A July 2012 Harvard Business Review article, based on a study of 1,200 high achievers, indicated they were not receiving desired career development. The report, “Why Top Young Managers Are in a Nonstop Job Hunt,” showed the lack of career development has resulted in employees pulling up stakes and moving on.
This is also true in the law enforcement community. After all, nearly every employee wants to move up the proverbial ladder, and development is critical.
Some may argue that the development process in law enforcement should begin after the academy, but that should not be the case, according to Bowling Green Police Chief Doug Hawkins.
The starting point in developing the next generation of leaders begins with the hiring process, Hawkins said.
“We will hire for character and train for skill,” Hawkins said. “This sets the stage for us. The foundational issue for every police officer we hire at the Bowling Green Police Department is the quality of their character. We make great efforts through the hiring process; everybody has to meet the high quality of character. I cannot train you to have high-quality character. That is something that every employee brings with them to the degree that they have it.”
The chief feels someone with high character will equal a high-performing and ethical employee.
“You can run fast, and that’s a great quality to have, but if you don’t have a high quality of character, running fast really doesn’t matter to me,” Hawkins said. “You can be strong, lift weights and do many pushups, but if you don’t have the high quality of character, it really doesn’t matter. The character component comes first, and then I look at your other attributes. If you do a great job at hiring, then everything else is better and easier.”
Kimberly A. Miller, Ph.D., with the Colorado-based Kimberly A. Miller and Associates, echoed Hawkins’ sentiments.
“Instead of hiring a heartbeat, hire someone who has the skills you want and the character you feel is important to have to be successful in your agency,” Miller said. “You need somebody who fits with the culture of your agency. Many times, I think agencies are approaching hiring haphazardly from a desperate mindset.”
Since 2004, Miller has been a consultant with law enforcement agencies nationwide. Last fall she was one of the presenters during the Department of Criminal Justice Training’s 2018 Police Executive Command Course, where she spoke on the topic of succession planning.
Miller suggested thinking outside the box when it comes to marketing agency openings as a way to generate high-quality candidates.
“Instead of putting out an announcement that ‘We’re the ABC Police Department, and we’re hiring and here are the benefits, so please come,’ you can say, ‘We’re the ABC Police Department, and we believe policing is XYZ,’” she said. “‘We stand for character trait 1, 2 and 3. If you come to work for us, your experience will be like this.’ This is what I call heart-based marketing. This could be creating a video about your agency and having some of your best employees talk about why they like working at your agency. If you do that, you’re going to attract more of the right people – the ones who have the character and the skills.”
Once an officer is hired, the development and grooming should continue throughout their career.
“We have a leadership-development philosophy, and I don’t know if it is common practice in any organization, much less law enforcement,” Hawkins said. “It is one of our primary responsibilities to not only develop them in a technical sense to do their jobs, but also, it’s our responsibility to develop their leadership skills.”
Hawkins has conversations with every new group of officers hired at his agency. A point of emphasis in the discussion is becoming a leader in the community of approximately 67,000 residents.
“I tell them, the first day you put on the uniform, put on the badge, carry the gun and drive around in a patrol car, no matter what call you respond to, citizens view you as a leader,” he pointed out. “The (citizens) expect you to take a leadership role in solving their particular issue, whether they’ve been a victim of a crime, been involved in a collision or they’ve been assaulted. Whatever the case may be, they assume that (the officer) is going to function in a leadership capacity as a police officer.”
For many officers, their first taste of training comes from their field-training or police-training officers.
Those selected for the roles of FTOs and PTOs should be the cream of the crop, Miller stressed.
“Your FTOs should be the best of the best,” she continued. “Too many times, people go ‘Eney, meeny, miny, mo, you’re the next FTO.’ They don’t have a good process for selecting FTOs, and they force people into being FTOs instead of getting people who want to be FTOs.”
Often, the FTO/PTO relationship develops into a mentorship that lasts for many years and is beneficial to the officers, Hawkins added.
“Those have proven to be successful,” he explained. “The key to that is doing a great job of selecting and developing your training officers because, more often than not, we see these young officers throughout their career relying on the people who trained them. If you do a good job of selecting and training your PTOs, then I think there is a byproduct in that informal mentoring that pays off. If you do a bad job of selecting or you are blasé faire about your training officer selection, it could potentially have a negative effect.”
Additionally, allowing junior officers to serve in acting roles is also valuable, Miller added.
