Police Officers and Professional Development

A police officer is a citizen appointed to office to defend against crime and safeguard the community from criminals. Policing is a challenging and worthwhile profession and can involve working with difficult or complex situations which require quick thinking and working effectively as part of a team. The police need excellent people skills and the ability to stay calm when dealing with the public, especially in stressful and dangerous situations. Learning and development are essential in ensuring police officers are confident and proficient.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of increasing an employee’s skill set. A work environment where upskilling is a priority can improve morale, job satisfaction, and teamwork. Improving skills and knowledge will benefit the officer, the organization, and the service. It allows the officer to remain professionally skilled through an ongoing process that builds on existing skills. With an improved level of service, the public will benefit. Policing methods and the type of criminals and crimes the police deal with will change over time. A culture of learning is needed in the police force to ensure new challenges and responsibilities are met.

The aim of upskilling is to be better at doing your job, staying relevant in your field, and increasing the likelihood of promotion. Understanding your skillset and the requirements of your work role is beneficial. A positive attitude to upskilling shows you value your work and your future. Learning new things can be stimulating and make work more satisfying. If workers disregard upskilling, they are in danger of falling behind.

Policing Degree

Studying for a degree in policing can be a way to upskill and progress at work. Degree courses cover drugs, cybercrime, migration, terrorism, and trafficking. Completing a degree can help with many aspects of a police officer’s job. Writing clearly and critically is useful when writing reports and case files. Study skills are helpful whenever you take an exam. It could involve taking an exam if you are going for a promotion or applying for a different role. For example, a well-tailored degree like the Laurier online bachelor of policing program can give you an edge over others in the field, as it has been created in partnership with law enforcement bodies in Canada and is up to date with modern policing. The course is 100% online, and the teachers are expert officers.

Police Officer

Learning online

Online qualifications can be an excellent way to study for people who work full-time and may have family and personal responsibilities. Lectures are usually recorded, and it means studying can be done to fit in with other demands. Although students do not meet face to face, there is generally plenty of virtual communication so that students can support each other. Online learning means that courses from all over the world are accessible. Studying while working as a police officer can be beneficial as you can apply what you learn to your work in the real world. Skills you use to learn remotely can help when using technology at work. Advances in technology have meant there are more opportunities for studying online.

Career paths

There is no set career pathway for police officers. Policing is a massive and varied service; officers can apply to work in many positions and specialisms. Careers can follow various paths, which are continually changing, especially with technological advances. Learning and development can help police officers to progress in their careers as they gain skills and experience. They can develop in their role, manage teams or become more specialized. Their career path can lead to working in intelligence, investigation, traffic, operational support, community policing, or response policing.

Formal learning 

There are many ways to learn at work, including formal and informal training. Formal learning is structured and instructor-led and can be accessed by a police officer in the following ways:

  • Mandatory training
  • Training courses (Internal and External)
  • Secondments
  • Attachments
  • Acting up
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching
  • Shadowing


Shadowing at work can give insight into a role that interests you. It provides a chance to ask questions and get relevant answers. It can give you new contacts at work and a broader knowledge of the service. You will understand the work role better and be able to judge if it would suit you.

Here is an example of how shadowing can enable you to learn more about possible career choices:

Plan – a police officer is interested in becoming a detective. They discuss this with their manager, who suggests some possible steps.

Learn – they spend time shadowing a detective to learn more about this role and possible routes to becoming a detective.

Reflect – the police officer reflects on what they learned about the role of detective and whether this would suit their skillset. They consider the route they could take to become a detective.

Record and share – they record their experience and what they learned. They share this with their colleagues. They apply for secondment as a detective.

Coaching and mentoring

Coaching and mentoring are ways for experienced staff to support others in professional development. Mentoring is about sharing knowledge, experience, and skills, whereas coaching is about reflecting and raising awareness. Having this support at work can benefit officers’ mental health. Police work can be very demanding, with officers not knowing what they will face each day. The police can have traumatic experiences at work, and it is important to process what happened. It can help to have someone to talk to who understands what you are going through.

Coaching gives support and guidance to increase self-learning and development. It involves taking an officer through problems and issues to improve understanding and work through dealing with such situations. Coaching is performance-driven and helps people to reach their full potential. It can be an effective way to help officers manage stress and deal with challenges at work. It can contribute to job satisfaction and higher staff retention. Coaching has structured meetings and is usually short-term.

