End-of-Year Lessons

At the end of every year, I close with a look at selected strategies for making your department both better to lead and more relevant to the community you serve. This time I'll draw on some of the things I've learned writing for "Law Enforcement Technology" this year.

Here are my selections for 2006's Top 10 things you can do to improve your agency. Feel free to send me your own suggestions, and I'll include them in the December 2007 column.

  1. Make physical fitness a priority, and I'm not talking about a department of muscle-bound weight lifters. You should ensure your officers have the opportunity and means to exercise in conjunction with the demands of the job. Can't afford a gym? Take a page from the experience of at least one small department which borrowed a room from the county and, combined with small users' fees, came up with an affordable alternative to a pricey gym.
  2. Put some thought into how you handle missing children reports. Establish a team protocol and joint task force. Cut as much bureaucratic red tape as possible and authorize them to move fast.
  3. Along those same lines, review how your agency deals with missing adult reports. Can you reduce the angst suffered by those families without compromising your investigation?
  4. How do you handle patrol shifts? If you're rotating them, find out if your rotation allows enough time for officers to get adequate sleep. If not, talk to your troops and see what they prefer. If they have a voice in shift rotation, they're more likely to be enthusiastic about their jobs as a whole.
  5. Consider training an officer/officers in forensic computer analysis. It's a hot specialty that is going to become even more critical in the future. Choose officers with ties in the area who love their jobs and help reduce the retention problems in this area of expertise.
  6. Instill the concept that one bad community impression comes back to haunt an agency many times over. Handling encounters and complaints involving the public with courtesy and compassion gives the agency an opportunity to build valuable allies in the future.
  7. Watch for signs an employee might be swimming in debt. Officers who work lots of extra jobs also can be suffering from a lack of quality sleep. It can be the first step on a very slippery slope.
  8. I've said this before and I think it's important enough to reiterate: make certain every officer in your agency can recite the legal definition of probable cause — and understands its application.
  9. Train all sworn personnel on the art of interviewing — and not simply investigators. Patrol officers are the ones who generally encounter suspects first. They need to know how to do it properly. Many a case has been solved by a good field interview.
  10. And last, find time for charity. Law enforcement officers are without a doubt the most generous, kindest people on earth, and hardly anyone knows it. I can't count the number of times I've seen officers, who work two jobs to pay their own bills, dig into their pockets to help someone else. Consider involving the department with a community effort, too. It's a great way to let the public know where your heart really lies.

I hope this column has been valuable to you and your agency this past year. I have nothing but admiration for the men and women who lead in this troubled day and time. Please feel free to contact me with suggestions, pointers and other ideas.

Thanks for a terrific year. See you in 2007.