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Back to Archives | Back to January 2008 Contents 

Institutionalizing Mentoring in Police Departments

By Harvey Sprafka, Chief of Police (Retired), Knoxville, Iowa; and Lieutenant April H. Kranda (Retired), Fairfax County Police Department, Fairfax, Virginia

entoring is a mutually beneficial relationship in which a knowledgeable and skilled veteran officer (a mentor) provides insight, guidance, and developmental opportunities to a lesser-skilled and experienced colleague (a protégé).

Mentoring is not a new concept or practice. History abounds with examples of professional mentoring. Mentor was the name of the man charged with providing wisdom, advice, and guidance to King Odysseus’s son in the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey. During the Middle Ages, boys served as apprentices to masters in a craft or trade while gaining skills to eventually qualify as a journeyman and, finally, as a master. During this time, the mentoring relationship ensured the continuity and quality of the craft handed down to the next generation.

The modern concept of mentoring, which has recently been used to recruit and retain new employees effectively in business and academic institutions, provides the law enforcement community with an opportunity to engage and anchor new employees at a time when industry competition for these employees is at an all-time high.

There are three primary goals of a mentoring relationship: to promote professional growth, to inspire personal motivation, and to enhance effectiveness of police service.

Mentoring Benefits for Mentors

Mentors can enjoy the following benefits:

  • A personal sense of reward for spotlighting and developing talent

  • Enhanced knowledge of department policies and procedures as well as contemporary policing practices

  • Paving the way for others, thereby leaving a positive legacy in the agency

  • A reputation as a valuable member of the organization and the respect of colleagues

  • Varying perspectives from protégés, which foster creativity

  • “Getting by giving”

Frequently, people become mentors because they were previously protégés who experienced the rewards of a mentoring relationship. Others become mentors because they wish a mentor had been available to them during their career. Whatever the reason, mentors derive great satisfaction from seeing a colleague succeed with their help.

Mentoring Benefits for Protégés

Of course, protégés also benefit from the mentoring process in several ways:

  • An increased likelihood for success; mentors help protégés gain competency and avoid failure

  • Assistance in setting goals and charting career paths

  • Encouragement and opportunities for new experiences and professional growth

  • Help in avoiding pitfalls and learning through real-life examples

  • An enhanced feeling of worth to the mentor and the organization

  • A boost in self-confidence resulting from positive feedback on their achievements

Many successful people attribute their achievements to a mentoring relationship. Many “repay” their debt to the mentor and the organization by going on to serve as mentors themselves. When mentoring begins with new employees, it is the first step toward institutionalizing mentoring in the department.

Formal versus Informal Mentoring

Some police organizations have implemented new-hire mentoring programs as a method of reducing employee turnover, whereas others have chosen the more common method of informal mentoring. Examples of informal mentoring have occurred throughout the history of policing. Typically, veteran officers encourage friends or acquaintances to apply for positions in their departments. As a result, there is a natural tendency for these veteran officers to encourage, support, and give information to their friends during the hiring and training period. This informal mentoring relationship provides an advantage to new employees by helping them feel connected to their new departments.

However, there are some distinct benefits of formal mentoring. The best reason for creating a formal process is that it affords every employee the opportunity and benefit of mentoring and promotes loyalty and inclusiveness within the organization. In addition, a formal mentoring process identifies goals, creates structure and procedures, and defines mentor/protégé roles and responsibilities. Although the program requires time to plan and initiate and requires some oversight, it often results in enhanced employee self-esteem and a perception that the agency is a great place to work. Whether launching a formal mentoring program or creating a mentoring environment in an organization, mentoring can improve and promote any leadership initiative.

Institutionalizing Mentoring: A Step-by-Step Plan

For law enforcement agencies interested in improving effective recruitment, retention, and personnel leadership development by initiating a mentoring program, a suggested step-by-step mentoring plan follows.

