12 steps for creating a Culture Of Performance (COP) excellence in policing By:

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By George Ryan, Dave Logan and Ashleigh Rodriguez

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At the end of 2023, families of two deceased Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies filed lawsuits claiming that forced overtime led directly to the deaths of their loved ones. On February 17, 2024, an entire section of East Austin, Texas did not have a single officer on patrol for two hours because of staffing shortages. Recently, Ramsey County, Minnesota Sheriff Bob Fletcher revealed that 1,062 Minnesota law enforcement officers were assaulted in the line of duty in 2022. He asked, “Can you care about us before we’re dead?”

The crisis

Young people, many in their twenties, join police departments big and small, urban and rural, through a calling to protect and to serve. They believe they are doing noble work even when it’s thankless work. And the work they are doing is indeed noble. But, in 2024, Americans now in their twenties spent the majority of their formative years witnessing anti-police cultures that became vocal after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and accelerated in intensity after the 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The few young people who still want to become police officers are entering departments that are critically understaffed, underfunded, demoralized, and/or hamstrung by political and community leaders who decry proactive police work.

At the same time, the volume of responsibilities placed upon police officers only increases. As former Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell explains, “We keep adding to the pile and we never take responsibilities away.” He also notes, “We have six months to train [recruits] up and try and prepare them for anything society can throw at them at its darkest hour and expect them then to be right 100% of the time.”

Moreover, today’s law enforcement officers work in this complex terrain while their split-second decisions are examined under the microscope of public opinion and body-worn cameras. As a result of these ever-increasing pressures, American law enforcement is in crisis.

The solution

We are writing this article to offer hope in the face of all this negativity. We believe that the law enforcement profession can successfully navigate today’s multifaceted crisis. We also believe that it will emerge from this upheaval as a revitalized profession.

With a focus on strengthening from within through the development of a mutually reinforcing trinity of leadership, training and culture, law enforcement can flourish despite the varying forces trying to erode it from the outside. Through this trinity of leadership, training and culture, theprofession can strengthen from within its core and improve the quality of life for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.

A focus on leadership

The most important part of this focus is courageous, dedicated leadership at all levels of law enforcement. In law enforcement, every member of the profession is required to be a leader at any given time, and leadership is the cornerstone of any cultural transformation. Consequently, law enforcement organizations must strive to create and support an internal culture that develops and empowers the leadership qualities and skills of both command staff and rank-and-file officers.

Furthermore, the evolution from individual competence to communal excellence begins with leadership that transcends administrative duties to become leadership that inspires trust and fosters a sense of belonging and purpose. Most importantly, leaders must champion a culture that values continuous improvement and open doors for sharing best practices.

Actionable steps:

1. Implement the same type of leadership training programs employed by the best companies in the world. These programs focus on strategic thinking, future-based language, crisis management, and community engagement.

2. Establish mentorship programs where the best-of-the-best tenured officers mentor newer groups of officers in ways that foster and pass on the best parts of a culture that also includes continuous learning and support.

3. Create and maintain open communication channels within the department by implementing vertical staff meetings (all ranks included) that build trust, transparency, and collaboration among officers, supervisors and command staff. To achieve this, command staff must be trained to be world-class communicators who listen to everyone involved before making decisions (in non-crisis situations), and then communicate with transparency to build trust and model collaboration.

An emphasis on continuous training

In the law enforcement profession, continuous improvement and the sharing of best practices mainly come in the form of academy and field training for recruit officers and in-service training for veteran officers. For both, the complexity of policing today demands that agencies invest in comprehensive, ongoing training programs that address the evolving landscape of law enforcement, from technological advancements to social dynamics to field tactics.

Specifically, there needs to be a “new type of training” that emphasizes continuous improvement and prioritizes training in tactical skills, as well as in emotional intelligence, ethical decision-making and community engagement. Imagine a training regimen where officers are deeply engaged in scenario-based learning that mirrors the complexity of real-life interactions and where feedback loops ensure that learning is dynamic and responsive to the needs of both officers and the community. Such training integrates technology, leverages scenario-based skill development and implements e-learning in ways that are engaging, meaningful, memorable and effective in preparing officers for the challenges of modern policing.

Actionable steps:

1. Provide ongoing, realistic scenario-based training that mirrors the complexity of the real-life interactions officers face daily.

