Solving Complex Problems in Modern Policing Through Leadership Enablement

Posted on January 11, 2024
Solving Complex Problems in Modern Policing Through Leadership Enablement

Read any business news story today, and you’ll see some common threads emerging. A global talent shortage, increasing digitization, and general misinformation leading to mistrust of what had historically been reliable sources are top-line issues—but their influence is not limited to the private sector.

Policing is a sector that is challenged in many of the same ways as private sector enterprise, and, unfortunately, the impact is far more significant to the general public.

Digitization is catalyzing new forms of crime. Talent shortages make recruitment and development more costly, risky, and complex. Misinformation and distrust make collaboration with communities and the public more challenging, generally establishing a baseline built on shaky ground as the public questions every statement, decision, and taxpayer-supported expense.

For police services to move forward and continue to meet the evolving needs of communities, leadership in this sector must address the relevant challenges and trends in this industry, particularly those feeding into the cycle of issues such as recruitment, retention, and leadership development.

Strong leadership may help to solve other prevalent issues, helping police organizations enact policies to inform sustainable practices and gain ground on controlling the chain of information and public outreach. A better working environment may also help to attract new talent—digitally-savvy talent in particular—demonstrating a pragmatic connection to today’s issues and clear pathways to solving them.


Technology, Policing, and the Impact of Digitization

While the abovementioned issues are unique containers, they have a symbiotic relationship. Let’s first discuss digitization and how it impacts policing today.

Advances in technology have created the perfect atmosphere for cybercrime to thrive. New forms of crime are advancing rapidly and often much faster than police agencies can recruit for. To solve this problem, police need to be at the forefront of technology, including their top leaders, who must understand technology, its impact, and the skillsets required to get on top of it.

At the same time, police partners (municipalities, ministries of justice, courthouses, etc.) must match policing capabilities in this area. In other words, there is little sense in having a competent law enforcement agency paired with an antiquated justice system.

Tech trends at the forefront of modern policing include:

  • Social media is used for communication and community outreach.
  • Bodycams are used to ensure accurate reporting and accountability.
  • Facial recognition software to enable rapid detection of fugitives and eliminate the innocent.
  • Predictive policing uses AI to enable predictive analysis and prevent crime before it happens.
  • GPS to remotely and accurately track parolees, vehicles, and property with less risk.
  • Enhanced 911 to receive and process text messages, videos, images, etc.
  • Robots can determine the safety of premises before officers enter.
  • Drones to assist search and rescue operations and monitor active situations.
  • Intelligence-led policing predicts behaviours and events using human analysis supported by technology.

A police agency’s ability to adopt and implement any of the above strategies relies on leadership, knowledge of which tech will be most helpful, having the infrastructure to support it, and adequate training for personnel to use these technologies to their greatest potential.


The Talent Shortage in Today’s Policing

Policing is inordinately affected by the talent shortage. Fewer people are applying, negative press, focus on STEM based jobs, politics, bias, and the challenges faced due to increased workloads and risk result in a reduced number of applicants and significantly fewer qualified candidates.

As a result, successful candidates come to the job with less experience and commitment to their role in society. A recent study shows that police departments nationwide cannot hire fast enough to replace outgoing officers and that resignations have increased by almost 50% since 2019.

For those who remain in the job, lower engagement, higher attrition, and more sick days are the norm. As public unrest grows for myriad reasons, this trend does not inspire hope or security for our society.


Lack of Trust is Pervasive

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a measure of public opinion in matters of trust and confidence, public faith in government has dropped 6% in the past year and continues to trend downward. In general, people feel that governments and businesses are not doing enough to address societal issues, nor are they trustworthy when it comes to sharing information.

Such distrust continues to pose imminent challenges to government agencies such as police. Anything that puts a wedge between police and the community they serve makes solving other issues far more complex.


Potential Approaches to Mitigation

Proposed approaches to these external and internal challenges begins with leadership. Distrust, digitization, and talent shortages are complex problems that need carefully curated strategies led by teams of unified, capable leaders.

Today’s police leaders must possess new competencies combined with tried-and-true policing skills.

In addition to having deeper expertise in tech and emerging trends, police leaders need to think strategically when formulating immediate actions. They also need to invest in the longer-term goals of the organization as a whole. Identifying and implementing new technology, prioritizing transparency, having a more visible presence in the community, and collaborating with municipal leaders, ministries, and youth are all prevailing milestones that must be considered.

Unification is also a critical ingredient, as it keeps police agencies pulling in the same direction. Police services are diverse in structure, composition, and needs, as each community has unique concerns. Smaller units might feel marginalized compared to larger police services, creating further regional diversity. Hence, there is a dire need for a unified point of view on policing moving forward.


Final Thoughts on Leadership in Modern Policing

Doubling down on leadership development is a critical starting point for moving police organizations forward. The Toronto Police Service and York Regional Police are taking steps to enable the required changes. They have identified crucial leadership behaviours and skills needed to gain traction and move closer to their organizational goals and are working with Schulich ExecEd to manifest transformation.

“The partnership with Schulich’s Executive Education (Schulich ExecEd) exemplifies innovation, delivering a hyper-customized ‘Future of Leadership in Policing’ program, tailored to YRP’s core values and the diverse roles within the organization,” says Inspector Chirag Bhatt of the York Regional Police.

In partnership with Schulich ExecEd, York Regional Police and Toronto Police Services have customized a leadership development program that addresses key soft and hard leadership skills that will support transformation and inform progress in policing, building foundations for a more sustainable and trustworthy public institution.

“The ‘Future of Leadership in Policing’ program fills a crucial gap by equipping members with leadership skills early in their careers, emphasizing the importance of initiative, accountability, risk analysis, personal brand, and effective communication. This ground-breaking program not only addresses core policing functions but also expands thinking to embrace creative leadership, new strategies, and innovative thinking, preparing YRP members for the complexities of modern policing,” explains Bhatt.