Cadet Programs - Mending Police-Community Relations

As conflicts arise between law enforcement agencies and the communities in which they serve, police cadet leadership programs could reduce crime, increase community relations, and change lives. Through education, community service, and public safety, these programs promote highly trained police departments and break down socioeconomic barriers.

A zero-tolerance crime-control policy was first implemented in New York City during Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration in the early 1990s and later spread to other cities. In New York City, this policy certainly had an impact on crime between 1990 and 1999, as shown by declines in: homicides (73 percent); burglaries (66 percent); assaults (40 percent); robberies (67 percent); and auto thefts (73 percent). The policy was built on the fundamental principle of the Broken Windows Theory, which suggests that untended behavior leads to the breakdown of community controls. Therefore, the concept is to fix problems when they are small, so they do not accumulate. By focusing on lesser crimes, officers send a message that criminal behavior – whatever sort – will not be tolerated. The effects of this policy, though, have come at a heavy cost to community-police relations, with members of minority groups expressing feelings of being unjustly targeted as a result of the socioeconomic status of the neighborhoods in which they live.

Addressing Barriers & Accomplishing Goals 

Many attribute the practices of this policy to the growing complaints of discourtesy, excessive force, and police brutality. So, in the aftermath of recent incidents surrounding these allegations – such as the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases in 2014 – President Barack Obama signed an executive order on 18 December 2014 to create the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. This task force was established in an effort to strengthen community policing and to build trust among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

A significant lesson in leadership that can be learned in the wake of these recent incidents, and a focal topic that should be assessed by this task force is how important it is for law enforcement agencies to make a proactive effort to hire a workforce that has ties to the population it serves. Members of a community have a vested interest and tend to have a better understanding of their community’s cultural and environmental dynamics. But there are barriers that need to be addressed to accomplish this goal.

Segments of the population in urban areas have criminal records for petty crimes, which disqualify them from finding viable employment, particularly in the law enforcement profession. Those who do not have criminal records and could be possible candidates would rather not apply because of the negative local stigma that is associated with the policing profession. One solution for local law enforcement agencies to find representatives from the community to serve among their ranks is a police cadet program. A proposed Police Cadet Leadership Initiative was created by the author based on his experiences while serving in the Baltimore Police Cadet Program in 2005-2006. This proposed model was constructed on a model used by the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C.

Introduction to the Police Cadet Leadership Initiative 

The Police Cadet Leadership Initiative is a program that could provide young adults with the opportunity to start their careers, receive college credits leading to an associate’s degree, obtain on-the-job training, and learn during a three-year apprenticeship program. Although many will not see the immediate return on this investment because of the three-year time frame between youths entering the cadet program and them graduating from the police academy, there are some immediate and long-term effects. By investing in young people who have a vested interest in the community, the cities that adopt this or similar programs have the opportunity to change lives by helping to produce civic-minded community members who will work, in part, to build sustainable communities.

Relationships & Recruiting 

As a result of zero-tolerance policing, many communities harbor antagonistic attitudes toward law enforcement. This “us-against-them” mentality serves as a major catalyst to the strained relationships that prevent the two parties from building rapport and creating a positive working relationship. A step toward repairing these relationships will be to build viable partnerships with key stakeholders within these young people’s sphere of influence. The intended audience for this program will be high school juniors and seniors who are student-athletes or who participate in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs. Because of the relationships that the coaches and military instructors of these programs have with these kids, they will be able to encourage them to explore the benefits and options associated with a career in law enforcement, without the negative images sometimes associated with the profession.

Service Learning Requirement 

Built on the tenets of education, community service, and public safety, the Police Cadet Leadership Initiative will manifest how a highly trained police department is central to a pluralistic, democratic society. Cadets would serve as full-time employees of the agency that hires them. The structure of the program requires cadets to spend half of their time operating in an interagency work capacity, and another portion of their time as an on-campus student. Additionally, cadets will be required to perform five hours of community service per semester. These community service activities will vary each semester and could be completed by volunteering at a homeless shelter, children’s hospital, nursing home, domestic violence shelter, local high school sports program, or local cultural event.

Through this collaborative endeavor, cadets will have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the internal operations of the police department by serving in an administrative capacity in various divisions of the organization. The educational portion will allow cadets to complete course work that leads to an associate’s degree at a local community college. The structured environment of the college experience will further expose them to persons from all segments of the community. These interactions will foster conversations, understanding, and the ability to approach policing from a sociological perspective, thus realizing that there are other ways to solve community problems than merely making arrests. The purpose of the community service experience is intended to further orient participants to the service profession by being able to empathize with people from different backgrounds and to gain a level of sensitivity to the cultural diversities.

Succession Planning Through Mentoring 

The landscape of professional law enforcement is changing and, to effectively create sustainable change, organizations must prepare tomorrow’s leaders today. Often seen in the military and the private sector are succession plans that ensure the efficient continuity of operations within the organization as management and leadership change. As cited by Liz Weber, certified management consultant, in her blog on 24 July 2012:

“Succession planning and leadership development are more than just lining up recruits for vacancies, and most public sector managers haven’t caught onto this yet,” said Eric Henry, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System. “Solid leadership planning and development means you’ve created an organization that has a number of junior and mid-level managers ready to step up and take over for a number of your department heads when the need arises; whether through planned attrition or unplanned departures.”

The years of experience that are lost when a senior member of any organization leaves has the potential to stagnate operations during the transition period. Recognizing the inevitability of this process, law enforcement organizations could pair cadets with current mid-level managers or executive staff to gain insight on their departments’ daily operations, to discover the opportunities that the law enforcement profession offers, and to help build the cadets’ leadership skills. There should be clear guidance to ensure that this relationship is highly effective with the establishment of ground rules that express the frequency of communication and meetings between the mentor and mentee. Through this relationship, mentees will express their short- and long-term goals, which the mentors can use to create plans that will allow the mentees to gain exposure in these focus areas while providing the appropriate guidance.

Bethany Rubin Henderson is the founder of City Hall Fellows. This program was created out of her conviction that getting cities’ own best and brightest to return home and tackle social problems locally was the best way to tackle the most pressing challenges. Her theory of change: smart leverage – that one talented, passionate, well-trained individual working in the right place inside government can change an agency, and that many working together can change a city. Since their 2008 launch, City Hall Fellows has trained 75 urban changemakers (selected from 1,700 applicants) who have transformed how three cities (San Francisco, Houston, and Baton Rouge) operate. The Police Cadet Leadership Initiative being built on these sameeologies would help to produce local changemakers in the law enforcement profession that will be able to make a sustainable difference in the communities they serve through the skills they learn from this collaborative engagement. 

Samuel Johnson Jr.

Samuel Johnson Jr. is the training and exercise coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management in Baltimore City (Maryland). In this role, he is responsible for providing emergency preparedness training for over 5,000 public safety professionals. He has served within the city of Baltimore for over 6 years in various capacities, which include the Baltimore Police Department and Baltimore Housing. In 2015, he was recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the country’s top 30 law and policy professionals under the age of 30. He completed his master’s degree at the Johns Hopkins University, Public Safety Executive Leadership Program.



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