What's it like to lead today's cops? 3 chiefs speak out

As these chiefs testify, active police leaders are not just riding out the storm, but making positive efforts to keep officers safe, morale high, and community trust intact


Pulse of Policing 2015: The State of Law Enforcement is an ongoing research venture aimed at examining the current state of policing in America from the individual, organizational, and industrial perspectives. Below is one in a series of pieces which will address the challenges facing police leaders during times of diminishing budgetary support and increasing public scrutiny. Learn more about Pulse of Policing

Three chiefs from various sized law enforcement agencies recently weighed in on the challenges of leadership in the current climate of scrutiny and criticism of police officers. 

Chief Paul Schultz served as the Director of Colorado’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (POST) prior to taking leadership as Cañon City (Colo.) Police Chief for the 40-member department. Chief Keith Humphrey leads the Norman (Okla.) police department — an agency of 163 officers serving a population of more than 110,000. Chief Daniel J. Oates leads the Miami Beach Police Department, staffed by 384 police officers.

(AP Image)
(AP Image)

We asked each police leader two questions, and here are their answers. Add your own thoughts in the comments area below. 

1. In the context of what seems to be increasing criticism of law enforcement, what are your major concerns about managing a police operation under the microscope?
Schultz: It is clear to me that law enforcement executives need to be proactive and prepare for scrutiny that may come from the media regarding several different potential events. The executive who doesn’t play the ‘what if’ game is doing a disservice to their agency and their community. 

Focus on community policing by strategically locating police- community events in areas of your community where (based on data) a major event is most likely to occur. It does little good to be highly visible in a part of town that is experiencing few issues that could erupt into a major concern for the police when we know another part of town is where we may have a major problem.

Humphrey: With the climate facing law enforcement, as a chief I have had to go back to the basics of reviewing all of my department’s protocols. This is a task that both I and my executive staff are doing constantly. What has happened is that many departments have failed to keep up with the changes that have occurred within our communities. 

Share with the citizens of your community the strategies your department is taking to improve relations and become inclusive. Ensure your communities that you are reviewing all protocols that provide you with the authority to police both the department and the community. Getting buy-in from all stakeholders keeps the organization fresh and on its  game. 

As a chief, I must make sure that when I say that our organization is following best practices, I provide data to show what those practices are. Citizens are holding our organizations accountable to all that we are saying we are doing. With the exception of very few operational and investigative guidelines, there are not very many things we cannot share with our communities.

Oates: I think that in the next five to ten years every cop in America is going to be wearing a body camera. That can be directly attributed to how the landscape of American policing has changed in the last year, some of the events — the highly publicized events that we’ve seen in the media — such as Ferguson, such as the South Carolina shooting, those kinds of things.

Schultz: We try to find our weaknesses and improve them. We also do something called ‘failure analysis.’ Our command staff will dissect an agency’s response to a major incident or an agency’s leadership crisis and apply it to our department to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes.

Humphrey: My mentor told me a long time ago, “Don’t expect what you never inspect.” Openly discussing the nation’s concerns regarding use of force, and race relations, as well as determining if your department is truly following the community oriented policing philosophy, are ways to ensure the chances of civil unrest and diminishing trust is minimal. We must make sure that open dialogue with supervisors [is] taking place. Supervisors must believe that these initiatives are not being utilized to throw them under the bus or challenge their leadership ability.

Oates: I don’t think as a profession that we’ve ever been better educated, more diverse, better equipped, better trained, or better led than right now. But how we’re being portrayed in the national media is far from that. It’s sad. I’m approaching the end of my career and I’m very troubled that the perception would be anything less. It’s troubling for someone who’s spent a career in law enforcement — I’ve had the privilege of working in four different agencies — cops are good and decent and humane people and they’re very serious about their profession. The suggestion these days in the media, it’s unfortunate that this doesn’t necessarily come through. 

The efforts by the profession to advance itself don’t get the attention that I think in an ideal world they would. Because I’m not sure that’s as sexy or as dramatic or brings as many viewers to a television news program or readers to a newspaper as reporting on the next unfortunate outcome or unfortunate event the media perceives as good video to show on TV.

2. Is the perception of increasing criticism affecting the health and performance of your officers?
Schultz: Our officers are concerned and experience stress operating in today’s environment. To support them we have developed a peer support program, a police chaplains program and a Behind the Badge Family Support program. Lack of resources combined with an ever increasing work load in today’s environment definitely creates a stressful situation. 

Humphrey: We must also provide our officers with the resources to ensure they are doing the right things in the communities they serve. When officers are provided with proper training and know the community has confidence in the department’s ability to do the right thing, officers take pride in their jobs. 

Oates: I don’t want to give you the impression that our cops are not appreciated, because despite some of the coverage nationally I still get, every day in my community, tremendous affirmation for what my cops do. People will tell me wonderful stories about the work that our cops did or how great the department is or how responsive the department is.

Humphrey: There must be resources provided to officers which allow them to have an outlet. Group discussions, one- on- one candid discussions with supervisors and peers, roll call training, and family time can assist in the reduction of physical and emotional stress that be related to the nation’s climate regarding communities and law enforcement. It’s imperative to explain that not all citizens dislike law enforcement.

Oates: I’m building a peer support program like I did in Aurora, we’re exploring some wellness initiatives. I’m trying to do the stuff that’s smart but this is like every other department I’ve worked in, there are limited resources and so many demands for us to do our job. I’m a huge fan of Kevin Gilmartin and his message and I’ve brought that to every department I’ve worked in.

Schultz: Police management is extremely aware of today’s environment and in my department we always assess the media implications of our decisions.

Oates: Cops are fundamentally good and decent people and are happy to go out there and earn a paycheck and deliver services even in tough times, and throughout my 35- year career I’ve always seen that. Cops are the greatest. They’re too professional. In extraordinary circumstances like Baltimore, there are some indications that that may be going on, but that’s truly an extraordinary circumstance. The cops here in Miami Beach are performing exceedingly well. So I don’t really worry about that. I just don’t see that as a major issue.

Conclusion
As these chiefs testify, active police leaders are not just riding out the storm, but making positive efforts to keep officers safe, morale high, and community trust intact.

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