By Terry L. Hunt, Executive Director, Law Enforcement Assistance Connection
n most professions, people consider networking a necessary skill that leads to new jobs and new customers. As personal experience has taught me through more than a decade of working with law enforcement professionals, networking is an enjoyable social practice that—enacted strategically—can enhance officers’ status in the profession and establish them as results-oriented, “go-to” people who build strong, effective, and mutually beneficial relationships with others. Networking is invaluable when seeking resources of any kind—financial, material, or human—for any crime prevention or community involvement program.
My story of networking success started with a simple dream: to become a sworn police officer. Being wheelchair bound prevented me from realizing this dream. Undeterred, I sought to help the law enforcement professionals whom I met during my attempts to become a sworn officer. From a series of informal discussions, I decided to form a nonprofit organization—the Law Enforcement Assistance Connection (LEAC).
As the law enforcement career path becomes increasingly professionalized, networking becomes increasingly vital. With more than 16 years of experience at all levels of federal, state, and local law enforcement, and now through LEAC, I have established a broad national network of law enforcement professionals. LEAC has become a nexus for connecting law enforcement professionals with one other—whether for professional, financial, career assistance, or other purposes.
The story here is not what I do through LEAC, but how the LEAC network was built on a series of mutually beneficial relationships.
In my experience, “networking” implies connections but ignores the importance of relationships. Networking is not about the number of business contacts in officers’ Blackberries, but rather the quality of relationships they enjoy. Those relationships are essential for cutting through the bureaucratic red tape that hinders performance and process improvement. Countless times, a quick phone call to one of my LEAC “buddies” has solved a problem for another professional in my network.
When seeking to establish a networking relationship, officers should ask themselves what they have to offer the person with whom they wish to network. The most effective networkers give more than they take.
Used respectfully and on the basis of true give-and-take relationships, networking can be the key to successfully capturing a fugitive, closing a business deal, or meeting the leadership of a highly publicized corporation that wants to support an officer’s cause.■
The Nine Essential Law Enforcement Networking Skills
- Quality versus Quantity: The number of people you know is unimportant—rather, it’s the quality of your contacts. Who are the decision makers? Influencers? Whom can you help and how?
- Slow Down: In law enforcement especially, effective relationships take time. Get to know people both from a business perspective and a personal perspective.
- Go Low-Tech: In some cases, a quick phone call can be more efficient than many e-mail messages. Pick up the phone and even find time to meet face to face. E-mail is fine when sending documents, graphics, or directions—but don’t overuse it.
- Diversity Counts: The old-boy network is alive and well, but so are many others. In law enforcement, your best bet is to network with many diverse contacts.
- Introductions Rule! It is the ultimate form of flattery when someone takes time out of their day to introduce you. This tactic separates name-droppers from genuine networkers.
- Build Third-Party Contacts: Introduce and connect people who you think may benefit from knowing each other, and do so without being asked. This way you can reconnect with someone without needing anything from them and so become a “networking node.”
- Avoid 9-1-1 Networking: Build relationships before you need them. The time to network is not when you need someone or something, but well in advance.
- Make Random “Hello” Calls: When someone’s name comes up in a conversation or comes to mind, make a random “hello” call. No agenda or reason is necessary; simply share that the person was in your thoughts and you wanted to connect.
- Practice Passion: Each of us got into law enforcement because we are passionate about the profession’s cause. Demonstrate your passion for the public safety community and your fellow citizens by using your talent and knowledge to help others.
From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 10, October 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.