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Book excerpt: 115 Proven Ways to Dramatically Improve Your Agency, Your Officers & Your Leadership

Simple but powerful tips for every law enforcement leader

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The following is excerpted from “115 Proven Ways to Dramatically Improve Your Agency, Your Officers & Your Leadership” by Thomas Shea, D.Sc., CPP. Available from Looseleaf Publication, the book offers simple but powerful tips for every law enforcement leader. Click here to order.

Create an anonymous suggestion box for both the department and the community

Whether you like it or not, the authority you project in uniform sometimes prevents people from telling you how they really feel or what they are thinking. So, cloak them in anonymity by providing a suggestion box.

Again, set ground rules first: Mandate that the box is there to give the officers a medium that allows their voices to be heard. Make sure they are informed that it will be removed if used to denigrate the department, supervisors, or other officers. The purpose of the box is for suggestions of how to improve the police department internally and externally. When you actually ask for opinions, you tend to receive many fantastic ideas.

Schedule regular, “Ask the Chief” public town hall meetings

Part of the position as a police executive is the requirement to attend monthly council meetings. I’m not referring to those meetings with this particular entry. Instead, these meetings are with the public. Utilize social media to schedule and announce “Ask the Chief/Public Safety Director” meetings periodically with the public. Just like scheduled police union meetings, I recommend holding such a meeting quarterly, which makes you consistently accessible to the public without overdoing it.

By the nature of your job, you will face criticism. Prepare for that, but also embrace it as an opportunity to help people understand the misconceptions regarding police officers. I can speak only for myself, but town hall meetings are tough. Some participants come just to obstruct your initiatives. Some like to get on their soapbox and preach. Others just hate cops and enjoy the chance to trash you publicly. Yet, there is always the chance that you’re going to receive a great suggestion from a citizen that might be beneficial or change your mind.

There is an opportunity here to change perception. Attempt to connect with the audience as individuals. It is hoped that they will respect the fact that you are meeting with them face-to-face. I know that this reasoning always worked well for me. If you schedule town hall meetings with the public, you’ll probably find that many will respect that you dared to face the criticism and listen to stakeholder ideas. Leaders embrace the tough questions though and are confident enough to admit that they don’t know everything.

Focus groups

Set up periodic focus group meetings with departmental members, including executives, staff, line personnel and even rookies.

Start each session explaining that there is a primary purpose for each exercise: To brainstorm and come up with innovative ideas for the department and all officers. Inform all participants that your preference is to have a frank, open discussion, where everyone’s thoughts are welcome.

Tell younger officers that they are permitted to disagree with more senior members, as long as it is polite and professional. Make it clear that while all participants are allowed to critique others’ ideas, there will be no tolerance for shutting anyone else down, or interruptions.

I am sure that by now, you noticed a consistent theme of what my leadership beliefs are. Your job is to elicit ideas, participation, collaboration and talent from all subordinates in your organization. None of this will occur without trust and respect. You must create an environment where people feel secure enough to speak with candor and honesty. So, inform all participants if they can’t follow the rules of the focus groups, they will be asked to leave. Your goal is to maintain a positive, professional environment free of bullshit.

Request meetings with your local members of Congress and Senators.

The police department where I worked was located approximately two blocks away from a US Congressman’s office. I worked at this location for two decades, and the only time that I remember standing next to him was when one of our officers was killed in the line of duty. Your local congressional Representatives and Senators are often responsible for securing funding or passing legislation that directly benefits police agencies. So, how come I never see local police executives making a concerted effort to contact them for assistance? Why not try? The worst that they can say is “no.”

Some preparation should be formulated before you request a meeting with any political leaders. For example, you could devise a crime prevention strategy. Politicians like positive press. Therefore, they might be interested in and would be willing to allocate federal money if their name was attached. A press release of the positive results sent directly to constituents mutually benefits your department and the politician. While Mayor of Newark, NJ, Senator Cory Booker branded his whole political career with crime-reduction efforts.

Again, make sure that you prepare the specifics of the proposal in advance. Conduct multiple meetings with your executive staff to review any possible questions that a politician or his team might ask. They’re often inundated with numerous requests from various segments of their constituency and have little time for matters of minor importance. Clearly and concisely communicate your objectives.