Technical and Tactical Philosophy in Policing: Making Vision Statements Intentional

Brian Ellis, Sacramento Police Department

Anthony H. Normore and Mitch Javidi,

International Academy of Public Safety


Hanging on the wall in every lobby of police organizations is a vision and/or mission statement.  The statement captures the agency’s governing philosophy and values that show members of the organization and the community they serve how the organization goes about delivering services.  Oftentimes, these bold statements and “big words” are ambiguous and nebulous enough to mean different things to different people.  If you were to ask employees what the words meant, do you think they would have a good grasp of how to deliver them? On the other end of the spectrum is police training.  Police agencies are quite good at delivering technical and tactical training components to employees (Bayley & Bittner, 1984).  The technical trainings, such as report writing, use of technology, and general procedures of the job tend to have a formal and informal process thus building a good understanding and compliance towards goals.  On the tactical side, skills are developed on topics such as use of force options, firearms, and building entries.  In fact, police agencies much like the military are quite good at teaching their workforce tactical and technical components of their jobs (Kimmel & Balzer, 1984).  The issue that bears discussion is how to build systems where police leaders bring technical and tactical aspects to the philosophy and leadership of the organization.

Recently, one of the authors asked a question to a number of officers regarding their organizational principles and what they meant to everyone. Importantly, they were asked how they as individual officers represent the guiding principles of their organization. To his surprise, there was a diverse set of thoughts about what officers believed their roles to be regarding what they meant and how to deliver each of them.  Although the diverse thinking was appreciated and honored, one troubling aspect of this conversation focused on whether we, as officers, were effective at carrying out organizational directives when it means so many things to different people. Another expletory question one author had was: Is there a way to narrow our focus through intentional leadership to be more effective at the mission at hand? In conjunction with research we believe that values drive commitment (Kouzes & Posner, 2010) and credibility, so it becomes imperative that leaders get people thinking about these values often.  Organizational values and mission statements are often nebulous enough to impact several areas a to ensure everything is covered by the mission.  Do agencies that put themselves into a position similar to what Schwartz (2010) referred to as the “ethic of more”? Do they generate value that is narrow and short-term, and thereby, more and more paradoxically lead to less and less?

When organizational values, missions, and goals mean different things to different individuals, organizations decrease alignment, coactivity, and the understanding of what the organization is attempting to accomplish.  It raises questions as to why organizations have mission statements. Is it for the organization’s public image or is it for the purpose of the organization? The lack of clarity of how to enable employees to deliver these statements and goals hinders top priorities that result in people running in all directions.  Even when everyone is doing a great job as individuals, the focus of the net result is not there.  The lack of clarity also impedes management’s ability to carry out directives, as the inadequacy of the feedback loop between executives and managers hinders progress and results. Is the problem due to the lack of questions when rolling out a vision or mission brought on by what Patrick Lencioni (2010) refers to as the fear of feeling inferior? Lencioni asserts the fear is caused by preserving our sense of importance and social standing, whereby we do not ask for clarifying questions to best serve the needs of our organization.

 Potential solution 1: Clarity of what’s being asked

At the forefront of making technical and tactical philosophical approaches to policing more intentional is the ability of all members of leadership to be on the same page, and to understand how to effectively communicate the mission at hand to subordinates so there is understanding.  This in of itself is a tall order, but critical for success (Coughlin, n.d.).  It becomes the largest problem because often, leadership is divided up across large geographical boundaries, different days or shifts, and other relationship hindering elements such as not asking the right questions.  Executives should identify key metrics for any plan to include an internal messaging to employees; including the management team.  Understanding builds resiliency, shared vision and confidence.When managers know how to effectively roll out plans, supervisors will be better equipped to ensure adherence to said plans. Moreover, organizations building shared vision continually encourage members to develop their own personal visions.

Potential solution 2: Technology gaps

Coupled with the fact that the current communication occurs electronically, much information gets lost in the translation.  The greatest problem pertaining to technology and leadership is in how we use it.  Technology should not be a hindrance to our relationships, as the more technology transforms, the more human our communications need to become; one-on-one personal relationships will always have an impact on building inter/intra agency trusting relationships (Burrus, 2011).

