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Mentoring for Law Enforcement.

The probationary period can be a stressful time for police recruits. Despite their successful completion of academy training, new graduates sometimes find it difficult to make the transition from their roles as police students, when their mistakes can be corrected, to street officers, when their errors can cost lives. Whether they lack skills or confidence, some recruits simply do not survive the probationary period; they quit or get fired, leaving their agencies without the officers that the organization invested a great deal of time and money to select and train.

Even officers who make it through the probationary period may find their careers stymied by a lack of opportunity, savvy, or a host of other obstacles that keep some employees from advancing in their organizations. This may prove particularly true for women and minorities. In fact, scholars and police researchers have cited lack of promotions of women and minorities to supervisory and command ranks as a severe problem in policing for at least two decades. In the United States, women comprise a minuscule number of supervisors in municipal and state police agencies, while approximately 16 percent of African American men and 2 percent of African American women have attained a rank above entry level, compared to 30 percent of white men. [1]

Many police agencies employ some form of Field Training Officer (FTO) program to formally train recruits, just as the Lansing, Michigan, Police Department does. Between January 1988 and November 1996, the department hired 135 police officers (108 men and 27 women), and each participated in an FTO program. Eighty-three percent (112 actual) successfully completed the program. Twenty-three police officer candidates failed the FTO program, in effect, failing their probationary period. Moreover, although 87 percent of the men (94 actual) successfully completed their probationary period, only 67 percent of the women (18 actual) did so. African Americans comprised 14 of the hires and had a 79 percent success rate. Asian American and Hispanic officers each achieved a 75 percent success rate with 4 hires and 12 hires, respectively.

Thus, an FTO program helps many new employees successfully complete their probationary periods and establish a foundation for further growth; yet, it may not ensure their continued advancement or provide the additional support that some officers need. Research has found that a mentor may prove crucial to a new hire's successful transition into an organization [2] and, furthermore, that mentoring benefits proteges, mentors, and organizations alike.


Whether it is an informal arrangement between two individuals or a formalized, structured program sanctioned by the organization, mentoring involves the provision of wise assistance by a mentor to a protege. Mentoring operates on the assumption that people relate more readily and positively to peer assistance than to supervisory direction. It provides a nonthreatening environment for learning and growth to occur.

Many researchers have documented the fact that mentors and mentoring relationships have a positive and powerful impact on professional growth, career advancement, and career mobility. Generally, a person moving into managerial ranks must learn six things--the politics of the organization; the norms, standards, values, ideology, and history of the organization; the skills necessary for progression to the next career step; the paths to advancement and the blind alleys; the acceptable methods for gaining visibility; and the characteristic stumbling blocks and personal failure patterns in the organization. [3] A mentoring relationship addresses each of these areas. In fact, the mentor-protege relationship undeniably is one of the most developmentally important professional relationships a person can have.

Mentors help their proteges by filling such roles as teachers, guides, coaches, confidantes, role models, advisors, facilitators, sponsors, promoters, and protectors. In a sponsor role, a mentor can make things happen that normally would prove beyond the proteges ability to accomplish; as a teacher, a mentor imparts insight into organizational culture; in the devil's advocate role, a mentor hones the proteges problem-solving skills. Perhaps the mentor's main role is that of coach--giving candid feedback in a supportive atmosphere about the protege's potential, career paths, strengths, and areas for development.

Mentors benefit from their relationship with their proteges, as well. Mentors share and take pride in their proteges accomplishments. In addition, the knowledge and insight they impart reminds them of the contribution they make to their agency. Moreover, the excitement and fresh perspective that new employees bring to an agency invigorates even the most veteran officers, renewing their commitment to their job and their profession.

The benefits organizations garner from mentoring prove both tangible and intangible. More employees successfully complete their probationary periods, and as a result of the increased job satisfaction that mentoring programs often foster, they stay on the job longer. In addition, the enthusiasm, camaraderie, and professionalism mentoring programs achieve affect the entire culture of an organization. By designing a structured program (with an evaluation and feedback process built into it), carefully selecting and adequately training mentors, properly matching mentors and proteges, and monitoring the mentor-protege relationship, an organization can enjoy the benefits that mentoring has to offer.


