An Officer’s Principal Weapon is His Mind: Professional Development In Policing

Professional police development is designed to develop creative, thinking officers, who will eventually become leaders, leading thinking officers. My definition of a professional police development is not solely about formal education although this is part of it. My definition is focused more on professional development and job focused training. Professional police education is also very much about the autodidacts those self learners who strive to reach high levels of professionalism on their own.

Autodidacticism or self-education (also self-learning and self-teaching) is the education without the guidance of masters (such as teachers and professors) or institutions (such as schools). Generally, an autodidact is an individual who chooses the subject they will study, their studying material and the studying rhythm and time. An autodidact may or may not have formal education, and their study may be either a complement or an alternative to it. Many notable contributions have been made by autodidacts.

A officers career, from the initial stages of training, should be viewed as a continuous, progressive process of development. At each stage of an officers career, he/she should be preparing for the subsequent stage. The early stages of an officer’s career are, in effect, his apprenticeship. While receiving a foundation in professional theory and concepts that will serve him throughout his career, the leader focuses on understanding the requirements and learning and applying the procedures and techniques associated with his field. This is when he learns his trade as a police officer.

As he progresses, the officer should have mastered the requirements of his apprenticeship and should understand the interrelationship of the techniques and procedures within the Justice System. His goal is to become an highly educated and trained professional.

As an officer continues to develop, he should understand the interrelationship between his field and all the other fields within the criminal justice system. He should be an expert in tactics and techniques and should understand conflict, violence and crisis and how to use the tools of his craft. He should be studying the operational level of crisis response.

The responsibility for implementing professional police development in policing is three-tiered: it resides not only with the education establishment, but also with the leaders and the individual.

The education establishment consists of those schools— administered by the Municipal Police Training Committee, the Police Department, or outside agencies, to include colleges and universities—established to provide formal education in the art and science of policing. In all officer education particularly, schools should focus on developing a talent for police officer judgment, not on imparting knowledge through rote learning. Study conducted by the education establishment can neither provide complete career training for an individual nor reach all individuals. Rather, it builds upon the base provided by leaders and by individual study.

All leaders should consider the professional development of their officers a principal responsibility of command. Leaders should foster a personal teacher-officer relationship with their officers. Leaders are expected to conduct a continuing professional education program for their officers which includes, developing judgment and decision making and, teaches general professional subjects and specific technical subjects pertinent to occupational specialties.

Useful tools for general professional development include professional reading programs, decision making exercises, drills and full scale exercises (not just crisis but for any technical or adaptive problem), crisis studies, and studies human dimension of policing. Leaders should see the development of their officers as a direct reflection on themselves.

Finally, every officer has a basic responsibility to study the profession of policing on his own. A leader without either interest in or knowledge of the history and theory of human conflict and societal issues— the intellectual content of his profession— is a leader in appearance only. Self-study in the art and science of conflict resolution and problem solving is at least equal in importance— and should receive at least equal time— to maintaining physical condition. This is particularly true among officers; after all, an officer’s principal weapon is his mind.

Stay Oriented!