December 18, 2019 | View as webpage

With just 13 days left not only in this year, but also this decade, many of us are looking back over the past 10 years while also planning for 2020 and beyond.

In today’s Leadership Briefing, Chief Joel Shults suggests that events in 2019 signal a top-down renewed appreciation for law enforcement officers that will hopefully continue into the next decade, while Sergeant Neal Collie explains how a ‘vision GPS’ can help agencies better communicate department goals to their officers.

As we say goodbye to 2019, I would like to wish you all a happy and safe holiday season and a prosperous New Year! What do you think will be the biggest issue in policing in 2020? Email your predictions to

Nancy Perry, Police1 Editor-in-Chief
Is the pendulum of cop antagonism swinging slowly back to common sense?
By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

I just want to help people. 

That was my claim during my first interview for my first police job. A lot has changed between then and now, but the truth of that statement has been a constant. Although I admit that this foundation was shaken by one assault after another.

My first call was an unknown disturbance at a residence. I arrived in my pressed uniform like it was the shining armor of Sir Lancelot and slid from my patrol car as slick as a dismount from a trusty steed. With professional compassion, I approached a distressed young woman who stood on the porch of the small house. Before I could ask or say anything, she screamed: “Get the *%#* off my porch!”

I just wanted to help.

One of our regular customers – the ones where you already have their date of birth memorized because you’ve run them for warrants so often – was walking with a pronounced limp in addition to his usual stagger, so after a brief contact, I had EMS check him. I didn’t need ten codes, I just said: “It’s Ernie.” The medics, who also knew Ernie quite well, realized he probably had a broken leg and transported him. He became combative in the emergency department, so myself and two other officers were helping with restraints so he could get treatment. For some reason, Ernie focused (to the extent he was able) on me and demanded that the other two officers get “that son of a bitch” (meaning me) “out of here.”

I just wanted to help.

I have been sworn at for correcting a child safety seat violation, blamed for not preventing the burglary I was investigating, and accused of favoritism for not arresting one person and of bias for arresting another.

I just wanted to help.

I realized early on that evaluations were going to be critical, that complaints flooded in and commendations trickled, and that attaboys were as rare as gold nuggets. And this was mostly before the viral videos edited to make anyone behind the badge look foolish or vicious, or the epidemic of false narratives from activists and politicians. We even saw the previous White House state that police investigating a suspicious person “acted stupidly.” 

Interesting times

It is said that an ancient Chinese blessing “may you live in interesting times” is ultimately a curse. Regardless of one’s perspective, it seems that we do, indeed, live in interesting times.

A scan of the biggest news stories beginning with the dawn of the quickly closing decade shows no national headline directly involving police issues until 2014, the year that two NYPD officers were assassinated and the year of what is now known simply as “Ferguson.”

For the next few years, police behavior and mass killings were regular topics. With the media obsession with Donald Trump’s presidency, officer-involved shootings were edged out as top headlines. Although it may not seem like it, the heat has turned down a little bit.

Attorney General Barr’s comments on supporting police may signal a top-down renewed appreciation for law enforcement officers. There were some legislative victories for first responders, a huge increase in awareness of the need for wellness and mental health support for cops, and even some media attention to the plight of wounded officers.

Opportunity for optimism

Whatever it takes to keep your motivation, grab onto it tightly in the coming year. Whether it is ritual, family, faith, past victories, or the quiet knowledge that you’re doing the right thing and that makes a difference in the world, amplify your intentional focus on those things. That motivation may create a new you or reinvigorate the old you.

We know that the profession is still trusted and respected. We know that whatever gets thrown in our way, whether by the public, our peers, or the policymakers, our hearts are still beneath the badge reminding us what our purpose is.

Whether we consider the turn of the calendar page on January 1 as just another day or the dawn of a new decade, there’s never a bad time to do a good thing. If the pendulum of cop antagonism is swinging slowly back to common sense, 2020 could be a pivotal year. It might be a little easier to remind ourselves why we got into law enforcement in the first place because that never changed no matter how hard it was.

We just want to help people.

Additional resources:
Why every agency needs a 'vision GPS'

By Neal Collie

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.

About the author

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.

Additional resources:
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