The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership

Law Enforcement Insights: A Journey Through 40 Years with Chief John Letteney

August 22, 2023 Joh Letteney Season 5 Episode 109
The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership
Law Enforcement Insights: A Journey Through 40 Years with Chief John Letteney
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

TCD Podcast - Season 5 - Episode 109

Ever wondered what it's like to spend 40 years in law enforcement? Our latest episode features a chat with John Letteney, a seasoned veteran of policing, currently serving as the Chief of Police in Thomasville, Georgia, and President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Letteney provides a firsthand account of his experiences, highlighting the nuances of pioneering leadership and the significant role of strategic planning in responding to community needs.

This episode isn't just about law enforcement mechanics, but also about the human connections forged through community engagement. Letteney shares his insights on the impact of commercial growth on public safety, the integral role of cultural understanding in policing a diverse community, and the importance of developing a synergistic relationship between the police and fire departments. Additionally, you'll hear about his innovative approach to department feedback, using one-on-one meetings to encourage dialogue and foster a culture of improvement.

Lastly, we delve into the crucial topic of career development within the law enforcement landscape. From showcasing the need for a 360-degree perspective to understanding the benefits of varied roles and promotions, Letteney paints a comprehensive picture of the road to becoming a well-rounded officer. Expect to come away with an enhanced understanding of the noble profession of law enforcement, an appreciation for the power of listening, and the importance of setting clear expectations within a team. So join us on this informative journey that pays tribute to the unsung heroes who protect our streets and communities.

Contact us: copdoc.podcast@gmail.com

Website: www.copdocpodcast.com

If you'd like to arrange for facilitated training, or consulting, or talk about steps you might take to improve your leadership and help in your quest for promotion, contact Steve at stephen.morreale@gmail.com

Intro :

Welcome to The Cop Doc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The cop doc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing communities, academia and other government agencies. And now please join Dr Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on The Cop Doc Podcast.

Steve Morreale:

Well, hello everybody. It's Steve Morreale. I'm coming to you from Boston, Massachusetts, and you're listening to the Cop Doc Podcast. We begin another episode and we're talking with a colleague in Thomasville, Georgia, John Letney. He's the chief of police, but is also now the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police For a few more months. Hello, John.

John Letteney:

Hello, how are you today?

Steve Morreale:

Fine, thank you. Thanks so much for taking the time. I know how busy that job is, never mind the police chiefing but also being the representative of the IACP. Let's talk about you first, before we get to the IACP. You've been in this business for 40 years. You've been in several places, from the Rochester area to Apex. Well, now you're at Thomasville, georgia, but there was one other place. Talk about your start in policing and where you went and how you ended up in Thomasville.

John Letteney:

Well, 40 years actually 41 plus a little bit, which has gone by fast. But it really started for me in the Monroe County Sheriff's Office in Rochester, new York, started as a part-timer and got hired part-time and worked a couple summers there and a few different units and then got hired full-time. I had to go back to the academy to learn everything I already learned, but it was still a good opportunity to refresh and from there I had great opportunities with some really progressive, forward-thinking leaders who put me in positions Some I wanted to be in, some I didn't want to be in but they knew where I needed to learn. I spent 24 years or so there and that was the foundation for what I learned about not only professional policing but community policing and how what we do really is service the crime investigation. All that other stuff is certainly very important, but we spend most of our time serving people in their time of need and that was very foundational for me in learning kind of that model and that philosophy. From there I retired and I moved to Southern Pines, north Carolina, to take the chief's position there.

Steve Morreale:

And that's a retirement job right?

John Letteney:

Yeah, that's what I was talking about. So I spent about seven years there. It went great organization, great community, great people and it just had some needs that I thought my skillset fit, and so did the hiring board, so really learned a lot there as well, not only about leading an organization, but about the differences between states, between cultures, between philosophies, between history and all those kind of things.

Steve Morreale:

Then I moved to Apex, north Carolina, and that's very, very growing, a growing area, huh, my goodness.

John Letteney:

When I got there it was about 32,000 people or so living in Apex and the department was about 70 or so strong. By the time I left. Eight years later, we were pushing 70,000 residents in about almost 140 positions. So, they had rapid growth and we saw that coming, which was good, because-.

Steve Morreale:

Was it from the Triangle, the research Triangle?

John Letteney:

Well, yes, the whole Triangle was growing, but in 2015, Apex was named the number one small city in the United States.

Steve Morreale:

That's like the kiss, that's like a kiss at death, when people say we go to Hilton Head, it's the best place ever. Like, stop saying that.

John Letteney:

It really was great for Apex, but it just accelerated the growth in levels that were hard to sustain as far as the infrastructure around it. But by that time my leadership team and I, our philosophy was that we were going to build a department that had a structure in place so as the community grew we could grow methodically. So we put a command structure in divisions and units in place only maybe with a few people or maybe even just on paper, but the structure was there. So as we grew and had it at officers, it was very simple to plug them into different spots and move on.

