Mentoring Police Leaders

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 6 a.m. February 10, 2015

There is no better way to learn than to see leadership in action.

Two men seated and talking
Chief Bill Blair speaks with Prince George's County Police Department Deputy Chief Hank Stawinski

Prince George’s County Police Department Deputy Chief Hank Stawinski was delighted to be selected among the second cohort for the 2015  Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) Police Executive Leadership Development (PELD) program.

As part of the eight-month program, police leaders in Canada, the United States and England are assigned an experienced MCCA chief executive, who serves as a mentor. Participants are also provided with an opportunity to visit their mentor and his/her agency for a week.

Stawinski was excited to work with Chief Bill Blair.

“Toronto is a major city that’s well respected internationally and Chief Bill Blair is head of one of the most sophisticated police agencies in the world. To talk with him as a peer, and to understand his thinking, really allows me to sharpen my own skills as I look forward towards taking our agency forward in becoming more progressive and effective,” said Stawinski, who has served with his department since 1992.

“When I look at Chief Blair and his methods, I say to myself here is an opportunity to connect with the rank and file of Toronto Police as I do with my own organization and then I take the two components – his thinking in terms of strategy and our organization’s thinking in terms of implementation – and I then ask myself how can I realign my structures and how can I make my department more progressive, in terms of how we provide services, so that the officer on the street can be more effective.”

We recognized that we have some extraordinary people in our organizations, some really bright and capable people, that are quickly developing and would surely take over our organizations

Founded in 1949 to provide a forum for police executives to share ideas, experiences and strategies for addressing the challenges of policing large urban communities, the MCCA developed the leadership program aimed at high-level police executives who have a strong desire to become a police chief or sheriff.

“We recognized that we have some extraordinary people in our organizations, some really bright and capable people, that are quickly developing and would surely take over our organizations,” said Blair, who is the MCCA’s second vice-president. “We looked at opportunities that each of us, as police chiefs, had been given while coming up, including our exposure to good mentors and role models that we learned from and supported and developed us. We also recognized that with the increasing complexity of what Chiefs of Police are being called upon to do in terms of the leadership of their organizations as well as their responsibilities as leaders in their communities, a very broad range of skills and experiences are required.

“…When an organization identifies people who are sort of up and coming and have a high potential to become the future leaders of their organization, we think we all have a responsibility to spend a little time with these individuals, to share our experience and perspective and pass on what we have learned to the next generation. So, we want to make sure that we give our people the best exposure.”

The holder of a Master’s from John Hopkins University, Stawinski visited the Service’s state-of-the art college and some specialized units and met with other high-ranking TPS leaders while in Canada’s largest city.

“In addition to mentoring him, I wanted to give Hank an opportunity to see all the remarkable people in my organization and observe their level of commitment and some of the brilliant things they are doing,” Blair said. “I also wanted him to look at our best practices and take them back home and adapt them to his organization’s circumstances. I also like to have my people get an opportunity to hear what others are doing.”

Stawinski, following the footsteps of his father, a Prince George’s County police officer for 26 years up until 1982, is not the only American big-city deputy to benefit from Blair’s tutelage.

Richard Ross Jr., the Philadelphia Police Department’s first deputy commissioner responsible for field operations, spent a day with Blair a year ago.

“I was there with Chief Blair when he was dealing with some issues regarding your Mayor,” said Ross. “I have to give Chief Blair a lot of credit for keeping the game face. My biggest take-away from that meeting is understanding the need to maintain your composure in the face of some of the craziest times.”

Smart people learn from their mistakes, but the smartest people learn from the experiences of others

Last year, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly took part in the PELD program. His mentor was Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey who, last December, was appointed to co-chair United States president Barack Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing.

“The PELD is one of the best executive-development programs and to be mentored by Charles Ramsey was quite an honour,” said Sloly. “The exposure to great police leaders like him, and to be part of a class of police leaders who are being groomed for further advancement, was quite fulfilling for me.”

A former MCCA president, Ramsey heads the fourth-largest police service in North America.

“That exposure was great for Peter because I think Ramsey is one of the great police leaders in North America,” said Blair. “He has incredible experience and his accomplishments are many. To give an opportunity to one of our people to get an insight into how he thinks is really brilliant for my officers. It will make them better, smarter and more competent. Smart people learn from their mistakes, but the smartest people learn from the experiences of others.”

PELD participants also have to participate in classroom sessions over a four-day period and write a strategy paper addressing a current policing issue in their jurisdictions.

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