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Toward a Profession of Police Leadership

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2015
20 pages

One in a series of papers that will be published as a result of the Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management's Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety, this paper discusses the reasons and directions for reframing police leadership and its development.


The paper first argues that the individual characteristics of leaders remains the focus of police leadership discussions; however, an understanding of the environment in which leaders develop and operate is lacking. The environment in which police agencies operate is then characterized as complex and ever-changing as threats to public safety change, as do criminal methods and the cultural influences that mold people's behavior. Responding to such a complex environment requires new learning, innovation, and ongoing reforms. Leadership in such a complex environment involves being an enabler of the learning, innovation, and adaptation required to function effectively in a complex environment. The top-down bureaucratic administrator accustomed to dealing with well-known, fixed problems is not the type of leadership needed. What is needed are leaders who can cultivate a learning organization where people continually expand their capacity to achieve desired results in the face of complex and changing problems. In such an organization, this paper distinguishes between "training" and "development." Training involves teaching proven solutions to identified problems. Development has the goal of building capacity to respond to a range of unknown and unforeseen problems. Leadership in the public safety enterprise requires development more than training. It recognizes that training will be constantly changing as new and innovative approaches to complex public safety issues are developed.

Date Published: June 1, 2015