Police services have traditionally taken a top-down approach to leadership. Leaders give direction to their staff, which in turn asks each officer to take action.
This week, the VCU Police Department and its policing partners in Richmond are looking to change the tradition by participating in the nationally recognized “Every Officer is a Leader” course.
The goal is to empower all officers and staff to initiate improvements to operations and help provide public safety services that best meet the needs of the community.
Participants study 60 research-based skills in areas such as self-management, interpersonal communication, conflict management, problem and opportunity management, team and organization development, and versatility.
“Following calls for police reform last year, I wanted to totally change our approach to policing,” said John Venuti, VCU police chief and associate vice president for public safety. “This training encourages all of us to think about our motivations and how best to solve problems with the community, whatever the challenges. We want to focus on highly effective solutions.
To engage public safety partners in the greater Richmond area, VCU police opened the six-day course to other security agencies and providers. Participants included the Virginia Capitol Police Division; the Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield and Virginia Union University Police Departments; RMC events; LEW & Associates Inc. Security Services; and Health and Safety VCU.
More than 75 officers, security guards and civilian personnel participate in training, delivered by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training through the Bureau of Police Services community service from the United States Department of Justice at no cost to VCU.
Capitol Police Col. Anthony S. Pike, who has completed executive training, said agencies still rely on each other to support events. No agency works alone.
“The timing of the training has been perfect,” he said. “After the past 12 months, I think resetting priorities and goals is so important right now and COVID has basically separated everyone from each other. “
Pike said he looks forward to officers completing a “train the trainer” section of the leadership course – a feature that makes it easy for all staff to repeat the training later.
Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said content on policing leadership, transformation, communications and effectiveness would definitely help his organization.
“This course can only improve the changes and direction in which RPD is heading now, not only at the management level, but up to new recruits in the academy,” he said.
Providing public safety services in new ways
In June, VCU announced a series of recommendations to transform public safety and well-being on campus. Venuti has started to implement these recommendations, which come from VCU’s Safety and Welfare Advisory Committee. For him, that means moving away from the status quo when it comes to meeting security needs on college and medical campuses.
“The future of public safety at VCU involves strong leadership at all levels,” said Venuti. “We never had the ability to implement a top-down leadership program that could reach all staff. It’s an exciting time because it really puts everyone – at VCUPD and other agencies – on the same page for what lies ahead. “
Participants in this week’s training learned about the link between empowering staff and improving agency effectiveness, a process that leads to better services, programs and responses for communities.
“This training will establish a baseline for officer-level leadership that will promote clear and concise communication,” said David Pulliam, a VCU police officer. “It can be used to bridge the gap between officers, professional staff, administration and, most importantly, the VCU community.”
Mark Sykes, Capitol Hill Deputy Police Chief, said he welcomes anything the agency can do to fine-tune the processes and services they provide.
“Identifying the root problems is something that is critical and crucial for us,” said Sykes.
As VCU Police consider the upcoming academic year, Venuti plans to encourage the use of new skill sets.
“As officers and staff feel empowered to make changes, they can approach issues from a new perspective,” he said. “We have learned that traditional approaches to policing no longer work. This is one of our first steps in changing the paradigm in how we keep everyone in the community safe in Richmond. ”
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