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Policing in a pandemic: Aligning to lead together


May 15, 2020
By Michelle Vincent


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It is interesting to see, hear and feel the reaction of the world in a pandemic and even more interesting to experience this from a policing perspective. This experience comes from a professional/organizational and personal/individual stance.

While policing is an essential service, and those providing this essential service do not have the opportunity to isolate or self-quarantine unless they meet the organization’s/provincial/federal requirements, police agencies have a moral requirement to ensure they keep both their families and communities safe.

Police officers and civilians within a policing organization are human beings and, as such, they are vulnerable to illness, may have elderly parents, young children, family members who are ill and/or pregnant all within their households, or other circumstances that may challenge their moral duty to serve in this pandemic. They will deal with unique circumstances — riots, panicking citizens, hospital protocols — and questions around where to take those experiencing immediate suicidal ideation when hospitals are not available. All of these circumstances are being processed while working with minimal staffing, sleep deprivation due to shift work and the weight of life’s challenges on their shoulders.

It is during these times that we as leaders within our organizations need to pay particular attention to our teammates around us, as well as those who are at home. We need to check in, maybe with a video call (I have found that text does not provide a true clue as to how someone is doing) to really see how we’re all coping with this.

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Most policing organizations are cutting back in every non-essential area in order to ensure the minimal staffing is fresh, available and not self-contaminating so as to place the entire organization at risk in a state of emergency. There is uncertainty with staff as to whether they will be coming in for shift, and if not, then will the time be taken from a holiday time bank or a sick time bank? If any of those time banks are depleted throughout this pandemic, how will we manage future, already pre-arranged childcare or other essential time off? This is just one example of an internal dilemma our members may be working through in their minds, on top of keeping our communities safe.

One blog I recently came across, the “Breakthrough Blog” from consulting firm Being First (blog.beingfirst.com), provides a wise approach on how to lead in these trying times. We are all leaders, or at least have the opportunity to act as one, especially in this field. Five key points the Being First blog mentions are:

  • align leaders
  • co-ordinate planning and strategy
  • engage stakeholders and communicate
  • learn and course correct
  • walk the talk

These points may be applied from an integrative perspective by aligning yourself with those you know are open to change, who are able to see the bigger picture and are likely to communicate productively in group discussion. Those are leaders that model walking the talk.

Learn about and support your organization’s co-ordination and strategic planning, while communicating this aspect with those aligned leaders/colleagues/family — a.k.a. stakeholders you have identified. Understanding that everything is new, rapidly changing and that adapting to this social crisis will likely need some course correction over time all provides a flexibility that supports seeing the opportunity at each stage of the game.

What may appear to be a concerning futurist challenge — such as time banks being drained — could create a new key piece the organization implements as a result. Perhaps a new time bank will be created for exigent circumstances in emergency services. The service I am a veteran of is doing an outstanding job in their creative approach to ensuring the safety and security of their members and then their community as well —the organization and the association are collaborating as a team.

Let’s come together in solidarity as police officers and civilians and focus on today with those five aspects mentioned above. This way we can have the clarity to see the opportunity rather than become bogged down with what might happen in the future. With such clarity we may be better able to play the dual role that is with us during this pandemic as we seek to keep our own families safe while serving our communities.

Read the blog at bit.ly/3bBEc71.


Michelle Vincent recently retired from York Regional Police after 18 years. She is the founder of The Haven, Ontario’s first non-profit, inpatient treatment centre exclusive to first responders and uniform personnel. Contact her at michelle.vincent@thehaven.cloud.


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