We are in a new era of professional law enforcement. We are on the cusp of something very exciting in the law enforcement profession and, perhaps unlike past era's, we have unique opportunities presented to us in the form of self-determination within our profession. Because of this we can set the course towards a new level of law enforcement leadership and professionalism. What does this mean? Well, for the future of our profession it could mean a great deal.
The struggle of law enforcement to reach the collective level of leadership and professionalism that we have today has been exactly that; a struggle. It hasn’t always been pretty, and it hasn’t been easy. The nature of what we do is to be reactive and to try to solve problems that already exist, rather than proactively trying to prevent even some of them. We can predict the probability of some crimes, but we cannot predict every crime, or when and where it will happen. In that sense we are very similar to most other businesses in this country. Businesses can predict market trends, but they can’t predict actual market events, they can only respond to them. We provide a service and we are beholden to the needs of our customers, which in this case are the citizens of our communities. But often it is when we start to look at the leadership and organizational development efforts of law enforcement agencies that we begin to see the differences between how we approach things and how the world of business approaches things. In that regard, we too often revert back to our natural instinct; we look at things that have already happened and then we try to understand and solve them.
This is the major difference between the pre-eminent view of leadership in law enforcement, and the view of leadership in the corporate world. We are content to look at what is, or what was, but we are unwilling to look at "what could be". If a corporation were to adopt that philosophy, they would soon find themselves looking up at their competitors, if they could even survive. The “what could be” represents the unknown, and represents risks, for which we in law enforcement have a natural aversion. Yet, just like the corporate world, if we don’t come to recognize the “what could be” and embrace it as the future of our profession, we are dooming the profession of law enforcement to a kind of "rolling stagnation", with our very existence guaranteed only because there is no equivalent with which to replace us.
One of the greatest challenges we face in our profession is the struggle to define ourselves to the public, our communities, and the citizens we serve. Community outreach efforts, social media, and night-out events have made this struggle easier as they have given us the avenues to use in creating and establishing relationships. We use these avenues for our self-promotion, and we hope that we are successful in establishing the goodwill and the community support that we may need to later draw upon at a time of crisis. Ironically, we play the risk-reward game, and we hope that somehow we are defined by the good things we have tried to do, and not the bad things that are sensationalized in media headlines.
The new era of professional law enforcement, however, requires more than just establishing outreach and creating goodwill. As we look ahead at the vision of this new era, we see a law enforcement profession that defines itself through visible leadership and ethical professionalism. In this new era we must shed our reactive nature which has too often allowed others to define our values by illustrating the worst examples they can find, and then to question our commitment to the values which we have sworn to uphold. Professional law enforcement must learn to define itself, to establish our professional vision in the hearts and minds of those that we serve, and to engage and reinforce that vision through excellence in organizational leadership. Wherever we fail to do so, our dedication to professionalism will be defined by others, and we will fail to achieve our desired transformation.
There are many reasons to be proud - extremely proud - of the honored status that American Law Enforcement holds today in our communities. What history has shown us, however, is that with each level of advancement towards professionalism in law enforcement comes an opportunity to reach out towards the “what could be” and define, for ourselves, a new era of law enforcement professionalism.