Exploring leadership issues in police work
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Recent incidents have put police officers throughout the United States under a microscope, with their every action under strict scrutiny. Officers at every rung of the ladder are being questioned and reviewed at every turn.
In this scenario, it is natural that the nature of police leadership is under scrutiny as well. More importantly, the evolving nature of leadership has become a focus of attention today. The traditional wisdom, integrity and courage of each individual leader has given way to a more shared leadership, a more modern approach for the 21st century society that they have to monitor and protect.
Instead of leadership remaining in the hands of few superiors, it is now increasingly dispersed in nature, more dynamic and with multifaceted teamwork involved. Of course, this change will determine the future, but has yet to be practiced in every department.
Traditional hierarchical notions are still predominant, though they are being questioned both within and outside departments. A high degree of autonomy at all levels of law enforcement is now being demanded along with a widespread adoption of community-oriented, intelligence-led policing.
As to why this has become more important, we must only look at recent news to understand the need. There is a growing gap between the command staff and the field officers, be it in terms of equipment control, their riot control training and all tactical decisions related to these situations. Officers must maintain a delicate balancing act, for mistakes are costly and can adversely affect both the public and the lives of officers.
Leadership means more than handling weapons and showcasing skills. The idea is to manage and not escalate problems in the field. It is not about playing politics or the strategy game but knowing how to best utilize resources, every day or in an emergency situation.
Effective leadership entails understanding the depth of individual and team skills and the right time and place to deploy them. Mastering and understanding these skills is important, but the strategies and tactics should look beyond the skills to the development of leadership in crisis or chaotic conditions. Knowing how to deploy specialty teams and tactics at the crucial time is even more important.
Unfortunately, overthinking or analysis/paralysis of an issue takes up more time, leading to catastrophic results. Ignorance of strategy and tactics or lack of proper deployment has resulted in the injuries and deaths of many street patrolmen and SWAT officers.
This exposure to unnecessary risk must be contained right away. In fact, it has been noted that many police administrators and commanders tend to delay any decision to go tactical and are extremely reluctant to rock their cushy position. This could be because while officers have a thorough force-on-force training, they are seldom given training in leading other officers in dangerous and chaotic conditions.
They are more capable as administrators but have little knowledge or understanding of tactical science. Their lack of experience and comprehension for complex tactical operations leads to an adverse impact, which is often irreversible.
We live in an age where news travels faster than we can think. While it does not mean one should condone the cover-ups and mistakes that happened in the past, it does mean every single action is going to be put under the microscope by the masses because they have access to all information and development. Public frenzy, protect groups and media can create havoc in a situation that could have otherwise been handled with calm and effective decision-making powers.
All it takes is a good leader. Having said that, one has to admit that people are not born as leaders but rather must train to become them. It is a continuously developing process combining individual skills, training and situational knowledge.
The current police leadership has to admit there is a serious knowledge gap here. Only then can they can start fresh with new skills and training for themselves and future leaders.
Training programs on leadership in crisis and special operations should be made compulsory for all departments. This includes training and awareness of the tactics as well as the need for allowing professionals to take over without allowing politics to hamper decision-making or endanger officers.
They have to learn to do the right thing for greater good.
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