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Why every agency needs a ‘vision GPS’

Officers are often frustrated by a lack of communication from administrators about long-term department goals


Just as a GPS can warn you of obstacles in your way, a ‘vision GPS’ can identify obstacles that could block your agency’s attaining its goals.


This article originally appeared in the December 2019 PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit LEO optimism | Developing a ‘vision GPS’ | 2019 SCOTUS roundup, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

I remember a road trip my wife and I took many years ago from our home in North Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia. It was the first “major” trip we took as newlyweds. My wife had made the trip before and warned me of the horrible traffic and aggressive drivers, especially in downtown Atlanta. Being somewhat familiar with the area, she offered to drive when we got near downtown, but being the headstrong person that I am, I told my wife I would stay behind the wheel.

When we crossed into the downtown districts of the city, I was met with a barrage of vehicles cutting me off and drivers blaring their horns. I remember being so frustrated and stressed that I loudly proclaimed, “Lord, if you get me out of this place, I’ll never come back!” To this day, it is a promise I’ve kept.

Where is your agency headed?

I will readily admit that in the past I’ve been accused of exhibiting signs of road rage myself. For me, it was often caused by my frustration at trying to follow poor directions or trying to read a map while already being confused about where I was. Fortunately, GPS navigation arrived, which has probably saved many a marriage!

I have seen the same frustration in officers who are confused about where their agency is heading. As most agencies experience continued growth and technology constantly advances, it has become common for police administrations to adopt a “hands-off” approach to managing their officers. It is simply faster and easier for administrators to send an email with directives to be followed in order to ensure tasks are completed. But when administrations fail to explain the reasons behind these directives and how they fit into the overall vision for their agency, it can quickly turn into the “blind leading the blind.”

Developing a “vision GPS”

As we approach a new year and the start of a new decade, it is the perfect time for administrators to examine the vision they have for their agencies, including both short- and long-term goals, and determine if this vision is being clearly communicated to the staff carrying out those goals on a daily basis. I am not simply referring to an agency’s “mission statement” or strategic goals, but rather a “vision statement.”

An agency’s mission statement may include goals of being committed to safeguarding lives and property, reducing crime and/or the fear of crime, and improving the quality of life for its citizens. It is a formal declaration that tells the citizens what we are doing every day to keep them safe.

An agency’s vision statement, on the other hand, is there for employees to follow as a guide to meet the mission statement. It should outline specific issues in a given community and ideas from the administration on how the agency can address these issues on a daily basis. The vision statement should be communicated clearly so that there is no confusion or misinterpretation from the employees who are following the directions. I call this the “vision GPS.”

When directives get passed down from the administrators to the officers, the directives should include:

  • What the issues are;
  • Why they need to be addressed;
  • What the solutions to the issues are (the directives);
  • How success is measured.

This will create the buy-in required for others to believe in the vision and then, in turn, those people will recruit others to believe in the vision as well.

Addressing obstacles

Just as a GPS can warn you of obstacles in your way while traveling to a specific destination, your “vision GPS” should address obstacles that could block the path for where you want your agency to go. If staffing or budgeting could threaten an agency’s vision, then it should also be a concern for its officers. When officers know these concerns, they can become part of the solution for addressing them.

GPS units also find alternate routes around obstacles to get to your destination easier than originally planned. A “vision GPS” can do the same. Administrators must be willing to adapt outdated policies for ones that reward those officers and supervisors who become trustworthy stakeholders and supporters of the administration’s vision, as these individuals will be the ones who motivate others to implement the vision.

Does your agency’s vision actually have a “destination”? Are the people who you need to get you there able to follow the directions you are providing? Are you helping your staff to become a part of the solution to alleviate your community’s issues? If the answer is not yes to all of these questions, then you should consider developing a “vision GPS” that you share with your employees. By taking this approach, agencies could immediately improve interagency communication and employee morale, as well as improved community relations for decades to come.

Neal Collie is a sergeant with the Wake Forest Police Department. He has been in law enforcement since 1996 and has supervised patrol and narcotics divisions. He is a certified criminal justice instructor and teaches at the Coastal Plain Law Enforcement Training Center in Wilson, North Carolina. He is a graduate of the Administrative Officers Management Program at N.C. State University and is an active member of the North Carolina Police Executives Association. He has had multiple articles published online by popular law enforcement publications.