Advice for police leaders on how to motivate police officers

The thousands of police officers who responded to Police1’s annual State of the Industry survey were nearly unanimous in their request for leaders who knew, cared and supported them.

Three law enforcement experts – Janay Gasparini, Bob Harrison and Barry Reynolds – explored the impact of the survey’s findings for first-line supervisors, chiefs and sheriffs during a recent webinar.

The discussion, which included answering attendee questions, focused on the importance of high-quality leadership, training and mentoring of patrol officers and field personnel by their direct supervisors.

Be real, check in and educate the public

Janay Gasparini, Ph.D., is a proud former police officer who served as a police instructor, FTO and crime scene technician. Gasparini has taught collegiate criminal justice courses since 2009. During the “What Cops Want in 2022” webinar Gasparini gave police leaders specific ways to improve buy-in from their patrol officers. Here are four actionable quotes from her discussion of her:

  • “Be transparent, be honest, open, approachable, be real and admit mistakes. These are things that officers feel make a strong leader – someone who they can look up to, someone with whom they want to work with and who they want to do well for.”
  • “Something very specific you can implement immediately is a check in, either biweekly or monthly, with an officer’s direct supervisor, for the purpose of gaining feedback and constructive guidance. Officers are specifically asking for this kind of leadership and communication, and this aligns with what we know about younger generations and how they best function in a work environment.”
  • “Seize all opportunities to educate the public about the realities of police work, managing expectations and providing facts and statistics. It means something to police officers to have their leadership out there going to bat for them and explaining the work in a measured, professional way.”

Engage, support and love your officers

Bob Harrison is a retired police chief who is an adjunct researcher with the non-profit, non-partisan RAND Corporation. He is also a course manager for the CA POST Command College. Bob consults with police agencies in California and beyond on strategy, leadership and innovation. Harrison’s comments about leadership during the webinar were based on his comprehensive review of the survey findings and decades of experience in the profession. Here are three quotes from Harrison about how leaders can engage, support and love their officers:

  • “There is nothing more important than generating trust and creating or sustaining the engagement of staff to set a foundation for successful policing. So that means not just relying on your recruiters, but that every officer and deputy, every member of the professional staff recruits for the organization, that if people had a choice, they would choose us.”
  • “The reputation of a policing agency is built one contact at a time. Inside the organization, trust and leadership are built one officer at a time. It’s about knowing patrol officers as individuals, loving them and being interested in them.”
  • “Good leaders tell great stories. They tell stories about your department’s future and give people an understanding of the future, both inside the organization and in the community.”

Leadership is everyone’s responsibility

Barry Reynolds is the director of The Center for Excellence in Public Safety Leadership and an associate professor of criminal justice at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Reynolds has over 35 years of professional experience, including 31 years as a law enforcement officer and supervisor. Reynolds dug into the challenges of integrating leadership development into organizational culture. Here are three memorable quotes from Reynolds about the responsibility of leadership and why most officers put on the uniform to make a difference:

  • “Are we developing managers within our organizations or are we developing leaders? A manager’s role is to manage and minimize potential negative impacts of things, whether it’s a critical incident or managing an investigative services bureau. A leader’s role is to build people, to develop people, to enhance the organization, to build from within the organization, to empower other people and to encourage them to become leaders of themselves.”
  • “I like to say that we work in a profession of heroes. I’d like to see us work in a profession where we have as many leaders as we have heroes. That’s a concept of fierce leadership – the idea that leadership does not attach to a rank or a position or a supervisory level, it’s everyone’s responsibility within an organization. We all hold that same responsibility, some hold it in a different area or a different level, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not all responsible.”
  • “Take a minute and remind ourselves that the reason we put the uniform on every day, the reason that we got into this profession to begin with, is to serve that noble cause, to be something greater than ourselves, to be a part of something.” more significant.Each day we have an opportunity to help somebody.”

Watch the webinar

Every law enforcement leader who wants to give their officers the support they need to perform at their peak and take immediate steps to improve officer morale should view the on-demand recording of this discussion. Click here to view the webinar.

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