Enhancing Law Enforcement Capacity, Capability through Mentorship

May 30, 2024
Mentoring programs foster a supportive environment where experienced police and law enforcement officers guide and nurture the incoming workforce.

As law enforcement agencies confront an array of challenges including diminishing recruitment numbers, heightened attrition rates, and growing public scrutiny, innovative solutions are imperative. The introduction of mentorship programs has emerged as a strategic response to these challenges, fostering a supportive environment where experienced officers guide and nurture the incoming workforce, thus preserving invaluable expertise within departments. These programs not only bolster internal capabilities but also enhance the public image of policing by demonstrating a commitment to professionalism and community engagement.

Declining Numbers in Law Enforcement: A Statistical Overview

The current landscape in law enforcement is marked by a sharp decline in new recruits and a surge in the departure of seasoned officers. A survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) revealed that 78% of agencies are struggling to recruit qualified police officers. Officer resignations were up 47% in 2020 compared to 2019 the year before the pandemic and George Floyd’s killing. Retirements are up 19%. These alarming figures are according to a survey of 200 police agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. The PERF report: “The Workforce Crisis, and What Police Agencies Are Doing About It,” released in September of 2019, found that more officers are not only leaving their departments before retirement age, but are also departing our profession entirely as well.

The future of law enforcement is further challenged by the fact that fewer people are considering a career in our field. In considering the agencies responding to the survey five years ago, 63 % of them indicated a decrease of up to 36 % in applications. Overall, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics between 2013 and 2016 the number of full-time sworn officers in the United States has declined by 3 %.

Today, this trend has also resulted in agencies contemplating civilians filling a portion of the agency’s roles traditionally occupied by sworn officers. The Long Beach Police Department initiated a study following the murder of George Floyd and weeks of protests in Long Beach calling for the department’s budget to be reduced. And, while city management asked departments to identify voluntary budget cuts due to the protests and the COVID-19 pandemic and not because of attrition or unfilled it illustrates a trend agencies are considering. The proposed solution was to transition 16 sworn officer positions to civilian community service assistance. An article in Long Beach Post News in August 2022 described how the community assistance would undergo training like police recruits. The department identified 36 types of calls the community service assistants could potentially manage. The calls overseen would be instances following a crime where a report is required.

This trend poses a significant operational threat, exacerbated by an aging workforce and the escalating complexity of policing duties, requiring a multifaceted approach to recruitment and retention.

The Role of Mentorship in Law Enforcement

Mentorship transcends traditional training by establishing a dynamic educational relationship between experienced officers and newer officers. The establishment of mentorships augments the newer officers’ training beyond the customary filed training and probationary period. And it also augments in-service training of officers. This approach is instrumental in facilitating the transfer of critical tacit knowledge, which includes invaluable insights and understandings typically unattainable through standard training protocols.  It provides a well-rounded training approach that goes beyond the formal training approach of “this is how we do it” with the addition and reinforcement by a mentor by the inclusion of “and this why we do it.” This advances theory and concept from training activities to the reinforcement of correct practical application of skills and knowledge.

Successful Implementations of Mentorship

Law enforcement agencies worldwide have reaped substantial benefits from well-implemented mentorship programs. The Toronto Police Service and the Los Angeles Police Department, for example, have both reported improved performance, enhanced operational efficiency, and higher retention rates due to their respective mentorship initiatives. These programs are tailored to address specific departmental needs while fostering an environment of continuous learning and professional development.

Mentorship versus Field Training Officers

Mentorship programs and Field Training Officers (FTOs) serve complementary but distinct roles within law enforcement training paradigms. While FTOs provide essential on-the-job training and competency assessments, mentors offer ongoing support and career development, guiding mentees through complex challenges and broader career development. This continuous support extends beyond the foundational training provided by FTOs, covering a wider range of professional and personal growth opportunities.  It also imparts a feeling of acceptance and brotherhood between seasoned officers and less experienced officers.

Overall, this leads to a wider culture where officers are more inclined to help one another not only in job-related tasks but also interpersonal matters. The close relationship between a mentor and his mentee provides opportunities to identify an officer who is facing personal challenges in life and on the job. Positive early intervention by a concerned and trusted peer may thwart developing issues such as substance abuse, divorce, and suicide.

Gathering information of officer suicide has proved to be more complex and difficult. Review of an article in Police1 by Chief Joel F Shults, Ed. D cited statistics from Blue H.E.L.P. website that the number of law enforcement suicides in 2022 rose to 160 from 2022 figure of 143. However, the perceived trend of increasing suicides has led the FBI to recently begin collecting data through its Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection program.

Mentorship in Specialized Units

Specialized units such as tactical units, training staff, and digital forensic units particularly benefit from mentorship. Mentors in these units provide tailored guidance based on extensive experience, facilitating advanced skill transfer in high-stakes environments. For instance, mentors in digital forensic units impart expertise in handling complex cybercrime investigations, ensuring that innovative methodologies are continuously integrated into the unit’s practices.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in their recent report of April 17, 2024, stated that Digital Forensic positions will experience a 13 % growth rate from 2022 until 2032 with about 2,600 open positions each year. The current trend of skilled law enforcement officers leaving agencies of all levels - local, State and Federal, will surely impact specialized units such as digital forensic units.