Potential solution 3: Leadership opportunities

Leadership has the ability to do what Marshall Goldsmith (2009) refers to as challenging up and supporting down.  This is accomplished by the executive staff ensuring the vision is understood at its most basic elements, with the ability to deliver in a unified approach.  The reality is for executives to be certain that everyone understands values and mission. This usually requires a face to face meeting, or two-way communication where it can be relayed that the receiver of information clearly knows what is being asked of him/her.  Having frequent conversations from the top down and from the bottom up about roles, responsibilities, wins, and the delivery of organizational practices is a key responsibility of every leader within the organization.  Once the conversation has taken place, equally important are the tweaks made to the plan to ensure proper training and understanding is taking place.  Proximity impacts these opportunities and relationships; two blocks away versus two miles is pretty much the same thing (Lencioni, 2000).

Potential solution 4: Connection culture

Equally important is the ability for the organization to have a culture that embraces connection.  Connection is a powerful force that creates a positive emotional bond between people (Stallard & Pankau, 2015).  In order to connect, leaders will have to connect with the organization at every opportunity.  Attending roll calls, having one-on-one contacts with people, and team meetings are just a few ways leadership can align values and the vision.  Establishing these frequent contacts creates energy, excitement, commitment, collaboration, and coactivity with the community (Phillips, 1992). During these connection times, leaders need to ensure the best opportunity for people to learn and evolve, which is being positive.  Being positive is our only hope, as seen in competitive training.  For example, when practicing, a marksman makes positive pictures in their mind, as positive pictures demand positive results; the same is also true of negative ones (Bassham, 1995).  One of the easiest ways to create a positive environment is to create small wins and celebrate them publically.  This builds confidence in plans and creates enthusiasm for them.



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Schwartz, T. (2010). Be excellent at anything: The four keys to transforming the way we work and live. New York, NY: Free Press.

Stallard, M., & Pankau, J.,&  Stallard, K. (2015). Connection culture: The competitive advantage of shared identity, empathy, and understanding at work.  Alexandria, VA: ATD Press.



Brian Ellis is a 19-year veteran with the Sacramento Police Department. Lieutenant Ellis has worked in a number of specialized assignments including with the Problem Oriented Policing Unit, Parole Intervention and Career Criminal Apprehension Teams, Narcotics and Robbery/Burglary divisions. He is currently the SWAT commander, and oversees the Metro division. Brian earned his undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from California State, Sacramento and has a MS in Organizational Leadership from National University. Brian is a life-long student of leadership, and passionate about helping others. He has written articles for several publications, including Law Enforcement Today, Peace Officers Research Association of California, PoliceOne, The Oxford University Press, The Journal of California Law Enforcement; and been published in two academic textbook chapters with IGI Global Publishing. Please follow him on Twitter @BrianEllis10.

Anthony H. Normore (Tony) is  a 34 year veteran educator. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and currently a Professor of Educational Leadership & Department Chair for Graduate Education at California State University Dominguez Hills, Los Angeles. He’s worked in the Education-Based Incarceration program at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and co-created a leadership development program for Los Angeles Police Department. He has numerous visiting scholar experiences including stints in the Department of Criminal Justice at University of Guelph/Humber (Toronto); Department of Leadership & Life-Long Learning at Seoul National University (South Korea); and a graduate professor of law, ethics, and leadership for the Summer Leadership Academy at Columbia University (New York). He is Chairman of the Criminal Justice Commission for Credible Leadership Development at the International Academy of Public Safety.

Dr. Mitch Javidi is an envisioneer with over 30 years of practical and hands-on experience in diverse industries including Academia, Military, Law Enforcement, Automotive, Government, Logistics, Oil & Chemical, Pharma, and Technology.  As a globally recognized leader, Mitch has trained at the Joint Special Operations Command “JSOC” and the US Army Special Operations Command “USASOC.” He was awarded the honorary member of the United States Army Special Operations Command in 1999 and honorary Sheriff by the National Sheriffs’ Association in 2016.  He served as a tenured Associate Professor at NC State University for 16 years before taking an early retirement but continues to serve as an Adjunct professor without pay (by choice) at both NC State and Illinois State Universities. He is a member of the “Academy of Outstanding Teachers and Scholars” at NC State University and the Distinguished 2004 Alumni of the University of Oklahoma.  Mitch has published 4 books with over 100 articles and presented over 890 conferences worldwide.  His most recent books are entitled “Deliberate Leadership: Achieving Success Through Personal Styles” and “Moral Compass for the Law Enforcement professionals” have sold over 10,000 copies. His new coauthored article entitled “Human Factors: Police Leaders Improving Safety While Developing Meaningful Public Trust” coauthored with Dr. Anthony Normore and Lt. Darius Bone was recently published by the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Mitch was the recipient of prestigious “Person of the Year” award by the National Society of Accountants ~ Senator William Victor “Bill” Roth, Jr. “Roth IRA” received the award in the following year.