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Leadership Beat: “Doing the little things shows employees that you truly do care about them as individuals”

Chief Paul LeBaron’s commitment to small acts of service and authentic care fosters a supportive and dedicated team

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Since Chief LeBaron joined the City of Hermosa Beach as Chief of Police in April 2020, he has been responsible for transforming the Hermosa Beach Police Department into a model for community, inclusivity and innovative policing.

Photo/Hermosa Beach Police Department

The following content is part of Police1’s Police Leader Playbook, a resource aimed at helping new law enforcement leaders move beyond basic management and supervision skills and become inspirational leaders with integrity and passion. Through a handful of questions presented by Police1, veteran leaders reflect on their early days in leadership roles and offer advice, while newer leaders detail their experiences taking on a new position. Email editor@police1.com to offer your insights for the Police Leader Playbook.

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Chief Paul LeBaron

The California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) recently announced Hermosa Beach Police Chief Paul LeBaron as the recipient of its prestigious 2024 Joseph Malloy Award during the organization’s 47th Annual Training Symposium. The award, which represents the highest honor given by the CPCA, officially recognizes one police chief each year for “exemplary professionalism, leadership, vigor, and unwavering dedication to the association’s mission.”

Since Chief LeBaron joined the City of Hermosa Beach as Chief of Police in April 2020, he has been responsible for transforming the Hermosa Beach Police Department into a model for community, inclusivity and innovative policing. His work helping shape department culture and overseeing recruiting and hiring, which led to HBPD’s full staffing, has been key to ensuring community safety.

The Hermosa Beach Police Department consists of 70 employees, including 38 sworn police officer positions. The department serves a small beach city in Los Angeles County with a resident population of approximately 20,000 and a summertime visitor population of over 100,000 per day. The police department conducts approximately 20,000 contacts with the public each year.

What was the incident or person in your career that put you on the path to becoming a chief?

I was fortunate to work for the Long Beach Police Department for 27 years before becoming a chief. During that time, I worked with many great leaders including chiefs and command staff who left Long Beach to become chiefs for other police departments. Each of those men and women taught me how to be an effective leader, and each of them saw more in me that I ever saw in myself. After 27 years of being mentored, I felt an obligation to use that experience to better the profession and step up to the role of chief.

But great mentors are not just people with rank. I received excellent perspective from a former POA president who is a great leader in his own right. He pointed out that in most corporate careers, people begin at the bottom of the organization, and when they leave their chosen profession, they typically go out on top. Their career path often has an upward trajectory, and the last years of their career are the most meaningful and also the most demanding. With all that experience, the last part of a career is when most corporate leaders push themselves to be the best at their trade.

However, in policing, it is very easy to experience your best years at the start of your career, and then crawl toward retirement on a downward trajectory due to a lack of motivation. That idea resonated with me, so I decided I was going to make the final years of my career the most challenging and most fulfilling. Becoming a chief has forced me to remain sharp and continue to learn and grow at a time when I could already be retired, or simply doing the bare minimum and get away with it.

What do you (or did you) want to accomplish, improve or make better in your first 30 days as chief, 6 months as chief and year as chief?

What I wanted to accomplish in my first six months as chief was to listen and learn. Coming into a new organization is an equally stressful time for the employees as well as for the new chief, and mutual trust must be built. Unfortunately, I joined my new department the same month that COVID lockdowns began, and George Floyd became a national headline. My first 30 days and first six months was about survival. However, that time also provided a unique opportunity for me to earn the trust of my department. I had no choice but to make difficult decisions from my first day, which is something every new chief tries to avoid. So, I seized the opportunity to communicate my values through my decisions. Each decision I made was based on what is best for the profession, the organization and the people who work at the department. I did not make decisions that were for my own benefit. After my first year as chief, the chaos began to subside. At that point, my top priority was to establish a common language that comes from an effective organizational mission statement, vision and core values. We used a collaborative process to create those tenants and they remain the guidelines we look to for every decision we make.

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“A chief who isn’t willing to risk everything to support their employees will always struggle to earn true respect.”

Photo/Hermosa Beach PD

How are you creating an organizational culture that people want to be a part of?

Our culture is the most valuable thing we possess. The two most important things I do is 1) talk about culture openly, and 2) ensure I put the right people in the right places at the right time. I want everyone to know culture is a real and tangible thing in our organization. When someone does something right, we acknowledge that the good work strengthens our culture. When there is disagreement, we encourage resolution as to not deteriorate our culture. Each employee is responsible for making our culture strong through their actions and decisions. Each supervisor is a gatekeeper to the organization’s culture and must ensure it is protected.