  1. Teach mentoring skills to all employees (sworn and civilian)

  2. Chief must demonstrate and support total agency mentoring

  3. Establish formal new hire mentoring process

  4. A. Appoint mentor coordinator
    B. Identify employee work group
    C. Draft mentoring policies and procedures
    D. Define mentor/protégé roles and responsibilities
    E. Select and train mentors
    F. Pair mentors and new hires
    G. Evaluate and fine-tune process
  5. Create career development mentoring system

  6. A. Identify command coordinator
    B. Identify supervisory work group
    C. Draft career planning/goal-setting policies and procedures
    D. Define mentor/protégé roles and responsibilities
    E. Select and train mentors and protégés
    F. Pair mentors and protégés
    G. Evaluate and fine-tune process
  7. Succession planning

  8. A. Chief mentors commanders
    B. Commanders mentor supervisors
    C. Supervisors mentor line employees
    D. Officers/civilian employees mentor colleagues and new hires
  9. Chief grooms and prepares successor

What Mentors and Protégés Do

Before defining the roles and responsibilities of mentors, the goals of the mentoring process should be understood by mentors and protégés. For example, consider a new-hire mentoring process. Is the goal to provide a welcoming atmosphere that will anchor the new employee to the organization, to provide a career development mentoring process to help employees identify and map out career targets, to begin a mentoring program that ensures the continuity and quality of the next generation of police leaders, or all three of these? Once mentoring program goals are identified, the roles and responsibilities of mentors and protégés must be established in order to avoid confusion and potential conflict as well as to maximize program success.

Mentors have the following responsibilities:

  • Encouraging and modeling value-focused behavior

  • Sharing critical knowledge and experience

  • Listening to personal and professional challenges

  • Setting expectations for success

  • Offering wise counsel

  • Helping to build self-confidence

  • Offering friendship and encouragement

  • Providing information and resources

  • Offering guidance, giving feedback, and cheering accomplishments

  • Discussing and facilitating opportunities for new experiences and skill building

  • Assisting in mapping a career plan

The mentoring relationship requires commitment and shared responsibility for protégés as well. The partners should discuss mutual roles and responsibilities at the beginning of the relationship and review them periodically as necessary.

Protégés’ responsibilities are as follows:

  • Clearly defining personal employment goals

  • Taking directions given and following through on them

  • Accepting and appreciating mentoring assistance

  • Listening to what others have to say

  • Expressing appreciation

  • Being assertive and asking good questions

  • Asking for help when needed

  • Sharing credit for a job well done with other team members

  • Respecting mentors’ time and agency responsibilities

The Chief As Mentor: The Knoxville, Iowa, Model

Successful leaders are often successful mentors. In most large agencies, line employees seldom have direct interaction with their chief, but in smaller agencies, employees interact with their chief on a daily basis. As a result, chiefs of smaller agencies can enhance their leadership effectiveness by being personally committed to mentoring and by encouraging a total agency mentoring environment. As the lead agency mentor, chiefs can model employee value to their agency by supporting employee career planning, by providing opportunities for training, and by encouraging learning and skill building. The Knoxville, Iowa, Police Department, an agency of 18 sworn officers, serves as a model in this article for agencies embracing formal mentoring.

Goal-setting and career-planning sessions with the chief at the Knoxville Police Department are usually conducted once a year with each sworn and civilian employee. These sessions are intended to promote employee growth and skill development.

The chief has seen reduced employee turnover and increased employee loyalty since instituting this practice. These sessions may occur with greater frequency for some employees when goals are achieved quickly, or with less frequency for employees who have not met short-term objectives. Because employee goals and interests continually evolve, the periodic review and monitoring of employee progress is vitally important to maintaining this program.

These goal-setting and career development meetings with department employees are flexible in structure because the sessions must be tailored to meet the age, personality, and work/life experiences of each employee. By making the individual sessions informal and relaxed, the process can be an insightful and rewarding experience for both the employee and the chief. The skill of active listening is an essential component of the success of the mentoring process.

The Knoxville Police Department employee goal-setting and career-planning process requires two meetings. The first meeting is preparatory: the chief explains the initial phase of the process, during which employees identify and clarify their current and future career goals. Employees are encouraged to consider the present and future in terms of short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. Their goals must be achievable but challenging. If the goals are achieved with little effort, they are seldom long lasting or fulfilling.

Next, employees are asked to conduct a self-assessment in which they identify personal strengths and weaknesses. This assessment provides both employees and the chief with additional insight into the employees’ disposition and temperament. Employees are required to document their goals succinctly on one typewritten page.

During this stage, the chief offers to include the spouse or significant other of each employee in the goal-setting and personal examination process if the employee would like that person included. This is an example of the “family-centered” policy embraced by the Knoxville Police Department.

A week later, the chief conducts a second meeting during which the employee’s one-page goal statement is reviewed and discussed. After reviewing the goal statement, the chief prepares questions and feedback for clarification, then offers his recommendations for achieving the goals. The chief and employee mutually decide upon a timeline for the review and accomplishment of the goals.

