Leadership And Communication: Law Enforcement Agencies

Beginning with the studies and writings of Aristotle and Plato, communication has been dated back to the receiving of different means (talk, signals, writing, gestures, etc.). This is when it was determined that communication can be verbal or non-verbal. When communication is broken down to its main components, it is comprised of the source, transmitter, channel, receiver, and destination with noise occurring in the transmitter and receiver points. Noise is the interference of accurately sending information through the communication flow chart. How often does someone think about these components of communication? Once these components are studied and understood, the sender and/or receiver can see where the problem is in the order and find a resolution. Communication is essential when it comes to large organizations when there are a large number of employees to be reached. Interpersonal communication skills are critical when it comes to training and teaching others new skills. Basic communication can function as a method to influence the actions, behaviors, even beliefs of people. As noted before, communication can be non-verbal. Use of body gestures, posture, visual aids, and using someone else’s personal space can also be used to communication the message effectively. In verbal and non-verbal communication, different messages with the same method of sending it can be misinterpreted (Interpersonal Communication, 2004). For example, a pat on the shoulder from a boss may mean that person is in trouble or they are doing a good job. The basics of communication are crucial to understand in order to effectively send messages and receive the correct message.

Going further in depth on the concept of communication, the sender and receiver both have roles they need to fulfill in order to successfully relay the correct message. In this context, organizations have a role in compiling the correct message and choosing the appropriate channel through which to send it, and the employee has the responsibility of receiving and properly decoding that message. Each organization must explore their means of communication and see which ones are most effective. The occurring problem with this is what can be called the “active sender” and the “passive receiver” in the communication process. When the receiver is passive in their receiving the message, they either do not want to hear what is being communicated or just listening to the message, not decoding it. This is when it is critical that the organization find out what methods will be most effective in sending a message. Once the organization finds the right means of communication that works for them, then the employees will be able to receive and decode the message correctly-thus, producing the desired outcome of the employee and better service from their organization. Once the correct means of communication is established, negotiating is the next step in the communication process. Through a well-established communication system, the organization and its employees can resolve conflicts or problems more effectively. For law enforcement agencies that are looking to share information with the public, this method of communication can also be utilized. With technology becoming more advanced and prevalent, there are much more options to be used when communicating with the public. Law enforcement organizations can accomplish much through both of these types of communication (Woerkum & Aarts, 2008).

The previously mentioned types and methods of communication can apply not only to law enforcement agencies, but to daily communication between strangers. Even on a horizontal chain of communication, these communication techniques can be utilized to more effectively receive and send a message. Think about the last time someone gave the wrong change for a transaction at the store. Was the message communicated? If so, how was it communicated? How was it received? The situation can take many different, unnecessary, turns if right means of communication are not used. There are many aspects to taking into account when analyzing the communication process.


Leadership relies on communication in order to be effective. There are many ways and methods communication can be integrated to become a better leader. It is essential to differentiate managers and leaders. Influence and power are important when assessing the characteristics of a manager versus a leader. While acknowledging power and authority have roles in leadership, it is also important to note that ethics and morals more strongly define a better leader (Walker, 2004). One of the most important roles of a leader is to teach. To begin with the basics of leadership, a leader must teach their learners how to test their mental reality and discover how to change it. Next, the most crucial part of leadership and learning is for the teacher (leader) to ask the learners questions that help them explore their thoughts and ideas. This will help the learners develop better reasoning skills and more accurately convey their thoughts. A successful method of developing deeper and more critical thought is simply asking the question, “Why”? When “why” is asked to answer an open-ended answer, there is a deeper level of thinking and even cognitive dissonance that will cause the learner to better critique their thought process. Other methods such as telling stories help engage the learner, we well as engaging reciprocating dialogue. The more important of these two, engaging in dialogue, is given guidelines in order to keep the leader/learner relationship healthy: 1. Suspend assumptions and certainties, 2. Observe the listener, 3. Listen to your listening, 4. Be aware of thought, and 5. Befriend polarization (of opinions) (Karathanos, 1998). Observing the listener is critical for the leader in order for them to be sure that the learner is accurately receiving the correct message. This can be detected by body language, facial expressions, and any speech/thought given. “Listen to your listening” means paying attention to what you are hearing and processing it correctly. Some people merely listen to others. Leaders need to ensure they are listening, not just hearing. Being aware of the learner’s thought and feedback is the most crucial part of the leadership/learner process. When the learner expresses thought or any other communication, the leader needs to be very aware, listening, and ready to help expound on the learner’s thoughts. Lastly, everyone has opinions. It is important for the leader to embrace these opinions so further discussion can possibly bring about other thoughts. When the basics of communication in the leader/learner relationship regard are taken into account, it can be applied to many concepts, especially organizations and hierarchy.