We hold to a mantra of “do the right thing all the time, no matter what.” And we define the right thing through our mission, vision, core values, the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics and Sir Robert Peel’s principles of policing. Additionally, we place employee wellness at the center of everything we do. It is not a program, it is a mindset, and truly caring for each individual employee and their family is the key to maintaining a strong culture.

What’s your process for making major decisions?

All decisions are made based on a simple formula. We start by asking if the proposed decision is illegal, unethical or against policy. If the answer is yes, then we don’t consider it. If the answer is no, then we use a simple formula for making the best decision possible.

First, I ask, how will this decision affect the PROFESSION of law enforcement? If the profession won’t be negatively impacted, then I ask, how will this decision affect the HERMOSA BEACH POLICE DEPARTMENT? If the department won’t be negatively impacted then I ask, how will this decision affect the EMPLOYEE/COMMUNITY? We do all we can to make decisions that support our employees and community, even if it is a disciplinary decision, but never at the expense of our profession or organization. And finally, I ask, how will this decision affect me? I have found that poor decisions invariably start when leaders make decisions that put the wrong priority as the foundation for the decision. Leaders who place their own interests before any other variable will find that their decision will not yield solutions that bring progress.

When it comes to policy decisions, I challenge myself to recognize my own blind spots. My team and I were recently struggling with a decision of whether to allow exposed tattoos by uniformed officers. We were all very much against it. However, we acknowledged that each member of command staff making the policy decisions were male, all about the same age, all from the same upbringing, and none had tattoos. It is impossible to make an informed and appropriate decision when you lack cognitive diversity.

So, we paused the conversation, and each member of command staff met with specific employees who had tattoos, and community members who we trusted, to ask their opinions of whether an officer in uniform would look professional with exposed tattoos. So, what was the outcome? I still don’t like the idea of uniformed officers showing exposed tattoos, but that is my problem. I was making a policy decision based on personal preference, not based on an actual understanding of my community and employees. So much to my discomfort, our policy allows for exposed tattoos when certain criteria are met, and I will admit that our officers still look professional and continue to build trust with the community.

How do you show your personnel that you are leading with value-based behaviors?

One day I was in the break room, and I heard a detective comment about how he is busy raising kids and hasn’t had a good meal in a long time. He complained that all he eats is pizza and chicken nuggets. His birthday happened to be the next week, so the day before his birthday I brought him a cast iron skillet, some truffle infused butter and a prime grade NY strip steak. I told him that I wanted to be sure he enjoys at least one good meal amid the craziness of raising young kids, but he had to cook it. Although it was an odd gift from a chief, it was an example of serving my people from a place of authentic caring. As a chief, I try to know each person and what is important to them. By knowing my people, I am able to find ways to do small and simple acts of service for them or their family. Doing the little things shows employees that you truly do care about them as individuals, not just employees.

When it comes to supporting my personnel, I focus on two things. First, if my employees are not treated with respect, they know I will have their back. I do not hesitate to speak up on their behalf, even if my reputation or job is at risk. A chief who isn’t willing to risk everything to support their employees will always struggle to earn true respect. Second, and just as important, is that every employee is expected to make a difference at work. Every organization must protect their hard working and dedicated employees. Nothing will demotivate hard workers faster than when management allows lazy employees to get away with doing nothing. As the chief, I expect personal accountability from everyone. Holding people accountable to a strong work ethic is the best way I can support those employees who work hard and want to know they are valued.

Leadership lightning round

What is a leadership book, podcast or seminar you’ve found invaluable?

Any podcast, book or presentation by Simon Sinek.

This collection offers a great introduction to Simon Sinek’s leadership philosophies

How do you organize your schedule and stay on schedule?

I always start my day with a hard workout, healthy breakfast and meditation since everything else is unpredictable.

If you knew the budget request would be approved, what’s a big purchase you’d make for your department today?

Technology to make officers safer and catch criminals, it is the future and we must embrace it.

What is one way leaders can show they care about their people?

Bring their family a home cooked meal when they are in need.

At the end of the workday, how do you recharge?

I call my adult kids, eat a bowl of cereal, then walk my dog, and some days she walks a lot longer than others!

NEXT: Chief LeBaron shares how his agency is evolving its culture:

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