Police and Law Enforcement Leaders for the Future

Nov. 14, 2023
Dynamic leaders are needed for the future of law enforcement, and that requires continuous improvement.

I guess I am starting this off with a chip on my shoulder. I continue to hear the bashing of police, the criticality of the liberal media, still hearing the defunding and requests for increased oversight of police. I think most of these folks just do not get it. I have always been an advocate for good policing. I have always prided myself on supporting good, sound policework. Granted through the years, we have had a few bad events which sickened all of us. Good cops hate bad cops. These events get over publicized and rammed down our throats. Good cops are painted with a wide paint brush casting the same disparity over all of us due to the sins of a few. We have had bad political leaders, bad doctors, or bad religious leaders. Every vocation has had one or two that have besmirched their honor and polluted the pool for the rest of us.

This article appeared in the September/October issue of OFFICER Magazine. Click Here to subscribe to OFFICER Magazine.

So, what do we need to move into the future? I think what we need are new dynamic leaders for the future of law enforcement. I have recently seen so many alleged police leaders who have toadied down to the media for their political well-being; out to save themselves and to cast their departments aside. It is now time we have real leaders to face the future and strengthen the ranks. I want to see strong motivated leaders who have the vocation in mind. Those who are in it for the good of all, not just themselves. There have always been those certain leaders and supervisors on your department that everybody wanted to work for. It may not have been the best district or precinct, nor the best assignment. But you wanted to work for that supervisor because it is as if they had a force field around them. And I am not talking about charisma; I am speaking about those who energized you when you went to work. You were excited when they were there. You knew they were going to be there beside you. You knew they were going to back you but also knew they were going to keep you in line when needed. We all want those types of leaders.

The other problem we have is those who are afraid to “coach.” Now in Policeland we always speak about having good instructors and Field Training Officers (FTOs). But sometimes it boils down to pure coaching skills. They must give you the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Granted, we are in a no mistake zone! But this still goes back to an old comparison I have made for years: a professional baseball player this year who will be paid millions of dollars to perform. He may only have a .200 batting average, which equates to 2 out of 10 at bats they get on base. We expect our police officers to get on base every time. And for that matter, we have critics who expect us to hit a grand slam home run every time, but that’s not reality. We must remember that as police officers grow, we must nurture them, or they are going to make major mistakes. Yes, and there will be these “coaching moments” we need to capitalize on. You cannot come down hard on them, you use these learning moments to improve their skills. I do not want officers working in an unrealistic comfort zone, where they feel that they are protected irrespective of what they do. Should you do something wrong (illegal, criminal, or irresponsible), then there should be consequences, and rapid consequences. We do not want you to get into a pattern of abuse of your office or mistreating citizens, so we do not linger when corrections are needed. Do not allow a comfort zone where you do not have to produce, interact or you could just turn this into a no-work zone.

Future leaders, I want you to take a solemn oath to yourself that you will treat your staff with dignity and honor, not belittle them, and you will allow them those same moments to learn as you have been given.

Nurturing professional, young police officers today will pay off for the department’s future. I once was told that the way you treat a dog is different than the way you treat a human being. If you scold, beat, and kick a dog into obedience; one day soon they are either going to bite you or will run off. Remember while you are gone and not beating them, they are plotting the downfall of you. Police officers are no different. They need to be treated with respect and dignity. They need to be treated in a manner that they can flourish. Oftentimes, people second guess police officers and that seems to be what everybody enjoys doing, armchair quarterbacking all the reruns of live cop shows on the television. But when you look at the number of decisions that any officer has to make on any crime scene or any incident, I’m glad that sometimes they do have to second guess. Because the first-in officers have got to make their first guesses. Anybody can second guess, but when you are there in the moment it is not easy. When you are there when passions are flowing between victims and you must make those hard decisions, we all desire the correct decisions. The goal is for every officer to know that we (the leadership) are going to be there to help you through. Again, I do not want leaders to let you fail, I want them to be those people who are quality control and be solution providers for this event, so you can apply learning to the next one. Progressive learning creates stronger future decisions. Learning should and can be a continuous circle of improvement. Bad leaders and instructors can cause this continuous circle to spin off its axis and nobody benefits from this. The goal is to treat every day as a learning experience.     

About the Author

William L. “Bill” Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served in leadership positions including chief during a career that spanned over 40 years.    

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