Photo courtesy of William Harvey.
When was the last time you really evaluated your training and preparation for this profession? Most officers will give this little thought and allow the training sergeant or your state requirements to dictate the pathway.
Many officers focus on what's important to them in their current assignment, or ask why they should take courses they will never use. If you're seeking command positions, you'll have to supervise specialties where you have limited, if any, practical working knowledge.
For instance, if you're overseeing the traffic division, how much do you really understand about auto accident reconstruction? This is a very specialized area of expertise that a visit to their training proves out. Do you know they exist? Do you understand their roles, mission and products they produce? Or are they just traffic officers with survey laser transits?
Another example is how an internal affairs officer had skillfully avoided attending classes on defensive tactics. While investigating complaints on use of force, this sleuth didn't know the policy or understand the scope of the training. His investigations were flawed and thankfully later corrected, but what could this have cost? Learning the vast skill sets we need to possess will cover the breadth of training. Make sure you consider widening your training horizons to fully appreciate all of the services that law enforcement performs.
Understanding the depth of the training requires evaluation as well. How strong is your skill set on each and every job task that you will be required to perform and possibly supervise. I can imagine a commander who hasn't acquainted himself or herself with forensics since their police academy days. Our forensic officers do far more than sling dust; pour a foot casting; and take a photo. Stop and think of the capabilities of the modern forensics officers and crime labs. There have been giant leaps in our scientific capabilities.
So future commander, you may have to take a course or do some independent reading to get familiar. What your academy class taught you back in the day doesn't even scratch the surface. Supervisors, commanders, chiefs, and sheriffs need a deeper understanding of the knowledge, skills and abilities required to deliver quality police service.
The third dimension in this three-dimensional view would be the futuristic view. I don't have magic glasses that see into the future but try to predict emerging trends and apply them as needed to your department's mission. Historically, there have been trends that many avoided and pretended it would never come to their department. Hit the rewind button on your department and state to review the changes that have occurred in the last two decades. Prior to these changes there were supervisor curmudgeons who said this would never happen here. It did happen, and they missed opportunities.
What does the future hold for law enforcement? I only wish I knew, so I could begin to prep and tool up my department. Do you belong to professional associations that have periodicals or websites? Do you actually read the articles? Have you attended training conferences and foremost do you network? These are only a start but it still requires some personal input or sweat equity on your part.
You can't just put the books under your pillow and hope the words drift into your brain overnight. I encourage every current and future commander to set aside required reading times on and off duty. Many will ask me if I am going to pay an officer to sit in their office and read while on duty. Yes, because they're sharpening their professional edge! I further recommend that you attend more than the required or mandatory training.
Seek out your weak points so you can gain the breadth and depth that could be required. If you need a template, start by visiting human resources or employment websites. Read the breadth of the job itself. Some chiefs may oversee other city services such as parking or code enforcement. Most sheriffs oversee jails and courthouse security. These tasks may be out of the norm for you now. What is the depth of skills required?
Chiefs in smaller departments may still have to work the streets; serve as a training officer; or take on other required tasks. So you may have several topics to study. What does the future hold for you? The next promotion or job may define this as well. If you want to take the leap to become a chief or sheriff, you may need to delve into managerial topics that are not the norm for the average copper.
This review of your training and skill sets is a must for the next step. Be honest with yourself in your evaluation, because the only person you're shortchanging is yourself and your future staff when you get the job. A leader should be a solution provider for the staff. If you don't grasp that concept, you'll never be able to provide direction.