Cutting Edge Training

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A Question of Leadership

by George on August 16, 2012 23:25

You're a commander within a police agency, having the experience, education, and the effort to have achieved your rank.  You have an important job, and the decisions you make affect not only the environment of the police department your officers work in, but also the lives of the citizens you serve.  If you were again a patrol officer and were asked to follow orders and to accept discipline from a command staff officer, would the following make any difference in the quality of your attitude and decision-making at work? 

  • A major police agency changes it firearms qualification policy, ending the requirement for any command staff officer (Deputy Chief and above) to qualify, even though each is an armed commissioned officer.
  • In another large agency, the command staff has a qualification day separate from that of their officers.  That way, commanders and the Chief are “not embarrassed” by poor shooting scores.
  • In defensive tactics training, seeing anyone above the rank of sergeant is rare, even though lieutenants and above are responsible for evaluating their officer’s force response.
  • In one agency with 180+ sworn officers, no command staff officer above the rank of lieutenant has ever attended EVOC and PIT training, even though lieutenants and above evaluate their officer’s pursuit actions and PIT techniques.
  • Command officers designate the closest parking spaces to the station entrance for their convenience while citing, “Rank has its privileges," requiring first responder officers to run a longer distance to run to their patrol cars when responding from the station parking lot.
  • Command officers rarely attend training subjects involving officer safety and tactical response, even though they are responsible for evaluating their officer’s tactics and safety responses.

Chief law enforcement executives and their command staff occupy a unique niche in this world.  They are responsible for managing multi-million dollar budgets in a high profile, high liability business.  They are also police officers who are responsible for enforcing the law and leading officers in their public safety duties.  Command officers cannot be simple “cops” because of their management responsibilities—time and their position simply cannot support the time away from the office and the day-to-day workload that comes with it by answering calls, making arrests, and the resulting court testimony that follows.

Conversely, police officers are not typical “workers.”  Because of the nature of the job, police work is a necessarily curious mix of public servant and warrior.  Officers must treat the citizens they serve with professional respect, providing a protective and investigative resource to the community and individuals at times of great stress and duress.  At the same time, officers must approach their duties tactically, and be prepared for life-and-death struggles when responding to any call for service.  It is a rare officer who makes it through a career without life-and-death decisions being forced upon him or her.  The fundamental warrior quality needed within law enforcement cannot be denied.  It is the balance of service and warrior that makes the job of a police officer unique.

Because of this warrior quality, officers require a unique style of management.  That style has a direct bearing on the command staff officers’ effectiveness as a leader and manager, and the agency’s officers’ morale.  The command officer’s bearing and manner of approach to that important job has a direct effect on the quality of the officers’ work product in serving the public. 

Officers expect executive and command staff members to “lead” them.  The culture of policing resists “management” and the latest seminar “technique.”  This culture embraces “leadership.”  It is safe to say that any command officer who considers him- or herself solely to be a “manager” is probably less than successful at his or her job, and may be a dismaying failure.  Instead, those who command the respect of the officers they serve are those command officers are those who are “leaders.” 

Think about the qualities of leadership that you admire.  Volumes have been produced about what those qualities are and what it takes to be a leader.  One important quality is courage--standing up for what is right, not what is politically correct or good for you.  An unbending sense of integrity--walking your talk, and not finding the easy way out of a problem--is another.  Still another is the sense of service to others, especially to subordinates--instead of thinking that only you have all the answers and are in your position because you are "anointed of God."  Perhaps the most important quality is that of understanding that rank does NOT have privilege, but rather responsibility.  Looking out for the welfare of your cops, holding them to high but reasonable standards of conduct, and rewarding good honest cop work regardless of the outcome, despite public or media sentiment and outcry, will create a police department that will retain good cops with high morale and good policing ethics.

Questions of leadership are often centered around the relevance of command’s knowledge of their officers’ training and day-to-day tasks.  It is about making an effort and setting an example.  Leadership involves putting your officers first, and pulling them forward, rather than pushing them from behind or crushing them from above.  It is about personal and professional accountability.  While a command officer may have pushed a patrol car fifteen or more years ago, the street and the equipment have changed in the last year.  It’s different than it was ten or fifteen years ago.  Suspects are more aggressive and challenging, while technology adds to the attention demands of officers.  Your officers know this, and they know who the leaders are in their agency who have current job knowledge.  They also know who are simply managers and who covet rank and career more than responsibility.  In fine, officers believe that leaders understand, and managers have no clue.

One way for a command officer to demonstrate a level of commitment and understanding to officers—and something that every officer looks for in their command staff—is having current knowledge of their day-to-day job tasks and a sense of understanding of what they face on the street.  Command is not be expected to do everything required of a young cop, but command officers should understand and be intimately familiar with what their officers deal with daily.

There is one area of police work where gaining respect while maintaining the relevancy every command officer needs is readily available:  attending your own agency’s training.  It means putting yourself on the line in front of your officers, doing what they do, learning what they are taught, sharing your experience, and learning about theirs—and them as individuals rather than as personnel evaluations.  While safety and skills training may not seem to be “relevant” to your daily job needs, it is vital to your own credibility as well as the currency of your job knowledge.  It may well be a significant part of your ability to provide meaningful direction to your officers as well as reasonably evaluate their job actions.

