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Weed, seed, water and feed: How Dayton PD is preparing new recruits for policing success

Through a unique blend of mentorship, wellness and community engagement, Dayton PD’s program equips recruits with the tools to thrive in their careers

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Learn how Dayton PD is paving the way for the department’s success for generations to come.

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I was recently introduced to an allegory that compares leading people to gardening. Instead of micromanaging every action and encounter by directly influencing (or attempting to do so), a gardener focuses on creating the right environment. He nurtures the soil and cultivates the seedlings, providing care through watering and other means. However, he cannot force the plants to thrive; he can only set them up for success and hope it is enough to withstand external challenges such as inclement weather.

As I reflected on this concept, I gained a deeper understanding of the Dayton (Ohio) Police Department’s program for new officer development. The program, presented as “Weed, seed, water and feed: Raising healthy recruits in law enforcement” at the IACP’s Officer Safety and Wellness Conference, highlighted this approach. Notably, Chelley Seibert, the department’s training and community engagement coordinator, recognized the effectiveness of such a nurturing, gardening-based model. In her discussion, she outlined the aptly named phases of development, providing details about the program and key insights derived from it.

Seibert, who describes herself as the department’s “den mother” due to her foundational role as an academy trainer, clearly embraces the guardianship of her recruits. She began by emphasizing the importance of her purpose and how it influences her new officers’ understanding of their own roles. As someone who recently supervised my department’s recruiting and hiring unit, I found this focus particularly resonant. Ultimately, the job is about “people taking care of people.” By concentrating so intently on nurturing these “seedlings,” Seibert and her team at Dayton PD are paving the way for the department’s success for generations to come.


This is the foundational phase. Recognizing the importance of starting recruits on the right foot, Seibert and her team focus on habit-building during their several months at the academy. They highlight key aspects of wellness, including sleep, nutrition, exercise and life outside law enforcement. Industry professionals acknowledge that first responders will inevitably face challenges with these health pillars. Why not teach them not only solid material but also the means to implement these practices effectively?

The discussion of a non-law enforcement lifestyle is critical. Dr. Kevin Gilmartin emphasizes this in his discussion of the “used to’s,” referring to activities we engaged in and people we associated with before becoming officers. In Washington State, the academy addresses this as “living outside the blue world,” a concept I have come to see as increasingly important the longer I serve in this career.

The program also encourages recruits to write about their “why” or purpose. I firmly believe in this practice. Generally, before long, the traumatic nature of the job and scrutiny from all angles can challenge a new officer’s resolve, leading to toxic, cynical attitudes. By focusing on and embracing our purpose, we can remind ourselves of this during the darkest times. Personally, I have found moments of reconnection through community engagement and recruiting efforts at critical times in my career — meaningful surprises that I often encourage other officers to explore and use to rejuvenate their perspectives.

As someone who contributes wellness content both inside and outside my department, I believe this shift in officer preparedness should become the standard. Foundational health and wellness practices are crucial for building and maintaining resilience, which will undoubtedly be tested by the stresses and strains of a policing career.

Silos kill progress and diminish the greater good, and our greater good is a healthy, operational police agency


One of the greatest adversaries to any garden — and a reason to abandon lawn care altogether — are weeds. Weeds require little to grow, arriving inevitably and forcefully. If left unaddressed, they multiply and choke out any desirable plants, whether vegetables or flowers. In a policing career, “weeds” represent creeping bad habits, unhealthy coping mechanisms and negative attitudes.

In Dayton PD’s model, officers have scheduled and programmed one-on-one meetings during their shifts with Seibert, which is commendable for accommodating their varying schedules. These meetings help officers find common ground in the struggles faced by all new personnel, validating their concerns during training. We all know that a negative mindset fixated on mistakes can create a downward spiral that is extremely difficult to reverse for a new officer. By incorporating this step, Dayton PD not only normalizes the difficulties encountered during training but also fosters healthy sharing and networking early in their careers. Speaking from experience, learning to fail quicker would have saved me many headaches, heartache and energy, all of which could have been directed toward becoming a healthier, more effective officer.

