Let’s look back 10 years to 2012. A new supervisor takes a leadership course. Over the next decade, this leader encounters growing personal and political hostility to law enforcement, pandemic, civil unrest, generational and situational barriers to recruitment and retention, implementation body-worn cameras and conflicting officer safety needs while improving relations with the public. Our supervisor is probably only a few years away from retirement eligibility and may have added another stripe or bar to his uniform.
Now let’s go back to the leadership class plan and materials. Has this course prepared our chef for the next decade? What can we do to root and actualize the enduring principles of our legacy leadership training while recognizing the inevitable changes that require attention in contemporary training?
Here are five steps to future-proof law enforcement leadership training.
1. Leaders need brain-based training
The principles of psychology and counseling have been part of leadership training for a long time, but our growing knowledge of how the brain works can inform policing much more deeply. The effects of stress, nutrition and general well-being are now well documented and must be taken into account for the effectiveness and longevity of our police officers. Critical research on the ability of mind and body to function in rapidly changing conditions must become common knowledge among police leaders, as well as among prosecutors and judges.
Resource Police1: Improving police decision-making under stress
2. Leaders need to be tech savvy
Previously, changes were coming fast – for example, police car radios in the 1930s, the appearance of the role of DNA in investigations in the 1980s, and dash cameras in the 1930s. 1990. From now on, the technologies that have become essential evolve with such rapidity that sometimes the agency acquisition process validates a purchase that has already become obsolete. Knowing which technology has real value and longevity and how it can be integrated into existing systems is complex. Not to mention advances in consumer technology used by offenders who more frequently leave digital fingerprints as well as physical fingerprints.
Resource Police1: 6 action items that should be part of every police service’s technology strategy
3. Training must use sound principles of educational theory
One of the things we know about the brain is how humans learn and retain information. Leadership training, as well as all other initial and ongoing training, should be maximized using these principles. This includes learning that incorporates multiple senses, attaches to the learner’s experience and existing knowledge, social and emotional engagement, and application through practice and repetition. The Art of Collaboration encompasses many of these principles, but is sorely lacking in police training and experience whose patrol skills are necessarily independence and coercion, which translate into leadership styles rather than collaboration.
Police Resource1: How Teaching Styles Affect the Success of Today’s Police Recruits
4. Leadership principles must be embedded in the culture of the agency
One of the law enforcement agencies I have visited is the Reno, Nevada Police Department. Reno is known for developing an on-the-job police training program for new officers that focuses on problem solving. Everyone I spoke to knew the principles of the program, as well as its theoretical underpinnings. Too often, a leader’s or team’s project is isolated from others in a police service. Or a leader comes back inspired from a training course and wants to implement change without worrying about the complexities of departmental culture, tradition, and resources.
Resource Police1: 5 steps to start leading transformational change in your agency
5. Leaders must learn to focus
Lou Holtz said the secret to his successful coaching was to ask the question “What’s important now?” In the scramble to adapt to political pressures, develop relevant training and appease a restless and fearful public, it is a challenge to bring all our efforts under one roof. But we need to focus on our core mission and measure all of our programs, budgets, and training against it.
Police1 Resource: Police1 30-Day Leadership Challenge