Mentoring New Officers
By Randy Ranalli
Some people enter our lives and make positive, lasting impacts. Many of these individuals are mentors on some level. Mentors play an important role in helping us develop personally and professionally.
I remember when I started in law enforcement. One night, I went to the department’s gym to work out, just before the start of the night shift. A veteran officer I had not seen before opened the door to the weight room. He just stood there, stared at me, and blurted out, “Who are you?” In my quiet, “new guy” voice I replied, “I’m new and at the academy.” The officer turned and left. That was one of my first exposures to an officer within the department other than those on the hiring committee. What a first impression! Ironically, that officer and I became close friends, and I learned a lot from him.
Some agencies have adopted formal mentorship programs, while others have chosen the more common method of informal mentoring. While taking an informal approach is helpful, departments should consider implementing a formal program. Transitioning from civilian life to law enforcement is challenging. My first interaction with that veteran officer had a lasting effect on me and how I treat new officers. I do not want someone else to have that same experience.
Captain Ranalli serves with the Helena, Montana, Police Department and is a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 282.
Whether sworn or unsworn, all personnel should have some type of formal mentor. Employees’ needs will differ, but the opportunity for success can extend to everyone. When personnel succeed, so does the agency.
A mentorship program, which runs during officers’ probationary period (usually one year), will define the roles and responsibilities of mentors and new hires. Mentors, most significantly, model expected moral and value-based behaviors. They also counsel and guide new officers, helping them plan a career path and set goals. Newly hired officers can request feedback, gain valuable insight, and ask for help when needed. They should clearly define and lay out their career goals with the mentor.
Agency and individual goals can be identified together. A mentorship program gives a department insight on what areas need improvement. These could include gaps in training, officer wellness, and cultural awareness. Beyond the field training officer (FTO) program, officers will become more familiar with the department’s goals and expectations. The mentorship program could serve as an informal intervention for officers who struggle with an issue, allowing them to reach out to their mentor for guidance.
Mentorship is crucial in law enforcement, and programs will evolve along with current trends. Over the last decade or so, officer wellness has been a primary focus of departments. Physical health, mental health, and wellness form the foundation of a happy life and successful career.
Agencies of all sizes can benefit from a formal mentorship program. Smaller departments will face more challenges operating one, but they can still implement an abridged version. One helpful guide highlights five benefits of having a program.
- Ensures that mentoring will be available for all employees
- Promotes agency loyalty and inclusiveness
- Identifies department and employee goals
- Creates structure and documented procedures
- Defines mentor and protégé roles and responsibilities1
Additionally, a mentorship program will aid in overall wellness and help officers succeed. Being a new officer is hectic, with training, shift work, and a new culture. Odd shifts can lead to family challenges and cause sleep deprivation, among other issues. Formal mentoring can help the employing agency decrease officer turnover while potentially identifying any “red flags.” Mentors can view officers through a different lens than FTOs and continue to work with them after field training.
Mentorship programs promote loyalty and inclusiveness. Personnel who work at an agency that takes time to mentor and support its employees should develop more loyalty to the organization. Departments must show personnel they are invested in and sincerely care about them. Mentors get to know officers on a personal level, and this, in turn, helps with inclusiveness. New hires will learn the agency’s culture and positive aspects of the job and organization. They can start building relationships with their colleagues.
“Whether sworn or unsworn, all personnel should have some type of formal mentor.”
Implementing a mentorship program comes with challenges. Agencies will have to determine the minimum qualifications and time of service needed for officers to become a mentor. This could vary due to department size and experience among personnel.
Like with any position, agencies need a formal process to select mentors. At a minimum, there should be an evaluation of the applicant and a committee interview. My agency uses a 10-category job-related evaluation — the same used during the FTO selection process — to score applicants. Two important characteristics needed are enthusiasm and a genuine desire to become a mentor.
Selected mentors will need formal training. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department established one of the few existing formal peer support and mentoring programs, which became a model for law enforcement employer and employee resiliency and wellness response.2 Some agencies may need to take a creative approach, such as sending officers to peer support training combined with officer wellness training.
Another consideration is compensation, whether through pay or time off. A monthly stipend is the easiest way to compensate the mentor. This amount will vary among agencies, and it will be used to negotiate contracts as well. In my department, FTOs receive an extra $2 an hour while training because they stay with the officer at all times. On the other hand, mentors are used when new personnel need them. This could entail a 10-minute phone call or lunch meeting.
In some mentorship programs, officers volunteer. They serve as mentors not for money but to positively impact new officers and have ownership in department processes and procedures. However, mentors take on added responsibilities and should be compensated for their efforts. Mentors could become just as important in an agency as FTOs and first-line supervisors.
Now more than ever, law enforcement officers need to take better care of one another. Unfortunately, we are not always as empathetic as we should be. Agencies interested in officer wellness need to consider new ideas. A mentorship program is an initial step toward creating a positive work environment for new hires and a path to personal and professional wellness.
For Additional Information
Harvey Sprafka and April H. Kranda, Institutionalizing Mentoring into Police Departments, Best Practices Guide (Washington, DC: International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2018)
Captain Ranalli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Harvey Sprafka and April H. Kranda, Institutionalizing Mentoring into Police Departments, Best Practices Guide (Washington, DC: International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2018), https://www.theiacp.org/sites/default/files/2018-08/BP-Mentoring.pdf.
2 Leischen Stelter, “Putting Experience to Work: The Value of a Formal Mentoring Program,” Police 1, April 27, 2017, https://www.police1.com/police-products/training/services/articles/putting-experience-to-work-the-value-of-a-formal-mentoring-program-fUSyk7bjC2U40ZA8/.