Is Policing a Profession?

I have a hard time calling policing a profession. This may sound like an odd statement coming from someone who has practiced policing for 30 years and holds a command position in a large accredited police organization, but the truth is that for the majority of policing organizations in the country, policing is practiced as a trade not as a profession. Let me explain. The majority of officers today learn the bulk of their professional knowledge through two avenues. The first being the police academy where most officers are taught most of what they know and will ever know in regard to policing and the second source is their personal experiences they accumulate while working.

In very few of the 17-18 thousand police departments across the country are there ongoing professional development training requirements focused on increasing an officer’s professional knowledge base throughout their career. Even when there are mandates, they usually focus on a few training issues around use of force, weapons training and updating legislative changes that affect them. Very few require ongoing career long mandated training around the complex social and community issues that we are called to deal with the majority of our time when working. Issues like fair and equitable based policing, effective communication, solving complex community problems, dispute resolution, and ongoing officer wellness protocols are just a few contemporary issues that get little to no attention in regard to ongoing professional development training for most police officers.

In other professions such as the practice of law, medicine and even the sale of insurance, require participants to participate in consistent ongoing professional development training throughout their career. This practice insures that people in these fields are always learning best practices, new strategies and timely relevant information throughout their careers. Policing must embrace this model of ongoing mandated professional development training if we hope to get off the hamster wheel of continuing to use ineffective, or in the worst case, bad policing practices, This hamster wheel has led to communities feeling isolated and disenfranchised from the very departments that exist to serve them.

So how is this accomplished? First, ongoing professional development training needs to become a mandated policing practice for all departments throughout the country. Without this mandate, policing will continue to experience the wide disparity of competent police practices throughout the country and a continuing hamster wheel approach to contemporary issues effecting American policing. Second, we can use existing models such as from the practice of medicine that mandate the creation of a work environment of career long ongoing learning and teaching. Technology today allows departments the ability to easily create in house online schools of continuing education specific to their needs. These schools can be used to further ongoing professional development at all levels of the department with courses specifically tailored around emerging issues, current best practices, or any other of the number of issues facing policing today.

Requiring departments to equip officers throughout their careers with the best, most timely knowledge in regard to the difficult task of contemporary policing is the best way to ensure that we are practicing policing as a profession not just a trade.

Dean Isabella is 30-year member of the Providence, Rhode Island, Police Department. The Providence Police Department is a nationally accredited and the second largest in New England and is the nation’s first teaching department. In this innovative organization he holds the rank of Captain and is commander of The Special Projects Unit. As a result of this work Captain Isabella was recognized as the first police officer in the nation to be awarded the Anthony Sutin Award for Community Engagement from the US Department of Justice. Captain Isabella is also the first Officer in Rhode Island to be named a finalist for the International Herman Goldstein Problem Solving Policing Award. Captain Isabella is also an adjunct faculty member at Roger Williams University teaching Police and Community Relations and holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Roger Williams University and a master’s of criminal justice degree from Boston University.

(Photo courtesy Connecticut State Police)