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How to implement a new supervisor training program customized for your agency’s needs

Equip your supervisors with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively lead their teams and carry out their responsibilities

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Effective police supervision is crucial for maintaining law and order within communities. As law enforcement agencies strive to enhance their organizational effectiveness, they recognize the importance of providing comprehensive training programs for newly appointed supervisors. These supervisors play a pivotal role in shaping the behavior, decision-making and morale of the officers under their command. However, simply attending a training program does not guarantee the successful implementation of newly acquired knowledge and skills

Consider the following scenario: John, a dedicated and experienced police officer, recently completed a supervisor training program provided by an esteemed external training institute. Filled with enthusiasm, John returns to his agency, eager to put his newfound leadership techniques and management strategies into practice. However, upon his return, John encounters various challenges that hinder his ability to implement what he learned during his training.

John discovers that the organizational culture within his agency does not align with the leadership principles emphasized during the training program. There is resistance to change, a lack of accountability, and entrenched hierarchical structures that impede effective communication and collaboration. The policies and procedures within the agency are outdated and do not support the innovative approaches John learned. As a result, John faces difficulties in applying his training effectively, and frustration begins to set in.

Law enforcement needs leaders who can self-evaluate, possess the emotional intelligence to learn and adapt, and have the desire to hone their leadership skills. Many new police supervisor training programs rely on outside entities to train supervisors. This approach does not address the unique requirements of every agency. It fails to address the problem that each police agency has different skills and requirements for their first-line supervisors.

This article is not to communicate that external supervision training programs are bad and should not be used. Police departments often turn to outside entities for supervisor training for several reasons:

  • External training providers offer a fresh perspective and bring expertise from various law enforcement agencies, enabling a broader view of best practices and cutting-edge methodologies. These entities possess specialized knowledge and experience in developing comprehensive training programs specifically tailored to the needs of police supervisors. They can provide access to the latest research, industry trends, and innovative approaches that may not be readily available within a single agency.
  • Utilizing external entities helps mitigate the potential bias or favoritism that may arise from internal training initiatives. By involving external experts, agencies can ensure a fair and impartial learning environment for all participants. Moreover, external training allows supervisors to network and interact with peers from different agencies, fostering the exchange of ideas and experiences that contribute to professional growth and development.
  • Outsourcing supervisor training can alleviate the burden on agency resources. Developing and implementing a robust training program requires significant time, effort and financial investment. External entities can alleviate this strain by providing ready-made, customizable training programs that align with industry standards. This allows agencies to focus their internal resources on other essential tasks while still providing their supervisors with high-quality training.

Police agencies may consider taking the supervisor training in-house or building on external training for several reasons:

  • Developing an internal program allows agencies to align the training content with their organizational values, culture and specific challenges.
  • It enables continuous learning and long-term impact through ongoing professional development and support.
  • In-house training can also be cost-effective and sustainable, leveraging internal expertise and providing flexibility to adapt to evolving needs.
  • By customizing the training, agencies can ensure its relevance and increase the likelihood of successful implementation within their specific context.

Implementing a customized new supervisor training program in a police agency typically involves several steps. Here is a general outline of the process:

Needs assessment

Conduct a thorough needs assessment to identify the specific knowledge, skills and competencies required for effective police supervision in your agency. This can involve reviewing existing policies and procedures, conducting interviews or surveys with current supervisors, and analyzing performance data.

Establish program goals and objectives

Based on the needs assessment, define the goals and objectives of the training program. These goals should align with the agency’s mission and strategic objectives, as well as address the identified gaps in supervisor knowledge and skills. It should include a list of all required tasks a supervisor at your agency needs to perform.

Curriculum development

Utilizing your program goals, objectives and mission-critical skills as an outline, develop problem-based learning scenarios to teach these ideas. The scenarios should be based on real-world problems encountered by your agency. These objectives and skills should be divided into modules based on Robert Katz’s Leadership Skills Theory core competencies. These competencies include rational skills, technical skills, command presence and human skills. You should also include problem-based learning scenarios to teach the management of high-risk/low-frequency skills necessary for first-line supervisors.

Identify training methods

Consider using a coaching/mentoring teaching approach where the facilitator has an introduction to the module but then leaves the students to utilize the resource material provided (General Orders, Standard Operating Procedures, Employment policies and current leadership materials) to suggest solutions to the complex problems. The facilitators then coach/mentor the participants and provide feedback on their solutions.

Resource allocation

Allocate the necessary resources to support the training program. This includes securing funding, identifying appropriate training facilities, acquiring, or developing training materials, assigning personnel to lead this training, and ensuring access to necessary technology or equipment.

Establish a training schedule

Develop a training schedule that accommodates the availability of supervisors and minimizes operational disruptions. Consider delivering the training in modules or phases to allow supervisors to apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills on the job between training sessions. This may be a self-paced program facilitated by an assigned coach/mentor or a formal classroom where a training cadre is utilized.

Training delivery

Conduct the training program according to the established schedule. Ensure that trainers are well-prepared, engage participants effectively, and encourage active participation and discussion. Provide opportunities for supervisors to practice skills, receive feedback and reflect on their learning. Consider adding a ride-along component with the established coach/mentors so the participants can observe.

Evaluation and feedback

Implement an evaluation process to measure the effectiveness of the training program. Use feedback from participants to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Consider incorporating assessments, surveys, or follow-up interviews to gauge the program’s impact on supervisor performance and job satisfaction. Have the participant develop their own set of notes about the things that they have learned from each module.

Continuous improvement

Use evaluation results and feedback to continuously improve the training program. Update the curriculum and training methods based on evolving needs and best practices in police supervision. Regularly assess the effectiveness of the program and adjust as necessary.

Ongoing support

Provide ongoing support to supervisors after the completion of the training program. Offer mentoring, coaching, or refresher sessions to reinforce learning and address any challenges or questions that may arise in the field.

The length of the program is dependent upon whether an agency uses the self-paced method or a coordinated cohort class of new supervisors learning together. The instructors to teach the agency’s class may be a combination of internal subject matter experts, other municipal or organizational employees, and professors from a local university. The program should be a budgeted training item.

By following these steps, a police agency can successfully implement a customized new supervisor training program that equips supervisors with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively lead their teams and carry out their responsibilities. By doing so, you will develop a super sergeant who is equipped to maximize the performance of average, good and peak performers, commit to department values, uphold the performance standards of the police department, and possibly redeem problem officers.

James Beyer is a deputy chief with the Irving (Texas) Police Department, currently assigned over field operations. He has 18 years of experience and has trained first-line supervisors from several agencies inside the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex for several years. Prior to law enforcement, he was a chiropractor.