The department retains a copy of the typewritten goal statement for reference when planning and scheduling training opportunities or specialized assignments for employees. As agency leader, the chief believes he is responsible not only for influencing and directing but also for establishing an environment for positive growth by providing resources, job-related opportunities, and experiences that will improve employees’ personal and professional skills. As their mentor, the chief strives to meet employee training and assignment “wants”; however, greater emphasis is placed on meeting individual training and assignment needs. The chief and his employees determine the training and assignment needs based upon the personal assessments completed with the chief, employee work experience, previous assignment evaluations, education completed, and the employee goal plans.

The chief provides private-sector customer service and communication skills training as ways to augment agency educational opportunities beyond the traditional police training topics. Local banks and other businesses provide contemporary service-based training for the agency’s sworn and civilian employees. Private-sector customer service and communications training provides police employees with the opportunity to interact with citizens and members of the business community. This cross-training builds agency and community cooperation and supports broad-based perspectives of work, service, and community, an environment the chief feels is essential for law enforcement professionals.

The model of employee goal setting and career planning in Knoxville may not work successfully for everyone. This model requires time and commitment to agency growth and improvement by both chiefs and employees. The program has worked to the advantage of the Knoxville Police Department and community. The commitment of time and attention to his employees pays off for the chief through successful labor negotiations, sustained employee loyalty, and low turnover rates.

This model is particularly beneficial to recruiting and retaining new employees who are focused on work and family relationships as well as the development of job skills. Although the smaller-agency chief may have the advantage of knowing and working closely with employees, elements of this program and the chief/mentor model can be successfully implemented in agencies of any size.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a mentor and a field training officer for new employees? The roles of the mentor and field training officer (FTO) are distinct yet complementary. FTOs train and develop effective police officers. As required during field training, FTOs evaluate recruit performance on a daily basis.

In contrast, the role of mentors is supportive and relational. Mentoring is not performance evaluation. Mentors are responsible for contacting new employees before the agency appointment date and assisting with an effective transition into the police organization by answering questions and serving as a resource for information. Mentors maintain contact with recruits during academy training to provide support, guidance, and encouragement. Unlike FTOs, mentors do not evaluate recruit performance.

How do agencies prevent conflict between FTOs and mentors? The first step in avoiding conflict between FTOs and mentors is for chiefs to demonstrate support of the mentoring process. Second, the input of some FTOs should be included in the development of the mentor program. The last critical step is to train mentors and FTOs such that they understand the differences in their roles. Periodic review and oversight by a mentor coordinator will help diminish the potential for conflict.

Is the mentoring process lengthy and a drain on staffing requirements? The time devoted to the mentoring relationship is based on the needs of the protégé. For example, new employees who are area natives will have fewer needs than employees hired from outside the area. New hires need time to adjust to the police department and the community. It is important for agencies to be flexible and support mentors in providing this valuable assistance to new employees. The benefits in terms of employee retention, enhanced morale, and agency loyalty far outweigh the marginal commitment of staff time. The mentoring function can be accomplished while mentors are on duty in conjunction with fulfilling primary duties.

What resources are available to assist in developing a mentoring process for an agency? The IACP Training Division offers a class titled, “Mentoring for Retention”; for more details about this training opportunity, visit the training section of the IACP Web site at In addition, the Smaller Police Department Technical Assistance Program, an IACP Research Center initiative, provides grant-funded consultation and training in mentoring for law enforcement. This project specializes in providing services for agencies with 25 or fewer officers. For more details about this training opportunity, visit the Smaller Police Department Technical Assistance section of the IACP Web site at ■

Note: A version of this article has been previously released as a Best Practices Guide through the IACP Smaller Police Department Technical Assistance Program, and a version is included in the IACP’s Police Chiefs Desk Reference.

Chief Harvey Sprafka (ret.) is a 30-year law enforcement veteran. In 1995, he was appointed chief of the Knoxville Police Department and served until January 2005, when he retired. He is currently serving as mayor of Knoxville. Chief Sprafka served a number of positions in the Iowa Professional Executive Forum and has served as an advisory group member for the IACP Smaller Police Department
Technical Assistance Program.

Lieutenant April Kranda (ret.) is a 20-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department. Lieutenant Kranda served in a variety of operational and administrative positions, including patrol, criminal investigations, internal affairs, and media relations. As aide to the deputy chief for operations, Kranda developed and implemented the New Hire Mentoring Program for her department. She currently serves as a mentoring adviser for several law enforcement agencies and training facilities.



From The Police Chief, vol. 75, no. 1, January 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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