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Back to Archives | Back to November 2011 Contents 

Leadership Training for Police Recruits Creating a Foundation for Professional Excellence

By Irene Barath, Chief Instructor of Patrol Training, Ontario Police College, Aylmer, Ontario, Canada; and Peter Sherriff, Chief Instructor of the Leadership Development Unit, Ontario Police College, Aylmer, Ontario, Canada

ords spoken at the Ontario, Canada, Police College (OPC) in July by Chief Robert Davis of the Guelph Ontario, Canada, Police Service made an impression on recruits. The occasion was the most recent March Past and Review Ceremony for Basic Constable Training (BCT).

You are all to be commended on your deportment today as you look absolutely impeccable. You are a credit to your service and to yourself. Remember how you appear today, and take the same care and pride every time you don that uniform for there will always be someone watching. You now represent every member of your respective police service. . . . This job can be extremely rewarding in a multitude of ways, and I’m quite confident it will be for many of you here today. However, to realize such rewards . . . takes time, patience, hard work, and a great deal of perseverance. . . . Your formal education and basic recruit training will give you a solid foundation on which to build, but there is a lot of room for growth. . . . Your career is a never-ending life lesson, sometimes very difficult and often extremely challenging. However, it will also be filled with personal growth, positive recognition of your efforts, and a great deal of self-gratification and pride.1

The comments by Chief Davis underscore the significance of several changes that were introduced into the BCT program for this intake. This article’s authors, chief instructors Irene Barath of the Basic Constable Training program and Peter Sherriff of the Leadership Development Unit, worked diligently with representatives of their respective teams to introduce more formal and informal leadership training initiatives into the BCT program.

OPC instructors continually seek feedback from stakeholders at the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) to identify and prioritize emerging trends in policing. A consistent message from police service leaders is that the public perception of police, as being worthy of public trust, is even more important now in these difficult socioeconomic times.

As a result, the OPC is transitioning through the ongoing process of reviewing and revising its BCT program to reinforce the principles as reflected in the Police Services Act of Ontario, which follows:

  1. The need to ensure the safety and security of all persons and property in Ontario.
  2. The importance of safeguarding the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Code.
  3. The need for cooperation between the providers of police services and the communities they serve.
  4. The importance of respect for victims of crime and understanding of their needs.
  5. The need for sensitivity to the pluralistic, multiracial, and multicultural character of Ontario society.
  6. The need to ensure that police forces are representative of the communities they serve.2

The OPC is a residential police training facility located in southwestern Ontario.3 It has 49 permanent instructors and 38 temporary instructors who are responsible for delivering diverse training programs. The facility has the capacity to house as many as 480 new police recruits three times a year to participate in the BCT program. In addition, college staff has the capability to deliver on-site and offsite training to up to 8,000 senior police officers a year on subjects as diverse as criminal investigation specializations, forensic identification certifications, leadership development, diversity, and professional practice.

In January 2011, a revised ethics program was introduced. The foundation of this revised program was built on the principles in a book by Edward Delattre, Character and Cops;4 research by Angela Gorta, PhD, from the Police Integrity Commission of New South Wales, Australia; and the resources of the Institute for Law Enforcement Administration’s Center for Law Enforcement Ethics in Plano, Texas.5 The intention of making the changes was to support the interests of the OACP to integrate leadership training more purposefully into all levels of the police training environment. Ethics training was always presented as part of the BCT program, and the updated sessions reflect challenges faced by new police officers as they balance the interests of instant communication technology, public expectations, police service expectations, and the demands of family commitments.

The revised ethics training program establishes a robust foundation upon which the other aspects of leadership training, such as coach officer field training and police leadership and organizational awareness, were built. The ethics component is broken down into both theoretical and practical components. Initially, a definition of ethics is provided, and, then, the police recruits are given the opportunity to undertake a values exercise. The outcome of this exercise generates discussion about the different things people value, such as family, integrity, fun, and continuous learning. It creates an appreciation for how these new officers need to respect that other persons’ priorities may be different from their own while still sharing common values associated with the policing profession.

This values exercise allows for conversation about what happens when personal values and those of others come into conflict and a decision has to be made to do what is right. These dilemmas can be particularly difficult when there is no good outcome. For example, a coworker calls in sick to work so they can do something with their friends (because they value fun and friendship) and they could not book the time off. Someone else covers the coworker’s shift, and the number of cars patrolling the road decreases, making it potentially less safe for those working. What can be done about this situation?

As Jeb Stuart Magruder, one of the Watergate coconspirators, testified, “Somewhere between my ambition and my ideals, I lost my moral compass.”6 This quote is used to prompt discussion on the consequences of unethical conduct. Discussion continues around the continuum of compromise and the processes of minimizing impact and rationalization. The session then concludes by acknowledging the challenges these new police officers will face. Author Tony Schwartz in his book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, makes reference to how a stressful environment can lead to poor decision making: “I came to understand the worst time to make decisions is when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed.”7

According to research from private corporations, “more than 150 leadership studies found that integrity is the value employees care most about in their leaders. Honesty is second, and humility is third. The other qualities employees value include care and appreciation, respect for others, fairness, listening responsively, and reflectiveness.”8

Students are advised that as leaders within their communities and organizations, these values should be their values. The students then work in small groups on a case study to apply an ethical decision-making model and report back to the class on their conclusions, along with how they arrived at those conclusions.