2. Utilize technology, such as virtual reality, simulation-based training, and (already being used in some industries) AI-assisted personalized performance feedback to enhance learning experiences, insight, preparedness, and post-event articulation.

3. Implement regular feedback sessions and open debriefs to ensure training programs and equipment are responsive to the needs of officers and communities.

A Culture of Performance (COP)

The essence of this shift from a state of crisis to a state of hope is captured in our acronym COP (Culture of Performance). With COP, our vision is for law enforcement officers at every level to embrace a culture of performance excellence where all officers are exceptionally well-trained and continually evolving, learning and leading. But COP also strongly emphasizes officer wellness through training and an overall cultural milieu that increases officer wellbeing and resilience. Importantly, COP integrates the values of the new generation of police officers. As Police Chief Robert Cormier notes, “I find the young officers that I’m hiring have a great work-life balance outlook…they want that time with their family, their friends, their kids.”

Above all, COP should create an environment where officers feel valued and understood, and where their achievements are frequently recognized, celebrated and shared both in-house and with the public. In this way, COP can improve internal morale and enhance community relations.

Actionable steps:

1. Since “culture develops in the shadows of the leaders,” deploy the best law enforcement leaders (regionally or nationally) as co-trainers, along with subject matter experts from the business world, to create an internal culture of performance excellence that motivates and supports officers.

2. Establish comprehensive wellness programs that support officers’ physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, and integrate these efforts with leadership training using the “Wellness Centered Leadership” model that is state-of-the-art in other industries.

3. Implement a system that boosts morale and motivation by internally and publicly recognizing and rewarding officers’ outstanding performance and contributions.

A call to action: community engagement

As law enforcement navigates this time of crisis in this noblest of professions, we believe that a great deal of hope lies in enhanced community relations. As Sheriff McDonnell explains, “Public support is everything…it really affects recruitment, retention, and self-image, how we see ourselves.”

Opportunities abound for engaging with the community, but meeting the community where they are needs to be at the heart of these efforts. Law enforcement leadership and rank-and-file officers must look closely at the communities they serve to see where they can engage with young people, work closely with community leaders and provide opportunities for community members to gain insight into how the law enforcement profession functions. This active engagement and openness can enhance the community’s trust and lead to more young people becoming interested in joining the profession.

Beyond this type of community engagement, we also envision a form of community engagement that exists as a symbiotic relationship between the world of public leaders and the world of law enforcement leaders. For example, we believe that law enforcement leaders can learn from business leaders and that business leaders can learn from police leaders. We also believe that experts in other noble professions such as healthcare can bring their knowledge of the cultural successes and failures in that arena to the law enforcement profession.

Most importantly, we believe that we are at a unique time in the history of our nation where the larger leadership community needs to be of service to those who protect and serve others so that the answer will be “Yes” when the Sheriff Fletchers of our nation ask, “Can you care about us before we’re dead?”

Actionable steps:

1. Foster strong community-officer relationships that build trust, mutual respect and strong bonds by hosting events and opportunities such as community night walks, community academies, static displays, open houses, PAL programs, and community-member ride-a-longs and roll calls.

2. Expand recruitment efforts to all areas of the community including community colleges, high schools, local recreation centers, athletic groups, etc.

3. Involve leaders in business, healthcare, and universities with the action steps in this article to promulgate and highlight a culture of performance excellence for the department and the community.

References

McDonnell J. Personal interview with the authors. January 15, 2024.

Comier R. Personal interview with the authors. January 15, 2024.

About the authors

Sergeant George Ryan (retired) was a member of the Los Angeles Police Department for over 32 years, 17 of which were with the LAPD SWAT team. George is the CEO of R3 Tactical and a Director with COPExcel at Care4th.

Dave Logan is co-CEO of Care4th, and has taught leadership and organizational culture at the University of Southern California for 27 years. In addition, Dave has authored or co-authored six books, including the New York Times #1 bestseller “Tribal Leadership” and the international bestseller “The Three Laws of Performance.” Dave’s TED Talk has been seen by over two million viewers.

Ashleigh Rodriguez is co-CEO of Care4th. Ashleigh has taught at the University of Arizona and the University of Southern California, delivering leading-edge coursework on leadership. She is co-author of the industry-shaping articles “Wellness-Centered Leadership” and “Well Leaders Lead Well.”

Contact the authors at https://www.care4th.com/contact-us