7 factors for critical decision making for police leaders

There is no magic to making operational decisions. All it takes is leadership that cares about doing the right thing for everyone


As law enforcement leaders, we make critical operational decisions every day. We try to make the best decisions for the circumstance but there are those in your agency who make you feel like no matter what decision you make, it’s never the right one. Unfortunately, that makes us question if the decision we made was the right one, and that could lead to second-guessing future decisions.

We make decisions every day in our personal lives that affect us, our families, employees and those around us. So what considerations do we need to take into account to make the best operational decisions in our police agencies?

In my personal experience, there are seven key considerations for effective decision making. These considerations sometimes bleed over into others but the concepts are pretty straight forward. 

1. It is never about you
I cannot stress this one enough. Operational decisions should never be made with your own personal well-being in mind. You have employees who you lead and they count on you to make the right decision, not make the decision that benefits you as an individual. Making the best decision that benefits the whole is the goal every day. 

2. You have to think globally
You must take into account the whole picture. When you make decisions based on part of a problem, that decision will never be the most effective. We complain that media and society judges us on a small snippet of a videotaped event, then why would we essentially do the same thing? Get the whole picture of the issue and make an informed decision.

3. Make the right decision for the right reasons
This is the hard decision to make because it may not be the popular decision. This is the decision that keeps you up all night, and may segregate you from your employees. Make the decision that you know to be right, even if that decision means discipline for an employee or worse, a friend. 

You must be able to look at yourself in the mirror and know you made the right decision. Leadership is not a popularity contest, earn the title of a leader and do the right thing, just don’t let it be the political thing.

4. The needs of the community can dictate a decision 
Your agency is there to protect the citizens in your jurisdiction. If there are community issues needing to be addressed, simply throwing overtime at the problem is not effective. Make decisions that produce long lasting results not simply growing employee’s bank accounts. 

If fights are escalating after school release and your officers are changing shifts at that time, then adjusting shift hours or creating early cars to allow for police presence and deterrence of fights is an example of community considerations in making adjustments, or how you assign your officers on shifts (plain clothes vs. uniforms). 

5. Remember that every decision you make has a person attached to it
Think of this as a pebble being thrown into a body of water. The ripples are issues that continue to flow outward and affect other things. In other words, decisions you make are like the pebble. For example, if you have to move an officer’s shift due to manpower issues, then take into account the fact that he or she has a family that counts on a consistent schedule. A leadership decision would be to make allowances to accommodate any functions they were scheduled to attend if possible. The employee’s family is part of the agency family as well.  

6. Do not judge the result — judge the path to the result
A glaring example here would be getting political pressure to discipline an employee who did not violate policy and handled the situation as best as they could, but the result was not what we hoped for. Remember we cannot guarantee a specific result; we can only guarantee there will be a result.

The most important thing is determining the process the officers used to reach the result. If the agency process is flawed then revisit it and rewrite it to be more effective, but don’t punish the employee for that. They did not create the issue; they simply followed the agency’s directive. 

Results are sometimes not pretty but neither is police work. We can only control what we can control. I know that sounds cliché but it’s true. We can prepare for every conceivable situation but a suspect can and will change the situation in seconds and we have to react! Disciplining an employee for a picture-perfect process but not so pretty result, adversely affects not only the officer, but the officer’s family, fellow employees and the community.

7. Remember the 24-hour rule
Lastly, the 24 hour is simply this: When you are angry or upset and make an immediate decision, that decision will most certainly be ineffective and possibly destructive. Now, it is not necessary to wait 24 hours in all cases, but simply cooling off, gathering all the facts and then making a decision is the order of the day.

This is the rule in my agency and I can tell you, we have been able to avoid real conflict on so many levels just by waiting.  

Conclusion
As you can see, there is no magic to making operational decisions. All it takes is leadership that cares about doing the right thing for everyone, including employees, city leadership, employee family members and the community. 

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