Do Your Officers Have a Voice?

January 18, 2023

By Capt. David Brown

Do you remember your first year on the job? Most likely, you arrived every day eager to make a difference. You had terrific ideas. You were actively trying to solve problems throughout the community you serve. If you’re like many officers, you lost your excitement over time, almost unrecognizably. The career became your job.

What happened? Where did the passion go?

For some of us, our bosses told us ‘No.’ Our new, innovative problem-solving approaches may require too much work, or worse yet, our new ideas weren’t “the way we always do things.”

The creativity and passion for the career dwindled for no better reason than a lack of communication.

There’s no doubt about it – communication is vital. In any organization, but especially in a police department, clear and concise communication is essential to maintaining order and preventing problems.

Listening is one of the more crucial elements of communication. In a top-down organization, as most departments are structured, communications follow a paramilitary structure. It is easy to issue orders and directives to the bottom. However, it is more challenging to listen to feedback from those carrying out the assignments to understand their needs. An effective leader will listen.

It all starts with the ability to listen.

Since the 1960s, there has been an endless back-and-forth between the law enforcement community and academia regarding policing leadership. Academia has pointed out that the existing structure of a quasi-military model of police leadership is not conducive to cultivating contented employees or engaged commitment. Although it seems as though decades have gone by, with little movement in transforming this paramilitary culture, law enforcement leadership is struggling to connect with Gen-Z officers more than ever. Moving forward, it is essential for law enforcement leaders to prioritize open communication and constructive dialogue if they hope to build trust and genuine commitment among their team members.

Policing is being revolutionized from a rigid, rank structure to one that embraces progressive change and is built on serving the community. By shifting away from hierarchical authority while creating an environment that values accountability and mutual respect at every level, it will be possible to make policing more service-oriented and better serve our communities. Creating an atmosphere of openness and collaboration is essential to foster creative solutions to complex problems.

Robust and confident leadership remains critical, yet flexible management styles, open to suggestions from the chain of command, will be required too. We can look to our counterparts in the private sector for key points. We are not looking at bean bag chairs and fluid work schedules involving coming in whenever you feel like it. No, the for-profit sector showed us that didn’t work. Flexible management styles mean being open to new ideas, regardless of where they originate.

We all know the importance of being able to contribute ideas – especially in the workplace. After all, our experiences and knowledge allow us to innovate and solve problems. When someone within a department brings forth an idea, this is their opinion, and it should, at the very least, be worth hearing and acknowledging. Their concept is important enough for them to bring forth and suggest it, so their leaders should consider it important enough to be heard throughout the chain of command. Of course, it may not always be accepted or moved forward, but recognizing its importance will keep the conversation open and provide valuable insight.

Accountability and openness are critical components of successful police leadership, and strong communication is essential to achieving this delicate balance. We must use our natural talent pool within the ranks to ensure that we are constantly evolving and remaining agile. New police graduates bring the cutting-edge knowledge, enthusiasm, and fresh ideas necessary for success. By embracing their unique perspectives and energizing department-wide efforts, we can improve morale throughout our law enforcement communities while still holding ourselves accountable to the public we serve.

As a leader, it is essential to remain actively engaged with your team members to understand their points of view and get the complete picture. Actively listening to feedback fosters an environment of trust within the organization, providing a platform for constructive discussion and preventing rumor mills from forming. In addition, all leaders must be open to embracing change and listening to new ideas. This often requires engaging in meaningful dialogue and fostering a culture of collaboration that encourages creative thinking.

The exchange of information within the department must remain constant, effective, and consistent so that everyone stays on the same page. Frequency is key. In an age of instant information, it is ever more important to share accurate information and ideas routinely. By engaging in open communication, you can ensure that everyone has a stake in decisions that are being made while encouraging progress and growth.

But it all starts with the ability to listen.

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About the author

David Brown is a Captain with the Ohio State Highway Patrol. He has been a motorcycle officer, frontline supervisor, academy instructor, field commander, and leadership development coordinator. He has a bachelor’s degree from the Ohio State University, and a master’s in business administration from Mount Vernon Nazarene University.


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