Is the “New Guard” prepared to lead in law enforcement?
Buckingham Palace has an elaborate changing of the guard ceremony. The ritual is called “Guard Mounting” and replaces the old sentinels with new soldiers in a formal manner that befits the solemnity of protecting their country’s Queen.
At our nation’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the changing of the Honor Guard comes complete with weapon and uniform inspection. After all, the guardsmen who protect our symbol of war heroes who’ve given their lives to protect our nation’s freedom must be impeccably prepared.
One would think that our local and state police would approach the changing of police leadership with the same level of preparation. Unfortunately, evidence indicates that police leadership succession plans are largely ignored.
Succession planning critical
Hector Garcia, EdD, University of Phoenix College of Criminal Justice and Security faculty member, conducted a survey of senior law enforcement officials in 2010. In an article that details the findings, he found that approximately 75% of the 209 respondents said their precincts and organizations had no succession plans in place.
According to Garcia, this could create a gap in trained police leaders as officers with seniority retire. “It is clear that more work must be done in communicating the importance of succession planning in policing organizations before retiring baby boomers create a gap in leadership that could affect public safety on local, state and national levels.”
In fact, a police union retirement program, referred to as “3-percent-at-50,” is cited as a motivation for early retirement (Michelson, 2006), which could further intensify the need. The program provides 3% of officers’ salaries at age 50 for every year that they’ve served. If an officer has served for 30 years, he or she is eligible for 90% of their average base pay, which may incentivize long-serving officers to call it quits at nearly full pay.
Preparing new leadership
As new management-level officers are sought to replace retiring officers, identifying the traits of successful in-house candidates and create a career development path is imperative (Michelson, 2006). An organization’s focus should be on identifying, training and retaining viable performers.
A formal succession plan should be implemented to ensure that candidates receive the training to acquire the management and communication skills needed to lead. The emphasis should include the responsibility that the individual must take on in order to effectively manage the agency.
In addition to formal education, young officers can learn during informal sessions, too. Tom Milner, a University of Phoenix faculty member and police leader, considers the legacy he’s leaving and advocates mentoring to help create a continuum of leadership within policing organizations.
In an article about how mentoring can benefit law enforcement entities, he explains, “Informal mentoring is important because there’s a special camaraderie formed by hallway conversations and lunchroom chats that doesn’t happen in classrooms. I’ve found that in these situations senior officers are more accessible to junior officers, which creates a comfortable give-and-take relationship.”
Clearly, preparing our next generation of police leaders requires immediate action as more officers approach retirement age. In this way, we can ensure an effective changing of the guard and keep our communities protected.