Let’s Be Leaders
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Let’s Be Leaders

How Poor Leadership Played A Role in The US Capitol Riots

Leadership from the Perspective of a Retired Police Lieutenant

Photo by AJ Colores on Unsplash

Our police officers spend countless hours of training and ensuring they know to make the best decision quickly. Many recent events have placed police officers at the center of attention, and some citizens have attacked them; the people who are to protect and serve us.

The capitol’s riots were not much different as again; every major media outlet showed the actions of Capitol police. Yet, one angle we don’t often is the behind the scenes of these events, such as the training of these officers.

One would imagine that capitol police are subject to a robust training program that prepares them for events such as riots and an attack on federal property. While this might be the case, retired police lieutenant Randy Sutton voices his opinion of the matter.

“What I saw was a failure of law enforcement leadership of an epic proportion. You know, mass events are the stock and trade of large law enforcement departments, and Capitol Police is a large department; 23,000 officers approximately. And it is up to the leadership to create a safe environment for both the people who are in attendance at a rally or protest. But it’s also their responsibility to create a safe environment for their police officers. The fact that (more than) 50 officers were injured and one was killed shows that failure of leadership.”

Sutton takes a holistic leadership approach where safety is of utmost importance for both those in attendance and the officers. This idea makes sense as most officers do not want to harm people intentionally, yet when forced to engage in combat, they may not be able to think of the best decision in a matter of seconds.

“There should have been some contingency plans that were in effect, for instance, there should have been a mutual aid agreement, and I’m sure it exists, but it wasn’t put into place; with outside agencies, with the DC Police, with the National Guard, and with other agencies.

Officers are trained to face many scenarios, and every one is unique, so it can be difficult to predict an outcome. In the case of these officers and their superiors, there seemed to be little to no contingency plan, and the officers were left to make independent decisions based on their training.

Contingency plans are critical for any leader to create as we never know what will and won’t work with a team. We make our best plan of action based on past experiences and data but often find that plan A fails, and we don’t have a solution until plan K.

“The orders of engagement are critical here; this is, the officers that are standing the line only have a view of what is in front of them, and law enforcement combat is what we saw yesterday in a lot of those instances. … The leadership has to be very clear about what the rules of engagement are.”

In a tense situation such as this, every officer should have the basic knowledge of their orders and when to engage in law enforcement combat. While not every rally will spark actions such as these, they should understand when to switch tactics or escalate the situation.

I was an active firefighter during my high school years, and we spent hours of training each year for countless different scenarios. It can be challenging to know where the fire will strike next, as when a crowd will escalate. The primary rule to remember is when the time is right to switch the plan of action.

The Capitol police were physically well equipped but failed to be mentally ready. While much of this lack of preparedness falls onto leaders, each officer had to choose their next plan of action based on training.

Studying an event such as this allows both leaders and team members to become more prepared with training, contingency plans, and their job and organization processes.

Sarah Begley looks deeper into one of the photos taken at this event. She writes about certain presidents and notes that not all presidents have resigned after shameful events.

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Zach Goreczny

Zach Goreczny

College Student. Coffee Lover. Writes about Leadership, Business, and Data Science. https://www.udemy.com/user/zachary-goreczny/