Steve Morreale:

So I'm guessing when you were having those conversations because this is really very important to me and, I hope, to the listeners as you're sitting around the table and you're saying, okay, where are we at, where should we be and where do you want to go. So a part of that, I think, is the process what do we need? And unfortunately you have to be somewhat clairvoyant, but what will we need in the future? How did you lead that conversation and take your crew down the road to think bigger and more strategically and more long range?

John Letteney:

But I think that's one of our primary roles as leaders, and certainly as chiefs, is we have to be visionary. We are building a department or enhancing a department for a time we won't see. So even now we are looking at a department 10 or 15 years down the road and trying to anticipate the growth, trying to anticipate the challenges we'll face in law enforcement, which is very difficult to do. But in Apex we could anticipate the growth. The planning department had a really good metric for where we were going to grow and how and the nuances around that. So growing into unincorporated parts of the county, growing across the county line, which presents all kinds of other challenges, but we could see that coming.

Steve Morreale:

Well, I'm interrupting you because you're raising so many questions in my mind. What you're saying is that planning group was not with the police department, was with the community, and so is that not true?

John Letteney:

It was across the board. So the city planners and the planning team that's their expertise, so they can look at growth cycles and census data and trends and projections and so on. And so when we were armed with that information, the police department leadership team could say all right, a year from now we're going to be this size and we need to plan for what does that mean for calls for service? What does that mean for personnel? What does it mean for infrastructure? So we built several substations because we needed a presence further out. And when you do that for a year and five years and 10 years, you're looking to the future, you're trying to anticipate and have a vision of what it's going to be like and you're never going to hit it 100%. But what it does is it changes the culture of the organization to be forward thinking rather than reactive. And in policing we're very much reactive because that's just how we've grown to be.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah. So it's interesting and this is not a conversation I have had in 130 episodes to talk about anticipating growth being futurist or futuristic. And what strikes me, what you're saying is if we remain in a cocoon as a police department and only deal with our little organization, then you don't have outside information. And I know clearly you have sought that information and sought that collaboration, knowing the building department and what they're approving and what's coming in Oops, a Walmart's coming in. Oops, a college or a university is coming in. Well, holy moly, what the hell is that going to mean for us? Am I not correct? Are we not gauging what you were trying to figure out now in the past and current?

John Letteney:

That's absolutely right, because we can't be in our own little world of looking at our own metrics and our own data. We have to look at other data. And what does that mean for public safety? How does that impact law enforcement and our ability to provide services? Because when a big box store comes in, what comes with that? Traffic? more people more shoppers and sometimes crime. But looking at what's our current model, what are we experiencing with our current stores or our current neighborhoods, and what does that mean when we add another? What does it mean when we're expanding? Now, at some point in time we had a satellite annexation of a neighborhood, probably 600 homes. That was about eight miles from our downtown area. So now you got to look at response time. It's one neighborhood and it's probably not a lot of calls for service. So do we deploy it based on calls for service or do we deploy it based on a prevention model, which means I need to have the resources in that area so we can respond quickly but we can prevent crime.

Steve Morreale:

And you can be visible.

John Letteney:

Absolutely Right.

Steve Morreale:

So also what strikes me is that one of the other potential metrics is to deal with the school system, to see who's coming, what are the cultures coming, what are the language coming, what are the families, because we have to adapt for that, to talk about that.

John Letteney:

In the Triangle area in North Carolina, a very diverse community, lots of folks coming from all over the world to study, to work, to live and all those things, and that brings a very unique diversity of culture and a very rich culture. But we also have to provide services to those folks In that market. It was a countywide school system that we have very good relationships with. We were growing. They were looking for places to build schools, and so that creates other issues. I need more SROs. What about traffic flow? What about school crossing guards and those kind of things that we have to plan, you know, maybe two or three years out, which, fortunately, we usually knew. So here, thomas, what's a little different? And that we're not growing to that rate and we have a city school system, separate entity from the city government, but a city school system that, again, we work very closely with, and while they're not adding new schools right now, they are renovating, and so they're closing down roads and parking areas and practice fields and parts of buildings, and so that all affects how we provide public safety service as well. So the bottom line is, you need to look outside your sphere of influence within the building and look at what's going on in the community and have those relationships with your planning folks, your building folks, your engineering the DPW and schools and schools. Certainly your schools and other public safety partners, because they look at a different perspective. Oh, a fire department looks at something is different than than how law enforcement would. So it's having those relationships already built where you can just share a conversation and hey, did you hear about this? That's coming. Oh, no, I didn't. Let's talk about that.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah, because you're thinking about how the impact is. So we're talking to John Letney and we've been going on for a long time. I think I think very importantly about trying to think for the future and such, and it's interesting to me. What's always baffled me in a way is that the fire department has direct access to everything being built and police don't. In many cases, that's, that's building inspections, and yet we policing become saddled with the overnight finding of a break in. And if we had done potentially some advance work physical security to be able to sign off on it. You need some lighting here, you can't put bushes in front of a window there, those kinds of things, and I don't know if that's ever been discussed, but I think for me, a new bank we should be in there taking a look at the new bank, right, because we're the ones that are going to have to respond. And I think that might be I don't mean it's a missing piece, not that police need more work to do, but it always baffled me how fire department could come in and say I'm not giving you the CO because you need to move that alarm.

