The Discovering Policing Web site, a U.S. Department of Justice forum designed to attract career candidates to law enforcement, explains how modern policing has evolved the skill-set necessary to be a successful officer. Although physical ability is still necessary and important, other non-traditional skills are needed, such as the ability to foster relationships, build connections between people and groups, as well as the ability to solve problems with a broad community focus. Team sports rely on these abilities as well, not only between those out on the field or on the running track, but also between the athletes and the people in the stands. “Most people’s first experience (with the police) is negative,” states Dr. Richard Weinblatt, police academy instructor, former police chief and expert in law enforcement health and wellness. At a sporting event, “if they’re sitting on the side in the stands, and the officer is standing there, a person can go up and talk to them. If we can engage and interact with the public in a positive setting, that will in turn recruit young people.” Many of the core competencies and psychological competencies identified by the U.S. Department of Justice coexist in those who participate in team sports, such as capacity for engaging in teamwork, ability to collaborate, dependability, decision making, judgment and social competence.
Athletics encourage teamwork that officers take from the playing field back to the streets. “When you go on a call, you might not know the other person very well and can’t anticipate their next move,” explains Weinblatt. “In an athletic situation, you start to see how that person thinks and you get to know them. Therefore, you can predict to some degree what they are going to do on a call. It builds a cohesive team.” Group sports also build morale. “They start to feel like they’re in it together,” says Weinblatt. “When you deal with the psychology of law enforcement, they often feel isolated and get cynical. They feel alone. Most patrol alone. Being on a team, they get a chance to work really closely with other law enforcement and some of the petty differences can be dealt with. They relieve stress. They are doing something fun and it’s helping them to see the other person as a partner and not as an enemy.” A collaborative sports team allows officers from a variety of agencies to work together, get to know each other and can ease some jurisdictional tension. This also allows each agency to use the team as a recruiting tool and pool resources for marketing and media coverage.
Health & wellness
A main focus of many departments is physical and mental wellness. “There have been so many studies that show officers who are engaged in a wellness program supported by the agency in which the police chief participates have numerous benefits — injuries go down, sick leave goes down,” Weinblatt explains. “This is not an area where agencies can skimp. If an officer is in good shape mentally and physically, they will serve their community better. Lifting weights, playing ball or even throwing a Frisbee around is extremely beneficial.”
Another focus of agencies has been the increase in diversity. Trust-based policing demands the police force be representative of the community it serves. Lack of diversity in the department not only hinders good community relations, but also obstructs recruitment of these populations due to the lack of role models within the department. Sporting teams can be used to help attract diversity. For example, soccer is incredibly popular within the Latino community. An agency soccer team could draw members of that community to the event and encourage a positive interaction. In turn, members of the Latino community might be encouraged to apply for the department.