Printer Friendly

Competence and character: developing leaders in the LAPD.

The Rodney King incident in 1991 and the Los Angeles riots in 1992 focused worldwide attention on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Both events seriously called into question the department's training and leadership.

In its report following the Rodney King incident, the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department (Christopher Commission) stated, "Sergeants, lieutenants, and captains are expected to be leaders as well as administrators and should therefore receive formal leadership training...."(1) Similarly, the following year, an independent analysis of the Los Angeles riots recommended, "The chief of police [should] make it a high priority to improve the training, experience and leadership skills of the command staff level of the department."(2)

In 1992, Police Commissioner Jesse A. Brewer, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, reached out to the most effective leadership training institution he knew - the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He approached the Department of Behavioral Science and Leadership for assistance in developing quality instruction for the LAPD. Why, one might ask, would any police agency approach the military for assistance in this era of community policing?

Simply put, the U.S. Military Academy is an institution of higher learning. Its curriculum delivers a solid education in psychology, sociology, and the behavioral sciences and instills the values of duty, honor, and country. West Point graduates know how to motivate soldiers to overcome malaise, build cohesion, and train constantly to achieve excellence. They receive the skills training needed to make decisions, manage human emotions, and achieve results. Similarly, today's police leaders must be well educated so they can wield the challenging concepts and strategies of community policing, empowerment, problem solving, strategic planning, and joint decision making.

West Point hosted a faculty development workshop in 1993 for the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police to teach the leadership principles and methods of instruction. The police version of West Point's curriculum, initially modified by the New Jersey personnel, officially became known as the West Point Leadership and Command Program (WPLCP).

Five members of the LAPD participated in the program in the summer of 1994. Upon returning from West Point, they further revised the program's training scenarios and computer-assisted instruction to fit contemporary policing issues. In January 1996, LAPD trained 30 employees assigned to various supervisory and executive positions to be WPLCP instructors. In March of that year, the first two classes of middle managers, both sworn and civilian, began the intensive 15-week (1 day per week) leadership course.


The WPLCP does not teach military doctrine, nor does it in any way encourage using military tactics in the civilian police environment. Its principal aim is to teach individuals how to think more systematically about leadership challenges and situations. The course comprises behavioral science and adult education theories compiled from the top universities in the nation.

To help students retain the material and apply it daily in leadership situations, the LAPD instructors use a textbook, course guide, supplemental readings, computer-assisted instruction, a feature movie (Glory), numerous film clips, leadership inventory assessments, realistic case studies, and essay examinations. Other critical elements of the learning process include group exercises, a journal in which students record relevant, real-life events, and class discussions of students' life experiences.

The Intellectual Procedure, a decision-making model, is the first element of the program. It teaches managers to identify what is happening in a specific situation, account for it, and devise actions that respond to the situation or anticipate what will occur next. Students then use this decision-making model throughout the course.

LAPD instructors also use a conceptual framework developed by West Point faculty called the Model of Organizational Leadership. The four levels of analysis in this model constitute the four major study areas in the WPLCP: the individual, group, leadership, and organizational systems.

The Individual System

The WPLCP course teaches that "leadership is the process of influencing human behavior so as to accomplish organizational goals."(3) Inherent in this definition is a leader's responsibility to be mindful of the emotional and human needs of subordinates. The course reminds students that each person who joins a law enforcement organization brings a unique set of talents, skills, needs, and limitations.

To maximize employees' performance, leaders must understand their people and themselves first as individuals. In a speech to the Corps of Cadets at West Point after his return from the Gulf War, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf described this leadership quality when he remarked, "...I have seen competent leaders who stood in front of a platoon and all they saw was a platoon. But great leaders stand in front of a platoon and see 44 individuals, each of whom has aspirations, each of whom wants to live, each of whom wants to do good."(4)

In the individual system, WPLCP concentrates on developing students' skills and insights in motivating individual employees. This area of instruction first analyzes the individual as a psychological system, examining a number of theories in order to see how subordinates, and in fact, the leaders themselves, might respond to stimuli in very different ways.