John Letteney:

That's absolutely true, but there's fire codes that require that and there's not codes that require a police review. And I'll tell you a quick story. That happened when I was in New York, where this became very evident to us in law enforcement. So there was an office building that was being planned and built in an area that was responsible for the substation and that was the zone commander of. As it was being built, we realized they're moving dirt and we didn't know anything about this project. I ended up meeting with the architect and the owners and they did not realize that they were putting a building on the right on top of a jurisdictional line, a line between two towns that had two different law enforcement agencies. And when you called 911, it depended not only what side of the building you were on, but the way this building was to be built was what side of the hallway you were on, which creates a nightmare for police response. Now they did reach out to the fire department. To your point, they had to get those approvals, but it was one fire district, so that didn't matter. They never thought about ambulance response and they never thought about police response. Fortunately, with our cooperative relationships among police agencies, we worked it out and we figured out who would respond to what be the parking lot of the building and how crime stats get reported, all those kind of things.

Steve Morreale:

Right, and have some mutual agreements, right, exactly, isn't that interesting? So I want to get into a few things, and I'm so glad to be able to chat with you. We're talking to John Letney. He is the chief of police in Thomasville, georgia, and not so far from the Florida line. This is actually the Florida Georgia line, right? You're not too far from Tallahassee, and so you are Kalea certified. You're Georgia certified. It looks like you've got about 70, 70 sworn with 80 people and you're called the city of roses. What's that? Why is that?

John Letteney:

So the history of Thomasville again is very rich, goes back quite a long time, and actually it's very similar to Southern Pines where I served in North Carolina, which was kind of a draw for me. This community felt like home, like I had been here before, and part of that history is that we are a city of roses. Roses grow very well in this climate and there has been a rose show and rose parade and rose competition for over a hundred years. Wow, people come from all over the world. This is a huge event for us. It brings in tens of thousands of people and probably one of the longest parades I've ever seen is the annual rose show parade.

Steve Morreale:

Talk about the police department and as important it is. I won't say it's unusual, but for so many police chiefs that you were aware of, they are born and raised and stay in one police department and where they get their outside information is by belonging to chiefs organizations, belonging to Perf, belonging paying attention to the police foundation, now the National Policing Institute, but most importantly the IACP, and you have been to several different agencies. Take me back for a moment to your first iteration as a chief. You're coming in as a New Yorker I know upstate, but still a New Yorker right Into the Carolinas and you know sometimes in the South and I spend a lot of time in South Carolina. But there are these difference of views. How did you walk in? What was your approach to trying to understand the new culture that you were walking into? I presume you listened, you watched before you made any changes and I hope, I presume you didn't do them unilaterally.

John Letteney:

No, that's exactly correct and I think you start by respecting culture and the history and learning and trying to become a part of the community and a part of the agency. And there's a lot of different ways to do that. But internally I needed to learn and I wanted to meet folks and develop that relationship. So one of the first things I did after the first few days of kind of getting my feet wet is I set up a one-on-one meetings with every employee of the department, and I've done that in Apex, I've done it in Thomasville because I find so much value in it, and I just asked them a few questions and it's more of a conversation guide about who they are, what they want to know about me, what they expect of me. When you ask an employee, what do you expect of your chief, they really come up with some great ideas. But I ask them what the department does well, what the department can improve on. If they were the chief, what two things would they change? Love it this conversation, and it's open-ended. The shortest one I had, I remember, was about 40 minutes. The longest one in any of the departments I've done it was four and a half hours. So employees really appreciate that one-on-one time to just have a conversation and from that the themes start to emerge and develop. And after it, takes off.

Steve Morreale:

Can I assume, John, that you're taking notes during this?

John Letteney:

Oh, yeah, yeah, Yep, taking notes, without attribution, of course, but then I synthesize that into themes, I report that back after a few months to staff of this is what you told me. But then I also use that as the basis for developing a strategic plan to lead the department forward, because the people who are doing the job know the job best the people who have been there five, 10, 20, 30 years. They know the history, where we've come and where we need to go. And while we can't blame them on every idea and some ideas are opposite of others it's really a good way to hit the ground running, learn about the department and then figure out if there needs to be a change what is that and why and then present that back to the department.

Steve Morreale:

You know that's interesting and my own experience with that that I do the same thing. It takes time. It takes time, it takes some patience and when you think about what you just said and each time that you have done it arranging or allowing for a 40 minute to a four and a half hour event sometimes I remember my wife calling one day I started at whatever I was down in Connecticut and I was talking to the staff and she called. They say you coming home. I'm still talking with these people. In other words, and I think in some cases what it is is no one has ever asked me these things, no one has ever cared enough about these things, and I love the magic one. If you were a king, a queen for the day, and you were the chief and had the authority to make two changes and I always say caveat, not replacing the chief what is it that you would do? And immediately, john, I think your experience is you have 20, 30, 40 potential ideas.

