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Back to Archives | Back to April 2006 Contents 

Developing and Sustaining A Culture of Integrity

By A. M. Jacocks Jr., Chief of Police, and M. D. Bowman, Police Sergeant, M. D. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Conference Room

The Virginia Beach, Virginia, Police Department has embarked on an ambitious program to develop and sustain a culture of integrity in the organization. The department's command staff realized that the traditional emphasis on the ethical conduct of police officers in the field would not fully develop a culture of integrity in the organization. The department's leaders recognized that in most American police organizations in which there had been widely publicized instances of lack of integrity, there had at one time existed a culture of integrity. They sought a proactive approach that would prevent problems and help the department set the standard for excellence.

An analysis of the situation by senior leaders concluded with the observation that the department's leaders must be the center of gravity in developing and sustaining a culture of integrity. They decided that the department would engage in three major initiatives to realize the goal: leadership and management development, internal organizational focus, and external focus.

Quick Facts
The leadership and management development initiative is a comprehensive system that begins with recruit and in-service training and continues with new sergeants formal and field training. The department instituted an academically rigorous course of study on leadership required of all for mal leaders. A management skills course was developed to complement and enhance leader behaviors. Senior leaders took execu tive leadership courses at institutions across the United States. The Virginia Beach Police Department now has a comprehensive sys tem of leadership development from recruit to chief.

After assessing the organizational climate, using a valid and reliable survey instrument, department leaders focused on areas for improvement. The organizational climate assessment will be conducted every other year for the foreseeable future.

Developing and sustaining a culture of integrity must take into account factors outside the organization. The first area of external focus consisted of a series of presentations to department leaders by nationally recognized leadership and management experts. Because senior leaders recognized that developing and sustaining a culture of integrity occurs in the context of community expectations, the department conducted a community summit to bring community stakeholders perspectives into the process of developing and sustaining a culture of integrity.

All of these initiatives have been implemented and will be continued for the foreseeable future. Rather than view them as programs that start and end, senior leaders see them as initiatives that will change as necessary to continue to sustain a culture of integrity.

The Ethical Dimension of Leadership
In Stanley Milgram's classic research on obedience to authority, he found that an alarming number of people would submit to authority and engage in unethical conduct.1 Milgram conducted laboratory research in which students were told to apply an electrical shock to people they thought were learners when they made mistakes. These learners were strapped in a chair to prevent movement and had what appeared to be an electrode attached to their arm, but they actually were confederates in the study. As the learners made more mistakes, the students were told to increase the electrical voltage of the shocks they thought they were administering. Milgram observed that good people were seen to knuckle under the demands of authority and perform actions that they believed to be callous and severe. Men (later experiments showed the same behavior for women) who were in everyday life responsible and decent were seduced by the trappings of authority (white lab coats and clipboards), by the control of their perceptions, and by the uncritical acceptance of the experimenter’s definition of the situation into performing harsh acts.

Subsequent researchers have replicated Milgram's studies and found them to be valid and reliable.

A significant exception to the usual levels of unethical behavior was found in subsequent research, though. In studies in which the research subjects observed another person refuse to administer shocks, the likelihood of those subjects refusing went up considerably. In other words, seeing someone behave with integrity bolstered their own resolve to behave with integrity.

The research underscored the importance of seeing a model of ethical behavior. In the world of policing, who will step up and be a model of the ethical law enforcement officer? Like the subjects of the second study, officers want to do the right thing even when they face pressure to behave unethically; seeing another officer do the right thing stiffens their own resolve. The Virginia Beach Police Department has decided that leaders must be the first to step up and serve as the personal example of ethical personal and professional behavior from which subordinates learn.

Leaders can and must affect the ethical climate in their organizations. Subordinates learn from observing the behaviors of their superiors and the consequences of those behaviors. If leaders are rewarded for ethical behavior and punished for unethical behavior, their subordinates will learn to emulate the ethical behavior. If leaders are not rewarded for ethical behavior and go unpunished for unethical behavior, their subordinates will learn from that, as well. A leaders behavior and consequences inform the follower of the appropriate behaviors under similar circumstances. Nothing any leader can say will have a more powerful effect than what he or she does. Followers are observant of differences between what a leader says and what a leader does.