Students discuss attribution theory, which shows the influence of biases as well as rational factors, on decisions leaders make. Adult development theory helps students recognize subordinates' various levels of maturity, which might cause them to respond to leaders in different ways. Equity theory discusses how people may react when they perceive unfairness, and expectancy theory helps leaders target what is lacking in employees' motivation.

Students also learn how to motivate subordinates through judicious and effective use of rewards and punishments. Finally, instruction in job redesign examines ways leaders can alter portions of employees' jobs to enhance their satisfaction and performance.

The Group System

Groups of people, for better or worse, develop and exhibit behavior patterns that go far beyond the characteristics of the individuals alone. This second area of instruction stresses that effective leaders must be able to pull together individuals of diverse backgrounds, personalities, abilities, training, and experience, molding them into a cohesive, high-performing team. The challenge is to bring together all of the unique contributions of people in such a way that the whole will be greater than simply the sum of its parts.

The students learn to take an active role in the socialization of employees, so that negative role models do not damage organizational performance. A lesson on group development yields interesting insight into how groups evolve over time.

Students also learn how to support and monitor cohesion and how to manage intergroup conflict. Instruction in how and when the leader can achieve better results from the group by involving subordinates in the group decision-making process completes this portion of the program.

The Leadership System

Individuals and groups typically take their cues from the leader. Therefore, the focus in the third system of the course shifts to the leader's performance.

The theories in this portion of the program address the concept of influence. First, students look at the leader's available bases of power and how using that power has ramifications and predictable outcomes. Instructors help students explore how the leader, the followers, and the characteristics of the task all contribute to effectiveness, satisfaction, and productivity.

The final theory in this area, transformational leadership, reveals how and when leaders can get subordinates to transcend their self-interest for the sake of the leader, the team, or the organization. This powerful theory shows how exceptional performance can stem from the workers' internalization of organizational goals, rather than from the mere appeal of rewards or fear of punishment.

The Organizational System

The final system in the Model of Organizational Leadership opens the students' minds to the concept and responsibilities of indirect leadership. As leaders advance in the organizational hierarchy, they continue to exert direct influence over some small number of immediate subordinates. At the same time, however, police chiefs and executives make daily decisions that have far-reaching implications. They often take action with environmental, legal, budgetary, or even political considerations in mind; yet, successful leaders must never sacrifice or lose sight of the goals of the organization.

While studying the organizational system, students discuss and apply their knowledge to community policing strategies, deployment policies, press conferences, and identify short- and long-term goals, to cite but a few examples. An understanding of the executive's perspective prepares students for senior executive positions in the future and helps them see how their senior leaders' decisions affect them today.

In this section of the course, instructors describe the police department as a complex set of structural, technical, psychosocial, and other components that contribute to the overall environment. These components include, for example, the equipment and tools of the trade, the knowledge needed to provide professional service, and the relationships between supervisors and first-line employees. Students discover the interdependence of various aspects of the department. They learn that changes in any of the components will affect every person and group in the agency, as well as the ways leaders interact with them. Next, the students discuss the LAPD's organizational environment. This new perspective provides them with skills and strategies for using and valuing the suggestions of concerned stakeholders, such as politicians, employee organizations, and community activists, without surrendering the department's basic mission.

The WPLCP is designed to help students apply the skills and strategies they have learned. To do so, the course examines how successful leaders amplify their influence by shaping the culture of the organization. Specifically, students experiment with ways to conquer adversity by proactively managing and overcoming resistance to change.

In the last formal lesson before the final examination, students consider the ethical dimension of leadership. In this pivotal lesson, they see how dysfunctional stress and competition damage the ethical climate and how they must use their influence as leaders to reinforce the values of the organization. Ultimately, the students discover that achieving personal and professional success relies on their strong ethical behavior throughout their commands.


Following the final essay examination, students enter the enrichment phase of the program. This important summation of the WPLCP allows students to learn and practice stress management techniques, communication and counseling skills, and how to apply the concepts they have learned.

