The Truth is Rarely Told: A Critical Issue in Today’s Law Enforcement

April 25, 2023

By Brad J. Castle, Ph.D.

Before anyone gets upset, please understand this article is not intended to be a cheap shot at law enforcement. As a former law enforcement officer, my research interest has always been based on helping narrow the ever-widening gap between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. Part of that has become trying to make the situations of the guys and gals doing the job day in and day out a little better. That said, I think a song by recording artist Matthew West called Truth Be Told carries an important message that can be applied directly to law enforcement organizations today with hopes of making organizational life less stressful for those on the job. You can list to it here.

In relation to people in general, West’s core message in his own words: “Truth be told, the truth is rarely told” cannot be truer. He goes on to identify two common lies. The first is that “…you’re supposed to have it all together” and secondly that “…everybody’s life is perfect except yours.” As a result, people try to put on a facade that everything is fine and there are no problems within. They try to keep issues and problems hidden from the public.

How does this apply to law enforcement agencies? Law enforcement officers are people first, and law enforcement organizations are operated and directed by those same people. So, it logically follows that issues common to people are also common to organizations. Law enforcement organizations are very visible, high profile governmental organizations and are therefore subject to the whims of the public which brings political pressure. This can in turn cause disruption in necessary funding and the rules under which officers must operate when trying to do a very difficult job. The common thought seems to be that no one will vote for a levy if there are issues within the police department.

According to West, when asked how he is doing he says he is fine, and when things get out of control, he insists they are under control –but he is not always fine and things are not always under control. In our personal lives, most would consider this to be just common courtesy and pleasantry because no one wants to be a wet blanket. But for governmental organizations, those rules do not apply. The difference is that as a governmental organization, the powers and authority we as law enforcement have is, in fact, derived from the consent of the communities we serve. As such, accountability and transparency are paramount. We can only behave like dispassionate governmental bureaucracies and objectify people into problems that can be solved and statistics that can be tallied for so long before the people begin to push back.

What does the façade that everything is fine look like related to law enforcement organizations in the real world? The most notable example is the suggestion that the police subculture frowns upon open expression by officers. In particular, the expression of emotional vulnerability or personal positions inconsistent with those of the agency’s administrative stance. The power of the police subculture is well documented as even the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing noted the power of the police subculture to negate or significantly resist policy changes within police organizations. Police administrations have been documented as blaming the police subculture for resistance in implementing new reforms or policy.

Another prime example is the resistance to transparency in academic research. This is often found in the form of a “gatekeeper-like” behavior of organizational administrators. This gatekeeper-like behavior was documented by Kandaai et al. (2013) where several police chiefs declined to cooperate with the research being conducted on statutory rape. During my own research I have experienced this gatekeeper behavior in a study related to police disciplinary processes. One chief, knowing me to be a police officer at the time, told me, “We are a small department; we don’t have anything like that here.” Seriously? What police agency does not have any form of disciplinary activity? However, this behavior continues to this day. One author experienced this just recently when a large police agency that had agreed to cooperate with her study refused when it came time to actually make the information about the study available to the officers.

So, the question becomes one of “Why?” Why do police leaders not see the value in these studies? Perhaps they simply distrust psychologists in general. Perhaps it is as simple as trying to look good for the voters when the police levy is up for a vote. Or, a rather potentially disquieting thought is that one could view this gatekeeper-like behavior as a mechanism by which those with ultimate power and control seek to maintain the status quo and continue to prevent the voices of street-level officers from being represented in the literature.

Recently, I was contacted through interdepartmental channels of a university seeking someone with a psychology background to collaborate on an article about police recruiting for a major and very well-known police magazine. Once the leaders of the effort learned of my law enforcement background and my publishing in this area, they seemed particularly interested in my insight. But this was not a journal article as I was originally told it was to be. After the initial meeting to set the priorities, it was decided that because the focus was police recruitment, the following areas were important: Brand Image, Generational Differences, Leadership, and Retention. To most folks in the law enforcement field, the overlapping nature of these issues is self-evident. However, after input from the editors, only brand image and emphasis on recruiting generational differences made it into the final article. Everything I had written from the psychological perspective was removed, and I was removed as an author of the article. Why?

