Redefining Police Power

By Stephen M. Ziman, M.S.

Police officers exercise their power in different ways. Sometimes they wear riot gear and carry high-powered weapons, sledgehammers, battering rams, and hooligan tools. Other times, officers may be in a nonthreatening stance in front of a once-unruly crowd, speaking in a calm manner to defuse the situation.

Some people envision positive images of law enforcement, while others visualize notions that are more negative. Diversity of opinion exists among the public, and some citizens ask whether the police always are justified in their actions. While such questions are inevitable and understandable, officers know the use of force often becomes necessary.

Officers may encounter citizens who have little control of their emotions, are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, suffer from mental illness, or, simply, do not want to go to jail. Police officers must consider these factors, in addition to politics, media, statistics, and bias.

Redefinition of Power

A police officer's belt with a night stick and helmet.

Law enforcement agencies have a duty to redefine what real might means and to use this authority to build as ideal a relationship as possible between officers and the communities they serve. Redefining police power begins with individuals who already possess the necessary tools. This capability is beneficial both on and off the job.

By employing a few critical techniques, police can use their influence most appropriately, avoid common mistakes, and, ultimately, succeed on the job. Doing the best work is a matter of following specific rules that do not change and applying those rules to any situation, anytime, and anywhere. To learn these important methods, officers must know themselves and their communities.

Change and Improvement

Police officers determine their own success, although they must remain aware of how they exercise their power. Officers commit to a cycle of self-improvement. Individuals who become law enforcement officers grow to become different people. They change, and the community changes with them. Police officers can use their power effectively. Citizens and law enforcement officers can work together to better the world.

Eager to improve, police officers often desire additional training. In fact, most officers want to learn. Like professional athletes, committed law enforcement officers expect to achieve their goals. They strive to be the best at what they do.

Understandably, there may be obstacles along this path to self-discovery and knowledge. Once officers commit to change and begin to look within, they discover a variety of emotions. These feelings exist, are real, and affect them every day. However, police officers can be taught to appropriately digest and deal with the emotional impact of the job.

Law enforcement officers learn to understand the law as well as to skillfully fire weapons, write reports, and abide by prescribed safety procedures, but they must know themselves to expand their arsenal of knowledge. Change and improvement begin with the self. Police officers need to realize this and learn to be happy with who they are.

During this process of self-examination, it is wise to adopt a personal code of honor. When honor serves as the foundation of a police officer’s life, the officer is on the right path. But, what is honor? Honor may be defined as esteem or personal integrity. In other words, it means respecting oneself and, as a natural extension of that, respecting others.

Qualities of a Winner

Stephen Ziman
Mr. Ziman, a retired sergeant with the Aurora, Illinois Police Department is director of security at a private security and consulting firm and an associate professor of criminal justice at Aurora University.

In addition to honor, winners possess certain qualities. These include positive self-expectancy, self-image, self-control, self-esteem, self-awareness, self-motivation, self-direction, and self-discipline.1 Officers must be confident and successful.

The habits of highly effective people “embody the essence of becoming a balanced, integrated, powerful person and creating a complementary team based on mutual respect. These are the principles of personal character.”2 They are “principles that shape who and what you are.”3

Officers must analyze themselves to determine who they are. Once they have an understanding of self, they need to look outward, examine the community, and realize it is an extension of them. Once law enforcement personnel respect the community, that esteem will be returned. Following the “golden rule,” police officers should treat the public as they, in turn, want the public to treat them.

Community Relationships

Police officers confront issues every day. They deal with personal stressors that can challenge relationships with the community. Everyday concerns, such as preserving a marriage, raising a family, attending additional schooling, or negotiating the politics of the job, can compound adverse situations.

Officers bring preconceived beliefs and emotions to every contact with the community, just as citizens bring their ideas and feelings. Everyone has bad days; however, with empathy and compassion, police officers can determine why individuals are upset, what they are thinking, or how they are feeling. With this knowledge, they can make that contact successful.

When law enforcement officers realize the relationship with the community needs improvement, they must act. Police officers can make a difference, and the need to do so is important. Before knowing the community, officers must begin by understanding themselves.

Policing is successful when officers empathize with members of the public and recognize their feelings, wants, and needs. Real power comes when police officers reject stereotypes, refute ignorance, think creatively and compassionately, and do what is right. This is the criminal justice road to success.

Crime never may be totally eradicated; however, circumstances can be made better. Community policing, partnerships, and problem solving have improved safety and quality of life. When analyzing the moral climate of police work in relation to the community, it appears that law enforcement is on the right path.

No matter what, officer safety always must come first. Police officers should endeavor to do an effective job; they must do what it takes to resolve community situations in a positive way. Striving for perfection and aiming for excellence will bring law enforcement agencies and neighborhoods closer together. A solid relationship with the public is important. People will understand and respect police officers, and their expectations will become the same. Willingness to learn and the ability to become sympathetic and responsive to the community hold power.

Knowledge of Oneself

Law enforcement personnel must give their best every day. Police officers who enjoy their work and receive support from their supervisors become natural leaders in the department. Officers reap benefits when they enjoy their lives and engage in their profession. The knowledge of oneself, not the raises, bonuses, and gestures from the public, is the true reward.

The secret to law enforcement is recognizing the humanity of self and others in the community. In one manner, law enforcement is a business in which success depends on respect. With mutual courtesy and support, everyone benefits. The keys are being self-aware and following the golden rule.

Officers who believe knowledge brings rewards are successful, satisfied with their positions, happy, and optimistic. They help others, conduct themselves appropriately, and bring positive attention to their departments. These police officers are in control of emotional baggage. They know who they are, and they are true servants of their community.


Law enforcement agencies need to evolve and progress. They have a responsibility to their officers and the citizens they serve. Departments need to instill reciprocal empathy, compassion, and partnership between police and the community. Law enforcement agencies dedicated to this relationship find the time and energy to improve. Now is the time for officers to change and progress both personally and professionally. This is what it means to mature and develop a sense of self. Law enforcement officers and agencies always can improve.

Officers should engage in ongoing training that encourages them to analyze their motivation along with that of the community. They need to develop a better understanding of human nature and learn to be patient with one another.

The days of merely responding to calls have ended. Today is the day to learn about self and community and to strive for excellence in law enforcement. Now is the time to cultivate knowledge and redefine true police power.

The author thanks Teri Fuller, associate professor of English, Waubonsee Community College, Sugar Grove, Illinois, for her contributions to this article.


Denis Waitley, Psychology of Winning: The Ten Qualities of a Total Winner (Chicago, IL: Nightingale-Conant, 1983).

Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York, NY: Free Press, 2004).

Stephen R. Covey, The 8th Habit, From Effectiveness to Greatness (New York, NY: Free Press, 2005).

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“Policing is successful when officers empathize with members of the public and recognize their feelings, wants, and needs.”