Why agencies need an internal leadership training program

The first time your personnel learn leadership should not occur after you promote them to sergeant


Leadership is simply the ability to influence others to accomplish a goal. Unfortunately, there is nothing simple about it. 

Human behavior can range from magnanimous to fickle in a matter of moments, and one’s needs are commonly elusive. This is amplified in the high-stress environment of law enforcement, and compounded over a 30-year career. We all want to be led by the best people, and as leaders, we aspire to be the best for our people.   

While some are gifted with what is seemly natural leadership ability, navigating a career in public service is best done with a solid foundation in leadership education. This education helps us understand the complexity of people, provides a tool kit of techniques to mitigate issues, and trains fluency in a common language to solve problems. 

An 8-hour leadership course on the LAPD University, an application-based distance learning program, has been one of the agency's most successful on this platform.
An 8-hour leadership course on the LAPD University, an application-based distance learning program, has been one of the agency's most successful on this platform. (LAPD)

In Police1's second annual State of the Industry survey, only 23% of respondents indicated their agency had an internal leadership training program, 12% were not sure and 65% answered in the negative. Every organization should have an internal leadership training program that inculcates staff into the leaders that our communities and our officers need. Organizations should also seek out external development programs to avoid stagnation.

Here are some strategies law enforcement agencies can consider when developing an internal leadership training program: 

Partnerships: Don’t do this alone

The LAPD Leadership Program was born out of crisis, but not created in a vacuum. Following the 1992 riots, a relationship was formed with the United States Military Academy at West Point to develop a course that would address some of the leadership challenges facing officers in the 1990s and beyond. The result was a four-week course directed at lieutenants covering 27 behavioral science theories. The program has continually evolved, most recently updated in 2019. 

We currently have an advisory board comprised of professors from our nation’s top universities, CEOs, diplomats and senior military leaders. These advisors inform the future of the program, bring forth ideas from their diverse backgrounds, and assist in the delivery of the program. Our Advisory Board Chair is Sir Mark Vlasic, KHS. As a former war crimes prosecutor and professor at Georgetown, he has brought innovation to the program and expanded the horizons of the program to include international law enforcement perspectives in evaluating our programs.

Every agency can benefit from advisory board constructs, and it is free. There are people in the community who care about their police department and want to do something to help. 

Invest in excellence

This journey will not initially be cheap, but your return on investment will be immense. There needs to exist total buy-in from the chief and the entire chain of command. If you are looking to build an internal program, you will need to recruit personnel that are committed to the creation and teaching of these courses. You will also need a chain of command willing to assign attendees from operations into these time-consuming courses. If done correctly, it will save you money in the long run. Better leaders retain personnel at greater rates, and there will be fewer internal and external lawsuits.

A cost-saving measure in terms of personnel allocation is the online model. This has been proven in other educational settings. Look at Coursera; in 2020, they reported almost $300m in annual revenue delivering online courses. In 2021, we launched the LAPD University, an application-based distance learning program.  An 8-hour leadership course has been one of our most successful on this platform. While choosing what content to populate this with, I looked at the three areas where our leaders could take immediate leadership action to improve the working environment: Culture, philosophy and communications. For the near term, we will continue to offer courses on LAPD University free of charge to any employee of a public agency.   

Commit to lifetime learning

Using decades of leadership studies from our board member Dr. David Rogers, we know that to build the best leader, we must start early in the career of an officer, and then embed reinforcing mechanisms in frequent intervals throughout their career. This is the only way to truly design a leader’s behavior to optimally impact the organization. 

Ensure that elements of leadership instruction within the framework that you develop are incorporated into all of your training. This is applicable to tactical training, civil rights, technical training and any other opportunity you have your people together in a learning environment. The first time your personnel learn leadership should not occur after you promote them to sergeant. For the military veterans in your ranks, this will be a familiar process, and you should use them in creating your internal program. 

Next step

Based on the Police1 survey, there is a significant appetite for leadership education in our profession. On the heels of two very challenging years, now is the time to act. The LAPD Leadership Program can help you with advice and material. For access to the LAPD University app, email lapd.university@lapd.online. We also encourage outside agencies to send personnel to the in-person Leadership Program, just email us at leadership@lapd.online

Read more: A study in change management: Developing the LAPD University mobile training app

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