John Letteney:

Exactly and when you limit them to two and sometimes it's three or four, but when you ask him, give me your top two you get their priorities and you get the things that are really important to them and you know some may not be implementable because of budget or because of staffing or whatever, but at least you know what's important to them and that helps craft at least a short term strategy and from there it's easy to move forward, and I found that to be so helpful in every department I've been with. And, aside from getting the information, it's important to give it back to them and let them know what you're going to do, let them know how they're going to be involved and how, as a leader, you've listened to them, because that's one of the biggest things that employees want to know the people that they trust, hopefully trust that are leading their organization, at whatever rank, but that they'll listen, and when you do that, they're more willing to engage in conversation.

Steve Morreale:

Do you have fun in the job still?

John Letteney:

I love it. I love it. It's every turn of retirement. So I've retired twice now. I keep thinking, well, what do I want to do next? And it always comes back to me in these conversations with my wife and so on it's I'm not done yet. There's more, I think I have to give. There's more I have to learn. And when we're continual learners, then we continue to find ways to couple that with experience and hopefully help out another organization and that's why I've moved different places is to help out another organization and try to bring some leadership. Maybe they needed or maybe I can provide something that would be helpful when did you learn how to lead, john?

Steve Morreale:

I'll bet you're still learning absolutely every day.

John Letteney:

I learned from some very good leaders and mentors in Monroe County, and I also learned from some bosses that I would not consider good leaders. I had a few of those occasions where I would say to myself, if I ever became a whatever you name the rank, I will never do that. Whatever that was, I learned how it affected me and how I felt about it, and I vowed that if I ever had the opportunity, that would not be part of my leadership style. And so you can learn from great leaders and I did but you can also learn from leaders that maybe have a style that doesn't resonate well with you. Yeah, so you?

Steve Morreale:

learn what not to do, which I think is important. So we're, talking to John Letteney and he is the Thomasville, Georgia police chief and also the president of the International Association Chiefs of Police. He's been in the business, he says, now 41 years. Over those 41 years, John, there's been a number of challenges and you have seen police evolve and you said the professionalization of policing. I hold that the IACP has such sway and swagger in the policing world because it is a collection of people all over the world constantly looking for opportunities and sharing policies and sharing approaches and sharing dealing with crisis. And I actually was looking at just police chief magazine, which I get every month, and you know the Fokai. The Fokai more than one focus. The Fokai habit this year has been mentoring, media populations, difficult, popular, vulnerable populations I couldn't read my writing officer health and wellness, data driven policing, violence reduction, innovation and training and contemporary issues. So there is so much rich information that comes out of there and you have been at the helm. You have to rise through the ranks several years. Tell us your experience with the IACP and when you're in these meetings, how are the conversations going about? What we should be focusing on, what the membership needs?

John Letteney:

It's been quite a journey. That actually started with my state chief's association. So when I became a chief in North Carolina I joined the North Carolina Association Chiefs of Police. Within a fairly short period of time I was asked to represent the association on a statewide board dealing with some domestic preparedness, and that turned into there was an opening for North Carolina to have a representative to the IACP in one of the divisions called SACOP, which is the state association chiefs of police. I was asked to do that and so I took on that role and that really opened my eyes to a world of possibilities, literally, and what IACP does beyond just being a member and getting some great training and networking opportunities. But it's so much more than that. From there I make a very long story short I ended up being in a position to run for the general chair of that division, which is elected by those folks, and served in that role for two years. I was appointed to the board as an appointed member by the president and from there I was asked by many, many of my friends and colleagues to run for office, which initially I wasn't too sure I wanted to do. But after our conversation with town manager and my wife. They both encouraged me to do so as well, so the campaign was on.

Steve Morreale:

And it is a campaign. It is a campaign. I was saying to you just before we started that in the police department I was in New Hampshire my chief actually did exactly what you had done and I had watched that and how hard he had to work to convince people that he might be the right representative and heroes like you to be the president. So I watched that trajectory but it changes your life because I think it opens perspective and you said in the beginning that you have had the opportunity to meet really neat people from all over the world. Talk about that.

John Letteney:

It really has been a great opportunity and over the years. So you get elected as fourth vice president and you move up third, second, first president and then immediate past president. So in all of those roles you take on a different focus and responsibility on the ICP board but as president they kind of all gels together. So you have the opportunity to really go worldwide, sit in meetings with Interpol at the World Police Summit, europol, ameripol, all these other great organizations, and learn from police leaders not only what they offer but what they need. And ICP has a great opportunity to convene people from around the world to identify gaps and provide solutions. And when I talk about the board, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the staff. We have 33,000 members in 170 countries around the world huge organizations. But back in Alexandria and some of our other places, our other offices, we have about 140 staff members that do the hard work day in and day out of serving our members and providing training and setting up conferences and being the contact people for folks really around the world. We have a great staff. They're really educated, they are engaged, they're professional and they are as passionate about what they do in serving the police and community, as we are as the police and community, and so it's great to work those staff and they set up some of these opportunities so, and I can tell you stories really from all over the world of places where I've had the opportunity to just sit and have a conversation or learn from other police leaders, and all of that experience I bring back not only to the ICP but to the Thomasville Police Department and open up doors for my staff now to get different training in areas that I hadn't thought of perhaps, or it opens a door to just a different opportunity.

