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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.


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