Law Enforcement Leadership November December 2017



             In-service training for personnel varies widely among departments.  Unfortunately, there are too many states which mandate no in-service training each year for police officers – of any rank!

Many departments do offer in-service training, but it’s sporadic, often reactive to a situation that occurred which might have been avoided if an officer had been better trained, or the result of a multimillion dollar lawsuit against an agency.

Are you just hoping that an incident involving the injury or death of a citizen or a multimillion dollar lawsuit against your agency doesn’t happen?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to take proactive and coordinated steps to train your officers – of all ranks – to better prepare them for the challenges of protecting and serving?

Unfortunately, some departments don’t provide training for anyone above the rank of patrol officer. However, more progressive departments provide a comprehensive management development program for everyone from the sergeant to the chief.

To help you evaluate the management training program in your department, ten of the most common problem areas are discussed in this article. If any of these problems exist within your department, it may be time for you to take corrective action.


  1. Failure to Train New Supervisors

To the best of my knowledge, only eight states in the country require mandatory training for newly promoted first-line supervisors. The first step up the promotional ladder is critical for the long-term success of that new sergeant and the agency. If a sergeant isn’t trained on how to be a sergeant, how can he (or she) effectively do his (or her) job? There is too much risk, liability and public scrutiny for a new sergeant to learn “as they go” or through “trial and error.” Agencies which follow this belief should expect a lot of errors and then hope there are no fiascoes.

  1. Failure to Train Supervisors (or Managers) Before Their Assignment

Even when a department requires supervisory (or management) training, the requirement is usually phrased, “Must attend training within one year of promotion.” Almost invariably, the phrase is translated, “Must attend training within one year after promotion.”

Therefore, newly promoted sergeants are sometimes thrust into their new positions prior to any formal training. They are expected to perform their duties properly, although they aren’t properly trained in how to perform them.

If they are lucky, they get by without making a critical error. If they aren’t so lucky, they can ruin their career and personal reputation and create many unnecessary problems for administrators, the agency and the community.

Properly training new sergeants before they are placed in charge results in better sergeants who have a minimum of personnel problems, union problems and operational problems.

  1. Failure to Evaluate Training Needs

It may sound like a dumb question, but “What do your police department supervisors (or managers) specifically need to know to adequately perform their duties?”

Although a police supervisor’s duties may appear to be similar from department to department, this isn’t always the case. Each agency is different and each officer is different. Therefore, it is critical to conduct some form of “needs assessment” specifically for your department and for each supervisor/manager.

A formal “needs assessment” conducted by an independent consultant is ideal.  However, if your department doesn’t have the resources to conduct such a detailed study, there are still some steps you can take to identify your supervisory training needs. Some of these include surveys of current supervisors, a detailed examination of job descriptions, conferring with other departments, and the use of consultants for guidance. This could result in supervisors being trained specifically on what they, or the agency, needs and not having them sit through training which is not relevant.

  1. Failure to Provide Specialized Training

            “A sergeant is a sergeant is a sergeant.”  No, not all police department supervisors are created equal. Each one brings unique skills, talents and experiences to his (or her) new position. Conversely, these unique skills, talents and experiences (or lack of) may also result in knowledge and experience gaps.

A while ago, I visited an old friend of mine who I worked with when I was on the job. He is still on the job as a sergeant in the agency where I used to work. As we talked about “the old days” in the patrol room of his department, I saw a diagram drawn on a whiteboard of a house, vehicles, etc. I knew what it represented, but I asked him, “What’s that?”  “Oh, we had a raid last night on a meth lab. Great time. They were cooking the stuff as we hit the place.”  I found out that he was the supervisor in charge of that operation and I asked him what sort of specialized training he received to plan a high-risk, multiagency, drug raid which involved hazardous materials. He looked at me like I had two heads!  “What the heck are you talking about? It’s a drug raid – we do them all of the time!” He didn’t grasp all of the problems which might have occurred if things went wrong and someone got hurt, or killed, or if an officer was exposed to toxins.

This problem is not limited to larger departments.

