Increasing Leadership Capacity in Law Enforcement: An Inclusive Community Approach

Leading in law enforcement is becoming increasingly more of a strategic process in the 21st century. Leading (and managing) others exposes leaders’ professional and personal abilities, as expansive or as sparse as they might be. The higher a leader climbs up the law enforcement ladder, the more quickly his or her leadership skills will lead to success or failure. A leader preferring to be transformational and impactful will certainly lead by maximizing capacity.

All public safety executives can relate to doing more with less, but leading by tapping into all available resources, or capacity, can effectively move the community and agency in a positive direction. Often there are crime trends, crime spikes, and other community concerns that need to be addressed with limited resources. Law enforcement professionals daily experience this dearth. This scarcity of resources challenges officials to focus the appropriate resources on areas where they can achieve huge impacts in a short period of time. Reallocating patrol officers to high crime areas, soliciting assistance from the community, conducting a field roll call on a street where citizens say they never see the police, or ensuring technology is properly deployed are all examples of effectively utilizing law enforcement resources. Effectively building leadership capacity through people, technology, and time, is a process that maximizes the limited resources within a given agency. Leading change in law enforcement through managing capacity is crucial in sustaining long-term success.


People are certainly the most noticeable resource that drives change. Police executives, supervisors, and rank-and-file officers are always essential components in ensuring change is successful. However, all stakeholders must be included or considered in the decision-making process to maximize change capacity. Obtaining information and feedback from all involved makes them feel included and causes them to buy in to the change agenda, and their insight will prove invaluable if garnered in support of the agency. For example, research shows that 69 percent of police officers feel that it is very important to have community meetings to identify problems and solutions, and 71 percent of officers feel that crime mapping is very important as a community problem-solving tactic.1 Employing this insight by putting crime mapping data into packets and distributing those specifics at community meetings will jointly aid in reducing crime and building community-police relations, making more effective use of the community as a resource.

Law enforcement executives have to factor in elected officials, community advocates, interfaith representatives, and other important figures when looking at the community as a resource. Police commanders must look for ways to support and host community stakeholders in volunteer activities, community harm reduction initiatives, or in citizen police academies. Citizens who participate in citizen police academies tend to want to do more to cooperate with law enforcement. Those cooperative actions include providing information about crimes, fundraising, writing to newspapers in defense of officers’ actions, collaborating with police, and serving on advisory boards.2 This garnering of public support is an important element of maximizing law enforcement capacity. A continuous effort to be transparent and inclusive with the community will make the most positive impact for both the agency and external stakeholders.

Building leadership capacity through the use of technology is also vital when tough challenges and changes are present. Any means a manager can use to maximize efficiency, especially when manpower is a challenge, must be considered. It is easy to overlook common tools such as tag readers, in-car cameras, and body-worn cameras, to name a few, but these items often effectively supplement boots on the ground. This same theory applies to various communication tools. Cellphones, email, and the many social media platforms available must be incorporated into operational strategy for the sake of capacity. Research shows that residents will be more engaged in “problem solving and have stronger partnerships with the police if they are engaged in a web-based data collection and problem-solving process.”3 Building police capacity in this manner will cause community members’ confidence to rise regarding their own abilities to solve local issues. Managing community-police problem-solving partnerships does not have to always be about deploying the latest and most expensive technological advancements. It can be done by following through on strategies that are currently in place if the data suggest that those technologies are effective.

In addition, to employing the community and technology resources available, police executives need to remember the unofficial leaders within the organization. These officers of all ranks are most often the seasoned veterans who have established themselves as mentors that the other officers look to for personal and professional guidance. Including the organization’s informal leaders in the decision-making process makes sure that all internal stakeholders are involved and prepared to strive for change along with the executive leadership.

However, making full use of these resources cannot be accomplished without first being a strong leader. Criminal justice professor Joseph Schafer’s research indicates that “leadership skills are best developed through a combination of education, experience, and mentorship.”4 In a recent survey of more than 1,000 police supervisors, 69.8 percent included honesty and integrity among the top five traits and habits of effective leaders.5 These attributes that must be reflected in law enforcement supervisors for them to effectively engage internal and external stakeholders to maximize capacity.


Law enforcement executives are essential to the ongoing processes of decreasing crime, building positive community-police relations, and addressing community disorder. Police managers that effectively include all stakeholders in accomplishing objectives are often seen as participating in shared leadership. This leadership action is characterized by including others while driving organizational change.6 Transformational leadership consists of a vertical leadership approach. “The theory is centered on the assumption that leaders can change followers’ beliefs and behaviors by appealing to their higher order needs.”7 Law enforcement executives must create an organizational culture where a continued pipeline of leadership development and mentoring runs between management and supervisors and between supervisors and rank-and-file officers.

Being transparent and including the community in all aspects of law enforcement decisions (except for sensitive public safety intelligence) are very beneficial in building an agency’s capacity. Doing more with fewer resources is a common challenge that police executives face; however, the scarcity of resources is neither an appropriate excuse nor a defense for failing to achieve expected results. Leaders must be self-motivated to achieve the success that the police department and the community deserve. In fact, 43.6 percent of police supervisors say that having a strong work ethic is among the top five traits and habits of effective leaders.8

When all the required components are in place and mobilized for a common cause, the goals are often more attainable. Whether reducing burglaries or increasing the public’s confidence in the police agency, the attempt must not be only internal—the entire agency must partner with the community, without hesitation, to effectively and efficiently solve problems. It takes mutual respect and trust to bridge perceived gaps in confidence, and this “building of bridges” is what increasing capacity entails. Getting everyone involved to successfully work together on quality-of-life matters, orchestrated by sound and respected leaders, solves problems and makes communities safer.


1 Michael J. Jenkins, “Police Support for Community Problem-solving and Broken Windows Policing,” American Journal of Criminal Justice 41, no. 2 (2016): 220–235. (Jenkins, 2016).
2 Joanne Brewster, Michael Stoloff, and Nicole Sanders, “Effectiveness of Citizen Police Academies in Changing the Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behavior of Citizen Participants,” American Journal of Criminal Justice 30, no. 1 (September 2005): 21–34.
3 Lisa M. Graziano, Dennis P. Rosenbaum, and Aimee M. Schuck, “Building Group Capacity for Problem Solving and Police-Community Partnerships through Survey Feedback and Training: A Randomized Control Trial within Chicago’s Community Policing Program,” Journal of Experimental Criminology 10, no. 1 (March 2014): 79–103.
4 Joseph A. Schafer, “Developing Effective Leadership in Policing: Perils, Pitfalls, and Paths Forward,” Policing 32, no. 2 (2009): 238–260, 238.
5 Joseph A. Schafer, “Effective Leaders and Leadership in Policing: Traits, Assessment, Development, and Expansion,” Policing 33, no.4 (2010): 644–663.
6 Doris Masal, “Shared and Transformational Leadership in the Police,” Policing 38, no. 1 (2015): 40–55.
7 Masal, “Shared and Transformational Leadership in the Police,” 42.
8 Schafer, “Effective Leaders and Leadership in Policing.”

Please cite as

Kirk McLean, “Increasing Leadership Capacity in Law Enforcement: An Inclusive Community Approach,” The Police Chief (January 2018),