One of the aspects of the previous passage that strikes most interest is asking the question “why?” That simple word can bring about a huge discussion of many things. It also allows for more complex thought and further discussion and exploration of a certain topic. Listening versus hearing is also pertinent to leadership and communication. Children always hear their parents say that it is time for them to get up. How many of those children are really “listening” to their parents when they say it is time to get up? Not many because most children remain in the bed to squeeze out a few extra minutes of shut-eye. When it comes to a law enforcement agency, it is imperative for the higher levels on the hierarchy to listen to the lower hierarchy, not just hear them. In order for any organization to meet their goals and needs, everyone must work together. This means that goals, concerns, and ideas must be communicated effectively, and listened to attentively, rather than just heard in passing.

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Different Types of Leadership

The organizational hierarchy of an organization is an essential part of the organization’s successfulness. Every organization has some type of matrix organizational hierarchy-meaning that there is a type of chain of command. Within this structure, there are teams and groups that have leaders, whether appointed or naturally emerging. One of the most important aspects of a team is that each member feels needed, feels like they belong, and feels like they are contributing to the team. The three key points of an organizational team are accountability, authority, and responsibility. Authority is power over others to coerce them into doing certain tasks. Responsibility is the fact that one person knows they must answer to another regarding certain tasks. Accountability is taking on the responsibility of getting a task done due to the responsibility that person has. There are also different types of leaders: the explorer, the coordinator, the driver, and the administrator. The explorer is the type in which the person is very confident and adventurous and tends to assign daily problems to others rather than taking them upon themselves. The coordinator tends to be very conscientious of team member’s thoughts and opinions and is good in resolving team discourse and developing compromise. The driver type of leader is realistic, good at doing what they can with what little they have, and are very resourceful. Lastly, the administrator is very organized and is meticulous in the way their work is done. Everything must be done methodically and in a reasonable fashion according to the “administrator” (Organizational Design, 2004).

Communication and Leadership in Law Enforcement

Law enforcement agencies include all types of individuals, including the ones listed in the previous paragraph. There are many various types of hierarchy, chains of command, and leadership in law enforcement agencies. Let us first discuss how communication has been improved in law enforcement agencies. When people are asked to think about communication, most think of just speech and their verbal actions. It goes much deeper than that. One law enforcement agency saw it as so important to bring in a 40-hour class for its employees. The class’ aim was to help police officers better understand and handle those with special needs. This training class educated the officers on how to be more aware of others’ behavior, actions, and especially what they are saying. This, in turn, would help the officer better pick up on the small things that would help the situation on a whole (detecting drunkenness, mental illness, miscommunications, etc.) (Shafa, 2009).

Training law enforcement employees on the differences of people and their disabilities, cultures, mental state, etc. is extremely important. Police officers very often have to make a split-second decision on the scene as to who is the hostile one, who is the victim, who is a danger, who is in danger, etc. This type of training discussed in the previous paragraph can definitely help law enforcement become more aware of their surroundings. More specifically, it will help them learn how to become more understanding and patient when it comes to communicating with different types of people.

