If I have learned one thing since retiring from the military, it’s that people, in general, take any comment about their work negatively as “criticism” instead of as “professional development,” unless you’re heaping praise. In the military, a supervisor may come up to you and tell you that your work is unacceptable or “you’re doing it wrong! Do it right!” And the only thought a soldier has is “yes, sergeant!” Then, without batting an eye, they get the job done right. Should a supervisor do the same in the civilian world, that supervisor would be met with a complaint about abuse and an immediate resistance with the “Oh yea, then do it yourself” type of response.
The shift in attitude toward law enforcement officers has not waned, and the “defund the police,” “police officers are racist” and other tropes continue to permeate the landscape. Cries for reimagined methods of police training and tactics also continue with some municipalities doing just that. I believe in the James T. Kirk ideology where it is the top leadership who are ultimately responsible and accountable for everything emanating from their department, both good and bad.
When an officer is alleged to have done something wrong that violates policy or law, it is the officer who must bear the burden of having their reputation and integrity assailed and seldom, if ever, the leadership. When was the last time you witnessed an agency’s leadership being blamed for something or seeing anyone in the leadership step up and say, “If anyone has failed, I have, for I failed to properly mentor, facilitate, train and supervise this officer”?
The mantra of just about every leader is the officer in question is a grown man/woman who knows better and will be dealt with appropriately based on the investigative findings. These issues lead to a problem with training and experience. The typical officer graduates from an academy, spends 14 weeks training with several field training officers who “show them the ropes” while evaluating that officer to ensure they can do the job, and then after about three years, are ready to test for a sergeant’s position.
At no time during their normal working day is that officer placed in a position of authority to supervise other officers to get a particular job done, unless the sergeant has to attend to something and places the senior patrol officer in charge until they return. Once promoted, that officer attends a first-line supervisor’s course that is one of hundreds of courses available in America, and each with a different curriculum and instructors who may not have the necessary experience and credentials to teach supervision properly. What these new leaders do is “wing it” in a kind of sink-or-swim environment while taking some direction from supervisors who learned the job from their supervisor.
The preceding scenario results in a lack of mentorship and facilitation from senior leaders who fail to shape, mold, direct, guide, counsel, facilitate and mentor their officers because they fail to remember, or care, that every cadet and young officer are the future leaders or chief of police. By failing to guide and train officers as they gain experience and rank, senior leaders fail subordinates by ensuring they develop to their full potential. I find it distressing that the full potential of leaders and officers is seldom fully developed because they are unaware of where their shortcomings are. I always told my subordinates that my job was to teach them my job.
Some people are unclear as to what exactly is meant or expected if they are asked to mentor and facilitate an officer’s career or assigned task. When you look up the word “facilitate” in Merriam-Webster or the Oxford dictionaries, you’ll get “1. The lowering of the threshold for reflex conduction along a particular neural pathway, especially from repeated use of that pathway;” and “2. The increasing of the ease or intensity of a response by repeated stimulation.” These definitions generally mean a leader is lending a hand to help a subordinate learn how to do and complete a task via repetition or by using the experience of that leader to teach them. Due, Kousgaard, Waldorf and Thorsen make it clear when they write, “There is no clear and consistent operational definition of facilitation” (2018, Influences of peer facilitation in general practice – a qualitative study, BMC Family Practice, page 1).
Davis (2021, How mentorship and coaching can unlock one’s full potential, The Journal of Legal Nurse Consulting, 32 8–12) provides a definition of mentorship that, when paraphrased, means “a relationship between two individuals that is a long-term, deep-rooted relationship requiring total vulnerability and transparency that is development-driven and lasts for years.” In other words, mentorship is taking your subordinates under your wing to teach them your job and to ensure they become the best subject-matter expert of the law enforcement profession. It is the failure to mentor our officers that contributes to the problems our profession experiences.
I think Davis sums the advantage and benefits of mentoring and facilitating police officers from the time they enter their academy and throughout their career perfectly:
“Committing to a mentorship or a coaching relationship, as either the coach or the mentor, is one of the most valuable decisions one can make to unlock their full potential as a leader, business owner, professional, employee or even student. While there are distinct differences between coaching and mentoring, both serve specific purposes in the growth and development of an individual. No matter the environment or scenario — as a legal nurse consultant, in a collegial environment or beyond — mentorship and coaching will direct a person toward success because it provides access to knowledge, strength and accelerated wisdom.”
I firmly believe that when everyone in a position of authority, whether a senior patrol officer, sergeant, captain or chief of police, understands their responsibility, duty and obligation to pass their knowledge, skill sets and experience to others, our profession will evolve into a presence no one could have imagined. Law enforcement will not just identify and solve crime; law enforcement will help develop tools and procedures that will identify root causes and methods in which to prevent most crimes before they occur. The possibilities are endless, and it all starts with caring enough to mentor and facilitate those officers in which you are charged to supervise. #police, #facilitation, #mentorship, #coaching, #supervisors