How to change culture in your police department

Creating a culture of change is about developing a shared sensed of destiny — and enrolling others in those efforts — so they see their interests as being aligned with the organization

Change doesn’t come easy for most law enforcement agencies. Whether introducing new policies, procedures, or technology, most law enforcers are culturally resistant to change.

This resistance is understandable. Police officers work in extremely fluid and changing conditions in which the unexpected and unanticipated become the norm. To balance against this constant state of flux, officers depend upon an established sense of stability within the agency’s operational and managerial philosophies. The “business as usual” approach not only enhances that feeling of comfort and stability, it also reinforces a cultural resistance towards change.

Like any other type of organization, police agencies eventually encounter the need for transformational change to address issues that undermine effectiveness and efficiency. We’ve learned that the key element of successful and sustaining change is not the issue at hand — or our proposed solution — but the existing organizational culture and the degree of resistance we will encounter when trying to manage and promote change.

Leading Toward Shared Values
According to Edgar Schein, the two most significant factors of culture are the shared values and underlying assumptions that influence the attitudes and behaviors of those within the organization.

When those shared values and underlying assumptions include a collective resistance to change, the organization’s members become conditioned to perceive that efforts toward change are inconsistent with their needs. They then have little motivation to support change efforts, and the person whose job it is to create change faces a significantly more difficult task.

To counteract cultural resistance to change, the police leader must first create shared values and underlying assumptions which will align the organization with that leader’s efforts to implement change.

The first key component in creating this culture is to understand the difference between managing and leading.

You will achieve limited success when you try to “manage” others to change. You will be more effective when you can “lead” others toward the change that you want to implement. Practicing the basic leadership tenants of acting with integrity, inspiring confidence, and building trust are always important, but even more so when you are trying to realign cultural values.

Shared Vision and Meaning
Long-term success in creating a culture motivated to change is dependent on two critical components; sharing your vision and providing meaning to others. The leader’s vision — when properly communicated — becomes the picture of progress that all members of the organization can share.

Effective leaders have a vision of what they want to accomplish — of where they want the organization to go, and how they want to get there. That vision must become the energy behind the change in culture. Armed with that vision, the leader draws upon his or her established credibility and instills in others the desire and confidence to pursue change.

Creating a culture of change is about developing a shared sensed of destiny and enrolling others in those efforts so they can see their own interests as being aligned with the organization.

Most management experts agree that sharing a vision and finding meaning and purpose in work are the ultimate motivators and, consequently, they will help pave the path to personal and organizational fulfillment. The most effective way to create and sustain the motivational culture is the continual application and reinforcement of those behaviors which emphasize the vision and purpose of the organization. A collective sense of purpose will, in nearly all cases, overcome an established cultural resistance towards change.

One of the most frustrating aspects of organizational leadership can be the inability to effectively implement necessary change within an agency, and the accompanying push-back that will inevitably occur.

The components of creating a culture of change — effective leadership, sharing your vision, and providing meaning to others — are important building blocks of successful change management. When change is effectively managed it not only improves our organizations, it can also enhance the desired feeling of comfort and stability the organization’s members.

Ultimately, the key to success in creating a culture in which change is accepted and embraced is not found in the type of change desired or its degree of necessity. It is in those leadership efforts which are necessary to develop the organizational values and underlying assumptions in which change is not only possible, but is also welcome.

About the author

Barry Reynolds is an author, instructor, and the owner of Police Leadership Resources and the website. Barry retired from active law enforcement with over thirty years of experience, including fourteen years of supervisory experience. Barry is a certified instructor with the International Association of Chief’s of Police in the prestigious Leadership in Police Organizations Program, the flagship leadership development program of the IACP. Barry is an independent instructor with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, teaching leadership to law enforcement officers statewide. He writes extensively on issues related to leadership and management in law enforcement agencies. 

Barry hold’s a Master of Science Degree in Management and is a Certified Project Manager. He is a graduate of the Law Enforcement Executive Development Institute and the IACP’s Leadership in Police Organizations (LPO) Program. He is an adjunct professor with the University of Phoenix and has been an instructor and presenter at state and national training conferences. His police leadership website,, has a growing audience of law enforcement leaders from the United States and has had visitors from over 4o other countries. 

During his active law enforcement career Barry served as both a patrol and investigative supervisor, and also held positions as the 911 Communications Supervisor and Field Training Unit Supervisor. As detective supervisor, Barry coordinated an eighteen-month investigation with the U.S. Marshals Service that led to the fugitive capture of Wisconsin’s Most Wanted Sex Offender. Through his expertise in policy and program development he wrote the department’s Recruit Officer Field Training and Evaluation Program, which has been used as a model field training program by other police agencies. He also wrote an extensive investigative response plan for responding to incidents of missing and abducted children, and created and trained a departmental investigative response team specifically for missing children investigations. His investigative and training manual was later approved for publication by the Department of Justice and the Wisconsin Attorney Generals office and is available to all law enforcement officers in the state. As a recognized expert in the field, Barry was selected by the Wisconsin Department of Justice to serve on the committee that created the Wisconsin Child Abduction Response Team Program. He later served as the coordinator of the police department’s Neighborhood Officer Program and led the development of the department’s Strategic Policing Plan.  

Upon his retirement from active law enforcement, the City of Middleton, Wisconsin issued a Proclamation in his honor for his distinguished career of public service. His career accomplishments included two Outstanding Service Awards, an Exemplary Performance Award, the Department Award for Bravery, and the State of Wisconsin Amber Alert Award for the successful recovery of three abducted children. 

Contact Barry Reynolds

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