In May 2011, for the second intake of the year, leadership training continued to be integrated into the BCT program with sessions on coach officer field training and police leadership and organizational awareness. The purpose of these sessions was twofold: first, to support the OACP philosophies of every police officer being a leader; and second, that a high level of professionalism in policing can be maintained through the motivation and commitment of police officers to continuous learning and development, which starts with a proper orientation process to career development. Once new police recruits leave the OPC, having completed their 12-week BCT program, they return to their respective police services for local orientation and operational duties with a coach officer where their on-the-job assessment begins.

The first session on coach officer field training was taught by OPC instructor Ron Hoffman, who researched and designed the course. Working with operational police coach officers and Judy McDonald, author of Gold Medal Policing,9 they determined what distinguishes excellence in police performance and how to use that knowledge to train and develop new police officers in the field. Typically, a new police recruit will work with one or two coach officers for a three-month assessment period prior to working independently in an operational capacity.

When coach officers were asked what are the most important characteristics they look for in their trainees, the top 10 items identified, in order, were

  1. ethical behavior on duty and off duty,
  2. officer safety,
  3. leadership,
  4. ability to follow direction,
  5. communication skills,
  6. technical skills,
  7. consistent work habits
  8. ability to multitask,
  9. maturity, and
  10. personal initiative.

Armed with information on how and why they are being assessed on their technical, physical, and mental skills, police recruits are prepared to excel through the next probationary phase of their policing career. Included in the consideration of technical skills is the recruit’s knowledge of the law and the community in which they work as well as their communication skills. When front-line officers are performing at their peak of mental readiness, they combine commitment; self-confidence; mental preparedness (including visualization); the ability to focus and refocus; and the willingness to seek and accept constructive feedback on their performance. The physical skills component deals with the recruit’s skills in relation to officer safety, deployment of appropriate use-of-force options, and safe operation of a police vehicle.

According to Chief Davis, the two most important aspects of this period of recruit training are

  1. the ability to accept constructive feedback and learn from mistakes, and
  2. the willingness to ask for assistance when they do not know something rather than forge ahead blindly and potentially create havoc.

In his address, Chief Davis said, “Please don’t be afraid to ask for direction or help. This is expected of you as new officers. And trust me, you are going to make some mistakes along the way. It is inevitable. Don’t dwell on them. Use them as learning opportunities and move on. It’s all part of growing.”10

If this orientation to the profession goes well, there is a better probability the recruit will feel committed to the organization specifically and the profession of policing in general. This process reinforces comments made by Chief Davis about the responsibility of police organizations: “It is up to us to create the vision, to put in place the right people, to develop the appropriate infrastructure, and to cultivate the right environment to make it all work.”11

Police leadership and organizational awareness were the final new subject areas introduced for the May 2011 BCT intake. This session was facilitated by a temporary instructor at the rank of inspector who is operationally deployed at the OPC with the Leadership Development Unit. There was minor reference to leadership theory in this session because “all officers need to exude some leadership skills because they operate, for the most part, without direct supervision.” 12 The focus of the training was to reinforce systemic and public expectations as well as provide skills to assist the police recruits as they transition into a paramilitary organizational environment.

This information on how police organizations function is introduced to the police recruits on the first day of their training at the OPC. The OPC protocol officer John Hutton instructs the trainees on how to wear their uniforms; how to address OPC staff members and visitors; and how to conduct themselves during an official parade such as their March Past and Review Ceremony at OPC, their swearing-in ceremony at their police service, or a police funeral. In addition, during the duration of their BCT training program, the recruits are inspected by a member of the instructional staff to ensure they are ready for duty.

The students work with Hutton to identify those members of their respective classes who will act as drill leaders, and there is a competition for the parade commander position. These roles prepare the trainees on how to respectfully, efficiently, and effectively direct their peers through a course of activities, providing constructive feedback as required. These drill leaders also work with students to ensure all class members are prepared for the numerous inspections that occur in preparation for the formal March Past and Review Ceremony. The class drill leaders work with members of their respective classes to reinforce the lessons taught during the drill classes and to ensure that all are prepared for the numerous formal inspections throughout the intake. In addition, class leaders direct the class through the March Past and Review Ceremony. This requires them to further develop their leadership skills in the areas of communication, direction, and command presence.

