Mission Control: Six Tips for Crafting Effective Mission Statements

Got a strategic vision set for the police department?  Great; there is still work to do in order to punch through the strategic planning process.  It’s time to gain some mission control.

Strategic Vision vs. Mission Statement

The strategic planning process does not end with the identification of the police department’s strategic vision.  The vision tells the agency and the community where the agency is headed, but it is just as important to make sure the agency and the community clearly understand where the agency is now.

That is the role of the mission statement; an opportunity formally to express the role of the police department and the present status of the department.  A well-crafted mission statement will give the agency its identity.  Granted police departments are not competing with one another for business, they still have a chance to brand themselves to standout positively and create an image that they can control.  A good mission statement is more than a catchy slogan, and less than the entire strategic plan.

Here are some tips that will help craft an effective mission statement:

Identify the police department’s services.  This sounds simple and it will be if the statement reiterates what the general role of law enforcement is in the community. Instead of simply stating the traditional services that police perform,  make a statement that reflects the core competency of the police department that stands out from other police departments.  If the agency is benchmarking, elude to that in a sense that the community can relate to without going into detail about the mark target. If the agency has high marks in community surveys, lean toward those favorable impressions and market them in the statement.  As unpleasant as it may sound, take a look at police departments that are making the headlines by doing things the wrong way (not just adverse public opinion, but real snafus) and make philosophical distinctions from them.  Keep in mind that while the mission statement is in the here-and-now, it should demonstrate that it is supporting the long-term strategic vision.

Specify the community needs that the department is trying to satisfy.  Can this be a fickle, moving target? Most certainly.  But like the business world, police departments should be conducting regular internal and external examinations in order to determine the needs in the community.  Sincere and genuine surveys, follow-up interviews with citizens and citizen complaint analysis is time-consuming and rather rare in law enforcement, but may be some the best ways to keep an ear on the track. Trends outside of the agency’s area should be considered as well; the departments that are facing struggles that make the national news level can be indicators of challenges that any police department can face.  Once these needs have been identified, clearly address them in the mission statement is such a way that the community can see they have been heard.

Identify the groups the agency is trying to serve.  Groups, not just one group. Police departments are tasked with serving a jurisdiction, but each jurisdiction is comprised of several target markets, and each of those markets represent specific needs.  For example, most police chief executive officers are keenly aware that citizens in different geographic, economic, ethnic or racial concentrations have varied needs, expectations and perceptions of the police department that serves them.  The mission statement should be visibly inclusive and sensitive to all of the needs in the community.

Specify the department’s approach to pleasing its customers.  This is a great chance to communicate sincerely with the community and remind members of the police department what the expectations are when they deal with the public.  What core competencies does the agency have that demonstrate customer service?  How effective and professional is the agency: from the time the phone call asking for help is made, to the minute the responding officer finishes the call or the case that resulted resolves in court?  Is the agency treating the community the same way your favorite auto repair shop, restaurant or doctor’s office treats you?  Customer service in policing is no different that any other industry, despite the fact that police are involved because things are not going so well to begin with.

Give the police department its own unique identity.  Shine.  Project the image that supports your strategic vision.  Step away from the stereotypes that inaccurately define who police officers are and what police departments do.  Identify the department in a way that inspires trust in the community and the confidence of the members of the police department. Never make promises that the agency cannot keep, but always keep the promises that have been made.  Law enforcement is working a tough row to hoe these days with regard to public perceptions and opinions; the mission statement is the first place to push back and remind the world that the agency and its officers are above the day-to-day criticism that rants on and on.  Make the mission statement known.  Unlike the old days when they were read at roll calls, printed in annual reports and thumb tacked to bulletin boards at headquarters, the internet and countless free social media channels leave no excuse for not making the mission statement readily available to the public. 

What are some of the best law enforcement agency mission statements that you have read?

Fit no stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.
Colin Powell

 © 2014 David A. Lyons
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