Steve Morreale:

You know, that's such an interesting perspective because I think to myself okay, I'm the town manager, I'm going to let you go. In essence, you've got to spend some time on the road and that means that you've got to delegate downward to your command staff while you're on the road. But and I think that's so important. I think it's almost a mistake that we make in policing that the residual of that, by allowing people to open the door for other people to go and travel. Go to another police department, go observe what they are, come on back, tell us what you found. What are we doing? Well, what can we do better? What are they doing that we aren't? That requires such open mind in this, john, and it seems to me that even after 40 years that you still have that zeal, that passion to develop others. Is that a fair assessment?

John Letteney:

Well, absolutely, because that how I grew up in this, in this business, is. People did that for me and I learned by going out and doing things, and one of the early things I started doing many years ago was as an assessor for state accreditation program, for the national, now international, accreditation program. Every time I went to do was an assessment. I brought something back to the agency that was a best practice or something that an agency was doing better than we were, and when you have that opportunity, your mind just expands to what else is out there that I don't know. You don't know what you don't know, right, and until you put yourself out, there you're right and so when I talked to you know my staff and any of the organizations I've been in and they maybe have not had those opportunities. They look at how we do things as how we've always done them and, as you mentioned, the profession has changed. We've evolved, our communities have changed, the needs have changed. We've got to be open to other ways of doing things and looking at now leading practices from other organizations and you've got to get outside your bubble of your organization to really do that effectively.

Steve Morreale:

So IACP has a tendency to drive the conversation and it's internal and external. And I want to go back to that question I asked a few minutes ago you're sitting around the table whether you're in SACOP in a committee meeting. That's going to feed that to the board. But you're sitting down, you're sitting with staff, you're hearing from people, you're doing surveys, you're going out and doing evaluations and management studies and you're learning along the way and you're bringing that back. How does the organization IACP decide what's important, what's missing, where's the vacuum?

John Letteney:

That's a great question and it's a very simple answer. We listen. We listen to our members, we listen to what's going on in the profession, we listen to our partner organizations and our aligned associations and we synthesize all that and we learn in real time what is going on in the profession. So to that end, this year we brought back something we did a number of years ago called listening sessions, or now we call them critical issues forums, where we have gone throughout the United States and Canada and set up kind of formal but informal meetings with a small group of folks so our largest was about 70 or so police leaders and sometimes as elected representatives, sometimes as prosecutors and other folks in the system, and we asked three questions. We asked what is the biggest challenge or issue facing your department? What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge or issue facing the profession and what can IACP do to help? And then we just let the conversation go. And so we've done five of those so far this year, doing another one coming up see, this week in Arizona and I have learned so much about the nuances of issues. So, for example, we hear about recruiting and retention every time, but the nuances are very different from the east coast to the west coast, from the central plains to Canada and around the world, literally, because I have this conversation wherever I go. But to hear from police leaders, from small departments and large departments, from county agencies and city agencies, from tribal agencies and campus agencies, about how that issue and others manifests itself in their world has been very helpful. We bring that back. We're actually putting a report together and we will give that report back out to the field, probably about another month, once we finish up this last forum. That we'll do later this week. So it really comes down to being in the field, understanding what's going on, listening to our members, listening to our partners, listening to our colleagues, listening to various areas of government, from the administration to Congress, to state and local representatives and all those things that affect policing, and then what can we do to help?

Steve Morreale:

Well, and then, with the representation of, you said, 33,000 members, having a voice, a stake with justice and with Congress for funding or for policy, is an extremely important element. One of the things you said and you say it repeatedly, and that was that as a chief, you're a listener. You recall being in patrol and then being in investigations and the complete difference between your requirement to listen. When you're on patrol, you're stopping a car or you're showing up at a call, you don't really want to listen. You want to know why am I here, what's going on? Tell me what happened, and then let me take my report on. You're an investigator. You ask questions and shut up and listen right, and I think there's some who learn that as you rise up, it is so much more important to open a conversation and sit back and listen, including at meetings. What's your feeling about that, john? I see your head shaking.

John Letteney:

Absolutely. I've had to kind of change the culture in some of the organizations I've come to where. So, in a staff meeting, something as simple as where do you sit at the table? They expect you to sit at the head of the table. Why don't you sit in the middle? And I'll change where I sit at any given time, because where you sit doesn't matter. You're a member of whatever that meeting is a staff meeting or command meeting or a meeting of line folks or whatever it is and your purpose there should be, first of all, to listen, maybe to give direction, maybe to help solve problems, maybe to answer questions, but the leader speaks last. If I speak first, I got a lot of yes men and yes ladies in that meeting and nothing gets accomplished. I already know what I think. I want to hear what you think. I want to hear what my staff thinks, because they're the experts, my senior command that's in charge of whatever it's patrol or support services or special operations. They should be close enough to the issues to know and to understand the opportunities and the issues and the problems and so on. I need to listen to them so I can understand better and probably help solve those kind of problems. And so when you come into a staff meeting and they all want you to tell them what to do, that's indicative of a culture that needs to be changed and there are a lot of ways to do that, but one of them is you speak last.

