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Moral compass: What is it and why do we need it in law enforcement leadership?

By Frank Anthony

Richfield Township – Moral compass, a simple phrase that impacts so much. As an adult, I believe you either follow it or you don’t. If you follow it, you can strengthen it and enhance your sensitivity to moral issues. I would define a moral compass as an inherent guide to knowing right from wrong. The little voice that gives you pause when you near a line, the angel on your shoulder if you will. If you don’t follow it then it will surely lose any hold on you it once may have had.

As leaders we establish standards and we do this through many ways. We establish standards by our daily conduct and people will follow your example good or bad. We also establish standards by what we don’t do. Again, people will follow. They may say, “I never see the chief cussing people out so I’m not going to.” They may say, “I never see the chief going out of his way to help another officer so I’m not going to.”

The actions we take and the words we say are evidence to the world of our moral compass. If we are merely guided by rules and regulations, and reward and punishment then we will find ways to be immoral within those confines. It is human nature. We must have a higher rule of law. One that does not change with elections, court decisions, or public opinion. We must know right from wrong, we must have a well calibrated and sensitive moral compass.

Without it, we as leaders will pass on these standards of behavior that wave in the wind of circumstance and leave human nature to feed itself. We as leaders must right our moral compass in our daily actions to establish standards for the treatment of citizens, suspects, and victims alike. We must establish the line in the sand of ethical choices on the job including; equal treatment for all, conflicts of interest, collection of evidence, fair and impartial investigations, and in all facets of our profession.

When our law enforcement leaders suffer from a disabled or non-existent moral compass the impact for the department and community can be devastating. From violations of civil rights to civil unrest. From demoralized officers to fearful and outraged citizens. If we fail to put leaders with a strong moral compass in positions of leadership, we will fail to keep our oath and mission of higher purpose.

The moral compass is non-negotiable for law enforcement leadership. We must demand it and we must police it. We owe it to our citizens and our officers.

This essay was written for an assignment for the National Command and Staff College I am attending. It is a rigorous and demanding law enforcement executive master degree level training program. During the last 2 weeks of the program, I will be in residency at Camp Grayling at the end of October. This level of education and training is supported by my employer the Richfield Township Board and the community we serve. I’m excited to bring this knowledge back to the department members and community to help lead us to the next level.

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