Failing in Plain Site: Why Police Fail and Always Will

A dear friend and mentor of mine, Chad Barr, and I shared a conversation about what I saw as a major issue facing Police Departments today. I have had the incredible opportunity to do some leadership work for a major U.S. Police Department and have gained tremendous respect for those that take on the challenge of keeping citizens safe.

The media today is replete with stories of police failures in minority communities, particularly African American communities. I am not sure I have heard stories hitting the national news wires of anything but Police Vs. The _________(fill in the blank of the local) African American community.

The police coast to coast seem to be failing miserably at serving and protecting the entire citizenry of their various jurisdictions, and they are failing in plain site. The failures are magnified in poor minority communities. They are failing, and they will continue to fail.


I am a firm believer in the work hard to keep it simple rule. I will offer that police departments have a common thread problem. It is not a lack of minority representation on the various police forces, although it would go a long way to rectifying the perceptions far too many easily draw too. Moreover, departments would benefit from the improved and proven strength of organizations that incorporate diversity as part of their fabric. Most notably the U.S. Armed Forces.

Police Departments across the country face continued failure for the lack of having shared values what the Marines call Guiding Principles.

Shared values (Guiding Principles)

There are three major reasons to have shared values, it guides behavior, and it provides a healthy unity, and it is an insurance policy.

Police officers are community leaders. The communities they protect rarely view them that way. Sadly, police officers rarely see themselves as community leaders. Their behavior is not viewed as that of a leader.

Case in point, a young woman walking home holding a bag of groceries. She is attractive. She is African American. A police officer stops her, questions her, and treats her as if she were a criminal, already found guilty.

The woman attempts to file a complaint. She is at the precinct to make her complaint. She is told to wait. She waits and waits and waits. Hours pass and when she can finally file her complaint. The Police Sergeant taking her report finds fault with her. ‘You must have done something or you would not have been stopped!’

When queried about the situation the Police Sergeant’s response was ‘I have to look out for my officers. I’m their Sergeant.’ So, the question begs to be answered, who is her Sergeant? Bad behavior, supported by lack of corrective action is acceptable behavior.


With shared values, ethics, guiding principles, bad behavior is corrected immediately, appropriately regardless of who you are. Shared values speak to the expected behavior in accomplishing your duties. Not living up to those values must invoke action on the part of the leadership. The accepted behavior is not to cover-up but to hold all accountable. Leaders, as every Marine will tell you regardless of rank, are responsible for everything they do or fail to do, and are responsible for everything there Marines do or fail to do. No sidestepping is allowed.


Shared Values also provide unity within organizations that become the very fabric they wear. Marines are proud to tell you they are Marines. The title United States Marine evokes in the mind of Americans a sense of respect and awe. The title carries a certain mystic that is recognized worldwide. The title of  _____________(You name the city or municipality) Police Department should evoke a sense of pride and confidence in the citizenry, as well as in those that wear the blue cloth.

Insurance Policy

Shared Values is also an insurance policy. When the values are shared and demonstrated by leadership throughout the organization, the outlier will surface immediately.

The Marines believe in the values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. Those who fail are self-identifying. The idea of hiding among your peers is practically impossible. Strong, ethical, shared values assist in keeping the ranks strong and the reputation in tact.

What can be done?

Police Departments must develop their own Shared Values. They must be compelling and speaks to the heart of all who dare to take on the challenge of protecting citizens.

I love seeing the “Serve and Protect” and the various other slogans on police cars. That is not what I would call Shared Values. Moreover, with the state of current affairs it appears I would be right.

Shared Values—The end all?

I am afraid having shared values is not the end all. It is the best start. Developing leadership skills and capabilities at the lowest levels is also important. That is the subject of another article. Having Shared Values works for all organizations.

What are your Shared Values?