“The body does keep score.” Powerful Feedback From a Calibre Newsletter Reader

Take Notice of an Officer’s Pain

Take Notice of an Officer’s Pain

Continued: Cops & Mental Illness Calls: Can We Break the Cycle?

Continued: Cops & Mental Illness Calls: Can We Break the Cycle?

Cops & Mental Illness Calls: Can We Break the Cycle?

Cops & Mental Illness Calls: Can We Break the Cycle?

Is the Police Profession in Trouble? Here’s What Cops Think.

Is the Police Profession in Trouble? Here’s What Cops Think.