Identifying goals represents an important first step in implementing a successful mentoring program. The proper formulation of goals establishes the program boundaries and expectations. Organizational goals may include improving employee retention rates, enhancing the match between employees and jobs, increasing employee job satisfaction and loyalty, facilitating the professional growth of proteges, and teaching organizational culture, values, and standards.

Input on organizational goals can and should come from all members of the organization. In the Lansing Police Department (LPD), the mentoring coordinator conducted a series of focus groups, including a representative mix of supervisory and nonsupervisory personnel from every area of the department, as well as individuals from the academy and the police union. These sessions provided critical, substantive input on every aspect of the proposed program. Every sworn officer with 3 or more years of service with the department (205 actual) completed a survey to provide feedback on a mentoring program, including any potential barriers to implementation, accessibility, and acceptability. Sworn personnel with fewer than 3 years of service (49 actual) completed another survey designed to elicit the positive and negative experiences they had encountered during their probationary year with the department. Respondents to both surveys could remain anonymous.

All of this research and data helped the coordinator to identify the LPD's needs and goals--employee retention and professional growth--while defining the mentor program structure and implementation strategy. At the same time, the anonymous surveys and focus group sessions allowed participants to provide honest and objective input and also enhanced support for the program.

In fact, a mentoring program cannot succeed without support from all levels of the organization, especially senior management. Moreover, the institutional commitment must be more than mere words. It includes policy statements, allocation of physical and financial resources, active recruitment by and involvement of administrators in the program, inclusion of mentoring as a consideration for promotion, and public speeches by administrators about the progress and accomplishments of the program. Building on this firm foundation, agency personnel provide the framework for a solid mentoring program.

Selecting, Training, and Pairing Participants

The selection and training of mentors represent critical components of a successful program. Mentoring research in the United Kingdom reveals that mentor criteria fall into three areas: being a good role model, offering guidance and counseling, and possessing strong knowledge and experience within one's profession. [4] As a role model, a mentor should be adaptable, understanding, reliable, conscientious, and articulate. To provide guidance and counseling, a mentor should have a supportive demeanor and good interpersonal skills and remain accessible. Demonstrated professional ability and experience, as well as a philosophical grasp of mentoring, complete the picture of a mentor.

Selecting Mentors

Not everyone has the capacity to be a mentor. Mentors provide both practical and emotional support, [5] both knowledge and understanding. Proteges should learn from the best. Mentors should be respected in the organization, motivated, liked, confident, flexible, able to engender trust, and concerned with the development of the protege to the extent that the mentor will spend whatever time proves necessary to assist the protege. For open communication and learning to take place, both mentors and proteges should participate voluntarily.

In LPD, a departmentwide posting announces the need for mentors. Volunteers complete a questionnaire, which provides critical information used to pair mentors and proteges.

Training Mentors

All mentors should receive formal training, either in the form of in-house program meetings and workshops, external vendor seminars, or a combination thereof. The LPD mentoring program coordinator developed the department's training program based on personal research, experience, and training, which included a 2-day seminar conducted by a law enforcement consultant, a retired law enforcement officer who had pioneered a mentoring program in her own department. Agencies should develop training according to their own unique needs; however, quality training provided by qualified professionals remains paramount to program success.

LPD mentor training covers the history and roles of mentors and proteges, the success factors for mentor-protege pairings, practical hints and suggestions, and general expectations mentors and proteges have of each other. The training also contains an overview of the program structure, guidelines, policy, goals, and evaluation criteria. It also covers the FTO program, so mentors understand exactly what the department expects recruits to accomplish during their probationary periods, as well as how they should handle their proteges? concerns about the program. (Mentors should help proteges follow the proper channels to express legitimate complaints; they never should criticize the program themselves.) Mentors receive practical advice on such areas as identifying protege needs and goals, developing a trusting relationship, and being a positive role model.

Communication represents the heart of the mentoring program and plays a leading role in mentoring training, as well. Mentors study verbal and nonverbal communication, practice active listening, and learn to extract the message behind their protege's words. A communication expert conducts this part of the training.

