Law enforcement leadership is the most difficult leadership position in the world. While that may sound outrageous and self-serving, anyone actually leading in any capacity in the profession understands completely the difficulties not only inside the job but outside.
Left of Bang
The term “left of bang” is not new terminology and is often used in a tactical sense to encourage others to anticipate a problem and respond long before the problem (or bang) happens. It’s action versus reaction but the term should not be reserved just for life and death encounters but overall leadership strategies that can preserve the integrity of our agencies.
An Impossible Job
The extreme difficulty in law enforcement leadership is simple. The CEO of Apple or Microsoft no doubt has a tough job but at the end of the day they are judged on one aspect of that job…profits. That is their mission and everything they do drives them towards that mission. Without consistent profit, businesses cease to exist, so leadership has one goal in mind.
Law enforcement leaders simply don’t have that luxury. While crime and safety should be the only goal, they are often judged on everything but that. I can’t recall the last time a chief was fired because crime rose but they are often fired for a host of other items that have nothing to do with crime.
We are all familiar with what risk management is but being “left of bang” takes that to the next level. It’s an all encompassing approach to policing that anticipates every possible thing that could go wrong and how that can be mitigated long before it goes wrong. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is not much new to what can go wrong so leaders getting “left of bang” is not only possible but mandatory in today’s environment.
In our LEFT OF BANG LEADERSHIP Seminar, I discuss several items that we must address to be successful.
It’s obvious we didn’t do a great job of getting “left of bang” with this one but we can start now. The recruiting crisis will not go away. It is not some pendulum that will swing back so we need to understand the strategies that we need to implore to get left of this issue. Recruiting is not a campaign but an ongoing effort, at all times, in seeking out candidates for your agency. Too often, we get that backwards. Social media campaigns and career fairs are an attempt that the candidates will find us but we need to move towards a campaign where we go find them. This is a complex issue that I can’t cover in it’s entirety here but you can see some additional details here.
Everyone in the profession understands what “check the box” training is but that is not getting “left of bang.” Leaders must take a detailed look at the issues they need to address long before the bang happens. Our profession has written far too many lessons in blood before we get the lesson and that is simply not necessary.
We should not wait for a protest to cover first amendment issues.
We don’t need a riot to provide equipment and training for our officers.
We don’t need an in custody death to provide clear policy, resources and training on the issue.
As leaders, we have to expect that all of the issues above and much more will occur and we must prepare long before it does.
While our profession remains focused on how to deal with the media, we should instead be focused on how we will communicate before and after crisis. The media is not in the business to tell our message but their message so we need messaging and we need it often. I often refer to this as “deposits and withdrawals.” We must make daily deposits into our community through communication because one day the bang will happen and that same community will make a withdrawal on that communication. If we did nothing before the bang, the check is going to bounce and we will be left with reacting rather than acting.
Data & Analysis
Data is a powerful tool for any agency because it takes emotion and feelings out of the equation. Much of the attacks on the profession has nothing to do with actual reality so leaders should utilize data on a regular basis to explain the why, what and where.
Are you being accused of “over-policing” in certain areas?
Are more minorities being arrested?
Is there a fear of danger in a certain area?
Data should be used to answer all of this.
When was the last time you showed the public a map where violent crime was occurring?
Have you compared police activity to crime activity?
Using data on a regular basis and not just when controversy erupts is getting “left of bang.”
There are many more issues that must be discussed if leaders want to get “left of bang” but one way to start immediately is to empower your employees to be your eyes and ears for any pending bangs.
In 2015, I was sitting in my office when Corporal Jason Muse walked in. Jason was the prototypical SWAT cop and while he worked patrol, he lived and breather everything the SWAT community values. He told me that he had returned from a breaching school and was concerned that patrol officers did not have the necessary equipment to make entry into locked or barricaded doors and there were instances where waiting on SWAT could mean the difference between life and death. Jason had discovered a tool by Jersey Tactical that provided patrol officers with a tool that was lighter and could be carried by patrol.
Frankly, I didn’t necessarily see the need for the device. Our agency had a great SWAT team with a ton of equipment and up until then, there had not been an event that warranted equipment for patrol.
I was not “left of bang.”
Based on the expertise of Muse and his recommendation, I was able to find funding for the devices. While they were used on rare occasions to check the wellbeing of citizens or to gain entry looking for a wanted subject, it took seven years for the bang to occur.
In 2022, officers responded to an active shooter at a health clinic. When they needed the equipment to enter dozens of locked doors, they weren’t delayed waiting on specialty officers or specialty equipment. The tool that Jason recommended and saw a need for long “before the bang” was readily available.
As a commander, I didn’t see the bang coming and there is no way you can see it all either. But every department has a cadre of smart experts in a variety of fields and they know where the potential bangs could occur.
We just have to have the humility to empower them and listen.
This article originally appeared here.