Friday, December 13, 2013

How Police Departments Can Use an Action Learning Model for Knowledge Management

Edward Brown, M.S. defines a Learning Organization as an “Organization that acquires knowledge and innovates fast enough to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing environment. Learning organizations (1) create a culture that encourages and supports continuous employee learning, critical thinking, and risk taking with new ideas, (2) allow mistakes, and value employee contributions, (3) learn from experience and experiment, and (4) disseminate the new knowledge throughout the organization for incorporation into day-to-day activities.”

Essentially, police departments are bonafide  learning organizations when it comes to the technical aspects of policing. Police academies and in-service training are extremely valuable for updating officer survival techniques, legal and constitutional considerations, and liability issues. Even field training is valuable on an individual level. However, what happens with the 30 years of experience and information police supervisors and officers leave with when they retire? Where are the archives that house this information?  How can police departments become better knowledge managers reminiscent of research libraries and information curators? Could experience be packaged to create POST certified training? 

Fundamentally, other learning organizations have begun using action learning as a methodology for retrieving internal experiences and translating it into documented information.  Study Guides and Strategies website (n.d.) defined action learning as “…learning and problem-solving strategy for organizations, whether commercial, government or non-profit. The focus is to increase employees learning capacity within an organization while responding to a real world challenge in a cross-departmental team. Reflection is an important part of the experience.”

Study Guides and Strategies broke learning actions into 6 (six) components, which are:

  • Takes advantage of its members’ own actions and experience
  • The experience of "exchange" can generate fresh approaches across departmental lines (networking), and help build systemic innovation and learning capacity within the organization.
  • Begins with a period of strategic questioning of the problem
  • Sets action items and goals
  • Regroups to analyze progress
  • Reflects upon, and documents, the process

How would this work within police departments? First, police leaders would determine that there is a problem within their knowledge management system. Veteran supervisors and officers who do not systematically pass on their experience to personnel keep police departments in a regressive mode. Even U.S. prisons have become criminal universities for inmates passing on best practices to other  inmates. To stay ahead, police departments have to view police experience as vital to knowledge management. Second, by enlisting police personnel as archivists using current resources within the training section, there are no additional expenditures for maintaining a database of interviews and biographies, video logs, and publishing center. Third, designating a curator ensures that all information is catalogued and used within academy and in-service training.  Fourth, police departments that institute a knowledge management component within their department become the epicenter for other departments in retrieving these best practices. Departments could even charge a user fee for the information as well as offer POST credits, not to mention a consultant fee to help set up knowledge management centers within other departments. Finally, retiring supervisors and officers create a legacy that is self-fulfilling as well as valuable to police operations.  A hundred years from now, future police supervisors and officers can review how past supervisors and officers made certain decisions that may be germane and relevant for that time.

If the old adage, “Knowledge is Power,” has any validity, it is critical that police departments maintain the most important part of this edict of knowledge, experience. By preserving experience that becomes wisdom, police departments can maintain the quintessential aspect of power.

Edward Brown, M.S., is a researcher and lead instructor for Core Edge Police Professional Development.  Ed is a former Atlanta police officer and has trained supervisors within the Atlanta Police Department as well as police officers throughout the state of Georgia and abroad. Ed is also a consultant to police departments in archival and knowledge management.

He has advanced legal training from the University of Dayton School of Law and a master’s degree from Mercer University in Public Safety Leadership.

Ed is the author of nine books including: A Badge Without Blemish: Avoiding Police Corruption and The Secrets to Communicating Effectively with Police Officers.

Click for review: Police Now!


Learning Organization (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Study Guides and Strategies (n.d.). Action Learning. Retrieved from:

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