women in federal law enforcement

First Line Supervisors are the First Defense Against Attrition

I was reading the new resource guide published by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) on implementing new performance management in agencies which is a nice way of saying law enforcement needs to rewrite and revamp its entire management system.

Once you change the position descriptions and performance evaluations, everything needs to change in accordance. PERF actually has examples on how to tie position descriptions and performance to the actual evaluation, which is a process requiring supervisors and managers to observe and evaluate performance. The evaluation criterion is written so that only five to 10 percent of personnel could be rated outstanding. Everybody else would be fully successful. The system describes the importance of the first line supervisor and how poor supervisors are at their jobs historically.

First line supervisors are the most important position in law enforcement and law enforcement officials spend no real time or effort making them into effective supervisors. Supervisors in many agencies really do nothing more than fill out forms.

Employees expect supervisors to teach, coach, mentor and yes, supervise them. Supervisors are supposed to understand the difference between performance and behavior in order to correct performance and punish bad behavior. Supervisors help employees develop realistic goals and attain those goals.

The PERF research cited that poor supervision and management are the primary reasons that people leave an agency. Employees typically report salary as their reason for leaving, but in reality, employees say salary because they fear that their agency will “trash them” to their new employer. Now, what does that say about the people selected for those supervisory positions?  What does it say about the agency?  When you add that some of the research showed that the cost of attrition in federal law enforcement could be as high as $250,000 per person, it doesn’t take long to see that millions of dollars are needlessly lost to the recruiting, hiring, and basic training process.

Why doesn’t anybody do something about this?  Well there are a few reasons. First, when people aren’t truthful about why they leave, it gives leadership an excuse not to do anything because they have no control over salary. In addition, most agency leadership does not distinguish between attrition through retirement, which is the highest number, and attrition due to other reasons.

Law enforcement actually has a low attrition rate when compared to other professions, but other professions do not come close to the expense of hiring federal law enforcement officers. On paper, the agency looks good with nothing to fix. Yet, surveys tell an entirely different story.

The profession at all levels needs to reevaluate not only how they train supervisors but also how they select them. Supervision cannot be about attaining a level of power or a bump in salary, it is about taking a real interest in developing the people who will assume the leadership roles of the agency.

While the profession has many leaders, several are not natural leaders with the ability to leave a room full of people in awe. Most need help. Supervisors need continuous training to develop the skillset needed to supervise employees and develop their leadership skills so they become better law enforcement officers than the generation before them.


Women in Federal Law Enforcement Inc. (wifle.org) is a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization chartered in June 1999 as an outgrowth of an interagency committee sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Treasury. The WIFLE Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, was incorporated in March 2006. Both organizations work to promote the value that women bring to the law enforcement profession and address the reasons why women remain underrepresented in sworn law enforcement positions.

The WIFLE organizations advocate the recruitment, retention and promotion of women in federal law enforcement occupations as a means to enhance the efficacy of law enforcement operations.

Posted in Hear it from WIFLE

Tags: WIFLE, law enforcement training, leadership training

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