Joint Agency Police Promotional Assessment Centers: An Opportunity for Interagency Cooperation

The current fiscal environment for many law enforcement agencies requires innovative change in practices and procedures.  While we may not be facing the stark challenges of retrenchment budgeting that were common in the 1980s, today many of us have insufficient budgets to achieve all that we seek to accomplish. A joint agency promotional assessment center may enable multiple agencies to realize the benefits of the assessment center at a substantial cost savings.

Background Brief

Human Resource Management costs are significant in public policing.  As a rule of thumb 70-90% of any law enforcement agency’s budget is committed to some aspect of Human Resource Management (HRM).  These costs have been predicted to grow in the future as a result of any number of factors.  But a common factor in any HRM cost equation is the identification, selection and retention of competent and capable supervisors and managers.

Across the nation, several law enforcement agencies have adopted the promotional assessment center as a defensible and fair tool in the selection of supervisors and managers.  However, as many readers know only too well – a functional promotional assessment is an expensive tool[i].   The costs present in any one of several forms – including the significant time commitment of both the candidates and assessors; the logistical support required for a successful center (video recording, appropriate exercise spaces, and scheduling trained actors) as well as the extensive and intensive planning required for a successful assessment center process.

The Opportunity

Law enforcement agencies may overlook a durable solution to the problem of desiring the benefits of a promotional assessment center but having insufficient resources to properly host such a center.  The solution to that problem could be the Joint Agency Promotional Assessment Center.

A Joint Assessment Center can be successfully conducted to the benefit of all law enforcement agencies involved.  But some key points to consider before engaging in a Joint Assessment Center include:

  • A basic understanding of the depth and levels of communication that such a partnership will require of each participating agency.
  • The active support for the partnership by each organization’s Human Resource professionals.
  • The confirmation that each organization’s personnel policies and practices must not prohibit such partnerships.
  • The confirmation that such a partnership is not barred by any active Collective Bargaining Agreement
  • The visible and vocal advocacy of the partnership by senior leaders of each participating organization.

A Joint Promotional Assessment Center is a very unique inter-agency partnership.  Such partnerships are by their very nature fragile and can quickly be derailed if not properly maintained.  All participating agencies must be cognizant that there are forces within the organizations that do not want such a partnership to succeed, so success will not be the result of either naiveté or paranoia by the sponsors.  Rather basic hard work and focused effort by many will deliver the results sought.

A Joint Promotional Assessment Center – A Case Study in Brief

Two CALEA accredited law enforcement agencies opted to conduct a joint promotional assessment center in the spring of 2017 for the ranks of Sergeant and Lieutenant. These agencies were in the same state, were generally similar in size, 25-75 sworn officers, and were located within 50 miles of each other.

Both agencies had prior positive experiences with the assessment center methodology.  Middle ranking (Lieutenants) and senior ranking (Assistant Chiefs and Chiefs) personnel had previously been candidates in such centers and most has served as assessors in similar assessment centers.  Both Chief Executives determined the joint approach to the assessment center to be both economical and effective.

A consideration, which was encountered and logically would be common place across many small and medium sized law enforcement agencies, is that there were an insufficient number of qualified candidates standing for promotion at the separate agencies to credibly conduct most Assessment Center exercises, e.g. with only two candidates it was nonsensical to consider several of the standard exercises (the leaderless group, the group problem solving and subsequent oral presentations) found in a promotional assessment center.

This joint approach tripled the number of Sergeant Candidates and enabled the planners to use a variety of exercises. Logistics were resolved through serial tradeoffs of equivalent values between the agencies.  One would provide the facility, the other would provide the audio-visual equipment, one would provide the food, the other the beverages, etc.  During planning, the scenarios were crafted that were generalizable to each agency, and provisions were made for the unique demands of each agency as one sponsor solicited written essays from the candidates.

The plan was executed flawlessly.  Okay that is a fictitious claim, for, of course, there were the inevitable equipment problems, the occasional parking issue and some stress related confusion by participants and assessors alike.  But with good humor and a commitment to success the plan for the joint promotional assessment center was implemented, recorded, scored and successful promotions were made.  In the voluntary debriefings that followed the participants expressed no reservations about the approach, for it was generally viewed as an opportunity to work with others who were generally unknown to the candidates for promotion.

Conclusion

Can a joint agency Promotional Assessment Center work for you?  It really depends upon your goals and your organizational flexibility.  A joint operation will demand some give and take by each participant agencies, but the cost savings with no loss in quality may make this a viable option.  The key to success is to be found in confident and skilled agency representatives committed to an understood goal, who can draft a detailed plan and implement the same.

[i] See Charles Hale (2005) “Pros and Cons of Assessment Centers” Law and Order https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-835664191.html

NOTE:  IPMA-HR offers the Public Safety Assessment Center System (PSACS) for the ranks of Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain. Free inspection copies are available.  This system can also be used to assist departments in keeping promotional test costs low while still gaining the advantages of using an assessment center.  Please visit Public Safety Assessment Center System (PSACS) for more details.

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