Steve Morreale:

Thank you, because that is almost always a question that I ask how do you run meetings? How do you adjust the culture? How do you make people realize that it's and I'm using this term and I'm sure you have to leadership? It's all on you, but it's not about you. It's about other people and if sometimes, from the Cathio tools to the Bill Brattons to the Davises talk to them about how are you running meetings, it is about opening the door to wanting your input, in other words, setting expectations, that I want your feedback. You are not here as a silent part. This is not passive. This is an active meeting and I'm sure over time you have to set the table to say hey guys, gals, I want your input. Don't sit there quiet. You're shaking your head. I'm sure you've had that experience. How did it work? How long did it take to kind of shift the expectation?

John Letteney:

Well, it takes some time, especially when you're new to an organization, because they don't know you yet. They're trying to trust, they're trying to learn, but they also have had experiences that may have been different. So it does take genuineness, it takes being deliberate and it takes time to show that you are who you are. That starts with knowing your leadership style, knowing what you're there for, knowing that leadership is a service and that words matter. So when people say, well, I work for the chief, no, you don't. We work together, you work with me, we work for our community. And when you set the culture around, we're a team, we're a leadership team. Rank has its place, but chain of command is for the crisis, not for the day to day. And so when they feel they're part of a team and collectively, you're going to make decisions that advance the department and, of course, chief always has that veto power when it's necessary. But when it's not and they see their ideas being implemented or their idea being better than yours, that bolsters that image and that keeps them wanting to be a part of that solution and that conversation. And we need to surround ourselves with people who are better than we are in a certain area or a certain topic or whatever it is, because if you're the smartest person in the room, you need to find another room. We shouldn't be the smartest. We have experiences and we have opportunities and we have a role and a responsibility, but I'm not the expert when it comes to IT or when it comes to records management, and while I think I'm a pretty good street cop, that was a lot of years ago. I'm not the expert of patrol anymore. But I got a captain who is. I've got sergeants who know what's going on in their squad and they know what's happening at three in the morning, when I don't need to listen to them and need to at least consider their ideas and their ways to solve problems to the extent it fits the overall mission.

Steve Morreale:

So a young sergeant or lieutenant is listening today, no matter where they are in the world. This is your opportunity to say you might want to consider joining IACP, but I'm not a chief. Talk about that, John.

John Letteney:

Yeah. So that's one of the biggest misnomers about IACP is we're not just a chief's organization. We have members that are line staff, sergeants, training officers, ia staff, sworn civilian researchers, practitioners, all kinds of things, academics, as you know. I mean we have all kinds of different committees and groups and sections and task forces. There is a place for everyone to be a member of IACP, because we want that input, we want that value and, while we are in name of chief's organization and we are there to serve chiefs, chiefs are there to serve their agencies and their communities. So we need to do that with good information and good membership and input from all areas. And so the first thing I would say to that young sergeant or young lieutenant is you've got the best job in the organization because you get to do the job. You get to have influence on a squad or a unit or a platoon or whatever your agency calls them. You can influence the careers and the lives of those people, as well as your community. What an awesome opportunity that is. And you should do that the best that you can by learning the most that you can, and you can do that as a member of IACP.

Steve Morreale:

And there's so much information and rich information. As I said, I've been a member since 1984. And in 1984, maybe it was even before that I wasn't 1984, my goodness, because it was when the chief went ran Sort of in 79 or 80. But since then I've been getting police chief magazine. There's so much rich stuff. There's so when you are a member and here we are selling. But when you are a member there's so much access to policies and to reports and ideas and research that it would be a mistake not to be able to have that or have access to that. Obviously your chief does. But let's talk about the current issue of police chief magazine. You, as the leader of the organization, you have the president's message, and this one was on mentoring and developing others. How important do you see the role of the chief and other leaders in the organization about paying forward and developing others?

John Letteney:

It's critically important. I would not be here today if it were not for a mentor, someone that started as my sergeant and as I. He got promoted and I got promoted. We ended up working together in a rather large organization over my career in New York. We ended up working together more often than anywhere else and I didn't understand why. Until later. I also didn't understand why he was on me for everything, and what I found out was that he saw a potential in me that I was not realizing and he was not going to let me settle for mediocrity, even if my mediocrity was better than others at least in my mind it was. He knew there was more potential and he had so much influence on my career that, when it came down to who I was going to select to swear me in as president of the IACP and my wife and I were talking about this you know, sometimes your spouse reflects the things that you know in a way that brings it to a conscious mind and she said she knew the answer to this. She said who has had the most influence on your career? And I thought about it and I said it was Doug. And she said absolutely, it was Doug.

Steve Morreale:

And yeah, she knows better than you almost. I know I got that feeling yeah, yeah, yeah, how many years, john, it'll be 40 years.

John Letteney:

Oh yeah, I'm at 45.

Steve Morreale:

So I understand. They put up with a lot of crap, don't they?

