Achieving the desired level of discipline within a law enforcement unit is among the most important responsibilities of the law enforcement executive, and the governing body. Yet this is one of the most frequently neglected processes within many law enforcement agencies. This will be first of a series of Blog posts that concentrate on the public employee disciplinary process as promulgated by the New Jersey Department of Personnel under Title 4A of the New Jersey Administrative Code. Having a firm grasp of the disciplinary process is critical to the well being of all Public Safety Officers. Please take your time in reading these posts as they pertain directly to the security of your employment and the means that you support yourself and your families.

          The word “discipline” was originally defined by the courts as “instruction”, “teaching” or “training”. However, its meaning and the use of discipline has shifted toward a concept of control through punishment. This emphasis on control has resulted in discipline being viewed as a negative threat to employment rather than a mechanism for remediation and improvement. Too frequently rules of conduct and disciplinary procedures are used as an end in themselves, and their purpose in reaching departmental goals is forgotten.

          Focusing on the negative aspects of discipline diminishes morale and productivity. The first step that should be used toward positive discipline is to emphasize instruction and de-emphasize control. This requires the law enforcement executive to focus on organizational practices. Unfortunately in today’s world of public employment, this is rarely the case.

          In exercising appropriate discipline, the executive must first define the goals and objectives of the agency’s units, and then announce management’s expectations to guide the units toward the realization of those goals. The law enforcement executive must establish a means to monitor performance and to correct improper actions. This approach to management as it relates to discipline insures that all subordinates know and understand what must be done, why it must be done, how it must be done, and when it must be done.

          Employees must be clearly told what constitutes satisfactory performance, non-satisfactory performance, and how non satisfactory performance can lead to appropriate discipline. In addition, supervisors and managers must know when and how to take necessary corrective action. To achieve these goals, management must establish workable procedures for documenting all expectations and advising individuals of their duties and responsibilities.

          There are numerous levels of discipline under the rules and regulations of the New Jersey Department of Personnel to include:

  • Official Written Reprimand;
  • Fine;
  • Minor Suspension (1 to 5 days);
  • Major Suspension (6 to 180 days); and
  • Termination

          In our next post we will discuss the various levels of discipline that is recognized under 4A, and the concept of progressive discipline under the New Jersey Administrative Code.