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First-Line Supervisors: A Case for Training

By Lewis Eakins, Ph.D., chief security officer and director of public safety, Idaho State University, Pocatello

The first-line supervisor is often viewed as a critical player in highly effective law enforcement and public safety agencies and one of the positions with significant influence. Why is this becoming a general consensus among law enforcement leaders? It is because first-line supervisors are tasked with a broad and varied range of duties and responsibilities critical to the department’s success. They are vital for conveying the leaders’ vision and goals in order to secure buy-in and advance change on the front-line level.

First-line supervisors are no longer relegated only to running roll-call, performing a few administrative duties, and addressing minor disciplinary matters. With first-line supervisors being held responsible for supervising more than 85% of department personnel, there is an expectation that they spend more time in the field. This is important due to the changing role of first-line supervisors. They convey department leadership messages to the field officers and advise executives as to the morale and reaction of front-line officers. Often they serve as mentors to their officers. Moreover, first-line supervisors are being held accountable to de-escalate officers in use-of-force scenarios, address various forms of officer bias, initially manage critical incidents, and serve as change-agents for the deployment of new technology, equipment, or tactics. In essence, they are the backbone of the department while serving as a role model to their direct reports.

Unfortunately, it also is widely recognized that training for first-line supervisors lags behind the extensive demands and requirements for the position. There tends to be a lack of uniformity in training, and even though classic “failure to train” can result in lawsuits and vicarious liability, first-line supervisors usually assume their positions before they receive relevant training. Furthermore, the training they receive is usually in the classroom, rather than scenario-based. All these factors place first-line supervisors at a distinct disadvantage.

IACLEA leadership has recognized the need to properly train current and aspiring first-line supervisors specifically for a college or university environment. IACLEA’s Education and Learning Committee, which I am pleased to chair, was charged with designing and implementing a First-Line Supervisor Institute (FLSI) to fill this void. The inaugural FLSI will take place January 8–11, 2019, at the University of Maryland – College Park.

  • The first day of training will focus on personality assessments and leadership styles. It is important for first-line supervisors to understand who they are as individuals and the leadership style that will be most effective within their department.
  • The second day will encapsulate the process of transitioning from officer to supervisor and the performance management of subordinates.
  • The third day will consider the impact first-line supervisors have on morale and the perception of line officers. There will also be training on supervisory response to officer bias and techniques to use for de-escalation intervention.
  • Finally, on day four, attendees will gain an understanding of their role in managing critical incidents ranging from demonstrations to active-shooter scenarios.

What makes this training different from other off-the-shelf first-line training programs? The focus on first-line supervision relative to a campus environment using instructors with years of experience in campus public safety and law enforcement. Please consider sending current and aspiring first-line supervisors from your departments to this high-quality training program.


Register Now

January 8–11, 2019

University of Maryland – College Park

The early-bird discount was extended to December 1. Register now to save $80. The course is limited to approximately 30 students, and limited seats remain.


Please Renew Your IACLEA Membership for 2020!

All 2019 IACLEA memberships expired August 31. There is no better place for campus public safety and police personnel to learn and collaborate than IACLEA. We invite you to remain a part of this vibrant learning environment. Renew today during the grace period!