Vol. 80, No. 1Panel discussion

Two male police officers and three men stand together outdoors to discuss a case.

What qualities lead to great police work?

Personal qualities such as teamwork and good communication are strong predictors of outstanding police work. Credit: Serge Gouin, RCMP

Great police work can mean different things to different people. Bravery, heroism and selflessness usually come to mind. But in reality, some of the more everyday qualities — such as attention to detail and persistence — get the job done, and done well. We asked RCMP employees in a wide range of fields to identify what qualities they associate with outstanding results.

The panellists

  • Cpl. Jon Tamlin, Depot facilitator, Simulator Training Unit, Regina, Sask
  • Cpl. Andy Wetzstein, proactive recruiter supervisor, K Division Recruiting, Alberta
  • Cpl. Adam Von Niessen, operations supervisor, Hudson Bay/Porcupine Plain detachment, Saskatchewan
  • Supt. René Bernard, RCMP officer in charge Relocation Policy Centre, Corporate Management and Controllership, Ottawa, Ont.

Cpl. Jon Tamlin

I have to step back from this question in my current role as a Depot (RCMP training academy) facilitator and think about what building blocks now will someday lead to this cadet doing great police work. Great police work will be demonstrated to the cadet through a variety of sources over the next months and years. The quality I want to most emphasize and demonstrate to the cadet is this: be honest. It will serve you throughout your career and you will build your reputation on this quality.

Honesty isn't just about not stealing exhibits or batteries from the storeroom. How about a next-of-kin (NOK) notification? I need to think about how I'm going to be honest if the family asks for details. These are the questions that cadets ask, and they are hard questions to answer. So the idea of honesty is much easier than the practice of actually being honest.

Being a member of the RCMP, and being honest, is not as easy as it sounds. Right now the RCMP is emphasizing a workplace that is free of harassment. This training begins at Depot, where cadets are expected to both demonstrate this behaviour and to verbally identify when they feel that they have been subjected to harassing behaviour by others. The latter is difficult. It requires one person to honestly and professionally address another person about their behaviour.

Being honest becomes much more challenging when I have to initiate a conversation with another person about behaviour that concerns me. Would this be easier if I were confident that the person I was talking to would, in turn, be honest with me and my concerns? Am I being honest if, when I am asked "what is bothering you?" I reply "nothing"?

Another initiative by the RCMP is the R2MR (Road to Mental Readiness). What does honesty look like in this context? As a facilitator at Depot, how can I honestly engage with the cadets about their mental health and their future mental health, and talk about my own experiences in this context? Is my relationship with cadets that much different than a supervisor on detachment or the manager of a unit? I'm uncomfortable writing about this as I am sure many are uncomfortable reading about this topic. This topic to me is harder than the NOK or harassment topics because it requires that I be first honest with myself. I thought being honest with others was uncomfortable, and then I had to tackle this!

Will honesty promote great police work? I think it will. I believe that approaching the difficult issues and conversations honestly inside "our house" can only benefit the police work being done out in the field. Our clients deserve our honesty, our sisters and brothers deserve the same. Be good to each other, be honest with each other and be careful out there.

Cpl. Andy Wetzstein

My team and I are in constant communication with the public outlining the RCMP's desirable qualities sought for prospective police officers. It's one of the most important duties that we perform as proactive recruiters with the RCMP. Clearly outlining the RCMP's desired values and personal qualities to applicants helps to ensure that we are seeking out and providing Depot (the RCMP training academy) with Canada's finest.

So what are these values and personal qualities? Successful applicants embody and score highly in the RCMP's six core values: honesty, integrity, professionalism, compassion, accountability and respect. Successful applicants and eventual regular members (police officers) tend to demonstrate these values naturally and without compromise.

I often tell applicants that perfect people don't exist. In life and in policing, people make mistakes while they experience life's ups and downs. We want people who can take ownership of those mistakes and, more importantly, learn and develop from those mistakes to improve, both personally and professionally. As an applicant or cadet, holding true to these core values during times of stress is often a solid indicator that they will carry this forward in their career as an officer to perform great police work.

In addition to solid core values, I have found that motivation is an important personal quality to successful performance and outcomes. Highly motivated applicants and cadets tend to perform well as police officers. There will be times in the field where call volume is high and our officers need to stay motivated in order do their best. But we also need them to stay highly motivated when the call volume is low. Remaining proactive and self-generating during low call-volume periods due to personal intrinsic motivation often leads to outstanding police work.

Our applicants and future members need to be strong individual performers without question. However, we also need them to be strong team players because in policing, people's lives are at risk. Failing to work together effectively can have dire consequences. From day one of training, it's about we, not me. Using one another's strengths to help make up for individual weaknesses when accomplishing a goal is a wonderful thing. Therefore, teamwork is an imperative quality to successful police work.