There are many different traits that build a good leader. Argumentativeness versus argumentative behavior is found to be traits in leaders. Argumentativeness is harmful to a group when it comes to communication. An argumentative person is just that by nature. Rarely is a decision unanimously voted upon when presented by an argumentative person. When a person is argumentative, they are verbally aggressive and destructive to productivity and the group. Yet, this verbal aggressiveness can be changed into something else to be productive. When it comes to argumentative behavior, this has shown to be very productive in leaders. The argumentative behavior can help bring about certain points that would not be brought up normally by a non-aggressive, assertive, or argumentative person. Once that point is brought up, the group can discuss it. But it takes someone with a certain trait, such as argumentative behavior, to bring about these points (Limon & France, 2005).

Argumentativeness versus argumentative behavior is a fine line to discuss. Someone with argumentativeness is more likely to be verbally aggressive, overpowering, and very opinionated, not accepting of the views of others. A person with argumentative behavior can actually benefit a group. When the argumentative behavior occurs, certain points are brought up that normally would not have been brought up. Once this window is opened, the group can discuss the issue. But the argumentative behavior has to be present in order to bring about this point. Let us consider that there is no one in the group with argumentative behavior. How will issues arise in order to be discussed? There may be the possibility that one person may speak up. Everyone has different traits. There is likely to be at least one person in the group that will disagree with someone else’s view point and voice that. Although they may try to be very nice about it, the conflicting view is still brought up.

Some officers who are new to the force feel they have an image to fulfill. They will often abuse their authority and act differently than they normally would in a different role. Attitude is everything when it comes to communication. When trying to improve upon one’s communication skills, individually or as a group, much offense can be taken. They may see that they are being attacked because they are not communication well enough or they are just doing something wrong. Law enforcement has been given a bad label when it comes to bad cops, even regular cops, due to their communication skills. Awareness and training classes have been implemented in order to help officers better communicate with the public. These classes focus on paralanguage, hearing versus listening, kinesics, proxemics, and cultural considerations. Paralanguage is basically all other voice characteristics that accompanies the spoken language. Tone, volume, rate, and pitch all can convey different messages. If someone is speaking in a fast, high-pitched tone, very loudly and fast, it can be easily concluded that they are excited, upset, or anxious. If they are quiet, speaking slowly at a low volume, things such as sadness, depression, shock, and other emotions can be detected. As spoken of before, hearing versus listening is a key factor in communication. Listening is the art of decoding what a person is saying rather than just merely letting their words in one ear and out the other (hearing). Kinesics is any communication that is nonverbal. Communication can be completely nonverbal. Gestures, facial expressions, posture, etc. can give a better clue as to what the person is feeling or what they are trying to communicate. Proxemics is the defining area around a person that would be considered as their “comfort zone.” A person will become much more alert to the other party once their comfort zone is impeded upon and they are made uncomfortable. When taking into account cultural differences, the most important thing that we can remember is physical touching. Some cultures do not allow it, other encourage it, and what one action means to us may not mean the same thing to a person in a different culture (Pritchett, 1993).


These five aspects of communication are crucial when encountering others, especially in law enforcement. Paralanguage is very often used in law enforcement. When an officer asks if a person has anything on them that they should know about, when that person says “no,” there is a lot of paralanguage happening that clues the officer in that the person is really saying yes. In law enforcement, hearing versus listening is somewhat hit-and-miss. If a police officer is dealing with a drunk man that is about to be locked up for the night anyway, how much “listening” is the officer going to practice? On the other hand, if the officer pulls up to a murder scene, how much listening is the officer going to practice? He will definitely be practicing a lot in order to gather as much evidence as he can, as opposed to the drunken guy. Kinesics is also a good tool for police officers to use when trying to get down to the real story. Kinesics is basically body language accompanied by speech. One can easily say that they do not have any marijuana on them, but while they are saying they do not, they are fidgeting, putting their hands in their pockets and walking around. Proxemics is a good tool to use to get someone to talk. Each person has their personal space (usually around one foot from their body). Once that personal space is invaded, their self-confidence and security decreases. When the person sees that the police officer has invaded their personal space, they know they are probably going to search them anyway. Cultural considerations are a difficult concept to keep up-to-date on. Law enforcement and police officers would have to do research if they find themselves encountering many different cultural positions. For example, in the American culture, waving hello or good-bye is a good thing. In other countries, waving is seen as a serious insult. The same goes for the things we say. Therefore, we must be careful in what we say, do, and the way we act around those of a different culture.

