As a sergeant in my department’s training unit, one of my duties is the coordination and implementation of our Sergeant Testing Process. Over the last 4 years, I have been a member of the team tasked with the development of this unique process. Our overall goal is to identify and promote the department’s best leaders. Here is an outline of how we are doing that…
- Department Leadership Development Program
We began by creating a leadership development program for anyone even remotely interested in possibly promoting within the department. Sworn or non-sworn, all are welcome to attend, learn, and discuss leadership from a law enforcement perspective. We offer 2 classes per month focusing on topics such as building teams, leadership accountability, ethical leadership, building influence, and many others. These are highly interactive courses designed to assist the attendees in developing their own unique leadership philosophy and not shoving one particular style down their throats. While being a part of this program is not mandatory for those interested in promoting to sergeant, it does provide an item for the resume and also exposes them to multiple perspectives of law enforcement leadership which greatly helps with later pieces of the Sergeant Testing Process. Approximately 75% of the people that we promote to sergeant were a part of this program.
- Sergeant Testing Process Announcement
The announcement for the Sergeant Testing Process comes out 6 months prior to the expiration of our current sergeant promotional list. The entire Sergeant Testing Process is a lengthy one which requires those interested in testing to be dedicated to the idea of promoting to sergeant. This helps to remove those “I’ll just throw my hat in the ring and see what happens” type people from trying to promote. This announcement spells out every one of the following steps in detail so the expectations are clear.
- The Written Test
Having a written test is nothing unique to any other Sergeant Testing Process, but it is only the beginning of our process. Our test is 50 multiple choice questions and designed to verify that those continuing in the process have a minimum baseline of knowledge and the ability to apply state law, policy/procedure, and case law. Where our test becomes unique is that the majority of the questions are patrol scenario-based. We are not looking for memorizers, we are looking for those that can apply their knowledge. All of the scenarios are real-world situations that have happened to current patrol sergeants and required the sergeant to know the answer “off the top of their head.” The tests are validated by having our current patrol sergeants take the test and utilizing an average of their scores to create the passing score. If a candidate does not meet the minimum passing score, then they are done with this process.
- The Standardized Resume
For the candidates that pass the written test, they must submit a standardized resume. This resume is designed to have the same sections of information, font, available space, and overall appearance for each candidate. This reduces the positive or negative style factors that can sometimes play a role when reviewing multiple resumes. Because all of these standardized resumes look alike, focus can be maintained on the information contained within. Our standardized resume highlights positions of leadership and contributions made to the department by providing specific space for sharing information regarding being a Field Trainer, General Instructor, and initiative taken to prepare for this process. These pieces of the resume go beyond just yes/no that it was done and asks for information about their last four trainees and what classes they have taught. The standardized resume is then made available throughout the remainder of the Sergeant Testing Process.
- Lieutenant Panel Interview
After passing the written test, the next step in the process is to participate in a Lieutenant Panel Interview. Our panel consists of three patrol lieutenants. They review each candidate’s standardized resume prior to the oral board. Questions on the oral board focus on leadership, emotional intelligence, tactical knowledge, and the transition to becoming a sergeant. There is no specific number for how many candidates can pass this part of the process. The goal for the Lieutenant Panel Interview is to assess who is ready to lead. The passing candidates will be taught the job of being a sergeant; it is leadership that is much more difficult to learn once promoted. Over the last 4 years, approximately 50 – 60% of the applying candidate make it through to the next step.
- Basic Sergeant School
Those that make it through the Lieutenant Panel Interview attend a week long Basic Sergeant School. The school consists of 12 topics of instructions that are presented by our in-house experts. Everything from emergency response strategy to payroll to mental health to patrol sergeant admin tasks gets covered. Because the focus of the process so far has been identifying leaders, we are able to focus the school on these more managerial topics and not waste time trying to teach leadership ineffectively. The Basic Sergeant School provides detailed knowledge of a sergeant’s job so when candidates begin field training they can combine and apply this knowledge and their leadership from the beginning. Each day of the school ends with a discussion panel. Panels in our most recent school included groups of Detective Supervisors, Lieutenants, New Patrol Sergeants, and Patrol Support Supervisors. Each of these panels provided an open forum for the candidates to asked questions of each unique group and also to assist them in developing their own network of department resources.
- Sergeant Field Training
It is during Sergeant Field Training that we learn who is and who is not ready to be a patrol sergeant. Each candidate goes through a 5 week Sergeant Field Training period. They are not promoted, but are given sergeant chevron pins for their collars so they stand out from a standard patrol officer. There are three phases and the candidates will spend time with 2 different patrol sergeants. The candidates essentially become the sergeant for the squads they are assigned with the Sergeant Field Trainer there to assist, coach, teach, and mentor them through learning the job of being a patrol sergeant. The Sergeant Field Trainers help them learn to apply the knowledge they were taught in the Basic Sergeant School. Each day, a Daily Observation Report (DOR) is completed and they are scored. At the end of each phase, both the Sergeant Field Trainer and their assigned Lieutenant write a Phase Summary Report that discusses the candidate’s ability to lead, manage the job, and handle any emergency traffic or significant investigations they were involved in. If a candidate cannot manage to perform the tasks of a patrol sergeants, they can be removed from the program at this point in the process. One of the most significant benefits of doing sergeant field training before promoting a candidate is that they can simply return to their current assignment if it is discovered that being a sergeant is not for them.
- Chiefs Oral Board
After Sergeant Field Training, all of the documentation regarding their performance is collected along with their Standardized Resume and a packet is created for each candidate. These packets are given to the Chief of Police and the two Assistant Chiefs of Police to review. After they have had sufficient time to review each candidate’s performance and information, the Chiefs Oral Board is schedule. The Chiefs ask a variety of questions related to the candidate’s learning and performance of the Patrol Sergeant position. From this oral board panel, the Chiefs create a ranked Promotional List.
- Auxiliary Sergeants
Because we have a ranked list of officers/detectives that have been trained in and shown proficiency at performing the duties of a patrol sergeant, we have also created a pool “auxiliary sergeants.” They can be utilized (as their schedules permit) to assist in covering patrol squads whenever a squad’s sergeant is off/out of duty a week or longer. This could be due to a vacation, illness, or injury. As the candidates are waiting on the ranked list to promote, helping to cover patrol squads maintains the patrol sergeant skill set they learned during this process. While serving as an “auxiliary sergeant,” they are paid at the base hourly rate of a new sergeant. This creates a win all around for both the department and those waiting on the list to promote.
It is usually at this point in the discussion of this process that someone asks what happens if they do not promote off of the list. The ranked list is good for 1 year. If a candidate on that list does not promote within the year and they have filled in where opportunities were available as an “auxiliary sergeant,” then when the next process begins they will be able to skip all the way to the Chief’s Oral Board. In the Chiefs Oral Board, they will be able to discuss how they have performed as an “auxiliary sergeant” without the aide of a field trainer. If they have proven themselves to be a reliable “auxiliary sergeant,” then they usually find their way near the top of the next year’s ranked list.
Over the last 4 years, this process has consistently produced some of the best Sergeant Promotional Lists we have ever seen. The candidates are better prepared and more comfortable stepping in and taking on the role of being a patrol sergeant.
A few key details – This process is utilized in a department of approximately 400 sworn. It requires someone dedicated to its coordination and implementation, as well as, commitment from Human Resources and the entire Chain of Command.
If you have questions, feel free to ask. It is only due to the success of this process that I share it with you here at Thin Blue Line of Leadership.
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