The LPD coordinator also asked program participants to evaluate the training they received. However, unlike most classes where students are asked for their opinions at the end of the session, LPD mentors completed their evaluations after they had had the chance to put the theories into practice. In this way, their comments proved more constructive than those they might have made immediately following their training.

Pairing Participants

The LPD produced a video to promote its mentoring program. LPD police cadets, recruits, and officer candidates view the video near the end of the hiring process, and if interested, they complete a program questionnaire. Once they officially join the department, the mentor advisory team and the program coordinator pair them with mentors. Although mentors have some input, the coordinator makes the final decision on mentor-protege pairings and notifies the mentor, protege, and human resources personnel of that decision.

Without an appropriate pairing of mentor and protege, a mentoring program most likely will fail to attain program goals and objectives. Prior to actually pairing mentors and proteges, the coordinator should examine the strengths of all available mentors and consult proteges about their career goals. To facilitate a proper match, both mentors and proteges should complete formal applications. Then the mentor and protege should meet informally to discuss their needs and wants. These factors, as well as the personalities of both the mentor and protege, represent important considerations for mentor-protege pairings.

Pairings run the gamut from one-on-one to group pairings. Organizations must determine which style will best serve them and then develop a process that facilitates quality pairings. Agencies also should evaluate the pros and cons of cross-gender and cross-cultural pairings with a realization of the unique potentials each may yield.

Successful mentoring requires that mentor-protege pairs meet regularly without prompting; that the mentor exhibit an attitude that mandates success; that the mentor and protege respect each other; that the mentor and protege have compatible values and career goals, yielding a comfortable, open communication atmosphere; and that the focus of the relationship remain on the protege and what the protege needs to do to be successful.[6] Essentially, effective mentoring requires such basic activities as listening to each other, caring about each other, and cooperatively engaging in mutually satisfying ventures. This allows the transfer of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors based on a level of trust that provides the protege with the comfort and confidence to grow. Indeed, trust remains the most important dimension of a successful mentoring relationship. [7] Without trust, no amount of structure, guidelines, or effort can make the relationship succeed.

Monitoring Participants

Mentoring occurs differently for each pair of participants, and generally, mentor-protege relationships should develop at their own pace. Still, some activities--such as meeting regularly, remaining open to criticism, and keeping behavior appropriate and businesslike--represent crucial aspects for every pair. The program coordinator monitors the partnerships and helps them bear fruit.

In the LPD, meetings involving the coordinator and advisory team occur whenever needed to address pairings and to respond in a timely manner to protege needs. Mid-year problem-solving sessions with mentors, advisory team members, and the program coordinator address mentor roles, responsibilities, training needs, and program modification issues. The coordinator also meets one-on-one with mentors and proteges as needed.

The coordinator also publishes a monthly newsletter to provide mentoring tips, program updates, and spotlights on particular participants or occurrences. This key communication device maintains program focus and bridges the communication barriers that exist when mentors and proteges have different shift and precinct assignments. Issues feature articles by either mentors or proteges, detailing, in their own words, their insight and experiences with the program.

Evaluating the Program

An organization may use a number of formal and informal evaluation procedures to assess program impact on proteges, mentors, and the organization. Since its inception, the LPD mentor program has focused on employee retention and professional growth. Although no reliable measure of protege professional growth exists beyond the proteges demonstration of the basic police skills necessary to perform their duties, LPD retention statistics reveal positive program results.

Between 1992 and 1998, new hires arrived at an average yearly rate of 8.5 percent. In fact, 67 percent of LPD sworn personnel came on board during those years. The sworn personnel hired in 1997 consisted of the single largest group of women and minorities ever hired in a single effort until 1998, when the department hired an even larger pool of minorities. Thus, the mentor program was put to the test early. The average yearly retention rate from 1992 to 1997 stood at 82 percent, then rose in 1998 to 86 percent, a notable figure given the high numbers of new hires, especially women and minorities, who typically find it most difficult to complete their probationary periods.

