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Charting a new path: How pioneering leadership is transforming modern policing

Chief Jeffrey Scott’s dedication to self-reflection, advanced training and strategic foresight showcases the pillars of progressive law enforcement leadership

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As an independent consultant and police/public policy researcher, I am privileged to interview amazing police leaders from across the country for various projects.

While researching trends in police training, I met several chiefs and sheriffs whose creative minds and innovative spirits caught my attention. These dynamic leaders are implementing meaningful change within their departments and communities, and they are seeing tangible results. The most impressive part is that many of them are operating on shoestring budgets, which makes their creativity and motivation even more valuable.

I am honored to showcase these leaders in this multi-article series titled “Pioneers in Policing: Innovative Approaches in Law Enforcement Leadership.”

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Retired Police Chief Jeffrey Scott’s distinguished career in law enforcement is a testament to his commitment to shaping the future of policing through innovative and transformative leadership practices.

By focusing on self-reflection, strategic planning and advanced staff training, Chief Scott achieved success and tangible outcomes during his tenure as chief of the Notre Dame Police Department. He is now an experienced consultant, helping police departments assess their culture and enact transformative change. In this article, we will delve into Chief Scott’s views on these essential aspects of leadership and explore how he believes they will help revolutionize the field of policing.

Self-reflection: The bedrock of effective leadership

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Chief Jeffrey Scott

“Effective leadership takes on many of the typical attributes: empathy, growth mindset, servant leadership, neurodiversity, emotional authentic leadership and mindfulness, but, the bedrock principles to effective leadership rest not solely in the aforementioned but also upon a foundation of self-discipline, self-reflection and realization, being willing to pivot and change regularly and be a lifelong learner and master of your craft — leading your agency from the front, not the back. Be present, be accountable, be willing to admit mistakes and faults, but be willing to remember your ‘why’ and serve with the utmost integrity.”

Chief Scott firmly believes that self-reflection is an integral piece of the foundation upon which all effective police leadership is built. His advice to all current or future chiefs is to ask yourself: Are you truly the right person for the job, or are you part of the problem?

He asserts that leaders who engage in regular introspection are better equipped to understand their strengths, weaknesses and biases, and they achieve this by taking self-assessments and asking for regular performance feedback from others.

Armed with this knowledge, police leaders can then educate themselves, whether through formal education channels like graduate degrees or by attending executive leadership classes and reading books like “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.

Chief Scott believes being a leader means shelving your ego. Many police leaders are living the title, not the position. The title of “Chief” or “Sheriff” comes with a great deal of power, and some leaders forget this also means a great deal of responsibility. Too often, years of experience are appreciated more than achievements or education.

Chief Scott argues experience should only account for one piece of the puzzle: well-rounded leaders are experienced, but also educated and accountable. If we want society to respect police, we must ensure the profession is, in fact, respectable. This means more command staff with advanced degrees, more leadership training beginning at the academy and more self-policing within the ranks. Well-educated police leaders are more likely to make evidence-based, data-driven decisions and foster organizational cultures focused on growth and innovation.

Chief Scott believes that leaders who are not willing to engage in self-reflection and continued learning might be causing more harm to their department and community than good. And he certainly practices what he preaches: Chief Scott holds a master’s degree in business administration; is certified in more training than can be counted (such as Active Bystander for Law Enforcement (ABLE) training and RITE); and has a library of leadership books from which he can easily quote.

Strategic planning: A roadmap for the future

“Every law enforcement agency must invest in developing a robust, fluid, realistic strategic plan. Without a strategic plan that is shared with the agency and the community, how are you held accountable as a leader and how does the agency know where you are going? Strategic plans must be a living document that is created with stakeholders and agency personnel involved from start to finish, to implementation. Failure to plan, is planning to fail.”

Chief Scott understands that a clear and well-defined strategic plan is essential for achieving long-term success in policing. He believes that every decision and action within a police department should align with a well-articulated vision and mission rooted in the spirit of public service and protection of society’s most vulnerable.

Conducting SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analyses and organizational assessments is critical for police leaders to determine the health of their department culture and understand areas in need of improvement. Even for police leaders who understand how to incorporate organizational assessment tools, Chief Scott urges police departments to invest in an outside consultant. Outsiders can assess departments through an objective lens, offering constructive criticism and organizational changes that can have lasting impact on both the department and public safety. Again, he implores police leaders to set aside their egos in favor of uncovering the truth about their agency and making necessary corrections.

