with Anthony Normore

Encouraging community partnerships and engagement via frontline police leadership requires a fundamental shift in the socio-cultural nuances of police officers who have remained driven by performance during the community policing era. In support of research (see Paterson, 2011) we argue this shift requires creative approaches to leadership throughout the police hierarchy and a challenge to hierarchical model of policy implementation that sometimes conflicts with community policing. We begin by offering thoughts about why collaboration between police leaders and a community through community-oriented-policing (COP) is worth examining.

Collaboration oftentimes is associated with empowerment, engagement, building rapport and relationships. It is universally agreed that well-executed collaborative efforts can transform leadership, communities, and modern organizations into successful entities and can have resounding positive impact on job satisfaction including healthy behaviors and attitudes in the work place. Researchers have concluded that personnel in police departments who participate in community-oriented-policing report higher job satisfaction (e.g., Winfree & Newbold, 1999).

While public safety and criminal justice systems in general are in constant transition, the components of community-oriented-policing are also transforming.  Communities seek a myriad of opportunities to connect to their police departments. In turn, police organizations want to reciprocate by seeking more trust and transparency to assist in fighting crime.  As departments search for best plans that unite the public and police, we fail to remember a basic concept.  It is not plans, systems, or structures that dictate organizational success or failure; it is our people (Senge, 1990).

Therefore, we must look for new ways of working with people, and new ways of encouraging leadership. Leading is about the relationships. The stronger the relationships the more people are willing to challenge their assumptions while stretching their capacities. Such a statement begs the question: Might trust and transparency come from fostering better collaboration platforms between the police and public? If so, it stands to reason that all constituents with a vested interest in the service and protection of communities must deliberately and intentionally build rapport, model empathy, and build trust.

We believe the nexus of the challenges at work often play out and fester in the relationships. Consequently, we assert that police leaders can improve the quality of their relationships, resulting in new possibilities and solutions to the issues police agencies [organizations] face.  It is relationships, which bring true collaboration and connection.  In order to improve collaboration, law enforcement leaders must first look at the group development process to properly engage both employees and the community.  From there, leaders are better primed to understand how small group settings provide opportunities to build rapport and create connection through empowerment, group dynamics and building and sustaining rapport. In turn, more effective communication and community engagement are likely to result.

In conjunction with earlier work on police leadership (see Ellis & Normore, 2014) law enforcement agencies are primed to connect with their communities. While there has been “much progress in establishing robust networks to exchange information”, police leaders and officers in general can be effective at building effective and enduring relationships with the public.

We believe community-oriented policing and networking coupled with reciprocity is the ultimate form of public safety for reducing crime.  The network of collaboration a leader has is “… a marker of his/her influence that goes to the heart of the definition of leadership” (see Ellis & Normore, 2014).

Policing in democratic societies embodies a range of core principles and characteristics related to justice, equity, fairness, efficiency and effectiveness in order to achieve community consent. Yet, in many instances, models of initial police training, education and leadership remain inconsistent with these demands and lead to a cultural dislocation between management and street-level perspectives on the utility and purpose of community policing (Paterson, 2011). Consequently, in support of police and community efforts we offer a few suggestions that promote effective collaboration between the police and public.

First, at the agency level it behooves the leadership to facilitate the collaboration process by introducing ways to develop programs that meet the current needs of both police and the communities they serve. If we place deeper focus on meaningful programs for line level officers (e.g., problem solving strategies, time and flexibility afforded to patrol staff, geographical boundaries, frequency of shift changes, etc.,) we foster higher chances for collaborative processes which in turn should lead to their success.

Second, opportunities for sergeants to interact and engage as first-line supervisors are critical. Therefore, it is incumbent on these sergeants to look for opportunities to connect with communities. In order to do this successfully, they need the knowledge and skill sets to steer through the development process. Sergeants may wish to encourage officers to exercise empowerment and flexibility while simultaneously using their ability to work through problems on their way to sustained performance.  This reinforces the officer’s empowerment through choice by voicing how the work is being done.

Finally, we believe there is an untapped potential of street-level police officers to act as positive change agents via bottom-up models of leadership. Every officer is indeed a leader.  Smaller and less formal settings have a huge potential for opportunities to connect on a personal level.  We understand that police officers understand that group development processes pose challenges from the start. Further, the officer is in a position of command and the uniform carries a great deal of command presence. However, it is up to the officer to understand group processes and set the stage with community members in order for performance to occur.  They can do this by being upfront and transparent about the challenges ahead and remain opened to new ideas about how to collaborate with community members as a collective. Subsequently, this group collaboration enriches the experience with meaningfulness and impact for the employee.

To learn more:

Ellis, G., & Normore, A.H. (2014). A self-assessment for law enforcement leadership improvement: The 6 traits of a successful police leader. Available [online]: https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/2014/02/10/a-self-assessment-for-law-enforcement-leadership-improvement-the-6-traits-of-a-successful-police-leader/

Paterson, C. (2011) ‘Adding value? A review of the international literature on the role of

higher education in police training and education’. Police Practice and Research: An International Journal. 12(4), 286-297.

Senge, P. (1990).  The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization.

New York, NY: Doubleday.

Winfree L., & Newbold, G. (1999).  Community policing and the New Zealand Police: Correlates of attitudes toward the work world in a community-oriented national police organization. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 22 (4), 589 – 618

Sergeant Brian Ellis is a 16-year veteran with the Sacramento Police Department.  He has worked in a number of specialized assignments including with the Problem Oriented Policing Unit, Parole Intervention and Career Criminal Apprehension Teams, Narcotics and Robbery/Burglary divisions.  He is currently a patrol supervisor.  Brian earned his undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from California State, Sacramento and has a MS in Organizational Leadership from National University.  He is a life-long student of the leadership and emotional intelligence. Brian is passionate about helping others reach their true potential by inspiring authentic action.  Follow him on Twitter at @BrianEllis10.

Dr. Anthony (Tony) H. Normore is department chair of special needs services and professor of educational leadership at California State University Dominguez Hills.  With 30+ years as an educator, his teaching and research focuses on leadership growth and development in the context of ethics and social justice. He has authored numerous books, articles and book chapters. Tony has instructed inmates at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and currently collaborates with International Academy of Public Safety & Los Angeles Police Department on “credible leadership” training for police officers. Some of his work appears in Police Chief (IACP), and Law Enforcement Today. Follow him on Twitter at @AHNormore.