Across the nation, law enforcement officers are being challenged. Use of force is a national hot button, along with perceptions of systemic racism and civil protest. Local, state and federal lawmakers are tackling changes that will impact policing. As a profession, we have been slow to stay ahead of the curve with policy evolution and innovative training, often because resources have been limited. And all the while, community expectations have grown year after year.
Over 18,000 local law enforcement agencies employ over 750,000 local law enforcement officers who have been trained by more than 600 state and local law enforcement training academies.1 These academies vary in scope of training from a mere 350 hours to over six months in duration. As community expectations have grown for policing services, the training, vision and capabilities have not. Instead, we have a checkerboard of training. This means that basic foundational content is far from uniform across the country.
Even with training challenges, each of us carrying a badge can push ourselves to a higher level of service to our community. What are your personal mission, vision and values for yourself and the policing profession? Let us take a forward step and develop a personal list for listening to, working with and learning from the most important people in our business — our citizens.
For nearly 40 years, the concept of community-oriented policing and problem solving (COPPS) has been sold as a combination of partnership building and community outreach. COPPS is not a one-size-fits-all program, and that has frustrated the evolution of policing for decades. There was also a change in COPPS post 9/11 with a shift in focus to the risk of international and domestic terrorism. This era of Homeland Security policing saw a new emphasis on a warrior mentality. As a profession, we are wrestling today with striking a balance between the guardian and warrior mentality of policing. That balance is unique to the venue you work in, whether metropolitan, suburban or rural in nature. Again, one size of policing will not fit every one of our 18,000 agencies.
“YOU Are the Police Department” is a program that I developed several years ago and use annually during in-service training. “YOU Are the Police Department” melds directly into the concept of COPPS.
By combining any agency’s mission, vision and guiding principles wrapped around 12 key rules (see above), we can build a strong foundation for our profession’s continuing evolution.
12 KEY RULES
- Customers don’t talk to “the department.” They talk to you!
- Great service starts with a good attitude. Your attitude is our business. Would you want to talk to you? If the answer is “no,” it is time for an attitude adjustment.
- There is only one judge of great service: the citizen. Do you ask citizens how they rate our service? Not only must we be productive, but we must be productive in winning community support and building community confidence in our agencies every day.
- Citizens don’t think of themselves as “customers”; they think of themselves as people who need our help. Enjoy helping people —you will do a better job. Would your family members be happy with the type of service they might receive from your agency?
- There’s no “right way” to talk to citizens. Every person is different. Every problem is different. So every conversation is different. Talk to people, not at them. Be empathetic.
- Don’t just talk to citizens — talk to us! You are the voice of the citizen inside the police department! Did a citizen say something to you that needs to be passed up the chain of command? Do you share citizen concerns and input?
- It’s not enough to take care of customers. You have to care about them. Great service isn’t just a transaction; it’s a bond.
- Don’t just solve problems — create opportunities. You can turn a slip-up into a win. All departments make mistakes. Turn those miscues into opportunities to prove how good we can be.
- Don’t just listen — learn. Small complaints can generate big improvements.
- Learn to anticipate problems. If you listen to people and look for patterns, you can read citizens’ minds. It is not someone else’s responsibility to make things better; it is all our responsibility.
- Every call for service is a judgment call. The deeper your knowledge, the better your judgment.
- If you really want to help citizens, don’t be afraid to ask for help yourself. Your questions to your peers, supervisors and the chief will improve your answers to citizens.
Customer service is everyone’s business. Yep, that can be hard as you go from one hot call to another. Calls can be draining, and we can build a callous as a survival mechanism. Law enforcement officers respond daily to people in crisis, robberies, burglaries, abused children … the list is endless.
Citizens need our help in their moments of crisis. If your parents, spouse, children or family members were in crisis and came to your agency’s lobby seeking help, you would have high expectations for outstanding service. Let us work toward that for all our citizens.
My agency’s motto is “Pride, Professionalism, Dedication.” Agency mottos share an underlying truth, they all require action, quickly extending services to our citizens whether the call is critical, routine, minor or mundane. If a citizen calls the police, then that issue or incident is the most important concern in their mind.
Patrol must always be tenacious and go the extra mile. When was the last time you “wowed” a citizen? Small investments can yield large returns. Does it work on every call, every time, every day? Certainly not. In the big leagues of baseball, Ty Cobb is still listed as having the highest batting average in history, hitting .366 over a 24-year career. I am guessing in policing we can strike a “wow” more than 36% of the time.
Building bridges is the responsibility of each professional who carries a badge. It is not someone else’s job; it truly is our job. Each member of a police agency plays an important role that involves much more than merely responding to calls and making arrests. If our many agency mottos mean something, then our routine level of service must always exceed citizen expectations.
There is a challenge facing policing nationwide. This is not the first decade where law enforcement agencies have faced challenges and controversy. Challenges in law enforcement offer a unique opportunity to grow as an organization and to market, embrace and apply COPPS to ensure that opportunities are not missed.
Note: The “YOU Are the Police” training booklet and PowerPoint can be downloaded and adapted for local law enforcement use at tinyurl.com/7awbk6zc.