It is not new that skilled positions in law enforcement can command higher salaries in the private sector. In law enforcement these specialized positions frequently encompass a high degree of on-the-job training under demanding conditions and a high-pressure environment.  These attributes make the individual attractive to the private sector, and the move outside of law enforcement attractive to the officer as well.  It truly is a seller’s market for well-trained and experienced employees at present.

The loss of these individuals contributes to skills vacuum for the agency. And considering the career tract for these positions can, to a large part, be transferred from colleagues it may require a lengthy process to regain the lost skills.

Early implementation of a mentorship program in the specialized units would accelerate the transfer of skills and knowledge before the unit loses personnel. It may also provide a greater sense of value and job satisfaction to more senior officers, enticing them to stay on the job.

Implementing a Mentorship Program: Key Considerations

To develop an effective mentorship program, law enforcement agencies must undertake careful planning and execution. This includes defining clear program goals, selecting mentors with the right blend of experience, and teaching ability, providing mentors with specialized training in areas like adult learning theory to enhance their effectiveness, and establishing robust feedback mechanisms to continually refine the program.

Comprehensive Benefits of Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs enhance skill transfer, boost morale, and increase job satisfaction across the board, thereby addressing both operational needs and workforce sustainability. These programs not only improve individual performance but also enhance team cohesion and organizational culture.

Expanding the Benefits Across the Board

Mentorship programs benefit all levels of an agency:

Newer Officers: Gain confidence and practical skills more rapidly, facilitating smoother integration into the department. At the same time reinforcing the importance of both individual and organizational success and lessening the fear of failure that comes with the rapid onset of a new career. Especially one where you are not only expected to be near perfect but at a time when your profession is subject to intense pressures.

Experienced Officers: Find renewed purpose and engagement addressing burn out and the phenomenon of “quite quitting.” All of which can delay retirement and reduce turnover. Mid-sized, smaller departments and departments with budget challenges at times lack promotional and transfer opportunities for qualified senior officers.  These instances may lead officers believing as if there may never be advancement opportunities. In these situations, officers may no longer actively engage in training or development. This negatively impacts the unit and agency.  A mentorship may lead to a reversal of this thinking and increased retention in specialty unit.  

Recruitment and Retention: Enhance the department's appeal to potential recruits and increase overall retention by highlighting a commitment to personal and professional development.  It is human nature to want to be a part of an organization that recognizes you as a valued individual. And at the same time welcomes you into the larger group.

Administrative Advantages: Streamline training processes and enhance administrative efficiency, reducing costs and improving outcomes. An individual who has participated in the program as a mentor will have further developed their interpersonal communications skills. The program will have prepared them for promotion and success in their new role as a leader, beyond that of a supervisor. A well-instituted mentorship program bridges the gap between supervisory positions and the front-line officers. It furthers the core values of the department. Another benefit is the real-time feedback on policy effectiveness and goals. In addressing an officer’s mental health and wellbeing the increased peer-to-peer interaction may provide valuable early intervention.

Impact on Agency Culture

A robust mentorship program significantly impacts an agency’s culture by reinforcing professionalism, integrity, and a commitment to continuous improvement. These cultural enhancements help retain senior officers and future-proof the department against potential losses of community support. The same PERF survey states that 8.5 % of current officers were eligible for retirement in 2019 and that another 15.5 % would be retirement eligible for retirement within five years of the survey – 2024. If realized these statistics point to a significant loss of officers and a drain on agencies’ institutional knowledge.

Addressing Current Cultural Challenges and Improving Community Relations

Mentorship programs play a pivotal role in addressing contemporary challenges such as the 'defund the police' movements and the evolving public expectations of law enforcement. By promoting transparency, accountability, and community engagement, mentorship programs can improve community relations and enhance the public's trust in law enforcement. These programs equip officers with the people skills necessary to engage effectively with the community, fostering mutual respect and understanding.

Conclusion

Mentorship within law enforcement is an essential strategy for agencies aiming to enhance their operational capacity and adapt to the complexities of modern policing. By fostering a culture of continuous learning and support, law enforcement agencies ensure they are robust, responsive, and aligned with community values.

Call to Action

Law enforcement agencies are urged to prioritize the development and integration of mentorship programs into their operational framework. Such initiatives not only bolster internal capabilities but also strengthen community connections, enhancing both the effectiveness and the public image of law enforcement.

About the Author

Lee Lerussi has a career in law enforcement that spans over three decades, marked by his expertise in cybercrimes, anti-terrorism, and investigations. His journey began as a Peace Officer in St. Clair Township, Ohio, where he dedicated 14 years to various roles, including training officer and firearms instructor. And he served on the County multi-jurisdictional SRT team. This foundation equipped him for subsequent specialized positions across his career.