In the final lesson, titled "The Journey Continues," students receive an overview of a multitude of other research and leadership approaches. The end of the West Point Leadership and Command Program reflects its opening premise: smart, thoughtful, and reflective leadership does not happen by mistake; it takes a lifetime of active study and commitment.


The Los Angeles Police Department has long prided itself on the quality of training provided to its personnel. Over the years. however, the department has devoted the lion's share of its scarce training dollars to recruit-officer training. While in-service training has been adequate for the technical aspects of police work, leadership training has been sporadic, at best.

For too long, the department relied on trial and error, on-the-job training, a few gifted role models. or the initiative of individual officers to seek advanced leadership education. Even if these methods had some effectiveness, there was no consistent environment in which the training could flourish.

LAPD's partnership with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police has produced a program that addresses the need for command-staff-level training. Through its demanding and challenging curriculum, the West Point Leadership and Command Program will enable its graduates to lead the Los Angeles Police Department with both competence and character.


1 Warren Christopher and John Arguelles, Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, July 9, 1991, 134.

2 William Webster and Hubert Williams. The City in Crisis: A Report on the Civil Disorders in Los Angeles (Los Angeles: City of Los Angeles, 1992), 182-3.

3 Organizational Leadership, Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, USMA. West Point (New York: Avery Publishing, 1989), 7.

4 Lt. Gen. Dave Palmer, U.S. Army (Ret.), Competence and Character: Schwarzkopf Message to the Corps (LAPD/WPLCP Course Guide. 1996), 253.

RELATED ARTICLE: Sample Lesson: Transformational Leadership

One of the most popular and exciting theories presented in the WPLCP is Transformational Leadership. It has been offered by a variety of theorists but is based largely on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, specifically, the human need for self-actualization. This theory teaches leaders to harness the internal motivational forces that drive each of their employees. Leaders who can convince their subordinates to truly internalize the values of the organization will achieve a synergy and effectiveness far beyond traditional performance measures. The readings for this lesson begin with a descriptive quote from Napoleon Bonaparte: "...You must speak to the soul in order to electrify the man."

The WPLCP lesson provides a basic framework and a few examples, but the students must fill in the gaps with real-world personalities, situations, and experiences. For example, the course guide introduces the topic by stating that transformational leaders possess three common characteristics - charisma, individualized consideration, and intellectual stimulation. It describes the basic conditions that cry out for transformational leadership: crisis, change, and/or instability; mediocrity; follower disenchantment; and future opportunity.

The brief, but powerful, readings introduce students to such transformational leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Tom Peters, and a number of talented sports coaches. They also cover the potent but dark influences of such leaders as Adolph Hitler and Jim Jones of Guyana's mass-suicide religious cult. Instructors show a variety of film clips (including Dr. King, Gen. George S. Patton, and Scottish revolutionary leader William Wallace as depicted in Braveheart) to demonstrate the theory at work in diverse situations.

By studying such leaders, students identify strategies they can use. For Transformational Leadership, the strategies include:

* Developing and communicating a vision

* Using unconventional strategies

* Communicating high expectations and confidence

* Showing concern for individuals

* Demonstrating self-sacrifice.

Through class discussions, students translate these theoretical guidelines into effective, present-day leadership behaviors that suit their individual ranks and assignments. They then practice these behaviors in a case study group exercise. The students assume the role of a captain of a patrol division infected by mediocrity and the other conditions listed above. They apply the Intellectual Procedure learned early in the course to identify, account for, and address the situation. Ultimately, these leadership students not only appreciate the awesome power of transformational leadership, but also realize how to put this power into practice.

Commander Charles F. Dinse leads the Uniformed Services Group of the Los Angeles, California, Police Department.

Lieutenant Kathleen Sheehan is the officer in charge of the LAPD's West Point Leadership and Command Program.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Los Angeles Police Department
Author:Sheehan, Kathleen
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Jan 1, 1998
Previous Article:Listening in Everyday Life: A Personal and Professional Approach.
Next Article:Managing sick and injured employees.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |