Does this sound familiar: the senior patrol sergeant in the department has been performing up to his normally high standards, but appears to be unfocused while approving reports and doing other routine paperwork? How about a two-year officer who goes to his sergeant and explains that the new cleaners in town said they would clean his uniforms for free. He is uncomfortable but not sure what to do. Or even the new burglary detective who is getting more than his share of requests for additional information from the prosecutor.
These are all symptoms of employees needing direction. Some of these situations are certainly covered in the department manual of standards but all can and should be covered between the employee and his mentor. The commander can find out from the sergeant that he is unsure of his future, should he test for the next promotion or should he stay in patrol.
The young officer has an idea about the morals and ethics of your department, but needs reinforcement. The detective would have been more familiar with the filing guidelines of the prosecutor’s office after a get acquainted visit there with a senior detective. All are examples of the benefits of an active mentoring program in your department.
Definition of Mentoring
The mentoring process involves a more experienced individual helping someone less experienced to develop his capabilities and maximize his potential. This simple sentence covers a wide range of actions in endeavors ranging from toddlers passing on the secrets of tossing a toy to the intricacies of field sobriety tests for drinking drivers.
The role of the mentor is to take his knowledge and pass it along. This knowledge can involve general career guidance or it can involve the skills necessary to perform specific tasks. The distinction that many appear to make between mentors and trainers is a fine and often unclear line.
In the Auburn Police Department (APD) we use mentoring in both career guidance and training for specific areas. Many techniques for dealing with and assisting the citizens we serve are passed on from senior officers to those who do not have the experience with these situations. Officers need several methods of controlling and resolving situations and are constantly learning what works and does not work from each other.
Formal mentoring takes place at the APD at several points in an officer’s career. It takes place in the field and the office. There is occasionally documentation of the session with learning new skills or enhancing existing skills the object. Formal mentoring is a one-on-one experience. It allows both parties to freely express themselves.
The mentor has the opportunity to pass on specific and timely guidance that assists the officer with recognizing their individual strong and weak points. Mentoring can guide the officer toward additional training or resources that will help them develop into a more professional and well-rounded officer. There may be a specific goal or topic to the session or it can be wide ranging.
At the APD informal mentoring takes place every day. Informal mentoring may take place with an individual or a group. Informal mentoring is very useful in passing on the tradition and lore of the department. Fortunately for us, seriously traumatic events are not everyday occurrences. The way the department has responded to these events in the past will give a good indication as to how we will respond in the future.
As a sergeant and mentor, I occasionally bring this topic up at crew briefings to explain the department response and some optimal individual responses. Officers gain some experience hearing and talking about these events and will hopefully be able to function should one of these events take place while they are at work.
Traits and Characteristics of a Mentor
The best mentors are people with a passion for and thorough knowledge about a subject or profession with the ability to pass on that passion and knowledge. They need the ability to listen to others and to smoothly and unobtrusively guide them to discover answers for themselves. The impulse to take over and accomplish something quicker and perhaps easier needs to be held in check.
Mentors need the ability to honestly evaluate others and provide open and honest feedback without crushing the desire to learn. The goal of mentoring is to improve the individual. People being mentored will know in their head that the object is to enhance their professionalism and career, but they will not and should not blindly accept the suggestions of the mentor. The mentor needs the ability to explain their ideas and reasoning so it makes sense to the “mentee” and not be so proud of and involved with the ownership of their suggestion that they feel slighted when a suggestion is not accepted or used.
Does Mentoring Work?
We have all seen the senior sergeant or officer who has lost their focus. They perform the daily tasks of their position almost by rote memorization and focus on immediate tactical problems. When these employees are approached and mentored by someone they respect and trust the reason for this loss of focus is usually just a conversation away.
A mentor can point out this lack of focus with no judgment attached and assist the employee find the focus for which they are looking. Many officers and sergeants have difficulty finding that next challenge or defining the next goal. A mentor can make the next step in a career easier to envision and provide advice as how to achieve it.
Active and intense mentoring usually takes place when promotional and special assignment testing is announced. Hopeful candidates can be seen in all of the commander’s and sergeant’s offices.
Currently at the APD we have several formal and informal mentoring practices in place. These practices are successful to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the individual program and those responsible to provide the mentoring.
Formal Mentoring Practices
The three formal mentoring programs we use are the Field Training Officer Program (FTO), the annual performance review, and the Sergeant’s Training and Resource Manual (STRM). The FTO program is a six-month training and mentoring program for new officers. All newly hired officers attend the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission Basic Law Enforcement Academy.
This six-month course is designed to provide the new officer with the basic knowledge in criminal law, patrol procedures, and investigation. When the officer returns to the department we place them with specifically selected and trained field training officers. They ride in the same car as their training officer for three months, switching trainers with every four week phase, and are on solo patrol for the final three months of the program.
The first three phases have specific training objectives with proficiency testing before moving onto the next phase. Informally the training officer imbues the trainee with the lore and philosophy of the department. The morals and ethics of law enforcement are stressed in all real and hypothetical situations. How the department operates and relates to the other city departments is also an important part of the process. During FTO the trainee officer will be receiving guidance and suggestions that will guide their thoughts, actions and their career for years.