Data-driven decision-making is critical when developing any strategic plan, and Chief Scott is a strong advocate for leveraging data and technology to enhance policing. Data-driven decision-making processes allow departments to allocate resources more effectively, respond to emerging trends, and measure the impact of their initiatives. This approach not only improves overall efficiency but also enhances accountability to the community. Data and metrics are necessary during the development of a strategic plan and also throughout execution to allow for fine-tuning adjustments.

Adjustments are an integral part of every strategy, and also part of being a leader. Successful leaders know they need to adapt and change not only their leadership style but their goals and objectives. As new data becomes available, things must change. For example, by analyzing sources of agency data (CAD and RMS data) agencies can evaluate the effectiveness of their deployment strategies based on community needs. This breaks away from traditional staffing models and is more in line with a demand-based staffing model, which is customized based on community needs and expectations.

In the face of evolving challenges, Chief Scott emphasizes the need for police departments and command staff to be adaptable and forward-thinking. He encourages agencies to embrace innovation and adopt modern policing techniques, including predictive policing and community feedback mechanisms.

Training, training and more training: Investing in excellence

“Law enforcement agencies, no matter how large or small, must unequivocally look at training just like we look at recruit selection and training: it is foundational to the success of an agency and its future. Often, agencies will cut training first from their budgets. However, training should be one of the last items ever cut or reduced. Training has to be an absolute priority, not a negotiable at the budget table. I would much rather have a small workforce that is highly trained, skilled and disciplined, than a large number of officers who are untrained, unskilled and undisciplined. The former reduces liability and risk, while the latter creates unnecessary liability and senseless risk.”

Chief Scott firmly believes that the success of a police department hinges on the caliber of its officers. To that end, he has consistently advocated for advanced staff training programs that equip officers with the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) needed to excel in a rapidly changing law enforcement landscape. This means getting back to basics and training to competency, not merely checking boxes.

For example, four hours of constitutional policing training is not enough for officers to be competent in constitutional law. At Chief Scott’s last department, every officer had a mandated minimum of 80 hours of annual training, with many receiving 120 hours.

There must be a balance of tactical and human skills training, with much of the training hours focused on basic skills like report writing, communication, de-escalation and basic tactical skills. Training should be diverse, and as role-based as possible so officers can learn to perform under adverse conditions. For small departments with limited training budgets, he recommends teaming up with surrounding agencies to help with cost. Chiefs can get involved with local chief associations to discuss training trends and select officers who possess advanced skills that might be able to host joint training to share their knowledge with other departments.

Under Chief Scott’s leadership, his former department invested in ongoing training and continuous professional development opportunities for its officers. These human capital investments not only improved officer competency but also enhanced public safety and helped with recruitment and retention. His department earned the reputation of being a training agency, which made existing officers want to stay, and new officers want to join. Chief Scott even admits he would rather have fewer, highly trained officers than more, untrained officers. For departments struggling with recruitment, it might be beneficial to redirect recruitment dollars into training.

With risk comes reward

“Taking calculated, data-driven, data-informed risk is absolutely necessary in law enforcement today. We cannot continue doing business as usual, or business like we’ve done it for 100 years. Honoring our past is being willing to change and drive toward the future. Change is inevitable — either be the change or be changed. Taking risks is part of what we do, but why not in our operations? An agency will never see opportunity if they are stalled by its own unwillingness to change and take risks. Risk empowers us to establish new opportunities, boundaries, and higher levels of service to each other and those we serve. Stop making excuses and start making progress by thinking outside your comfort zone and be the leader to drive your team to new heights, not to stagnation, antiquation and eventual elimination.”

When Chief Scott became Chief at Notre Dame in 2013, he faced an uphill battle full of skepticism and challenges. The agency wasn’t well organized, wasn’t meeting the needs of the community, and was instead solely focused on personnel desires. Officers were ill-equipped, the agency was understaffed in major areas, there was virtually no training budget, and some cruisers had literal stop signs for floorboards. But, Chief Scott knew he possessed the tools to enact meaningful change. He began by enlisting the community’s help to create the department’s mission, then he made that mission the department’s culture. Chief Scott believes it is leadership’s job to live and breathe the mission, and if every action aligns with the mission, you’re probably on the right track.