Leader's must be the first to provide powerful examples of ethical behavior. Leaders should be motivated from a deeply held commitment to their personal values and the departments core values. A leader's sense of duty to the people he or she serves, which naturally includes those above, beside, and below him or her in the organization, should have a self-regulating influence on him or her. That self-regulating influence can be reinforced by consequences. Rewards should come in the form of praise and respect. Negative reinforcement and punishment should come in the form of formal sanctions. Reinforcing consequences also serve as a forum for observational learning for other members of the organization. It is the responsibility of leaders at all levels of the organization to stimulate self-regulation, to provide positive and negative reinforcement, and to stimulate observational learning.

Influencing Organizational Culture
Leaders can influence an organization’s culture. The actions taken by leaders to influence an organizations culture are called embedding and reinforcing mechanisms. Embedding mechanisms include the following:

  • Attention, measurement, and control: Those things a leader consistently notices, pays attention to, and systematically deals with will communicate to subordinates what is valued and what norms the leader deems appropriate.

  • Reactions to critical incidents: How leaders react to organizational crises will uncover and communicate underlying assumptions to subordinates.
  • Deliberate role modeling: The leader sets the example.
  • Criteria for reward allocation: An organizations leaders can emphasize their own priorities, values, and assumptions by linking rewards and punishments to the behaviors.
  • Criteria for recruitment, selection, and retention: An existing culture can be reinforced or a new culture introduced by the careful selection and retention of members who fit the culture.

Reinforcing mechanisms are secondary actions that a leader can take to reinforce the embedding mechanisms. Reinforcing mechanisms are only useful if they are consistent with the primary embedding mechanisms.

The Ethical and Cultural Center of Gravity
The leader is the center of gravity in developing the ethical climate and the organizations culture. The senior leadership of the Virginia Beach Police Department has chosen to place leaders at the center of all efforts to develop and sustain a culture of integrity. The leaders must operate to accomplish the organizations mission every day while improving the organization for the future, which is like painting an airplane in midair. There will never be an opportunity to park the plane in a hangar in order to paint it.

Radials from the Center of Gravity
Eight activities radiate from the center of gravity:

  • Leadership development
  • Management development
  • Formal higher education
  • Organizational focus
  • Organizational assessment
  • Organizational improvement
  • Early intervention system
  • External focus

Leadership Development
The Virginia Beach Police Department has undertaken an extensive effort in leadership development. The core principle of this effort is that every officer is a leader.

In-Service Training: The department introduced leadership and followership in its basic recruit training and during officer, sergeant, and executive in-service training. This step helped develop a shared under standing of leadership and followership in the organization.

West Point Leadership Course: In addition to in-service training, the department has developed and implemented an academically rigorous study of leadership based on the leadership curriculum as taught at the U.S. Military Academy. Our faculty members have attended faculty development workshops with the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point. The course is conducted one day a week for 15 weeks each fall and spring. Every formal leader in the department will complete this course and, given the current levels of attrition due to retirement, this is likely to be an ongoing endeavor for the Virginia Beach Police Department.

Leadership Feedback: All leader development is self-development. In order to stimulate reflective learning the department uses the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI), which is a multi-rater feedback instrument.2 The LPI is conducted just before each student begins the West Point leadership course and the feedback is provided on the first day of class. The LPI is completed annually thereafter.

The departments command staff has also undergone multi-rater feedback sessions as a separate group apart from the West Point leadership course. Although some members of the command staff have completed the West Point leadership course, they received this feedback separately in order to obtain a wider spectrum of feedback than is pro vided to the West Point leadership course students.