Seibert also addressed the four “seeds” of wellness, providing tangible tips and adjustments for officers to correct their course. This ongoing guidance helps them eliminate negative trends, patterns or inputs as they progress in their growth and development. They also revisit challenging calls, self-care protocols and coping mechanisms, examining aspects of the career that can develop unhealthily, such as excessive overtime. Additionally, Seibert implements customized Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) questionnaires, tailored specifically to the industry. This ensures that the model provides appropriate follow-up, rather than just handing over a notebook of ideas and concepts that may not be effectively utilized.


The “water” phase represents a form of maintenance mode. It may not be groundbreaking or highly complex, but it is essential. The backbone of the program was established in the earlier “seed” and “wee”’ stages. However, in the “water” stage, success hinges on those small check-ins, made effective through a solid foundation in relationships and culture.

Examples of these check-ins include sending texts and acknowledging significant anniversaries — both good and bad — that mark personal and professional milestones (a practice that stems from the intention and awareness cultivated in earlier one-on-one meetings). Through these thoughtful gestures, Seibert keeps communication and relationships open and healthy. She also reviews body-worn camera footage to identify small victories, providing compliments that are crucial in recognizing officer efforts and reinforcing the traits and actions Dayton PD wants to see replicated in their developing officers.

By implementing these practices, Seibert and her team maintain the recruits in a positive mindset, fostering a collaborative and constructive trajectory.


The “feed” phase focuses on ensuring that progress is upward and sustainable. Seibert and her team are aware of the idealism that often characterizes new officers, and they recognize how quickly these optimistic impressions can diminish. Inspired by Dr. Kelly McGonigal’s teaching that “caring creates resilience,” Seibert sees this as a way to foster positive self-influence among officers. Reflecting on this, I see that it not only promotes individual wellness through caring for others but also benefits the agency as a whole. By nurturing their new officers — their most valued resource — Dayton PD is investing in creating a resilient organizational culture with each recruit whose wellness is supported.

In practical terms, the focus on the care aspect of the profession includes tasks like recruits being assigned to earn five “thank you’s” from the community. Seibert understands that encouraging what is tracked directly supports community engagement and relations. Moreover, recruits are tasked with identifying a community problem and developing a plan to address it, fostering a sense of ownership and autonomy in their roles. This approach not only counters the recent climate of de-policing but also emphasizes a care-based model of policing. By highlighting the winners of this project, Dayton PD is setting a precedent for how officers are expected to proceed in their careers.

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Program takeaways

Seibert identified valuable insights from the program that can be used to refine and expand it in Dayton and beyond. The department noted significant achievements and identified areas for improvement. The normalized routine of check-ins was one of the positive outcomes. Organizational Development 101 advocates for frequent supervisor-employee interactions; I recommend a daily face-to-face or call with direct reports. Additionally, the program has reinforced a culture of peer support, which should be standard in today’s policing. Dayton’s initiative has enabled new officers to feel seen, heard and appreciated. Beyond addressing generational dynamics, surveys have shown that feeling valued is a key factor in workplace retention.

The identified gaps in agency culture revealed further positives: there was a noticeable decline in job satisfaction in the second year, prompting veteran officers to recognize the benefits and advocate for a similar development program for seasoned employees. Clearly, regular check-ins, supporting wellness, and curbing negative habits and thought patterns are crucial for building a positive culture and team.

In conclusion, the Dayton Police Department has developed and structured a commendable model worth considering for agencies of all sizes. Under Seibert’s leadership, there was a holistic approach to not only supporting recruits but also ensuring they started their careers on the right foot.

If the specific aspects of Dayton’s model are not feasible for an agency due to resources or personnel, I challenge departments to focus on the underlying values and methods of culture-building. Any department can establish formal or informal mentorships and compile a robust list of resources and tips to guide recruits.

By concentrating on supporting individuals and nurturing constructive, healthy values, police departments will be better equipped to withstand the challenges that accompany careers in public service.

NEXT: Discover essential strategies for improving law enforcement retention with Gordon Graham. In this video, Gordon outlines five actionable steps that leaders can implement to keep their teams engaged, supported and committed to their roles.

Commander Eric Tung has been a police officer for 16 years in Washington State. He currently oversees patrol operations and his department’s wellness and peer support programs. He has led and innovated recruiting, hiring, training, community engagement, civil disturbance and field training programs. Eric was a 2022 “40 Under 40" honoree, recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He develops wellness and leadership content on @bluegritwellness on Instagram, and the Blue Grit Radio podcast.