Program evaluations obtain mentor and protege feedback. Year-end mentor and protege survey results proved overwhelmingly positive. One hundred percent of mentors believed the program helped their proteges assimilate into the department, acquire and enhance their skills, identify career goals, and successfully complete their probationary periods. Many mentors felt pride and a sense of accomplishment in assisting the protege's professional growth while enjoying the friendship the mentoring relationship provided. Seventy-five percent believed they would have benefitted from a mentor program when they first came to work for the department.

At the same time, 89 percent of the proteges felt the program and their mentors helped them assimilate into the department, build knowledge and confidence, enhance and acquire skills, identify career goals, and successfully complete their probationary periods. They reported that the enjoyable, stress-free learning and problem-solving nature of the mentoring relationship proved the most beneficial in helping them achieve these goals. Many wanted to spend more time with their mentors.

Human resources personnel, police academy instructors, uniformed supervisors, FTOs, and clerical support staff also completed a survey. The vast majority of respondents believed the program has had a positive impact on protege conduct, appearance, and attitude, which, in turn, has had a positive influence on other sworn and civilian personnel. Eighty-two percent thought the program effectively assists proteges or the organization, and they recommended assigning mentors to all new sworn employees and expanding the program to other workgroups.

And, in fact, the mentor program has expanded to include the 911 communication center, which, ultimately, will have its own distinct program. The mentor pool also has grown to comprise 68 officers, including 7 mentors who had once been proteges themselves.

The mentor program has enjoyed countless individual success stories. Two of the most notable incidents involved two proteges who each had suffered a sudden and nearly catastrophic loss of confidence midway through the FTO program. Their mentors helped them regain their confidence and successfully move forward in the FTO program. One of these proteges declared that he served as living proof of the success of the department's mentoring program.


The complexion of today's law enforcement workforce is changing, as police executives realize the importance of employing officers that better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. Yet, some researchers contend that with-out structured organizational interventions, women and minorities cannot achieve their full potential. [8] A number of studies and surveys have shown that mentoring provides individuals with extra support and improved opportunities for success and satisfaction in their careers. [9] Mentoring represents a viable source of intervention in an organization's attempt to meet the needs of a culturally diverse workforce.

At the same time, mentoring benefits every employee--civilian and sworn, veteran and rookie, male and female. When employees flourish, their agencies prosper, and community residents profit, as well. Mentoring has proven a win-win proposition for individuals and organizations. The question law enforcement leaders must ask is no longer, "Why use mentoring?" but, rather, "Why not use mentoring?"


(1.) R.G. Dunham and G.P. Alpert, Critical Issues in Policing: Contemporary Readings (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, Inc., 1989), 13.

(2.) R.M. Shusta, D.R. Levine, P.R. Harris, and H.Z. Wong, Multicultural Law Enforcement: Strategies for Peacekeeping in a Diverse Society (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995), 68.

(3.) C.A. MeKeen and R.J. Burke, "Mentor Relationships in Organizations: Issues, Strategies and Prospects for women," Journal of Management Development 8, no. 6 (1989):33-42.

(4.) D. Glover and G. Mardle, The Management of Mentoring: Policy Issues (London, England: Kogan Page, 1995), 66.

(5.) J.T. Witmer, "Mentoring: One District's Success Story," National Association of Secondary School Principals Bulletin 77, no. 550 (1993): 71-78.

(6.) S.L. Pfleeger and N. Mertz, "Executive Mentoring: What Makes It Work?," Communications of the ACM 38, no. 1(1995): 63-73.

(7.) A.H. Geiger-DuMond and S.K. Boyle, "Mentoring: A Practitioner's Guide," Training & Development 49, no.3 (1995): 51-54.

(8.) A.D. Carden, "Mentoring and Adult Career Development: The Evolution of a Theory," Counseling Psychologist 19, no. 2 (1990): 275-299.

(9.) G.M. Mobley, C. Jaret, K. Marsh, and Y.Y. Lim, "Mentoring, Job Satisfaction, Gender, and the Legal Profession," Sex Roles. A Journal of Research 31, no. 1-2 (1994): 79-98.
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Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2000
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