“Let’s say the sergeant is off for the night,” Miller said. “Which officer is going to be an acting sergeant? It doesn’t mean the officer doesn’t call the lieutenant for help if they are in a bind, but it means they can be the acting sergeant on shift. If they are showing promise, then give them the acting role and let them be the acting sergeant for the night. Put people in the role before you give them the role and see what they do with the power and responsibility. You can do this at any level. A sergeant can serve as an acting lieutenant.”
These are small ways you can give people opportunity to show you what they’ve got before you promote them, Miller said.
Beyond understanding and assuming a leadership role while on shift, Bowling Green also makes it a point to emphasize training, and not just the state-mandated Kentucky Law Enforcement Council training, Hawkins said.
“We provide leadership content every year in what we call our in-house training,” he explained. “We do a block of training internally every year for every officer. The curriculum changes every year, but it always has a leadership component.”
The training brings leadership to the forefront and addresses it from different viewpoints, Hawkins added.
“We don’t want it always to look and feel the same,” he said. “We want to get different angles and different perspectives on that.”
That also includes going outside the law enforcement community when it comes to hiring a consulting agency to instruct.
“It’s not generic, and it’s not police-focused,” Hawkins said. “But there are some behaviors that you can focus on and apply in the law enforcement context.
“You look at somebody like (former UCLA head basketball Coach) John Wooden, before he passed away, he did a lot of leadership consulting,” Hawkins continued. “I loved the way he engaged, and he was not police-specific at all. But I think a lot of what he said and leadership philosophies, when it comes to developing people, are spot on. Therefore, you can take other perspectives and other focuses, apply them in the law enforcement world, and get some benefit out of it.”
Each BGPD employee, sworn or civilian, also has a training plan, Hawkins said.
“If you are a police officer who has a special assignment in advanced crime scene, then you will have a training plan associated with the specialty of advanced crime scene as well,” he explained. “One of the things we do is have these training plans that provide the foundation and the guide for all the training we do for that position. At some point, you will complete the training program, and then there will be some flexibility in the stuff we’ll send you to.”
All of the training plans and advice of senior officers and supervisors will only go so far. Ultimately, every officer has a pivotal role to play in his or her own development, Hawkins opined.
“The people who take responsibility for their development are people who tend to get ahead or tend to be more prepared,” he said.
In the end, proper training tends to account for reduced staff turnover, Miller concluded.
“Everything done in training sets and reinforces culture,” Miller explained, “If you want young officers to be good, lifetime employees, they need to learn good habits by having good trainers.”
Training New Sergeants
When an agency hires a new person, the chief would not merely give them a uniform, badge and gun then throw them to the proverbial wolves without any field-training or police-training officer tutelage. The same holds for new sergeants, Bowling Green Police Chief Doug Hawkins reasoned.
“You have these new sergeants, and as an administration, we have a responsibility, maybe morally, but certainly ethically and legally to train and develop our people properly,” Hawkins said.
More than a decade ago, Bowling Green implemented a supervisory PTO program – a six-week training session. The agency’s new sergeants ride with senior sergeants and learn the ropes of being a supervisor.
“I believe it is well thought out, and it has a leadership component built into it, along with policies and legal issues that are appropriate for supervisors to be more aware of,” Hawkins continued. “We don’t take a random approach to supervisory development because it’s unfair to the supervisor. I know in other agencies, when somebody gets promoted, there is no training program. We developed a good program that builds a foundation, and we can build on that foundation with other training.”
The training is invaluable, and principles learned carry on to future promotions said Assistant Chief Mark Edwards, who went through the program in 2007.
“A big component of the program was the leadership aspect,” he explained. “We would talk about it every day, and exercise those philosophies in real life situations. First-line supervision and the training program sets the stage for how you conduct business every day. The things taught to me back then, I still use today.”
Sgt. Michael Myrick agreed.
After being promoted to sergeant in 2015, Myrick completed the training, and he benefited from it a great deal, especially with personnel matters.
“As a supervisor, personnel issues are the biggest challenge,” he said. “We can all face and tackle the tactical issue, but dealing with the people we supervise is the biggest challenge. (The training) gave me the tools I needed to help me on the job.”
Hawkins has been pleased with the program, adding his agency is fortunate to have resources to devote to such a program.
“We’re committed both in time and resources to develop our new supervisors, but we have the luxury of having the resources internally to be able to do that,” he said. “It’s an investment. If we do it right on the front end, the dividends payout in the end.”