As a residential police training facility, students reside at the OPC for the 12-week duration of the BCT program. They are responsible for ensuring their rooms are clean and meet the identified OPC standards. To reinforce their leadership responsibilities, recruits are eligible for the roles of class leader and pod leader. These roles require students to take attendance, relay communications, and ensure the residences are maintained and ready for inspection. The pod leader is appointed on a weekly basis and is held accountable for ensuring that the recruits’ rooms, common areas, and shared areas are maintained to preestablished OPC standards.

Building on the ethical foundation, these roles reinforce the significance of understanding each student’s police service mission, vision, and values statements. The officers are expected to engage with community members in effective and efficient manners while maintaining respectful professional demeanors under all circumstances, no matter how stressful.

As public servants, the police recruits are reminded they are accountable for their actions and should seek to distinguish themselves by modeling excellence in all they do. Officers are reminded that policing can be a challenging career where the rewards are matched by the amount of effort they contribute. In particular, the new recruits are challenged to be responsible for the success they achieve. By committing to lifelong learning, being proactive in how they manage their careers, and seeking opportunities to develop expertise in a variety of areas, recruits will find that time goes by quite quickly.

Chief Davis referred to the profession of policing and how officers who seek to fulfill the public expectations can have success in their careers.

As police officers, we are the public’s first point of contact with the justice system. People expect us to know and respect the law, and they look to us to administer justice fairly and consistently. They also expect us to treat them with humility and dignity, the same as you would your family member. Putting on a badge and uniform does not automatically garner you trust and respect.13

The BCT program provides the initial opportunity for the introduction of leadership principles in a policing context. Working with the OACP, the OPC is preparing young officers for the future by integrating these leadership principles into advanced courses. The OPC is developing alternative delivery methods for leadership training courses, including distance learning, webcasts, videoconferencing, and blended learning opportunities.

The OACP and the OPC have a unique strategic partnership that includes collaboration on numerous leadership learning and training initiatives. As police officers progress through their careers, the opportunity to reinforce the need for continuous learning and development is a constant theme. In leading by example, police leaders also undertake learning opportunities. One such initiative is the Leadership Speaker Series, an annual, one-day event that focuses on emerging trends in leadership. Participants take away valuable insight that they can apply immediately in their organizations.

In 2010, the keynote speaker was Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time. This year’s speaker series event will feature Dave Logan, author of Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization.

As part of a longer-term strategy on leadership development in policing, the OACP has provided the OPC with a further recommendation to create an executive-level leadership curriculum. Research is under way for the development of a leadership development program that would be recognized and accredited at the university level.

The comments made by Chief Davis during his address to the police recruits reflect the challenges being faced by police officers at all levels. By continuing to integrate lessons and practice in foundational leadership principles, the OPC exemplifies our values of knowledge, integrity, and courage; supports police services; assists services in meeting their objectives; and continues to be “the police training provider of choice.”14 ■

Irene Barath is the chief instructor for patrol training at the OPC in Aylmer, Ontario, Canada. She has been at the OPC since 1998. Prior to this, for approximately 14 years, she was a police officer with a large metropolitan police service in Ontario. She can be reached at or at 519-773-4226.

Peter Sherriff is the chief instructor for leadership development at the OPC in Aylmer, Ontario, Canada. Prior to this, he was a regional manager with the Centre for Leadership and Learning. He has been with the Ontario Public Service for 31 years, and has held senior management and leadership positions in several different ministries across Ontario. He can be reached at or at 519-773-4554.


1Chief Rob Davis, Guelph Police Service, address to police recruits at the OPC March Past, Aylmer, Ontario, Canada, July 27, 2011.
2Paul Ceyssens, Susan Dunn, and Scott Childs, Ontario Police Services Act, 2002–2003 (British Columbia, Canada: Earlscourt Legal Press Inc., 2002).
3Ontario Police College is located at 10716 Hacienda Road, Aylmer, Ontario, Canada, and can be accessed online at
4Edwin Delattre, Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing, 6th ed. (Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2011).
5For more information on the Center for Law Enforcement Ethics in Plano, Texas, please visit (accessed September 29, 2011).
6Tony Schwartz, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance (New York: Free Press, 2010), 18.
7Ibid., 163.
8Ibid., 262.
9Judy McDonald, Gold Medal Policing: Mental Readiness and Performance Excellence (New York: Sloan Associates Press, 2006).
10Chief Davis, address to police recruits at the OPC March Past and Review, July 27, 2011, (accessed September 29, 2011).
12Rich Martin, “Police Corruption: An Analytical Look into Police Ethics,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (May 1, 2011), (accessed September 29, 2011).
13Chief Davis, address to police recruits at the OPC March Past and Review, July 27, 2011.
14The OPC vision statement, visible in the Government of Ontario, Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Ontario Police College 2011 Course Calendar (amended September 2, 2011), 1–2, (accessed September 30, 2011).

Please cite as:

Irene Barath and Peter Sherriff, "Leadership Training for Police Recruits: Creating a Foundation for Professional Excellence," The Police Chief 78 (November 2011): 28–33.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 11, November 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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