Self-Control and Positive Relationships are Central to Support for Organizational Justice Amongst Police Managers

The data from our anonymous survey of command-level police officers reveals that police managers who reported higher levels of self-control were more supportive of organizational justice. In addition, police managers who reported higher quality relationships with their colleagues expressed greater support for organizational justice. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2018, Vol. 42, No. 1, 71-82

Police Managers’ Self-Control and Support for Organizational Justice


Scott E. Wolfe, Michigan State University
Justin Nix, University of Nebraska-Omaha
Bradley A. Campbell, University of Louisville


Recent policing research has identified a positive relationship between line-level officers’ perceptions of organizational justice and their adherence to agency goals and job satisfaction. However, we have little understanding of the factors that are related to police managers’ support for organizational justice when interacting with employees. We collected survey data from a sample of U.S. command-level officers (N = 211) who attended a training program in a southern state to address this gap in the literature. The anonymous survey was administered in-person to participating command-level police officers prior to their training program. Our multivariate regression analysis revealed that police managers who reported higher levels of self-control were more supportive of organizational justice (b = .26, p = .01). Additionally, police managers who reported higher quality relationships with their colleagues expressed greater support for organizational justice (b = .02, p = .02). Respondents’ self-legitimacy was not significantly associated with their support for organizational justice. This study contributes to the organizational justice literature by presenting the first analysis that links police commanders’ self-control to support for organizational justice within their management practices. The findings help pinpoint the
types of individuals who may be best equipped to be fair police managers.


Fairness, management, organizational justice, police, self-control, supervisors

Summary of the Research

“Given the importance of organizational justice, a critical question arises: what factors are related to police managers’ support for using fairness in their managerial practices? We have virtually no empirical evidence regarding this issue to date. Recent management research, however, provides insight by revealing that supervisors’ self-control may be a key correlate of their support organizational justice. Supporting the use of organizational justice when dealing with subordinates requires listening skills, empathy, patience, and respect for others – traits not commonly possessed by people with weak self-control…” (p.72).

“Accordingly, we aim to build off this work by examining whether police supervisors’ self-control is related to their support for organizational justice. In doing so, it is important to recognize that the police literature provides clues regarding other factors that may be related to managers’ support for organizationally fair treatment…Our goal is to provide a richer understanding of whether an important personality characteristic shapes the extent to which command-level police supervisors support treating their officers fairly…The present study examined whether command-level police managers’ self-control was associated with their support for organizational justice. As we see it, exploring this issue within a police-management context was particularly important because there are clear differences between managing police departments and other organizations. Police agencies operate in paramilitary-type environments characterized by giving and following orders, and situations that have life-or-death consequences” (p.72-74).

“We analyzed survey data collected from a sample of command-level police managers who attended a continuing education course offered by a southern state’s criminal justice training academy…The survey instrument assessed respondents’ view of several contemporary issues in law enforcement (e.g., experiences with body-worn camera policies and training)…Guided by prior research on the specific topics, we presented respondents with items aimed at capturing support for organizational justice, level of self-control, self-legitimacy, relationships with colleagues, and demographic characteristics” (p.75).

“Our analysis consisted of two steps. We first examined the correlations to determine whether significant bivariate relationships existed between our predictor and dependent variables. Next, we estimated an ordinary least squares (OLS) regression equation to determine whether police managers’ self-control was associated with their support for organizational justice, independent of self-legitimacy, relationships with colleagues, and the demographic controls…Within this study, we demonstrated that self-control was a significant predictor of the extent to which police managers supported using fairness with subordinates” (p.76-78).

“The fact that self-control was associated with command-level officers’ support for organizational justice suggests not all leaders may be equally primed to use fairness while dealing with their subordinates…Counter to expectations, our data did not provide evidence for a statistically significant relationship between police commanders’ levels of self-legitimacy and support for organizational justice. Despite prior research revealing a connection between line-level officers’ confidence in their authority and support for fair law enforcement practices, such a connection did not manifest within our sample of police commanders” (p.78).

“Our findings showed that police commanders who have quality relationships with their  colleagues were significantly more likely to support organizational justice…our study not only contributes to the police literature, but also advances the broader business management literature by revealing that quality relationships with colleagues impact managers’ orientations toward fairness in a police management context. What is interesting to note, however, is that despite this finding, our analysis revealed that police managers’ self-control had a 40% larger standardized effect on support for organizational justice than did relationships with colleagues. In other words, one’s peer relations are important, but self-control is a better predictor of support for organizationally just management practices” (p.78).

Translating Research into Practice

“This study also has practical implications. We asked a straight-forward research question: is self-control associated with police leaders’ support for fair managerial practices? Our results suggest that self-control is, indeed, a predictor of support for justice rule adherence. That is, managers with a greater ability to regulate their emotions, decisions, and behaviors are more likely to support adhering to the justice norms expected by their subordinates. With this knowledge, police agencies and other power holders like mayors, city managers, or city councils can perhaps better identify officers who are equipped to support exercising fairness as a leader and promote them to key positions in the organizations” (p.78-79).

“…Examining whether self-control depletion impacts police managers’ attitudes toward or use of organizational justice would be a worthwhile endeavor for future research. Finally, we encourage future researchers to measure other factors that may play a role in police managers’ support for or use of organizational justice. For example, police commanders must manage in organizational environments when competing interests and influences. City councils, mayors, and citizen review councils have power over police chiefs, sheriffs, and their immediate command staff. Police managers’ support for or use of organizational justice may be partially shaped by whether such entities treat these officers with fairness, or allow less role discretion which could inhibit managers’ ability to be fair to their employees in some instances” (p. 79).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“…some police managers may be better equipped than others to use fairness with their subordinates, particularly during times of uncertainty or following critical incidents such as controversial shooting. In this way, a manger’s capacity to exercise self-control and treat employees fairly may change throughout the day. Glucose levels and whether a manager has used self-control earlier in the day, for example, may ultimately impact how much importance they place on treating employees fairly, or whether they are actually able to behave in an organizationally just manner. Future research in this area will need to explore these issues further…Our hope is that future research aims to examine whether such attitudes are one of the mechanisms that ties self-control to actual fair behaviors among managers” (p.78).

Join the Discussion

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Authored by Amber Lin

Amber Lin is a volunteer in Dr. Zapf’s research lab at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She graduated from New York University in 2013 with a B.A. (honors) and hopes to obtain her PhD in forensic clinical psychology. Her research interests include forensic assessment, competency to stand trial, and the refinement of instruments used to assess the psychological states of criminal defendants.

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