He began by asking recruit candidates “What is your why?” Why do they want to be a police officer? If the answer was rooted in public service, he would hire them. If not, they were not an appropriate culture fit for his department and he knew they would become a liability down the line.

Next, Chief Scott conducted the organizational assessments discussed earlier: he performed SWOT analyses, assessed officer KSAs, developed competency-based training programs, encouraged officers to be proactive and focus on community policing, and (most importantly) modeled the behavior he wanted to see reflected back. He made time to be visible to his personnel by getting back out in the field and working beside them whenever he could.

The result? Tangible improvements across the agency. He recruited higher caliber officers who remained on the force. His staff became competent and highly skilled. He created a strategic plan that tied back to his department’s mission and ensured every officer understood how valuable they were in achieving agency goals. He teamed up with neighboring departments to improve training outcomes without blowing the budget. Officer satisfaction and morale increased, turnover decreased and knowledge sharing within the community improved, leading to more drug busts and lower crime rates.

It didn’t happen overnight, and he will be the first to tell you that change is hard and requires patience and determination. But, by the time Chief Scott left, his department was in a good place, his officers were happier and his community was safer.

Additional words of wisdom from Chief Scott

Think outside the box: Do not be afraid to do things differently. An example might include re-hiring retired investigators part-time to assist with leg work and allow full-time investigators to focus on investigations. Other examples include bringing all stakeholders (unions, community representatives, other chiefs) to the table to discuss problems and solutions or removing barriers to public access to information to improve transparency and community trust.

No more excuses: Maintaining the status quo while waiting for a crisis is easy; being proactive, enacting change and avoiding a crisis is challenging. Chief Scott firmly believes we can respect the past while acknowledging we no longer live there. The field of policing is changing, and departments that choose to make excuses instead of moving forward will land themselves on the wrong side of history.

Break down silos by looking outside of policing: Chief Scott strongly asserts that not all jobs within a police department need to be performed by cops. Civilianizing an agency is a great way to bring in outside skills and reduce staffing costs. Evidence rooms, communication teams and even vehicle crash investigations are all opportunities to hire civilian staff who don’t need to attend an academy and can be paid an hourly rate. He also understands the value of collaborating with civilian consultants or researchers, as they bring fresh perspectives and wide-ranging experience.

Chief Scott is available for consulting and training. He can be reached at chiefscott101@yahoo.com or on LinkedIn.

About Chief Jeffrey Scott

Chief (ret.) Jeffrey Scott served more than 38 years in public safety, including 28 years in law enforcement, in a wide variety of roles and ranks, and retired as chief of police in 2019 from Notre College Police Department. Presently, Chief Scott remains very active as an executive-level leadership trainer and designer for a government agency; serves part-time as a police officer and training officer for a small agency in Ohio, and performs consulting and training services in Evidence Room Management, Law Enforcement Leadership, Strategic Planning and Assessment, Expert Court Testimony, Risk Mitigation, Firearms and as a Self-Defense Instructor. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Safety Management and an MBA from Franklin University. Chief Scott is also a Certified Law Enforcement Executive (CLEE) and graduated from the FBI National Academy, the Ohio Police Executive Leadership College, and the MADD Leadership College. Along with many other awards and honors, Chief Scott received the Distinguished Servant’s Award, the Heartland Hero Award, and the NASA Chief’s Award for his leadership and on-scene command of a major NASA Center incident. In his spare time, he is a part-time lieutenant firefighter/paramedic for a local fire agency and volunteer within his community. Most importantly, he is a proud “cheer dad” and #1 fan to his daughter, who is very active in competitive cheer and football/basketball cheer squad.

NEXT: Sheriff Kalvin Barrett is a beacon of hope for mental health and community-oriented policing

Dr. Michelle Gundy is a researcher, consultant, veteran and SME in the fields of communication, trauma and policing (both civilian and officer trauma). She is a doctor of education in organizational change and leadership with graduate and undergraduate degrees in communications. She educates members of law enforcement on the emotional, physical, neurobiological and physiological effects of trauma and how it relates to the field of policing.

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