Leadership and maturity are two other qualities that should garner honourable mentions because our members are executing their duties in a public domain. Leading by example in a mature manner both on and off duty often leads to successful police outcomes. For the RCMP, our best members are stewards within their communities. As a result of those solid foundational relationships within the community, they tend to have a positive impact on crime reduction and clearance rates.

But in my opinion, the most important quality our applicants and future members need to perform solid police work is what recruiting units call "diverse life experience." Everyone's individual portfolio is different based on their familial background, employment, education, volunteer work, travel experience and so on. We want our applicants to expand their life experience as much as possible. Not only will diverse life experience help members relate to and understand our clients, but they'll hopefully be more capable of managing and understanding how to deal with the unpredictable and demanding police work environment.

Cpl. Adam Von Niessen

My experience in field coaching has been entirely in the northwest region. I've had the opportunity to coach numerous new members (police officers) both to successful completion of the field coaching program or to be let go from the RCMP. Further to this, I've been instructing the field coaching course for approximately eight years.

In my opinion, starting your policing career on the right foot is critical to the ultimate success of the individual and the RCMP as a whole. The differing and dynamic environments faced by new members across the country create a challenge. These challenges must be met with enthusiasm and an open mind by the new member as well as the field coach.

When analyzing what new members must "bring" as opposed to "learn" in their new career, it's as simple as looking at organizational competencies versus functional competencies.

We can teach you functional competencies, such as how to present testimony in court and how to properly conduct an investigation, as long as you are willing to learn.

But in my experience, the organizational competencies, which are personal characteristics, are ingrained in a person through their personal experience. This speaks to life experience and upbringing. This is HIPCAR: honesty, integrity, professionalism, compassion, accountability and respect.

The two competencies, or personal qualities, that I have found most important in my experience are flexibility and communication. I find these to be the easiest competencies to model as a field coach, while being the most difficult to teach.

I don't need to lecture the membership on the importance of flexibility in the RCMP. The broad range of daily requirements of a general duty member coupled with the diverse environments that we apply to our trade, make it critical for new members to come with the ability to "roll with the punches" and adapt quickly to new and differing situations.

Secondly, I feel that I can't stress enough the importance of communication. In my experience, communication can be the number one item in a new member's tool box. Whether it's verbal de-escalation in an IMIM (Incident Management Intervention Model) situation or ensuring that clients receive and understand the message. There really is no more important skill that an investigator can possess. It can be the difference between success and failure.

It's incumbent upon detachment commanders to choose field coaches who possess and in turn model these qualities on a daily basis to ensure that the new member can succeed in their new career and benefit the organization as a whole.

Supt. René Bernard

Great police work results in protecting life and property. Start by being courageous to try new things even if it looks hard. Learn from your experiences. For example, the first interviews you conduct of suspects will feel awkward and intimidating, but it can be exciting when we ask the right question that causes the suspect to pause and consider how to respond. Getting a confession and solving a crime are successes that lead to great police work.

Be proactive by looking for opportunities when they present themselves. For example, recognizing a burnt tail light or a rolling stop are opportunities to stop a vehicle and potentially stop an impaired driver or other crime. Similarly, take advantage of your Sunday evening shifts because you will find most people are home. This is a great time to find difficult-to-locate witnesses and suspects.

It helps to remember why you chose police work, such as wanting to help people. Success occurs when we are fully engaged while on shift and looking for opportunities to connect with the people we encounter during our investigations. Taken a step further, when you recognize there's a problem, find a way reduce or address this problem. After investigating fatal car crashes, I became more focused on traffic enforcement to promote road safety.

For senior members, field coaches and supervisors, developing good interpersonal skills will greatly help you lead your team. Connecting with your team and colleagues helps create a collaborative environment. Checking in with our colleagues by asking how they are doing, demonstrates support and care for their well-being.

Don't be afraid of conflict and seek clarity. When someone says something to you or does something odd or negative, it's a normal reaction to assume we did something wrong. This leads to uncomfortable feelings and is frequent when we are supervisors.

When this happens, remember to not take it personally and do not assume anything. Rather, seek clarity by asking this simple question: What do you mean? Conflict between people often results from misunderstandings. Asking "what do you mean" will provide the person an opportunity to restate and clarify what they said.

There are plenty of traffic infractions and crimes to investigate. Each one presents potential opportunities for police officers to investigate and it's our duty to do something about it. Never stop learning, use your skills and develop new ones — and you will likely be doing great police work that you can feel good about.

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