The why goes back to what research has borne out, in spite of gatekeeper behaviors. Research has shown that cliques within a police agency are disastrous for the organization. The presence of cliques within an organization suggests that there are insiders and outsiders. The outsiders do not feel they truly belong in the organization –particularly law enforcement organizations where increased danger might be the result. That servant leadership has vast advantages for law enforcement organizations. The servant leader is the antitheses of the authoritarian leader barking orders from on high. The servant leader helps and guides his/her people rather than trying to control them through policy and rules.

We have all heard that employees quit bosses –not jobs. This cannot be truer in some law enforcement organizations. One of the passages I wrote for this article (which was removed) discussed the necessity for police leadership to be onboard with the program from the start. However, as always, there is a catch. The catch is that this evolution must start from the top of the law enforcement organization. White found that officer behavior appeared to be driven more by supervisors and peers than law or policy. Officers often fear negative attention from those farther up the chain of command for not following the established program. Similarly, the top administrators of law enforcement organizations are often considered unquestionable and beyond reproach. The question becomes why was this, as well as all of the other psychologically sound aspects of this article related to the subject, removed?

The answer to this question seems relatively clear from my perspective. This was a prominent police periodical aimed at a very specific readership –law enforcement administration. Periodicals make money through readership numbers, so they give their readers what they want to hear. Period. In this case, the focus was on increasing recruitment. Increasing recruitment without increasing retention of existing officers is the equivalent of chasing one’s tail. Catering to younger generations is fruitless if leadership refuses to change the way they have always done things. Yet, this is the situation. The readership of this magazine (apparently according to the behaviors of the editors) does not want to hear about new things they need to learn and do. They do not want to hear about the work they need to put in. They do not want to hear how cliques are bad and sitting in the office barking orders to subordinates does not work in the 21st century. So, instead, they want to focus on brand image to increase recruitment of younger generations.

“Truth be told, the truth is rarely told.” Do Matthew West’s words make more sense now? Lacking the willingness to introspectively look at one’s own behaviors and change for the better of those they serve, some law enforcement leaders simply continue to say they are fine, and everything is under control. They focus on a catchy facade and image in hopes of bringing in new recruits from younger generations.

The issue of public perception (i.e., brand image) can be changed as members of the community see a change in the organization’s officers. But this cannot happen overnight with the roll out of a new social media presence. For generations, police subculture has promoted the idea of “us vs them” which can be explained in Tajfel and Turner’s Social Identity Theory (1979). This “us vs. them” attitude can also be extended to civilian contacts further depressing public perception. When the focus from the top of a law enforcement organization changes from that of a warrior against the community (us vs. them) to that of a paladin seeking to help and protect the members of the community, true change can and will happen.

However, nothing good comes free or without working for it. There is definitely work to do within law enforcement organizations. But the answer begins at the top of these organizations. Importantly, the problem must first be recognized and accepted before change can occur. As West sings: “I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it, when being honest is the only way to fix it.” Indeed, change must start with admitting there is a problem, or a better way. But suppressing the truth is never the answer to fix issues either in oneself or their organizations –particularly in governmental bureaucracies like law enforcement organizations.

What are YOUR thoughts? E-mail us at:

About the author:

A police patrol veteran holding instructor ratings for Taser and Radar/Lidar, Dr. Castle now teaches undergraduate psychology for Columbia Southern University, and is a dissertation chair for Grand Canyon University.  Dr. Castle remains active in police related research.



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.




  1. Mark Suchy

    I am a retired 30 year veteran of a 300 sworn employee department, who was a mid-level supervisor. I agree with a lot that Castle has to say about how there are many aspects in law enforcement that prove we do not have it all together. I always was prideful to be one of the rocks at our agency to demonstrate and mentor our officers (young and old) what was acceptable and what was not. There is no excuse for improper behavior or below standard police work, but there is much to take into account before we start casting stones. This is not an excuse it is a fact, we are not machines. There is and always be a learning curve dealing with human beings who chose a career whose people who they serve expect perfection. As much as we try we can get it close, but there will never be perfection in everyone’s view of the incident and how it was handled.

