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Discipline as an integral part of effective police supervision Essay


The police department, as faction of the judiciary and law enforcer, cannot be allowed to be tainted with traces of indiscipline. It is a ridicule and an outright insult to the judicial system in its totality. The duty to ensure that unbecoming behavior and unacceptable professional conduct does not gain ground in the police force is bestowed on the police supervisor.

For the effective role of supervisor to be fully realized, the individual supervisor cannot overlook the importance of a disciplined force. Without discipline, the supervisor will have failed as an individual and failed the whole institution as well. This essay looks into the maintenance of discipline among the police as an integral part of effective police supervision.

Fostering discipline in the police force

Supervisors as disciplinarians

The ability to maintain discipline among the subordinates is one way of measuring the suitability of a supervisor for the role. The sergeant is the most important party in the police force, and his position the most challenging one. “It is the sergeant…who plays the pivotal role and, in large measure determines whether the police department will face unfair labor practice charges, costly arbitrations, lengthy litigation, and more union activism,” (More & Miller 2007, P.314).

The police are the point of connection between law enforcers and the society. They have been given discretion to deal with matters concerning the public such as determining when to arrest a suspect or when to shoot. “The powers that police hold and exercise…if improperly used, reduce public confidence in police, decrease respect for the law, and increase fear amongst a community, thus destabilizing it,” (Office of Police Integrity 2007, P. 18).

When a supervisor sleeps on his work as the disciplinarian organ of the institution the result is; “lower quality of service provided by a given department and undermine the integrity of the entire profession,” (More & Miller 2007, P. 316). Further, “poor supervision and the lack of effective disciplinary mechanisms allow ‘loose cannons’ who are in positions of power to abuse that power,” (More & Miller 2007, P. 317).

Being the one who has the most contact with the subordinates, he can use that advantageous position to create a police force whose professional standards are not tainted with unethical issues.

The discipline could be constructive or punitive. Constructive refers to disciplinary measures geared to create internal discipline of an officer while punitive comes way after the employee has been found to have committed an indiscretion and is intended to make him not repeat the act, and should only be used when all other alternatives are depleted.

Good disciplinary measures

Sergeants, when they notice indiscipline, should not wait until the situation gets out of hand. They should take corrective measures with immediate effect. “Failure to act promptly and decisively tends to perpetuate the problem and sets the stage for more debilitating interpersonal conflict,” (More & Miller 2007, P. 301).

It makes other subordinates believe that the disciplinary measure laid down by the organization are merely for formalism purposes and are not really applicable. Further, they show that the supervisor is in control and has the authority over the subordinates yielding respect from them.

The disciplining should also be firm and fair and must be seen to be applied indiscriminately and equitably. “A great sergeant establishes a sense of equity. This doe’s not mean people are always treated equally, just always fairly,” (Werder, 1996).

They should not be in violation of any written law or accepted rules of procedure and the subordinate must be able to understand his reasons of being disciplined. The root of the indiscipline and motive of performing the act must be established through enough evidence and the errant subordinate must be given a chance to be heard and explain his case.

Further, other less serious disciplinarian measures such as formal reprimands or arbitration should be tried out before the supervisor can jump to the more serious ones such as demotion or discharge. The measure adopted should be reasonable and not excessive taking into consideration the circumstances of the particular case.

The disciplinary measure should be less bureaucratic and filled with many formalities. A research currently conducted showed that “amongst the significant defects with the current discipline system, are the numerous, inconsistent, excessively formal and slow review and appeal processes available,” (Office of Police Integrity 2007, P. 14)

The employees should be properly informed of the unacceptable form of behavior to avoid a situation where the employee was unaware of the existence of the offence in the first place. “Once, the subordinate knows the rules he knows what to expect in case of failure to follow the disciplinary code,” (Shimansky 2006).

The discipline measures adopted must have just two objectives i.e., to act as a future deterrence both to the deviant subordinate and to the others or to change the specific individual and ensure he is reformed.

Any other objective of the supervisor such as to muster control of the subordinate or to settle some old scores, will be inappropriate and an abuse of power. The supervisor must at all time guard himself against making an emotional decision on discipline matters. They must remain in total control of the situation without having to be accommodative of subordinate’s improper behavior.

As much as supervisors are mandated to maintain discipline, they should not take to themselves the habit of nosing around the private business of the subordinates. All their actions should be confined to circumstances within the formal business of the organization. What the subordinate does outside the employment circle should be a no go zone for the supervisor.

The most effective manner of maintaining discipline is by outlining some procedures and principles, uniform to the whole organization, that every individual has to adhere to. The rules must also prescribe the right punitive measures to be undertaken in case of the subordinates defying such rules.

This makes the system a lot more formal and will yield respect from subjects. It will also ensure uniformity and avoid situations where the subordinate feels unfairly handled. They must, accordingly be communicated to all the subjects in a manner to obtain acceptance from them. Rules which are not generally accepted by the subjects often result into a situation of chaos and unresolved conflicts.

Positive discipline

These are measures taken by the supervisor long before any indiscipline has been detected. they are more of preventive measures as opposed to curative. They are aimed at securing the officers loyalty to the principles and procedures and get them to adhere to such policies willingly, without being sanctioned.

The subordinates are driven by “the human tendency to do what needs to be done, to do what is right in a given situation, and to voluntarily comply with the reasonable standards of performance and conduct that apply to all members of the workforce,” (More & Miller 2007,P. 291).

The supervisor has the duty of ensuring that create this kind of dedication from the subordinates. They develop self-discipline where the subordinate decide to give their all to the better performance of the whole institution for which they work for. Here, the supervisor simply acts as role model to be emulated.

They take a personal decision to motivate the subordinates through recognition and rewards. They create an environmental that is necessary for the growth of such a self-driven employee. A supervisor who has acquired skills and expertise to achieve this is a quality staff to the institution.


Discipline in the police force is one of the most important things and the topic should be handled with care. Lack of discipline in the force means that the indiscipline is extended to the society in general since a person who is undisciplined himself cannot function to the right standards.

But as much as we delve in punitive discipline institutions should realize that the most important discipline is the positive discipline. When subordinates are internally disciplined, the effects will be long lasting as opposed to corrective discipline which is administered after some malpractice has already happened. Police supervisors should seek to adopt methods of according positive discipline if they want to be effective in the role in the long run.


More, H and Miller, L. (2007). Effective Police Supervision: Coaching, Counseling and mentoring, 5th Ed, Chapter 11-13, copyright Mathew Bender and Company, Inc, a member of the LexisNexis Group

Office of Police Integrity. (2007). A fair and Effective Victoria Police Discipline System, Victorian Government Printer, session 2006-2007, P.P No. 3

Shimansky.B. (2006). Discipline as an integral Part of Effective Supervision, retrieved from web.

Werder, E.J. (1996). The Great Sergeant! Personal Qualities of a Great Sergeant, National Executive Institute Associates, Major Cities Chief’s Association and Major County Sheriff’s Association.

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