Roundtable: How to be a change agent in law enforcement
Change doesn’t have to be painful – follow these simple steps to successfully implement new programs, policies and procedures in your agency
By P1 Staff
Change these days seems to be constant, but it doesn’t have to be painful. In our civilian life we turn to self-help books for advice on how to change our relationships, our eating habits and our financial health. But how do you successfully effect change in the workplace, especially in a profession like law enforcement, which is often averse to minute shifts in operations and culture due to the unrelenting pace of daily service delivery?
In this roundtable, we asked PoliceOne columnists and contributors what advice they would give police officers looking to bring about change in their departments and within their communities. Their suggestions provide a road map all officers can use to successfully implement new programs, policies and procedures, as well as initiate change in their own career path.
What one change would you like to introduce in your agency? Share your thoughts in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be prepared to be patient
New officers are always excited about all the possibilities and opportunities to make positive changes, but you need to be patient enough to know you are still learning about your agency’s history and culture and identifying the respective stakeholders involved. Allow yourself to gain experience both in the field, as well as in the station, so that when you speak of change you have earned your voice and it will be respected by your peers and chain of command.
You also need to be consistent. Be consistent in your performance and in your desire to be an agent of change. Too many people get discouraged or just realize accepting the status quo is easier than fighting for progressive change, especially as they progress through their career. Once you've obtained the necessary experience, you must be consistent in providing solutions for issues facing your agency and consistent in your own performance. The combination of experience and consistency will be a welcomed voice in many circles.
Be prepared to revise your idea
Pay attention to interpersonal dynamics. If you have a solution to a problem it won’t see the light of day if you don’t navigate the land mines of personalities that will be involved in reviewing, accepting and implementing any change. The rule in innovation is that every solution potentially creates a new problem. There will be unintended consequences, both positive and negative. Anticipate the arguments against your proposal whether financial, personal, or logistical. Plan for evaluation and revision of your idea in case it is implemented. Expect revisions, suggestions and implementation that leaves out some things you think are critical. Be willing to bear the grief if your plan fails, even if it wasn't your fault.
Be prepared to present more than one option
Anticipate resistance, but don’t take it personally – our prehistoric predecessors evolved to be weary of the unknown, perceiving it as either a threat or a reason to prepare for the worst possible outcome. By acknowledging that people, both those affected and decision-makers, will have apprehensions, even if unwarranted, you can present potential options that address those fears up front. Solicit and acknowledge their concerns without being dismissive or attempting to immediately rationalize them away.
Once you’re ready to present options, be flexible in your own thinking. The more stakeholders there are, the more adaptable you need to be. It can be helpful to present a few options rather than only one. People are more likely to adopt a solution if they feel they had choices; just don’t offer so many that it’s a challenge to decide. Provide two or three options that assuage their concerns but still bring about the change you want to implement.
Major Christian Quinn is a 22-year veteran law enforcement officer and currently serves as the commander of the Cyber & Forensic Bureau with the Fairfax County Police Department in Fairfax, Virginia.
Be prepared to effectively communicate your plan
If you want to influence people and turn your ideas into reality, you must learn to communicate effectively. Start by developing your writing skills. Create a brief executive summary as a series of bullet points on a single page. Make each bullet point a short “headline” that will pique the reader's interest in a specific topic. Hooking their interest with an executive summary will cause decision-makers to turn to the following pages of your recommendation to get the details of specific ideas.
Even before submitting your written recommendations, be prepared to verbally discuss your ideas. Practice making a concise argument that makes your point without wasting peoples’ time. Without resorting to clichés or cute abbreviations like LOL or IMHO, create a “sound bite” that summarizes your pitch. If you are proposing a major program, develop a short PowerPoint presentation (simple and not cutesy) and have it ready to go in case your initial written and verbal presentations get you to the formal proposal stage.
Richard Fairburn has more than 40 years of law enforcement experience. He is currently serving as the public safety director in a central Illinois community.
Be prepared to be part of a team
Pragmatism and experience guide my thoughts on change. Effecting change is not as easy as making suggestions or working your rear end off on a project. Changing organizations and communities should be viewed as a process that first requires a team-established mission and goals. Without an established mission and associated goals, the ship may sink before the wind catches a sail. The process starts with an idea and a little marketing. The goal of marketing is to create support that extends toward the creation of a working team. The team should synthesize its ideas to develop a mission and vision statement that will guide the process of goal attainment. From here, the process involves communicating with stakeholders, developing a proposal, seeking approval, implementation, evaluation and revision. The most important thing to remember is that the result isn’t the implementation of YOUR idea. You lit the match, but the result comes from a process based in teamwork. Effective change does not evolve from a single person no matter their rank or position; there must be “buy-in” from the organization and/or community.
David Blake is a retired California peace officer and certified Ca-POST instructor in DT, firearms, force options simulator and reality-based training.
Be prepared for failure
Take a risk, even if it’s a calculated one to make a change in your department or community. Go against the grain of the adage, “We’ve always done it this way.” Be innovative and be prepared for the risk of failure. You never know, you just may succeed and change the way things are done.
James Dudley is a member of the criminal justice faculty at San Francisco State University.
Be prepared for the investment change requires
On duty and off duty, live up to your potential by living within your means. There’s a lot to unpack in there. Some high points are: Consider your physical, mental and emotional/relational means, and don’t spend more out of those accounts than you have. In each area, be wise about who you’re intentionally willing to invest or divest in (victims, crooks, family, friends, peers, bosses – there’s good and bad in each), be wise about what you intentionally invest or divest (time, effort, care, emotions) and for all that stuff, know and be able to articulate the whys. Change comes by way of relationships, so remember, every on-duty and off-duty relationship you have, good or bad, either adds to or draws from those limited accounts...and changes you for the better or worse. Over a career this really adds up! Pay attention to all your daily transactions in these accounts. Then, while you’re busy living within your means, increase them! Never quit learning, growing, maturing. Soon enough, on-duty and off, you’ll naturally be an agent of change for the forces of good.
Dave Edmonds is a retired Sonoma County (CA) Sheriff’s captain and founder of 360ARMOR, a free, online, membership-based police fitness and wellness organization.
Be prepared to be flexible
The first thing I would tell an officer is to be flexible. Officers may come into roll call and think, “Great, today I get to concentrate on working traffic,” just to find out they have been assigned to attend numerous career fair events throughout the shift. As a chief, I need officers who are willing to go from a homicide call to a community event all while maintaining a positive and professional attitude. To effect change, officers must be visible within their community, not only on criminal endeavors, but during positive community events as well. Citizens who feel connected to the officers who serve them are more likely to be supportive of the law enforcement actions that officers do take; every department needs and should foster that support.
LJ Roscoe is chief of the Goose Creek Police Department in Goose Creek, South Carolina.