John Letteney:

They do. They do. So I was. I was honored to have my sergeant, then Lieutenant, then captain, then chief, and so on. He's had a wonderful career as well Retired as chief of police, retired chief Doug Nordquist swear me in onstage at IACP in Dallas. That's how important mentorship is. He was the number one person and I still talk to him, obviously continue to be. That is invested in my success. And as leaders, we need to be mentors. We need to look at those junior leaders we have, or even those new officers Someone's going to be sitting in this chair when I leave and with the work we do in our agencies, we're so committed to advancing them. I don't want that to stop. That needs to continue on with someone who can bring them to the next level. And so why wouldn't I be interested and invested in mentoring those up and coming leaders, and IACP helps you do that. We have the Mentor Match program. We have all kinds of other opportunities. Other associations that we're aligned with do as well. I mentioned in I think it's in that article the CACP, so the Canadian Associates of Police Mentoring Program that we went and visited a couple of months ago. So mentoring is critically important to advance our profession.

Steve Morreale:

So as we wind down, we're talking to John Letney. He is now the Thomasville Georgia Police Chief and also soon to be outgoing, unfortunately. But it has been a run for you, the outgoing president of the IACP and will be the immediate past president. You said something a little while back and I think it goes back to Doug or to other people that you were talking about back in Monroe County and you had said you had positions. They moved you around, you weren't static and they even put you in positions that you didn't like at first. I've had that experience. But isn't it interesting when you go there, kind of kicking and dragging, you find that if you just accept that job and do the job the best that you can, I used to say to people I don't want you looking for the next job, pay attention to the one you're in now and that next job will come. And so talk about that reluctance at first, but how you make good of it and how it helps to develop around you.

John Letteney:

But you have to be where you are. So whether I like the assignment or I wanted to come off the road and be an administrative assignment or whatever, I'm going to learn everything I can learn from it and that was my attitude in all of these different spots. And I did learn from it and I'll fast forward from those early days to when I was in Southern Pines and one of the things I wanted to bring the Southern Pines and to Apex was becoming accredited by Kalea. They were not. They were semi interested and somewhat worked on it, but not ready, and so that was my focus to redevelop that police department under the umbrella of standards of Kalea. So, as we're putting all these policies in place, I had a young up and coming sergeant at the time who said can I ask you a question? And the answer always is yes, you can always ask a question. You can always come in the door. There's never an opportunity where I'm not going to put aside something because I'm too busy. Always have time for staff when they want to have a conversation. So he said how do you know all this stuff? And I said what are you talking about? Well, all these policies, we're putting together all this stuff from patrol to investigations, to tactics, to evidence, to administration and so on. You've got these policies and you know we have to kind of do some nuances we need to fix, but the foundation is there. And I said well it's very simple. I was put in positions over my career to learn these things even when I didn't want to, and that goes back to those assignments that it seemed like every two years, two and a half years or so, I was transferred somewhere else. Some I asked for again, some I didn't. But that foundation is what I credit with allowing me to come into an organization and really understand the breadth and depth of a police agency and not just know it from a patrol site.

Steve Morreale:

Understood and I think that's that 360 degree perspective and learning along the way and not being one dimensional or one trick pony. And that's a very interesting way to sort of end the general conversation here that while there are some who wish to stay in patrol for their entire careers and, by the way, the backbone of many police departments, those who are willing, those who raise their hand it's interesting. There was a chief that I worked with here many, many years ago and I remember him saying that there were so many people in policing that raise their hand and are sworn. On a particular day they become an officer, a patrolman, a patrol officer, whatever you, a peace officer, whatever you are, are called a constable and they retire at the same rank. In other words, they stay there. They're the sort of the main stays, they never really want to move up. But for those that do want to move up, you're not going to do it again if you're only going to stay in one particular dimension there.

John Letteney:

Yeah, absolutely true. And we need those career officers who will bring stability and experience to younger staff. We need them as training officers, we need them as informal leaders, but we also need people who are going to take on specialties, going to specialized units, promote through the ranks and become the recognized leaders by rank, and leaders are at all ranks, in all parts of your organization. But even that career officer should experience different things in his or her time, be that 20, 30 years, however. It happens to me so if they do a stint in investigations and come back, they'll be a better patrol officer. If they go and do something special in a street crimes unit or a director patrol unit or a traffic unit, they'll come back and be a more well-rounded officer. And so we need to also provide career development, career enhancement, different things to keep us from getting stagnated. And there's a lot of ways to do that. Looking at different units, different assignments, different experiences, if you have the attitude of I'm going to learn from this and it's going to make me better at whatever my core job is, then you're going to get a lot of good things out of it Terrific.

Steve Morreale:

Well, let's wind down. We're again talking to John Letteney, Police Chief in Thomasville, Georgia, and the President of the IACP. What's on your to-do list? Let's say to-do list at the department.