Mentoring is when a more experienced or skilled staff member offers advice and guidance to a colleague to help them develop and grow. The mentor will have the knowledge, skills, and contacts. The mentee decides the areas they want to work on, which could include business processes, policies, and practices. The main reason for mentoring is to learn and develop at work. Mentoring is usually long-term and lasts more than six months.

Informal learning

Informal training can take place every day and is learner-driven. It can help police officers in continuing professional development and can include:

  • Reflecting on work activities
  • Colleagues sharing knowledge
  • Performing new tasks
  • Observing others
  • Watching videos
  • Reading articles
  • Doing research
  • Asking questions

Talking to colleagues can help officers access a range of knowledge and expertise that can help in developing as a person and at work. Communication could be chatting after completing a job, talking at the end of a working day, or reviewing body-cam film with a colleague. Getting to know the communities the police work in will help in understanding the area’s needs and the most appropriate professional development.

Skills gap analysis

Officers can use a skills gap analysis to determine training needs. It includes recognizing the skills required, assessing skills, and identifying gaps. All the skills needed in a job can be listed and marked by the employee according to how competent they think they are. Skills that need to be worked on are highlighted. Circumstances change over time, so a skills gap analysis should be carried out regularly.

Strengths and weaknesses

An article in the Harvard Business Review looks at how people tend to concentrate on their strengths but how important it is to identify your weaknesses. It gives the example of highly successful people not being satisfied with success but being aware of their limitations and continually working to overcome them. Being self-aware and recognizing frailties and working to improve can be a strength. Everybody has weaknesses; what matters is how they are addressed.

Learning development plan

Planning for learning and development will usually take place with your manager. A skills gap analysis can be the first step in determining what upskilling you need. To follow this, you can work with your manager to complete a learning development plan. Learning aims and objectives will be agreed upon and recorded. They will be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. The plan gives a framework to work to and ensures learning objectives are not forgotten. Review meetings can be held to reflect, monitor progress, and plan new development aims.


All learning will be more effective if you reflect on what you have learned and apply it to your work role. Reflection should involve analyzing, reviewing, and evaluating learning experiences. Regular reflection on learning and performance can bring a better understanding of weaknesses and strengths. Recognizing skills can make it easier to understand what future learning should entail. It can help to develop critical thinking skills and plan for future development to improve performance. By having more understanding of learning, the person can feel more involved in the process and, therefore, more motivated. Sharing what you have learned with colleagues will contribute to teamwork and help build a learning culture.


Developing to improve skills and performance will involve receiving feedback from your manager and others. Accepting positive feedback, constructive criticism, and guidance is not always easy, but if done in a purposeful and supportive way, it can give you a new viewpoint on your development.

Ways to accept feedback:

  • Listen carefully to what the person is saying.
  • Do not give reasons or justifications when receiving feedback.
  • Do not be defensive when receiving feedback, as this can be a barrier that prevents proper communication.
  • You can ask for clarification by asking questions and repeating back what you have been told to ensure you have heard correctly.
  • If you feel the feedback was valid, use it to influence future actions.
  • If the feedback does not ring true, leave it for now and revisit it later.

Social media learning

Social media can be a means to learn, but there are advantages and disadvantages. Only some things on social media that claim to enhance learning are valid and trustworthy.

The CRAAP test can help you decide if the information is authentic:

  • Currency – when was this published? Is it current and up to date?
  • Relevance – who is this aimed at, and who is the intended readership?
  • Authority – who is the author or the source of this resource?
  • Accuracy – is this resource supported by clear evidence?
  • Purpose – what is the aim and purpose of this information?

It is a good idea to be careful when getting information from social media and only share it if you are sure, it is reliable.

Cybercrime and technology

Changes in society affect the work of the police force; therefore, the police must adapt to

technological advances and need a workforce with relevant skills and knowledge.

There is a need for a new, digital way of working. The public and criminals have become

more skilled at using technology, so a new type of police officer is required with a change in culture and ways of working.

Every police officer needs to respond effectively to digital crime. Younger officers can be more attuned to technology, and the service can benefit from their skills, while older officers can receive training to approach digital crime as any other crime. Courses are provided by police forces that address cybercrime and digital policing, investigations, and communication.

Cybercrime is a problem worldwide and has become one of the most profitable crimes. The police must be highly skilled in investigating and finding these criminals. They need to be as proficient with technology as the criminals who use it.

Policing is challenging with many demands, and upskilling can help officers feel more confident and competent at work and reach their full potential. As the police face a changing society with new demands on their service, the role of professional development in policing is pivotal

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