Leadership Coaching: Reflective learn ing is improved through the assistance of a coach. Leadership coaching is a highly specialized endeavor that should not be undertaken by unqualified coaches. The Virginia Beach Police Department partnered with George Mason University to educate and train a cadre of leadership coaches. A total of 15 leaders from the department were chosen to be trained as leadership coaches. These leadership coaches will help leaders in the department improve their leadership skills.

New Sergeant Training: The departments senior leadership has long been concerned about the quality of the training and performance of new sergeants in the organization. Attaining the rank of sergeant is the first step into leadership for many police leaders. In the absence of adequate training beforehand and appropriate development training after promotion, a new leader is more likely to stumble during these first steps into police leadership.

The department has developed and implemented a new sergeant course for all sergeant promotional candidates. This is a weeklong course that introduces the candidates to the principles of leadership and management that they will be expected to exercise. The course also emphasizes the administrative and tactical responsibilities of the police sergeant in the Virginia Beach Police Department.

The department has also developed a system of field training for new sergeants. This obviously required the development of a field training sergeant course in order to develop and orient new field training sergeants. Field training sergeants were selected and trained in the operations division precincts.

Each newly promoted sergeant under goes three weeks of field training. The first week of field training consists of shadowing the field training sergeant. The last two weeks of field training consist of completing a series of tasks similar to the methods used by field training officers.

Executive-Level Development: The department will continue to send middle and senior leaders to executive development programs such as the FBI National Academy, the Administrative Officer’s Management Program at North Carolina State University, the Professional Executive Leadership School at the University of Richmond, and the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville. These programs add a valuable external dimension to leader ship development and help establish a network with other police leaders throughout the country and around the world.

Management Development
There is a strong need for both leadership and management skills in police organizations. Both skill sets are necessary in order to be an effective police leader. The department implemented an intensive management skills courses. The curriculum for this course is focused on developing the management skills necessary to enable direct leaders to manage personnel interventions based on early intervention system outputs. These courses will use primarily performance-oriented training in order to develop management knowledge, skills, and abilities appropriate to first-line leaders, midlevel leaders, and senior leaders. These courses will develop management skills focused on both purely management-oriented activities and those management activities that complement or influence the outcomes of leadership behaviors.

Formal Higher Education
The department's senior leadership has recognized the increasing importance of higher education for police officers. Policing has become a complex endeavor that requires the knowledge base provided by a liberal arts education. In addition, it is important for any police department to reflect its community. In Virginia Beach, 30.3 percent of the population 25 years or older possesses a bachelors degree or higher. Our members must possess a comparable education in order to respond to the demands of an increasingly educated public and to be representative of that public.

The department implemented policies that require higher educational levels for eligibility for promotion. An associate's degree or equiv alent course work is required for eligibility for promotion to sergeant. A bachelors degree or equivalent course work is required for eligibility for promotion to lieutenant.

The department emphasizes to the extent possible higher education in recruiting and selecting qualified applicants for police officer positions. The department strongly encourages its members to pursue higher education at the bachelors and masters levels. To this end, the department began a cohort pursuing a master of public administration degree at Old Dominion University. The departments leaders are committed to manipulating assignments and scheduling of personnel in order to facilitate their paricipation in higher education courses. The department will ensure that its members are aware of and use the citys tuition reimbursement program.

Organizational Focus
The department conducted a mission analysis process and rewrote the departments mission statement. The committee tasked with this process was also tasked with developing a vision statement for the department. The chief directed the committee to develop a vision statement because he wanted the statement to reflect the vision of the department rather than just his own. This committee obtained feedback from the entire department in this process and educated the entire department concerning any outcomes from the process.

Organizational Assessment
To assess the leadership and management climate in the department, the department used the Campbell Organizational Survey, a validated and reliable instrument for making that assessment.3 This survey was conducted in a manner that ensured anonymity for respondents who will be randomly selected to participate. The survey results were widely publicized throughout the department and available for review on the departments intranet system. Assessment of the results of this survey will continue as part of the improvement efforts that are deemed necessary based on the survey results. This continued effort will use, to the extent possible, focus groups to further assess the actual conditions that stimulated specific survey responses and to determine what right would look like.

