Proactive Professional Development
By Andrew A. DeMuth, Jr., M.A.S.
Law enforcement officers must continue developing and growing. They need to stay cognizant of the latest crime trends; maintain proficiency in the use of tools, weaponry, and tactics; and, over time, become familiar with more advanced topics. Officers also must learn the lessons left behind by those who have fallen while performing the same duties. Further, they have to prepare for the future.
Some agencies offer excellent educational opportunities, while others provide only legally required training in such areas as firearms, use of force, and first aid. Either way, the responsibility for growth rests on the individual, not the department.
Officers must take charge of their development. They need to create a plan with short- and long-term goals and then identify and pursue training opportunities to meet their professional needs.
Considering the Importance
Police officers will find substantial value in managing their professional development plan. These personnel will not only enhance their skills but also enjoy considerable benefits.
Today, law enforcement faces challenges like never before. Increased expectations exist at every level of police work. Modern-day officers, especially patrol personnel, need expertise in many different subject areas.
Mr. DeMuth retired as detective sergeant from the Freehold Borough, New Jersey, Police Department and is a current member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association.
Quality instruction can help them effectively respond to calls, deal with difficult situations, and investigate at a higher skill level. Each incident that arises brings a new set of circumstances—sometimes simple, other times complex and unexpected. Responding officers must stand ready.
Law enforcement personnel also should pursue education related to law. Statutes change, legal precedents get reversed, and new policies become implemented. For instance, when conducting a vehicle search based on an overturned law, officers cannot avoid liability simply because they did not receive notification of the change.
Training can recharge and energize personnel. That 1-, 3-, or 5-day class offers a break from normal duties and affords the opportunity to learn new or improved practices. Frequently, officers return to duty much more motivated.
Professional development also enhances employees’ resumes, benefiting them both during and after a law enforcement career. This holds especially true for classes that offer universal training in such areas as leadership, crisis management, and conflict resolution. Personnel should seek a variety of educational experiences to increase their overall value.
Further, while participating in such developmental opportunities, officers can build a network of contacts. At these events, they can introduce themselves to colleagues, organize a group for lunch, and exchange business cards. Personnel should follow up by connecting on social media. A patrol sergeant met today may direct a large security firm in the future.
Developing a Plan
At the beginning of each year, officers should identify any training they wish to attend in the coming 12 months. After completing these courses, they can assess their progress and adjust accordingly for the future. Personnel can choose from a variety of opportunities, which extend beyond those offered by colleges and universities.
Local and regional academies provide in-service instruction, sometimes at little or no cost. Such programs offer ideal ways to receive critical training.
Officers also should pursue advanced education at least annually or biannually. Topics to consider include leadership, interview and interrogation, and forensic science. Many commercial firms offer courses on these and other areas of expertise. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and the 10-week-long FBI National Academy represent additional options.
Additionally, free information exists online, including videos by well-respected thinkers on all aspects of leadership. Numerous articles cover topics ranging from community policing to patrol tactics. Avid readers will find books on almost every law enforcement discipline. Further, certain government websites offer training. FEMA provides a variety of courses on many subjects, including incident command and public relations.
Once officers decide on which opportunities to pursue, they should contact their training officer to determine how many the agency will sponsor. If money becomes an obstacle, employees can offer to pay for the training in exchange for time off to attend.
While requestors should strive to get as much of the cost covered as possible, this may prove difficult. If necessary, officers can raise the issue at the next collective bargaining meeting. Some departments will build a week of professional development training into the resulting contract.
“[T]he responsibility for growth rests on the individual, not the department.”
Considering the importance of continuing education as a long-term investment, personnel should create ways to set funds aside if necessary. For instance, they can allocate a certain percentage of income or save earnings from overtime shifts. Further, in some cases, tuition may be tax deductible.
Because of the nature of their work, officers cannot afford to disregard necessary training simply because their department will not provide the funds. Besides, professionals in many other occupations seek educational opportunities at their own expense to advance skill levels and improve job performance. Law enforcement officers should follow the same practice.
Industry associations provide personnel with additional ways to increase their job knowledge. As a young patrolman, I found membership in my state’s narcotic enforcement officers association beneficial and in line with my interests. Each monthly meeting included a block of instruction on topics ranging from vehicle traps to surveillance techniques. Similar groups exist for most aspects of law enforcement.
In addition to training, associations offer opportunities to form professional relationships and increase credibility. Personnel who hold an office or leadership position will find this especially true.
For a successful law enforcement career, officers must take a proactive approach toward their professional development. They also will enjoy benefits that extend beyond retirement. Many employees plan on a second occupation, and training will help them find opportunities. Any education with universal value can help prepare those seeking employment outside of law enforcement.
Officers must acquire training related to their immediate goals and long-term needs. By complementing this strategy with a strong work ethic and large professional network, they will have an outstanding foundation for exciting possibilities both during their career and beyond.
“Officers must acquire training related to their immediate goals and long-term needs.”
Mr. DeMuth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.