    In reference of the “Police Subculture” that does not believe in a new concept or change the way we do things is subjective. There are two sides of that coin. Just because Castle has his doctorate and believes in complete change of the system, could he be wrong? Could there be smaller changes in what we do to better operate? Is it possible that what we have been doing not been archaic at all? Some of the attempted shifts in Policing are foolish. Some procedures were not broken and they did work. Society has to decide in what they want to see in policing. If current policing continues down the road it is going now not upholding Police Procedure and laws that have worked we can expect more lawlessness.

    In reference to the changes in which Castle talks about making for the younger generation of officer also gives me pause. Could it be possible that the tenured administrations have worked in the profession longer and are there to guide the younger generation properly. In this line of work employees can not only be told yes go ahead and do that. They must learn to hear “NO” and why. Even if they don’t want to hear it. In reference of the younger generation not having a voice? What specifically do they not have a voice in. I read an article months ago that said younger officers should have a voice with as much weight as a senior officer, really? I’m not saying never listening to what our new officers have to say, but they are learning the job. They also may have an improperly different view of how to operate, in which experience would help. We don’t allow this in any other critical career (Doctor, Lawyer, or any apprenticeship) so why would we allow this in Law Enforcement?

    I do agree with Castle in many ways. I also agree that we should attempt to find ways to better how we operate, but be careful with what you decide to change. Also be mindful that the “click” administrators that you don’t agree with are not bad in all instances. Just because you don’t agree with them, doesn’t mean that they are wrong. They just may know much more than you, even if they don’t have a doctorate after their name.

    Although, I may get labeled as one of the “subculture” I don’t have a problem with that. This subculture may not be as bad as you make it sound. It may even help keep very important non-negotiable rules in place to help guide the new officer even if they don’t agree with them, remember they are learning. Many of this “Subculture” is still very interested in specific studies in which policing could be bettered.

  2. Brian Denyer

    Interesting fear of change in a negative way. Some become older and crusty. Admission invites outsiders to look inwards at sore spots. Unknowns by outsiders may lead to loss of control. How far is the camel allowed to poke its head4 under the tent?

  3. Chris

    I am prior LEO for 12+ years in Camus Police, Military Police, and Civilian Police. I come from the age of The Supper Cops, Serpico, and The Onion Field. I decided to become a police officer after the murder of Kitty Genovese in NYC. Where her neighbors looked on as she was stabbed to death. During the time I was pursuing becoming a police officer I saw from the beginning behaviors that were below my expectations of police in school. After joining the military I saw they were often more professional even though there was still problems. Civilian departments were less professional using their trusted positions to their advantage. Officers were often caught up in these inappropriate behaviors via many methods from fellow officers or superiors. Eventually I resined to pursue another career after years of disappointment. I once considered it an honor to wear that uniform and the badge and standout as a voice of reason in an evil world. There are many men and women who are serving honorably to this day, but they need to be protected from the evil within.

  4. Dale Gustafson (Chief of Police - Retired)

    I agree with this article 100%. Not only is police administration often closed minded, but they torpedo anything that is new that they do not agree with. The author touches on the “us v them” mentality between the police and the public when he talks of cliques and other relationship issues. This is a very problematic method of operating and I could write a book on the negative outcomes of this mentality. But another relationship issue that he doesn’t mention is the the cliques WITHIN the police department. The “good old boy” network, workers v slugs, veterans v young officers, etc. These competing cliques are also extremely detrimental to a police department, but are also rarely talked about. We need to change how departments function – from the top down!


Submit a Comment

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

Related Posts

Should College Degrees Be Required to Be a Cop? Cops Respond

Should College Degrees Be Required to Be a Cop? Cops Respond

A College Degree Proves What? Police Agencies Should Rethink the Necessity of College Degrees for Applicants

A College Degree Proves What? Police Agencies Should Rethink the Necessity of College Degrees for Applicants

Calibre Press Launches Video Service for In-House Training: “The Vault”

Calibre Press Launches Video Service for In-House Training: “The Vault”

Is There a Double Standard When It Comes to Free Speech and Racism?

Is There a Double Standard When It Comes to Free Speech and Racism?

Living Long Enough to Enjoy Retirement: Beyond Recruitment & Retention

Living Long Enough to Enjoy Retirement: Beyond Recruitment & Retention