President’s Message: Leading the Way to a Culture of Safety

As leaders, we often have to take on difficult issues, including those that might be outside of our comfort zones. As you have surely noticed, the news cycle seems to be dominated by incidents of sexual harassment committed by a range of individuals in a variety of professions and at different heights in their careers.

No profession is immune from this morally reprehensible and unacceptable behavior. As a chief of police and as the president of the IACP, I can assure you that incidents of harassment of any kind in either organization I lead are not tolerated.

Every individual is entitled to be treated with respect for his or her inherent human dignity. Behavior that reveals or propagates the absence of such respect not only harms the individual it was aimed at, but it also undermines discipline and destroys the morale, efficiency, and integrity of the entire organization in which that person is employed.

As part of my leadership role in the law enforcement profession, the IACP recently updated and adopted a clear and unambiguous policy that communicates that our association has zero tolerance for sexual harassment. This policy and procedure applies to acts committed internally by IACP staff as well as acts of harassment by (or toward) appointed or elected leadership of the IACP; IACP members; or IACP vendors, consultants, and contractors. The association is committed to providing an environment free from harassment of any kind.

However, it is important to note that being a strong leader is not just about putting policies into place. It is also about creating a culture within your agency in which everyone feels respected and feels comfortable bringing issues forward to decision makers and supervisors. Bringing forth an allegation about another person in your organization or an individual whom your agency or organization works with or for is not an easy thing, especially when it pertains to harassment. That is why we must instill a culture of openness in our agencies. No matter what your level or rank—chief, colonel, lieutenant, sergeant, commander—you must make those who work directly for you and alongside of you feel comfortable in speaking out about sensitive issues, including incidents of harassment.

IACP has long recognized the need to address sexual assault and related offenses both in communities and within law enforcement organizations, and I urge you, as leaders in law enforcement, to take advantage of IACP resources. We have developed (and continue to develop) resources addressing various elements of the issue, from misconduct by law enforcement to domestic violence to gender bias, as have many of our partners.

Addressing Sexual Offenses and Misconduct by Law Enforcement: Executive Guide—As law enforcement leaders, we need to be prepared to address sexual offenses—both criminal and non-criminal—perpetrated by officers or other agency personnel, both within the workplace and out in the community. A single incident of sexual misconduct by a law enforcement officer not only violates the victim’s rights and dignity, it also damages the trust of the community and tarnishes the reputation of the agency and profession. As leaders, we need to protect both our community and our profession by responding quickly and effectively to any type of sexual misconduct by our personnel and by establishing an organizational culture that clearly communicates the inappropriateness and unacceptability of such actions.

This guide provides recommendations on leadership actions, including policy, hiring, training, and intervention, that can help law enforcement leaders prevent sexual misconduct by personnel and promote a safe culture, while also providing information on how to handle and investigate an incident, should one occur.

Trauma-Informed Sexual Assault Investigation Training—With support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) Office on Violence Against Women, IACP conducted 26 on-site training events from 2014 to 2017, training more than 1,300 law enforcement personnel on trauma-information sexual assault investigations.

Trauma-informed training can improve law enforcement’s response to victims of sexual assault and help them understand how trauma can affect victim recollections in order to build a stronger case and recognize and mitigate the effect of potential officer bias on the investigation. A training video, guidelines for sexual assault investigations, and other resources on this topic can be found on IACP’s website.

Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in LE Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence—Sexual assault and domestic violence disproportionately impact women; girls; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. The DOJ has released a guidance document to law enforcement to assist them in reducing sexual and domestic violence in their communities and to improve response to victims. In accordance with this document’s recommendations, IACP is working on two project initiatives.

  • Integrity, Action, and Justice: Strengthening Law Enforcement Response to Domestic and Sexual Violence: In this project, up to four law enforcement agencies will receive support, assistance, and resource development to improve their response to investigations of sexual assault, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and stalking.
  • Enhancing Community Trust: Proactive Approaches to Domestic & Sexual Violence: This program will develop an agency self-assessment process to help departments assess their current efforts to address sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking, and promote a strategic planning process to enhance policies, training, and accountability regarding these types of investigations. This program also includes a webinar series, as well as an infographic that agencies can download.

In addition to these resources and other projects by IACP addressing sexual assault and related crimes, a number of our past and current partners have produced helpful resources. For instance, Futures Without Violence has information about sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual harassment by employers, and the National Sexual Violence Center has information on sexual violence and the workplace. ♦

Please cite as

Louis M. Dekmar, “Leading the Way to a Culture of Safety,” President’s Message, The Police Chief (January 2018): 6.