Trending Topics

Make sure your mission statement matches your actions

A police mission statement should establish, in the fewest words possible, the ultimate measure for every decision of the agency

GettyImages-588353994 (1).jpg

Getty Images

This article originally appeared in the January 2023 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, see Mission statement mismatches; Low- to no-cost community engagement and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

There have been slogans forever in law enforcement, whether “to protect and serve” or “semper paratus,” but formal mission statements became a default requirement of organizations in the 1980s from the writings of management guru Peter Drucker.

Law enforcement is often the last entity to employ management principles (and fads) from private industry, usually a decade or two after they’ve been filed and forgotten by the corporate world. The real question about mission statements is whether they were ever significant in the life of the law enforcement agencies who proudly display them front and center on their websites. It might be time to ditch them, revise them, or start actually using them.

When I read about some law enforcement controversy, blunder, or public relations nightmare I often hear the chief or department spokesman say something like “this does not reflect our values.” Values, ethics and morals all require a basic standard as the foundational measure. In today’s era of intense scrutiny and accountability, leaders cannot fail to establish those baselines.

I won’t go into detail about how to write a mission statement, but I do have a few suggestions.

  1. If you have the word “enhance,” get rid of it. Policing a community is not a mere enhancement, it is a fundamental element of a functioning democracy.
  2. Boil it down to essentials. I was once in a discussion for a university working on a new mission statement. It was full of the ideals of equity, leadership, citizenship and more but I had to point out that in the process of building a utopian campus, we had failed to mention a word about actual education.
  3. It should be integrated into the very fiber of the organization. Every employee should know it by heart (another reason for brevity) and measure their daily activity just as the leadership uses it to measure broader organizational decisions.

A mission statement, properly constructed and integrated into the life of the organization establishes that baseline. Such a statement should establish, in the fewest words possible, the ultimate measure for every decision of the agency. Every activity, every optic, every budget item and every hire should be measured against the mission statement.

Take the recent controversy over the police recruitment video for the Brooklyn Center Police Department in Minnesota.

After members of the community voiced concerns over what they believed was a lack of diversity and community engagement in the video, the video was removed from the city’s website and social media platforms.

Without commenting on the propriety of the video or Brooklyn Center Police Chief Kellace McDaniel’s response to the subsequent protests about it, let’s take a look at the mission of the BCPD as stated on its website: “Our mission is to serve and protect in a manner that preserves the public trust. We are committed to providing an exceptionally safe and secure community with great dignity and respect. We are proud to serve and protect our Brooklyn Center residents, businesses, visitors, and those with who we work within the City of Brooklyn Center. As a first-ring suburb, we address many urban issues, but keep in mind the hometown feel of Brooklyn Center.”

If the video and recruitment program of the department had been measured against the statement of the mission would the recruitment campaign have been conducted differently? At the risk of playing Monday morning quarterback, imagine taking the proposed recruiting video, which was filled with action-packed music and crime-fighting cop imagery, and measuring it against the professed values of the department. Did the video align with desiring public trust? Did it portray serving with dignity and respect? Did it feature service and protection? Did it show the value of a hometown feel?

By the way, I thought the original video was awesome. But it’s not my community, not my history, and not my mission statement. Could the controversy have been avoided? That I don’t know, but the exercise might have been worth the time, and one that every leader should consider.

If your agency’s mission statement hasn’t been reviewed lately, isn’t known throughout your workforce, or doesn’t match the department’s activities, it may be time to delete it or start paying attention to it.

NEXT: Why every agency needs a ‘vision GPS’

Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy. He retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.

His latest book The Badge and the Brain is available at