Why Agencies Need an Internal Leadership Training Program


Leadership is simply the ability to influence others to achieve a goal. Unfortunately, there is nothing simple about it.

Human behavior can vary from magnanimous to fickle in moments, and their needs are usually elusive. This is amplified in the high stress environment of law enforcement and compounded over a 30 year career. We all want to be led by the best people, and as leaders we aspire to be the best for our people.

While some are gifted with a seemingly natural leadership ability, it is best to navigate a career in public service with a solid foundation in leadership education. This education helps us understand the complexity of people, provides a toolkit of techniques to alleviate problems, and trains mastery of a common language to solve problems.

An 8-hour leadership course on LAPD University, an app-based distance learning program, was one of the agency's most successful on this platform.

An 8-hour leadership course on LAPD University, an app-based distance learning program, was one of the agency’s most successful on this platform. (LAPD)

In Police1’s second annual State of the Industry Survey, only 23% of respondents said their agency had an in-house leadership training program, 12% were unsure, and 65% said the negative. Every organization should have an internal leadership training program that instills in staff the leaders our communities and agents need. Organizations should also seek external development programs to avoid stagnation.

Here are some strategies law enforcement agencies can consider when developing an in-house leadership training program:

Partnerships: don’t do it alone

The LAPD Leadership Program was born out of a crisis, but was not created in a vacuum. Following the 1992 riots, a relationship was formed with the United States Military Academy at West Point to develop a course that would address some of the leadership challenges faced by officers in the 1990s and beyond. The result was a four-week course for lieutenants covering 27 behavioral science theories. The program has continually evolved, most recently updated in 2019.

We currently have an advisory board made up of professors from the best universities in our country, CEOs, diplomats and senior military officials. These advisors inform the future of the program, offer ideas from their diverse backgrounds, and assist in the delivery of the program. Our Chairman of the Advisory Board is Sir Mark Vlasic, KHS. As a former war crimes prosecutor and professor at Georgetown, he brought innovation to the program and expanded the horizons of the program to include international law enforcement perspectives in the evaluation of our programs.

Every agency can benefit from the advisory board builds, and it’s free. There are people in the community who care about their police service and want to do something to help.

Investing in excellence

This trip won’t be cheap to begin with, but your return on investment will be immense. There must be full buy-in from the leader and the entire chain of command. If you are looking to build an in-house program, you will need to recruit staff committed to creating and teaching these courses. You will also need a chain of command ready to assign operations participants to these time-consuming courses. If done correctly, it will save you money in the long run. Better leaders retain staff at higher rates and there will be fewer internal and external lawsuits.

A cost-saving measure in terms of staffing is the online model. This has been proven in other educational contexts. Watch Coursera; in 2020, they reported nearly $300 million in annual revenue from offering online courses. In 2021, we launched LAPD University, an app-based distance learning program. An 8-hour leadership course was one of our most successful on this platform. In deciding what content to fill out, I looked at three areas where our leaders could take immediate leadership action to improve the work environment: culture, philosophy, and communications. In the short term, we will continue to offer free courses on LAPD University to any employee of a public agency.

Engage in lifelong learning

Thanks to decades of leadership studies by our board member, Dr. David Rogers, we know that to develop the best leader, we must start early in an officer’s career and then embed reinforcement at frequent intervals throughout his career. This is the only way to truly design a leader’s behavior to have optimal impact on the organization.

Make sure that the leadership teaching elements in the framework you develop are incorporated into all of your training. This applies to tactical training, civil rights, technical training, and any other opportunities you provide to your people in a learning environment. The first time your personnel learn about leadership shouldn’t happen after promotion to sergeant. For military veterans in your ranks, this will be a familiar process and you should use them to create your internal program.

The next step

According to the Police1 survey, there is a significant appetite for leadership training in our profession. After two very difficult years, now is the time to act. The LAPD Leadership Program can help you with tips and materials. To access the LAPD University app, email [email protected] We also encourage outside agencies to send staff to the leadership program in person, just email us at [email protected]

Read more: A Change Management Study: Developing the LAPD University Mobile Training App

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