How to implement effective (and pain-free) organizational change in policing

A new COPS Office guide details lessons learned from the implementation of law enforcement best practices

By Ralph Brown

Whether you are an officer, chief or sheriff, you and your peers face similar challenges. Competing priorities from the national stage, state legislatures, and local councils and boards of supervisors have caused the policing profession to experience a tremendous change in how to accomplish its mission. The implementation of these priorities causes staffing issues, additional training and the reprioritization of responsibilities. The implementation of change requires courage and forward-thinking, otherwise, police leaders risk becoming irrelevant.

Resources can help with the implementation of new priorities. Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) developed the Law Enforcement Best Practices: Lessons Learned from the Field guide (full report available below). Experts and practitioners from across the country produced this document to provide advice to law enforcement leaders, support staff and others in the profession to help implement organizational change.

With the introduction of sophisticated technologies, policing has become more complex.
With the introduction of sophisticated technologies, policing has become more complex. (Photo/PoliceOne)

This article summarizes some of the key areas discussed in the guide.

Crisis Intervention

The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model was developed in 1988 in Memphis, Tennessee, after an officer-involved shooting of an individual experiencing a mental health crisis. Today, CIT training is part of the national law enforcement vernacular. Many states have enacted legislation requiring officers to receive CIT training. California incorporates aspects of CIT in the basic academy and the field training program. Additionally, there are numerous in-service, POST-certified courses available to improve the safety of both law enforcement personnel and persons in crisis.    

The guide describes CIT best practices that include:

  • Developing strong community partnerships;
  • Treating CIT as a program and not just training;
  • Training enough employees in CIT to cover every shift;
  • Seeking volunteers to participate in the CIT program;
  • Training all front-line personnel in the basic level of mental health awareness;
  • Remembering to train dispatchers in CIT.

Agencies that have embraced a CIT program like the San Diego Police Department and the Visalia Police Department both partner with local stakeholders and embrace training to develop a successful program. 

Early Intervention Systems 

Law enforcement leaders know that a small percentage of officers are responsible for a disproportionate share of complaints and other incidents that make the news. An example of this can be found in several articles published in California newspapers, which reported that 630 out of 79,000 officers, or less than 1%, were charged with crimes. Most risk managers would jump for joy if they had a risk that only had a 1% likelihood of occurring. 

Enter the Early Intervention (EI) system, which is a management process used in law enforcement agencies to monitor employee performance or behavior using administrative data. An EI system is meant to be a non-disciplinary process that identifies employees in need of assistance early on, enabling an agency head to intervene with appropriate support to prevent a future incident that would be detrimental to the career of the employee or the public. 

Early intervention best practices include:

  • Designing an early intervention system with data;
  • Completing data collection with the right supports, services and training;
  • Generating buy-in by explaining the EI system to stakeholders to ensure transparency.

If you have an opportunity to avoid negative behavior through an EI system and utilize corrective training, you have a better likelihood of developing a positive, contributing and successful employee.  

Internal Affairs

I found Internal Affairs (IA) to be one of the most interesting assignments of my career. The guide quotes California POST when addressing procedural justice and police legitimacy, which has a direct nexus to IA:

Legitimacy is reflected in three judgments. The first is public trust and confidence in the police. Such confidence involves the belief that the police are honest, that they try to do their jobs well, and that they are trying to protect the community against crime and violence. Second, legitimacy reflects the willingness of residents to defer to the law and police authority, i.e., their sense of obligation and responsibility to accept police authority. Finally, legitimacy involves the belief that police actions are morally justified and appropriate to the circumstances.” 

Academic research and empirical evidence show that police legitimacy is critical to preventing and controlling crime. The guide states that legitimacy both stems from and fosters community trust, in a self-reinforcing loop. The opposite is also true: police misconduct serves to undermine the legitimacy of law enforcement and, therefore, its ability to prevent and control crime. IA functions as a key mechanism for preventing and, when necessary, disciplining misconduct and, therefore, helps to maintain an agency's legitimacy.  

The guide provides several best practices, which include:

  •  Developing and publishing a clear philosophy of internal affairs investigations; 
  • Improving the intake of internal affairs complaints;
  • Explicitly designating who will investigate internal affairs complaints;
  • Establishing a timeline and benchmark for conducting investigations and notifying interested parties.   

police Recruitment, Hiring, Promotion and Retention

The central elements of staffing ‒ recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion ‒ are crucial to an effective police organization and have a positive impact on police-community relations. Agencies thrive when they recruit and hire talented personnel who reflect the community they serve; retain talent by providing incentive structures, mentorship and transparent organizational justice; and provide clear, merit-based and objective pathways to promotion or transfer. 

The guide outlines several best practices for police recruitment and retention, which include: 

  • Developing a comprehensive recruitment program;
  • Deploying personnel based upon workload and service goals;
  • Getting creative and expanding recruiting horizons;
  • Streamlining and enhancing the internal recruiting process;
  • Bringing job descriptions and application management into the digital age.

Data Systems

With the introduction of sophisticated technologies such as body-worn cameras, license plate readers, facial recognition, unmanned aircraft systems and cellphone video, policing has become more complex. 

Using data systems and technology is a necessity for police agencies. Law enforcement executives must stay abreast of emerging technologies for solving crimes, collecting evidence and gathering crime statistics. DDACTS (Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety) and COMPSTAT (short for COMPare STATistics) outline approaches an agency might employ using crime-mapping and technology to accomplish its crime-reduction mission. 

Technology can be useful internally, as well as externally. Consider how an agency intranet helps with efficient operations. Years ago, I was a project manager for our agency's intranet project. The mission was to increase communications. The intranet was made accessible at all workstations and in patrol car MDTs. The homepage was available for the sheriff's message. The menu included pages that contained forms, policy manuals, lateral opportunities, announcements and other internal information that could be available to employees without the need to print. Thankfully, our executive team was forward-thinking and embraced technology.  

The guide identifies several best practices for data systems, to include:

  • Creating a strategic technology plan and ensuring technology does not drive priorities;
  • Leveraging best and promising practices and policy templates;
  • Following national justice and public safety standards;
  • Emphasizing data quality;
  • Creating a professional culture for analysts;
  • Using data to inform decision-making.


If you are looking for best practices to improve your agency's operational efficiency, this guide is for you. Each section has a checklist to get you started and can be edited to fit your specific agency. Police leaders must embrace change and be forward-thinking, or risk becoming irrelevant by maintaining a status quo mentality. 

LE best practices: Lessons learned from the field by Ed Praetorian on Scribd

About the author

Ralph Brown is an honorably retired law enforcement professional with over 28 years of experience. Ralph is a bureau chief for the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). Before POST, he retired at the rank of lieutenant with the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office in California. Ralph is a past and present member of several professional groups and associations. He holds an undergraduate degree in Business Management and a master's in Information Technology. You can reach Ralph via email. 

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