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Ethical leadership within law enforcement agencies: pedagogical and cultural challenges

Haydn W. McComas (School of Education, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 31 May 2019

Issue publication date: 9 July 2019

418

Abstract

Purpose

Effective ethical leadership is crucial for law enforcement leaders. Ultimately the presence or absence of ethical leadership has significant implications for society. Yet Western law enforcement agencies (LEAs) invest little by way of time, effort or understanding into how law enforcement leaders interpret and develop a sense of ethical competence for leadership. This is a significantly under-researched area within law enforcement anywhere in the world. The purpose of this paper is to assess, measure and more fully understand how social constructivism, problem-based learning (PBL) and self-reflection assist front-line leaders to learn and internalise ethical reasoning for leadership within a law enforcement environment.

Design/methodology/approach

The research was designed to assess, measure and more fully understand how social constructivism, PBL and self-reflection assist front-line leaders to learn and internalise ethical reasoning for leadership within a law enforcement environment. Data were collected during a two-day ethical leadership workshop delivered to 13 leaders in supervisory positions from the Australian Border Force and the Australian Federal Police. The pedagogical approach was to blend PBL and self-reflection within a social constructivist centred learning experience and measure changes in the ethical efficacy of the research participants through qualitative and quantitative measures.

Findings

The research suggests that blending PBL and self-reflection within a social constructivist learning environment can contribute towards law enforcement leaders’ learning and internalising of ethical reasoning. This is demonstrated through the measurement of ethical efficacy both before and after the learning experience, with particular growth evident towards understanding ethical perspectives and concepts.

Research limitations/implications

Limitations include the fact that results cannot be generalised due to the size of the case study. This is compounded by the fact that much of the data are self-reported and responses offered by the participants are subjective. As a result, much of the data were subject to the attitudes and personal perceptions of the participants thus making the information subjective. Aside from demonstrating an impactful learning approach, this research has highlighted that amongst contemporary Australian LEAs there has been little effort or progress towards finding meaningful and effective pathways to encourage or grow ethical efficacy.

Practical implications

Given challenges faced by LEAs, both Australian and international, the critical need for investment in learning for ethical leadership is both clear and emergent. Law enforcement ethical leadership learning cannot be satisfied through online learning and other cost-efficient means alone. A face-to-face problem-based and reflective learning environment that combines trust, tools and tension in equal measure offers promise for enhanced ethical efficacy. Achieving this requires significant investment in face-to-face learning utilising high-level facilitation skills.

Social implications

There is a deep and disturbing malaise within Australian LEAs in relation to ethical leadership development, exacerbated by the dearth of investment directed towards learning for front-line ethical leadership. Australian LEAs sit at the crossroads in relation to their application of ethical leadership learning. Given the recent challenges, if these agencies fail to fully engage with this opportunity, the cost will be unfortunately borne by all citizens.

Originality/value

The implication is a clear need to understand and establish the most effective way for law enforcement officers to grasp the importance of ethics and in doing so, learn ethical leadership. Understanding how law enforcement leaders interpret and develop a sense of ethical competence for leadership is a significantly under-researched area within adult learning and there is little evidence of similar effort within law enforcement anywhere in the world. The overarching objective of this research therefore was to identify pathways that strengthen and enhance ethical leadership as an enabler towards achieving just and corruption-free law enforcement services for the communities.

Keywords

Citation

McComas, H.W. (2019), "Ethical leadership within law enforcement agencies: pedagogical and cultural challenges", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 66-82. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCRPP-12-2018-0044

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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