Inter-Organizational Communication

When it comes to inter-organizational communication, a study shows that smaller agencies have the tendency to communicate better with larger agencies. The population and size of an organization depends on the type of communication and with whom to communicate. The studies presented in this case show that organizations tend to communicate with the same type and size of organizations as themselves (Roberts & J. Jr., 2007). When speaking of law enforcement agencies today, this seems to ring true. Why would the Federal Bureau of Investigation communicate with the city police of a city with a population of 2,000 people for help, information, or ideas? Let us also look at it this way-why would the city police department of a city of 2,000 people contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation for help, information, or ideas? Placing these studies in the real world today seems to be accurate. We see many organizations of the same size and on the same level communicating and working together, but they rarely go outside of their comfort zone in this regard. For example, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, how often did people see the local city police sitting with the state police and military guard to block off roads? How many local organizations were seen getting their feet dirty along with the National Guard? There were more volunteers than this case. It can be guaranteed that it was not seen too often, if any. The success of an organization’s communication system depends on effective means of communication, relaying the message, and considering the receiving party of the message.

When it comes to productivity and communication within law enforcement agencies, there is little face-to-face contact with those who are sending a message and those who are receiving the message. Let us focus on the managing powers of the organization and communications in that regard. If higher management was to become lax, what would happen to the lower hierarchy? If higher management tightens up and significantly increases communication with the lower hierarchy, what would happen? One study suggests that managers or administrators who monitor progress and work-productivity run the risk of having those being studied turn to more malfeasance in their position. Therefore, the study concludes that trust is imperative when it comes to the managing relationship-in both horizontal and vertical lines of communication. Horizontal communication is two street patrol officers (on the same level of the hierarchy) communicating. Vertical communication would be a street patrol officer bringing concerns to the Chief of Police (the Chief being higher on the hierarchy). Being that police work is somewhat discretionary for the police officer, trust is definitely vital in both vertical and horizontal lines of communication. The Chief of Police is rarely able to be in a patrol car, seeing exactly what his officers are doing. Therefore, the Chief of Police must have a certain amount of trust in his officers, as well as the officers for their Chief, trusting him to do what he says he will do. Let us take a look on the other side of things. As stated before, officers have a certain amount of discretion over how to conduct their job. Everyone knows that a police officer will get a free drink from the local gas station or a free meal from the local breakfast restaurant. What would happen if communication and trust all of the sudden became tightened up and enforced? Not only would these little acts be affected, the productivity of the police officer would also be affected. If a police officer is, so to speak, micro-managed, there is more likely to be more backlash than welcoming of the communication. This can cause the officer to become insecure or frustrated at the focus being more on them and cause less productivity in his work (Langbein & Jorstad, 2004).

Women as Leaders

While focusing on what characteristics comprise a good leader, let us also discuss how women emerged in their positions throughout the law enforcement organization to become effective leaders. Women were first introduced to the criminal justice system basically to handle female inmates due to abuse and mistreatment by male employees. Women were eventually moved to mainly work social work and had separate work environments, pay scales, dress code, and duties. Once the economy struggled through the 1930s and 1940s, women were battling for employment positions, or “bread winners” for the family and were eventually “demoted” back to being housewives. Despite stereotypical roles, struggles, and sexism, women have proved successful in rising to leadership positions in law enforcement among other types of organizations. Most of this can be contributed to the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both of which grant rights and equal protection to minorities. The factual stories of most successful women in leadership positions mainly include their past of lawsuits of discrimination, struggles with promotions, etc. Yet, these women have proved themselves worthy to be promoted to a high leadership position. While women have not yet met their goal in being treated equally as others, there has been a huge improvement over the years and many women successfully fulfilling leadership positions (Rienerth, 2001).

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Women have naturally integrated into the law enforcement scene. They have risen to leadership positions just as men have. Our country has made a lot of progress since the 1930s when women were suppressed from working and having household titles other than “housewife” or “homemaker” along with many other improvements in other regards. Today, there are many laws that protect the rights of not only women, but other minorities that have face hardships in gaining employment throughout our history. Nevertheless, something throughout all of this has proven successful due to our currently thriving and successful law enforcement agencies we have today.