In 2013, Mr. Lerussi began contributing internationally as a Subject Matter Expert for the U.S. State Department’s Global Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program. His expertise contributed significantly to the program, leading him to found LeeLand Consulting, Inc. in 2022. Through his consulting firm, he continues to provide valuable training and mentorship in national security issues, cybercrimes, and counterterrorism. Mr. Lerussi currently serves as an embedded mentor deployed to antiterrorism and digital forensic units overseas for Constellis, LLC, a Triple Canopy company.

Mr. Lerussi continues to apply his experience at LeeLand Consulting, aiding law enforcement in partner nations and communities across the United States. His work continues to reflect his deep commitment to public service and addressing evolving challenges in law enforcement, particularly in cyber-crimes and counterterrorism.

You can connect with Mr. Lerussi at www.leelandinc.com; or on LinkedIn.

References

1.      International Association of Chiefs of Police. (2020.) https://www.theiacp.org/sites/default/files/239416_IACP_RecruitmentBR_HR_0.pdf

2.      The Police Executive Research Forum “The Workforce Crisis, and What Police Agencies Are Doing About It” September 2019. https://www.policeforum.org/assets/WorkforceCrisis.pdf

3.      Police1. “What do we really know about police suicide.” October 18, 2023, https://www.police1.com/health-wellness/articles/what-do-we-really-know-about-police-suicide-FsP7myR0ITv6wBbC/

4.      Website; Blue H.E.L.P. https://bluehelp.org/

5.      Long Beach Post News, “Civilians, not officers, could soon respond to certain police calls in Long Beach.” By Jason Ruiz, August 1, 2022. https://lbpost.com/news/civilians-police-calls-911-lbpd-community-service-assistant/

6.      US Bureau of Labor Statistics, office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections; April 17, 2024. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm

About the Author

Lee Lerussi

Lee Lerussi has a career in law enforcement that spans over three decades, marked by his expertise in cybercrimes, anti-terrorism, and investigations. His journey began as a Peace Officer in St. Clair Township, Ohio, where he dedicated 14 years to various roles, including training officer and firearms instructor. And he served on the County multi-jurisdictional SRT team. This foundation equipped him for subsequent specialized positions across his career.

In 2013, Mr. Lerussi began contributing internationally as a Subject Matter Expert for the U.S. State Department’s Global Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program. His expertise contributed significantly to the program, leading him to found LeeLand Consulting, Inc. in 2022. Through his consulting firm, he continues to provide valuable training and mentorship in national security issues, cybercrimes, and counterterrorism. Mr. Lerussi currently serves as an embedded mentor deployed to antiterrorism and digital forensic units overseas for Constellis, LLC, a Triple Canopy company.

In 1998, Mr. Lerussi joined the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), where he served until his retirement as a Senior Special Agent in 2021. Initially focusing on white collar crimes and health care fraud investigations, in 2002 he transferred to BCI headquarters. There, he became one of the founding agents of the newly established Computer Crimes Unit, addressing the burgeoning challenges of cybercrimes statewide. His expertise led him to roles in BCI's Cyber Crimes field offices in Richfield and Youngstown, Ohio where his contributions included significant digital forensic investigations.

He is certified as both an International and National Instructor by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training. Mr. Lerussi was an invited speaker at the National Association of Attorneys General Conference on Advanced Cybercrime. Ohio. He has also presented workshops and training on the topics of investigating terrorist incidents, foreign fighter terrorists and operators, investigations of computer crimes, conducting cyber-enabled investigations, internet-based crimes, and identifying cell phone evidence.

Mr. Lerussi has also been an adjunct instructor for the National White Collar Crime Center. He maintains his commission as a Deputy Sheriff (Reserve) in Columbiana County, Ohio, and continues to serve as an instructor in the Ohio Peace Officers’ Basic Training Academy.

Mr. Lerussi holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Heidelberg University, with further postgraduate studies at Kent State University and Youngstown State University. His commitment to professional growth is underscored by certifications from institutions such as the SANS Institute, the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists, and Cellebrite, alongside advanced training with the FBI, NW3C, the United States Secret Service and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Throughout his career, Mr. Lerussi has been recognized with numerous awards, including a Valor award from the local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge and selection as Member of the Year by the State FOP Lodge of Ohio. He received the Ohio Distinguished Law Enforcement Group Achievement Award for leadership during a critical incident and has been honored by the FBI and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for successful prosecutions and his dedication to complex investigations. Additionally, he was awarded the Certificate of Meritorious Service by Peter Elliott, US Marshal for the Northern District of Ohio.

Mr. Lerussi continues to apply his experience at LeeLand Consulting, aiding law enforcement in partner nations and communities across the United States. His work continues to reflect his deep commitment to public service and addressing evolving challenges in law enforcement, particularly in cyber-crimes and counterterrorism.

You can connect with Mr. Lerussi at www.leelandinc.com; or on LinkedIn.

 

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