9 Unconventional Things About Police Leaders That You Can’t Learn From Books


Jason Parks

Uniforms do not make police leaders.

You cannot just occupy the uniform and expect to emerge as a police leader because of your longevity in the clothing. Time in the saddle equates to experience, but says nothing about what kind of people navigator you are. You cannot learn all about it in books. Leadership derives from who you become.

Leaders are not always synonymous with the boss. In fact, many materialize and stay near the bottom. What is great about it, is we need leaders in law enforcement at all levels. Rank may mean nothing except a title- but combine leadership, emotional intelligence, and higher authority and you have the means to carry out some great things.

Police really do not care about the debate of whether they are born or made unless you want to break down the philosophy of the issue. Law enforcement just really desire to have an organization full of quality people and good leaders with substance.

Police leadership is complicated.

What kind of substance? For many it can mean a combination of different competencies, traits, emotional intelligence, institutional knowledge, and interpersonal skills. Here is a list of a few things you can’t learn from a book:

  1. Still realizes the bottom supports the top. You need good community and organizational support starting at the street level. A good police leader recognizes what goes on and appreciates the dynamics of the street level positions whether he or she is working in that area or at the top of the brass.
  2. Acts as a pioneer with integrity. Honesty, morals, ethics, and police norms. This person might be someone you think of as a “shining example.” Law enforcement effectiveness gains momentum from best practices which might mean change or go-to standards. The important aspect is that the leader knows when to change and when to rely on what works and is effective and efficient.
  3. Accountability for self and others. An organization cannot progress with a standalone hero. It requires a team effort. A good director has faith in those surrounding him or her and trusts their skills and judgement or holds those accountable who do not cut the mustard. They also match this onus within themselves.
  4. Defaults to someone with more expertise when necessary. Knowledge levels and skill sets are spread over many individuals in law enforcement. A good leader knows when to follow and when to take charge.
  5. Mission and goal oriented while driving results. Leaders who have vision and propulsion with follow through are assets to a department’s administration and its officers. They know where they are going and how to get there.
  6. Maintains a company investment in people and place. Police management requires company buy in as it should. You really represent an organization and must uphold those values. However, the department is full of human resources which mesh together in this organism-like bureaucratic structure, if that makes any sense. It evolves, it grows. But people first. Investment in quality workforce and retention is crucial. Continuing to invest in, educate, and develop those employees will enhance your organization and community.
  7. Engages in cop humor with appropriateness. Why? Humor is a natural deflection of the negatives from the job. Employing good humor shows a balance of knowing the right place and right time. Police need that mental flexibility, off-key personality, and camaraderie. Additionally, in order to muddle through the impacts of human misery, law enforcement must reach into their funny bag of tricks for emotional survival. Besides, my dad told me never to trust anyone who has no sense of humor.
  8. Makes solid decision. A strategic plan shows strengths in a practitioner. I used to think a leader making any decision was better than one who made no decision at all or had a case of the “spinning wheels.” Now I think it is important for a leader to make solid and sound judgment based upon emotional intelligence, best operational tactics, and institutional knowledge while combining all within the totality of circumstances. If they cannot, they need to delegate to someone who can.
  9. Displays situational and self-awareness on point. Probably the smoothest techniques are conducted by leaders who are aware of others and themselves. Law enforcement have to mediate and find resolutions both externally with citizens and internally with colleagues. No one respects a leader who has uncontrolled emotions and gives favoritism to their buddies. Great leaders hand out reasonable expectations and advice. They are the expert communicators. For instance, they can sell you on a task which is despised by all cops and you do it with a smile. The best leaders know the laws at all levels of government and can recite proper police procedures. Not only that, they know how and when they apply. They must be a resource. Furthermore, these leaders can read people, think on their feet, communicate well, and problem solve. Wait. There’s more. They can do all of these things at the same time. That’s simultaneously for your wonder brains.

Law enforcement organizations need police champions.

Most law enforcement agencies have some brass or executive types with the ability to embody many of these qualities and more. However, great leaders are not always in managing or supervisory positions. Some have rank, some are in the trenches, and some are merging into other assignments. They might be working by your side but serve as a mentor and leader among peers. It is crucial a police organization have excellent leadership in all levels of hierarchy to promote a successful environment with growth. They must evolve and adapt with their community needs. Champions fuel an organization’s success and progress through earnest aims and purpose. You know who they are. He or she has a sizable following of respect and admiration within the company. Raise up those pythons! They will carry your department members to greatness.

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Kathryn Loving

Kathryn Loving is a former peace officer with the Casper Police Department, Casper, Wyoming. She held special assignments such as detective, hostage negotiator, and patrol field training officer. She, DCI Special Agent Matt Waldock, and District Attorney Mike Blonigen brought to justice the first bodiless homicide conviction in the state of Wyoming in 2006 stemming from a 1990 cold case. Her proudest accomplishments were investigating crimes against children and bringing their predators to justice. Kathryn currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Public Administration with an emphasis on Criminal Justice and Criminology. Her research specialty is on police stress and burnout with a focus on best practices in police work.


Excellent article, very informative and “right-on”!

Good article, and I firmly believe leadership, like so many things in policing, if oftentimes learned on the job.

That said, some of this can be learned from the book. IF you have the right book.

Great article! There is nothing worse than having toxic leadership in a Department. Patrol is the heart of the agency. It is every bit as important as any of the specialized divisions. We must make it valuable to the rank and file to keep the best in the patrol division. Far to often rank is sought for ego and political reasons. These “leaders”, and their minions. Those who receive nose fractures every time the brass change direction. I have been at the bottom…I have been the Chief…the integrity, skills, and leadership is important at all levels.

Thank you, John. I agree. Toxic leadership is the death of a department. I like your thoughts.

Great article now if we could get not only law enforcement to read this but other elected officials that have to support law enforcement leadership that would be great.


Greetings, Sheriff! I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Not a thing wrong with ANYTHING you stated.
Too many times, departments have that “empty uniform” in a position that requires more, if not all of those “9 points”.

I believe that a good person has such core values, and when they choose to put on the shield, they seek to enrich those qualities THROUGH their time on the job.

That not only makes them better LEOs, but better mentors for those rising through the ranks.
(the right “boss” can work miracles with the rank and file)

Any department that has such people among them is truly fortunate.

Good column.
Roll safe out there.

Hello, Bobby G.,
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Great perspectives! Have a great day!

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