Other formal mentoring takes place preparing for and during the annual performance review. There are 18 specific areas that are rated along with individual goals and objectives for each review period. The sergeant will speak with each officer monthly regarding any areas of possible concern and check on their progress toward their annual goals and objectives.
During the formal review meeting we will look at the past year and rate the officer in each category. We will challenge the officer in at least one area to perform a task that is beyond their usual daily assignment. The sergeant and officer will also select specific goals and objectives that both agree will enhance the officer’s career, the essence of mentoring.
The third type of formal mentoring takes place when an officer is promoted to sergeant. There is a department STRM that the new sergeant and their commander will review and ensure the new sergeant knows and understands their new duties. This is a time for the commander to train and mentor the new sergeant in the expectations and requirements of their new position.
Informal Mentoring Practices
Informal mentoring takes place in several ways at the Auburn Police Department. The most common is at the daily crew briefing before the patrol crew goes on patrol. The sergeant or senior officer will brief other officers on the significant criminal activity and events in the city during the past 24 hours.
Occasionally there will be in-service training and usually there will be a discussion of current events inside and outside law enforcement. This is the time where the department philosophy will be discussed and explained to the younger officers. The chief and administration set general and specific policy guidelines but each sergeant will run their crew a little differently. Sergeants will explain their philosophy and how it fits into the department philosophy and why they feel the way they do.
Each sergeant has entered the profession from different sections of society and reached his current position through different career paths. They each will have different views on various divisions of the department and what is necessary to be a well-rounded and successful officer and for promotion. Informal mentoring also takes place daily with roadside meets and breaks.
Officers will meet in the field with sergeants and senior officers when there is a question that comes up in their daily activity. After the initial question is answered, the discussion usually continues as to how changing the situation may change the answer. Personal and career questions are frequent topics during these roadside discussions.
As officers mature and increase their skill and knowledge base they can be the officer in charge (OIC) at a selected crime scene. The sergeant can guide them as they direct the work and investigations of other officers. Time management and prioritization skills are very important and the sergeant can guide the officer as they learn these skills.
As officers show more leadership potential they are currently selected as OIC for the crew. These officers run the crew when the sergeant is not available. This can range for several hours during the shift or several days while the sergeant is on vacation. We have recently initiated a 23-point formal mentoring program for officers selected for OIC. These areas cover topics that range from amber alerts to uniform inspections. These officers are placed into the position of sergeant with the same authority and responsibility. Ensuring they know and understand these responsibilities is one of my most important roles as a mentor.
Special assignments are another area where additional mentoring would benefit the department. Currently when an officer is assigned to a specialty assignment like detective or traffic, they work with someone in that position for several days and then are assigned their own caseload or area of responsibility.
Since there are so many different ways to be successful in police work I feel that currently, ways that might work best are found by individual trial and error. If there was an established method of exposing the new detective or traffic officer to a wide range of methods and options available they would be able to select the ones that were right for them. If they discover that a particular method does not work as well as they expected, there should be a ready resource for them to return to for additional guidance.
Perfect World Scenario
Every employee should select a formal mentor. That mentor would be assigned to them and would share responsibility for their career development. New employees could be assigned to their sergeant for their first year or two, but when they became more familiar and comfortable with available mentors, they can select their own.
Mentors in every grade and position would be designated. Since effective mentoring involves more than pointing out the obvious, temperament and training would be a factor in selection. These mentors would meet as needed, but at least semiannually to assist the mentee in any way. This happens in a manner with sergeants and their crews, but due to personalities, not every sergeant is the best match for everyone on their crew.
How to Start Your Mentoring Program
Even if there is no formal program established in your department today, there are several individuals to seek out for advice. These individuals should be trusted and knowledgeable.
When initiating a formal mentoring program there are several steps to be considered.
The goals of your program should reflect the needs and desires of your department. Suggested goals would be employee personal and professional growth, training for future supervisors, and career guidance.
Mentors need to have earned respect from their peers and the department as a whole. Those selected as formal mentors should be knowledgeable about your department and understand the policing philosophy of your city or county and your department. They need to be problem solvers. They need the ability to see beyond the topic of today and recognize underlying problems when they exist.
They must have the ability to suggest a path to the solution not just try to hade the employee a “Solution.” Mentors at all levels of the department need to be chosen. An officer will be comfortable with other officers or a sergeant, but will rarely approach a command officer while sergeants and commanders will not usually ask for advice from a patrol officer.
A mentoring program sets the stage for the future of your department. Mentors who concentrate on short-term goals will leave a gap in the training of the officers and sergeants. While each of us is here for a short time, probably no more than 25 or 30 years, our departments are here for the life of our jurisdictions. Mentors must keep this long-term commitment in mind.
Robert Crouch is a 24-year veteran of the Auburn, WA Police Department and a sergeant since 1994. He has worked patrol, traffic, detectives, community programs, and inspectional services, and is currently serving under patrol.