Organizational Improvement
Based on initial assessment of the Campbell Organizational Survey results by the command staff, committees were solicited to develop improvement plans. These committees were assigned specific functional areas of concern and used focus groups to assess the underlying conditions that produced the survey results and to solicit what right looks like. After this further analytical effort the committees were tasked with developing detailed and actionable improvement plans for their functional areas of concern. The committee members were required to brief senior leaders on their recommendations and obtain approval and or revise the plans as necessary.

Early Intervention System
The department is developing an early intervention system. The purpose of this system is to provide early indicators of potential personnel problems to direct leaders in order to facilitate preventive measures. A committee was appointed to research early intervention systems in use in other departments and to assess the state of software available for use with those systems. The committee also determined the internal indicators or patterns that will be monitored and the threshold levels requiring intervention. Currently, a formal request for proposals to acquire an early warning system is being developed in collaboration with the city's Department of Communications and Information Technology.

A principal parallel endeavor associated with the early intervention system initiative is the training necessary for direct leaders to intervene effectively. The management skills course was designed with that in mind. This course will develop the skills necessary for direct leaders to intervene effectively when the early intervention system indicates the need to do so.

External Focus
Systems theory based on scientific observations of biological systems posits that closed systems suffer from entropy and eventually die. The Virginia Beach Police Department can be viewed from the open systems perspective. By increasing the quantity, quality, and diversity of inputs into the system, leaders can improve the individual and organizational outputs of the system. Information and other perspectives are an important input into any organizational system.

The department established a leadership speaker series to bring widely respected external perspectives to the organizations leaders. These speakers are not limited to law enforcement professionals.

Another critical component of that external focus has been the departments involvement of its stakeholders in assessing what a culture of integrity should look like. The department convened the first ever Virginia Beach Police Department community summit in November 2004. More than 60 members of various stakeholder groups participated in the summit. The summit was a daylong session facilitated by researchers from George Washington University.

The purpose of this community summit was to gain an appreciation of community ideals and values as they affect the policies, roles, and performance of the police department. The participants answered three key questions:

  • What was the purpose behind this program to build a culture of integrity?
  • What is the overall potential of this program?
  • What are the current realities facing this program in light of its potential?

The responses to these three questions created an appreciation of the whole context that affects the performance of the program but which the department cannot directly control or influence. These questions help to assess the legitimacy of the overall program in the light of the current culture and organizational values. This phase produces an understanding and valuing of the deeper forces at work: the ideals and potential as well as the realities of culture, history, relationships, and resource constraints.

The Future
The Virginia Beach Police Department is a learning organization focused on continuous improvement and self-assessment. The department embarked on this initiative to enhance its culture and to ensure that ethics and values remain strong cornerstones in the organization. Throughout this initiative, the department's leaders examined the organization internally and externally, provided training to all department members, and expanded the involvement of citizens in many operational activities.

In order to improve and ensure the department continues its tradition of relying on values and ethics to make important decisions, the police department partnered with respected institutions to evaluate its process and to determine its strengths so that they can be leveraged and its weaknesses so they can be improved.

Though many of the necessary factors discussed in this article can be examined through self-assessment, self-assessment alone will not provide all the information to reach a vision. Stakeholders--law enforcement personnel from local, state, and federal agencies; minority organizations; city and community leaders; community activities; court personnel; members of other city agencies; crime victims and the military--need to be included in the assessment process.

On every level, from the recruit to the chief, the Virginia Beach Police Department is engaged in developing and sustaining a culture of integrity. The focus is on leadership to develop and sustain this policing culture, and in Virginia Beach it is working. ■

1Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental Study New York: Harper & Row, (1974. See also Milgram, “The Perils of Obedience,” Harper’s (1974).
2Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Practices Inventory Hoboken, New Jersey: (Wiley, 2003).
3Bradley University, Foster College of Business Administration, "Campbell Organizational Survey."

VA Beach Police Dept Core Values



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 4, April 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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