  1. Failure to Develop Subordinates

When it is decided that an officer of any rank will probably be promoted to a higher rank, the police department’s administration should begin an informal training process before the actual promotion. For example, before the formal promotion, that officer should be gradually introduced to the tasks and responsibilities of his new position to help better prepare him for the new assignment. It can be as simple as having that officer job shadow the person currently in charge of that position (or, better yet, in a larger agency, have the officer job shadow several people to get a different perspective of his future job). I have seen some agencies design this “before getting promoted” training as a formal part of a comprehensive training plan. Regardless of how it is done, it should be part of the training process in your department.

  1. Failure to Provide Field Training for Managers

Perhaps the best training an individual receives is practical hands-on training from an experienced manager. Yet, field training programs seldom exist beyond the recruit training level. A newly promoted person at every rank should have the opportunity to learn the practical side of their new position from a seasoned veteran before being thrust into a command position.

Of course, who is assigned as the field training sergeant (or higher rank) for the newly promoted officer is equally as important as the field training officer who is assigned to the newly hired patrol officer. Remember: “Garbage in – garbage out” (poor quality input will always produce poor quality output). If the new sergeant is shown how to cut corners, get around policies and is shown poor leadership skills by the field training sergeant, then you shouldn’t be surprised when the newly promoted sergeant does those same things.

  1. Failure to Provide In-service Training

Many departments, even if they provide basic training for their managers, fail to provide any form of in-service training. Some states require a certain amount of annual in-service training for every police officer, but I am not aware of any state which mandates specific supervisory/management in-service training.

Too often, the only time such training occurs is when the chief or sheriff wants to tell everybody something and calls all the supervisors into the office at the same time.  That’s not good enough. It would be foolish for a department to provide some basic training for a police officer and then never provide them with any additional training.  We all know that laws, policies, procedures, and technology are continually changing and that officers must be kept current with these changes. A sound and regularly scheduled supervisory/management in-service program which presents information to update and upgrade managers’ skills – from the sergeant to the chief – should be a part of every department’s management training program.

  1. Failure to Train Managers in What Subordinates Are Learning

Managers cannot know the full capabilities of their staff unless they know the subjects in which their staff is trained; the procedures they are trained to follow; and the full extent of their subordinates’ training.

Imagine a supervisor arriving at the scene of a high-risk felony stop conducted by patrol officers with no knowledge of the procedures taught in the officers’ “Street Survival” course which the officers attended the previous week. That could turn into a confusing and dangerous situation.

Although most situations are less dramatic, the need to make supervisors and managers aware of their subordinates’ training programs is important, but often overlooked by those designing the training programs.

  1. Failure to Require Attendance at Training Programs

It boils down to priorities. A lieutenant is finally scheduled for in-service training, but, while in route to the academy, he is notified of a hostage situation in his sector. He immediately goes to the scene and takes charge of the situation for several hours. Or, an officer is driving to a training class held in a neighboring agency and, along the way, he stops to assist another agency at the scene of a bad accident. These situations can’t be planned and, of course, they can’t be ignored, but agencies must make it clear to all personnel that training is as important as any other activity and they should demand that their managers attend. If an emergency takes them away, they should be required to attend at a later date.

  1. Failure to Use Adequate/Certified Instructors

Qualified supervisory/management instructors can be hard to find. Locating instructors who have the education, training and experience in the police management field can be difficult, particularly when needed to train command level officers.

However, it is absolutely necessary for agencies to expend the time, effort and money to seek out the best possible instructors. Not only is the credibility of the instruction at stake, but the future well-being of your department and your officers may lie in the proper training of your management team.

Departments should not underestimate the long-term value of providing a comprehensive and continuing management development program for their managers.  The proper training of managers is critical to building and maintaining a strong and professional police department.

Note: Police Management Services, LLC is pleased to announce to the readers of P&SN that it is offering a new online supervisory training program. This online training is the equivalent of a four day training program at an academy. Please check their Web page at For more information, you can reach them by E-mail at or by phone at (518)761-9708. Also, see their ad in this edition of P&SN.