The Need

There is no question that on-going leadership training is an absolute must for all policing agencies and personnel. However, I have discovered over the years that typically only higher level command staff is presented with these opportunities, while mid-level supervisors (sergeants and corporals) have been limited by budgetary and time constraints. As a crisis and trauma consultant and trainer for law enforcement, I was invited this year to instruct for a newly formed Leadership Academy with the Gainesville Police Department (Florida). I immediately saw the value of this approach as a best practices model for mid-size agencies to offer philosophical, theoretical, practical, and skills based ideas to sergeants and corporals.

The Leadership Academy/Gainesville Police Department, Florida

Gainesville Police Department (GPD) is located in Alachua County, Florida and currently has approximately 293 sworn for 127,000 citizens. The program was originally conceived by two sergeants with GPD, Marc Plourde and Charles Ward, both with numerous years in the policing field.  Through informal conversations the sergeants discovered that they shared an interest in personal leadership skill development. They also recognized that their formal law enforcement training was lacking in the area of leadership theory and skills. To augment this lack of training, they sought out resources and mentors in the fields of leadership. The theories and writings of several authors, including John Maxwell (The 5 Levels of Leadership, 2011), James C. Hunter (The Servant, 1998), and Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (Extreme Ownership, 2015) influenced the development of the sergeants’ personal and professional leadership beliefs.

The need for a more formal and agency-wide training and discourse on leadership skills was eventually recognized by these sergeants. The idea of a series of leadership workshops, based on The Scripps Leadership Academy, was first introduced by the sergeants to the command staff of the agency. This presentation included a discussion of the need for leadership training within the agency and offered a leadership academy (LA), as it came to be known, as a solution to fill that need. A series of trainings and guest-speakers have served as a means to open and continue a dialogue about leadership amongst the front-line supervisors and create an interest in continuous learning and leadership skill development. The foundational framework for the GPD leadership academy was based largely on the work of Scripps Health Care CEO Chris Van Gorder and his book The Front Line Leader (2015).

A LA email invitation was sent out by the Administrative Captain of the police department to all sergeants at GPD. Only eight of the 35 sergeants volunteered and a decision was made to broaden the potential participant pool to include corporals as well. The final participant group of the LA consisted of 18 sergeants and corporals with a years of service range from 6 to 20 years. The monthly LA workshop sessions began in January 2016 and are scheduled to run through December 2016. Each monthly session runs from 0800-1800 and is facilitated by a Captain and the two sergeants. Each session includes a question-and-answer session with the Chief, a participant roundtable discussion, a leadership book review, and a guest speaker. Guest speakers have included the CEO of an academic medical center, the owner of a world-leading fitness center, the police chief of an agency in Massachusetts, a college professor of criminology and expert in critical incident stress management and peer support, and several high ranking retired military leaders.

Successes and Challenges

Learning outcomes, program successes and opportunities for improvement of next year’s LA have not yet been fully measured. However, several suggestions for other agencies that may want to implement similar LA have been identified. A commitment from the command staff, including the chief, is necessary to provide the program with the time and resources needed to be successful. This includes protected time for the participants to be able to adjust shift schedules to attend all workshops. It is also vital that the Chief dedicate the time needed to attend all question-and-answer sessions as scheduled. Other resources needed include facilities with a room set-up conducive to group discussion and audio-visual presentations, a budget that provides leadership books to participants and some travel stipend for guest speakers (although some speakers will donate their time, full-fee costs often range from $450-900). Communication with guest speakers should include a sample workshop agenda and expected time allotted for presentation and participant reaction. Long term outcomes of this type of training is expected to be very positive.

Marc Plourde has served with the Gainesville Police Department for 18 years and has been a sergeant for the last five.  He earned a Bachelor’s degree in History from Jacksonville University and a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Saint Leo University. His professional areas of focus have been leadership, juvenile investigations and rehabilitation, and narcotics.

Charles Ward has served over 12 years with the Gainesville Police Department and received a Bachelor’s degree in Forestry from the University of Florida.  Sergeant Ward currently supervises the Special Operations/Street Crimes Unit and is a Team Leader for the Emergency Services Unit.

Tina Jaeckle, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., B.C.E.T.S., F.N.C.C.M. is an Associate Professor and Program Director, Criminology and Internship Coordinator, Sociology and CriminologyDepartment of Social Sciences
at Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida.

Please contact Sergeant Marc Plourde at [email protected] or Sergeant Charles Ward at [email protected] for more information.