John Letteney:

So we just had our CALEA Reaccreditation Site-Based Assessment back in June. So we are preparing for our hearing coming up in November. The assessment went very well, so we anticipate a very positive hearing. But we want to be prepared for that. We just received our 20-year certification award from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. So most people at the end of those two things would think, well, it's time to relax a little bit. Well, it's not. It's time to keep going, to keep tweaking and changing operations and so on and so forth. So we just revised a couple of policies this morning, as a matter of fact, because things change and evolve and you got to stay on top of those things. So that's kind of going on in the background. But right now it's budget season, so preparing for a budget that will start our budget. Years is the count of years, so it'll start in January. So we're meeting on budget issues and what are our needs and what does that look like. So there's a lot of that going on. A lot of it's the day-to-day stuff, but we're also doing a lot of community outreach. School just started here. Our SROs are very busy. We have football games coming up, so we're starting early, that's early.

Steve Morreale:

I forget that you guys started much earlier. We're about two weeks away.

John Letteney:

Yes, we're right into it and football is big, so it's not ready. And this afternoon the fire chief and I are going to a chocolate shop in our downtown for conversations with the chief. We do this every few months.

Steve Morreale:

John, why did you pick the chocolate factory? Why did you pick that chocolate store?

John Letteney:

Well, because we've done a coffee with a cop thing and our community loves it. But they said, you know, it would be great to do something in the afternoon and something not around coffee, because not everybody drinks coffee. So a lot of kids come, a lot of business people come to that part of downtown. So we just decided that's the place it's going to be and then we're just going to be there for a while, just hopefully sample some really good chocolate and talking to community. So the day-to-day stuff is all very important, it's all very busy and we got to stay on top of that as well.

Steve Morreale:

Your bucket list.

John Letteney:

Oh, bucket list.

Steve Morreale:

Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?

John Letteney:

Well, I'm not sure yet. I've been focusing so much on doing what I can do to advance the Thomasville Police Department, at the same time doing the same for IHCP, and those things are working very well together, as busy as it is. But you know, ihcp is coming to a close so I'm still focused on. We've got a lot to do in the next few months. We've got a lot of trips playing, a lot of conferences we're speaking at, so it's not time to really prepare for down the line. Sometimes you got to be in the day to day, so at some point I will retire, spend more time with family and friends and maybe do a little consulting on the side. Who knows, maybe some teaching. Maybe I'll join you on a podcast. Who?

Steve Morreale:

knows, that's great. So last question I have is if you had the opportunity to talk with somebody who you don't have access to dead or alive whose brain would you like to?

John Letteney:

Wow, there are so many. As a person of faith, there are so many heroes and religious leaders and folks from my faith perspective that I would love to sit down and talk with and understand. We deal with a lot of evil in this world and someday I will understand why. I don't right now, but those puzzle pieces will fit together and I'm looking forward to that day. So that trying to deal with what we see on a day to day basis and the trauma and the crisis people experience and try to be that servant leader that Christ calls us to be is a great opportunity and also a great challenge. I'm looking forward to seeing how that fits, how I'm called and purpose to be in a role I'm in, and what did that really mean?

Steve Morreale:

And did you meet the challenge? I suppose?

John Letteney:

Yeah, and did I?

Steve Morreale:

you know, did I do everything I could do and while we all fall short, I hope my I haven't fallen too short so well that's great to hear because what you're showing is a true sense of humility and I like the idea of this servant leadership and certainly the way you have explained how you introduce yourself to organizations and how you reach out to get input from others shows to me that you are a thought leader, that you are constantly learning and you're trying to help both the industry and the people around you, and for that you must be very proud. It's been a pleasure to talk to Chief John Letny at Thomasville, georgia Police Department. You have the last word. Talking to people who are listening, what advice do you give? To kind of stay the course despite all the noise?

John Letteney:

This is a noble profession. So many have served before us and we stand on the shoulders of giants, some who tragically, way too many, have lost their lives and service to their community.

Intro :

And many will come after us.

John Letteney:

There will always be a need for professional, forward thinking, visionary public safety, and right now is our time. We stand in that gap between good and evil. We serve people inside our agencies and outside and we need to do the very best we can to continue to learn, to continue to lead, and we need to recognize and honor the past while we also prepare future generations to build upon what we've done. And I'll say it again, this is a noble profession. Our work matters, what we do in service to our communities globally matters, and it's difficult, it's challenging, but it's no less important. And as I try to close most of my speeches, I will say it is an honor to be the ISCP president. Absolutely it's honor to be a chief of police now in Thomasville, georgia, but more so it's an honor to be a police officer standing side by side with so many professionals around this world in service in this noble profession.

Steve Morreale:

Well, that's the final word. We've just heard from John Letteny he's the Thomasville Georgia police chief and you've been listening to The CopDoc Podcast and there's another episode on the book. I'd like you to listen and share, if you will, if you get value out of it. Best of luck to all of you, stay safe and keep up the good work.

Intro :

Thanks for listening to The CopDoc Podcast with Dr Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager, turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune into The CopDoc Podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.

Police Leadership and Strategic Planning
Community Engagement in Police Work
Department Feedback and Strategic Planning Meetings
IACP's Impact, Listening to Member Needs
Changing Organizational Culture Through Leadership
Career Development in Law Enforcement
Public Safety

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