Groups and communication are a critical contribution when it comes to what comprises a healthy, successful, and thriving organization. Continually coaching, involving others, motivating, rewarding, and promoting teamwork can universally help organizations achieve their goals on the small scale and the large scale. In law enforcement agencies, there are many different departments that help the organization function on a daily basis. It is believed that authority or leadership is the reason for the failure or success of the agency. In this regard, leadership is believed to be the solution that can help stop unethical behavior. When a law enforcement agency has much more unethical behavior than others, management and higher leadership in the organization are usually to blame. When management is not consistent in carrying out their duties, communicating concerns, and especially when other employees see that they are not handling unethical employees the way they should, employee performance and productivity goes down and risk for unethical behavior rises. The whole organization suffers-tension mounts, low morale, lack of strife to achieve the same goal, and fragmentation of the organization can all occur (Wright, 1999).

Suggested Further Research

Further research should be conducted regarding the effectiveness of current practices by law enforcement agencies. We can only improve upon what we know we are already doing wrong. First, studies should be conducted on the current practices by different types of law enforcement agencies. These results should be studied then compared to the practices of successful agencies. Once these studies’ results are gathered, it should be further researched and calculated as to what the agency can do differently or more accurately pinpoint their weak points. Without duplicating the other agency’s practices, further action should be taken in order to help what the agency is doing wrong. This can be done through policy and procedure, training, employee performance evaluations, and even staff meetings.


Established organizations and law enforcement agencies have policy and procedure in place. There should be more in place for each agency that outlines the chain of command and communication procedures. This should start from the bottom with training of new officers. Communication should be emphasized through a well-taught course during training. There should also be “refresher” courses at least yearly for those who have been with the agency for more than one year. Communication training should also be given to those who normally do not come in to contact with the public also. This training would be for administrative personnel, dispatchers, and office workers. This would be effective because even though these people do not interact with the public on a daily basis, communication still needs to be enforced and improved across the board in order for the organization to run smoothly. With the discussion given on leadership, training could help, but not in the same way communication training would. In order to improve leadership skills and communication in that regard, ethical and equal treatment training would be beneficial. It is very unlikely that a 65-year-old Chief of Police veteran is going to change much just by watching a video. But the training would be very beneficial to those who are just coming into the agency. The same goes for this training also-it should be re-iterated every year to ensure all employees, new and old are staying fully trained in all regards. In summary, communication is the root of all beginnings of any organization. First, the organization must be established. Then the hierarchy must be constructed. From there, communications among leadership and those on the lower part of the hierarchy must be effective in order to achieve the organization’s goals. If they are not being met, the solutions or methods discussed in this paper should be applied. Remembering there is a sender, receiver, and a channel through which a message is sent is essential to remember. The channel is they pivotal point in which the message can be effectively sent or effectively lost. The “passive” receiver concept must also be taken into account. When this is detected, either the channel for the message needs to be changed or the receiver needs to be addressed. Listening versus hearing impedes much progress due to party not fully understanding the message of the other. When leading a group of people, it is important for the “teacher” to effectively utilize their methods. One of the most important methods of ensuring the message is effectively conveyed is asking the question “why?” This opens up the listener to much more broad thinking to come to other, possibly alternative, ideas. A law enforcement officer dealing with a mentally handicapped person would communicate with that person differently than a sober, belligerent, 250 pound man. Understanding the other party’s situation is very important when dealing with law enforcement. Leadership plays a role in everything that is discussed in this paragraph. Whether it is training, on the job work, or providing awareness, leaders are responsible for their employees’ performance regarding communication. This is where trust is fundamental for law enforcement agencies-vertically and horizontally in the hierarchy. If there is no trust between police officers and their Chief of Police, work-productivity will suffer due to low morale. This low morale will come from the officers thinking, “If the Chief doesn’t care, then why should we?” Thus, leadership and communication go hand-in-hand when it comes to managing an organization and keeping that organization thriving and successful.

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