ATTENDING TRAINING

Anyone familiar with any administrator’s job knows the volume of your workload.  Any single day away from the desk means you are a day behind stacks of papers and missed meetings.  At the same time, your effectiveness at your rank lies within your ability to command officers’ respect—they don’t need to like you, but they should respect you because of your integrity and devotion to duty.  Respect is borne of shared experiences and the knowledge that the other person is willing to put themselves on the line for you.  Even a couple of hours in the classroom, range, mat room, training area, or EVOC track will pay huge dividends to any command officer who makes a consistent attempt.

What message is sent to the line officers when command officers (regardless of their administrative skills) are no longer expected to qualify with their weapons?  Minimally, your officers may believe:

  • Command is incompetent.  Incompetence in any profession is fatal, but none more so than in policing. 
  • There is a double-standard working within the agency, with an underlying problems of a sense of “unfairness.”  Officers tend to have a well-defined sense of justice and belief in fair play.  This perception of a double-standard can only foster and exacerbate a labor-versus-management atmosphere where confrontation is the norm and not the exception.
  • Any negative evaluation of an officer-involved shooting is immediately suspect.  The belief, right or wrong is, after all, “they shoot so poorly they can’t qualify with us, so what gives them the right to judge us?”
  • All discipline for low or failing firearms qualification scores is hypocritical. 

Defensive tactics/use of force is the most commonly employed “trained” skill an officer is likely to use on a daily basis.  It is not uncommon for an officer to respond with force, causing some type of injury to the resisting or assaultive suspect—this can be expected, on average, three to five times per year per officer.  This force response can generate a complaint.  The officer becomes the subject of an investigation.  While not common, is also not rare that this investigation results in an outraged administrator demanding the officer be disciplined for something the officer was trained to do in that situation by the agency’s own DT instructors.  Huge credibility problems result and anger in the ranks increases, undermining any command officer’s effectiveness.

THE SOLUTION?

A possible solution to this problem of a perceived problem of a lack of leadership is simple:  Lead, don’t manage.  Share their experiences as much as your schedule permits.

  • Share your officers’ training.  Make it a point of attending training, especially those training courses involving core police skills:  defensive tactics, shooting, driving, and arrest & control, officer safety.  While you may have past injuries that limit or prevent your fully participating, no one but the most sour officer will hold it against you for not wrestling around on the floor with the youngsters.  But you will get a huge measure of respect for just showing up and “flying the flag” of command.  Participate where you can, even if your skills are inferior or you have to struggle.  It is better to be known as someone who is not well skilled but tries, than a hypocrite or “non-hacker” who doesn’t even show up.  Even if you sit in a chair, or discuss the training points with your officers while on break, you get credit for being there and learning what your officers are being taught.   They get to know you, and, more importantly, you get to know them.  Personal interconnection counts most during high pressure situations where lives are at stake and trust in command’s judgment determines the outcome of an incident.  That is Team Building 101, and is worth a thousand very expensive team building “retreats.”  For example, a 58-year old female Commander (3rd in command in a 200 officer agency) routinely attended defensive tactics training.  She worked where she could despite injuries and her age, she got sweaty with the troops, and exhibited a willingness to risk failing while making the effort to succeed.  No one in that agency thought she was skilled.  She also fired her qualification scores every shoot with a different groups so she could fly the flag at the range as well.  And every cop in that agency gave her credit for her effort to put herself in front of them and making the effort.
  • Put yourself on the line in testing in front of the troops.  A huge credibility factor for every officer is whether or not a command officer will risk his ego in front of the officers.  Command officers who avoid firearms qualification shoots, or suddenly disappear when written examinations are required in training undermine their credibility.  While every officer would love his or her chief to be “super-cop,” the reality is that they want their command officers to demonstrate their willingness to put it on the line, just like the officers do every shift.  It is part of the camaraderie that develops between humans who share the same experience and risk.  While the risk taken during testing is not the same as sharing the same small piece of cover in a firefight, it is still a risking of ego and stature, and that counts in the warrior mind of officers.

If your skills are truly unsatisfactory in any area, and this is the cause of your avoiding training, there is nothing wrong with requesting assistance from your training staff.  You are a police officer, and agency trainers are tasked with assisting every officer to meet standards.  Attend the training, and then get extra training time in—this often only means a few extra hours spread over time.  The important thing is to be out there for your officers, rather than being perceived as your being for you only and the “privileges” of your rank. 

CONCLUSION

It can be easily argued that training is a vital aspect of law enforcement.  It can also be argued that every officer regardless of rank benefits from attendance.  When an officer fails to participate in training, it is likely that officer will perform at less than an optimum level.  When command staff consistently fails to attend, it is likely that command officer will fail in leading their officers, will have labor problems, and all decisions relating to discipline or tactical resolution of incidents will be seen as suspect—or be met with near-rebellion.

Attendance at all training involving high-liability activities and skill development should be mandatory for all command officers.  Ideally, at least one command officer will be present and participate in every class for a significant portion of the training during the multiple iterations required to cover an entire agency.  In this manner, the command staff officer better knows his or her officers, and, more importantly, his officers know their commander.  Each is more familiar and less foreign to the other.

While this action alone will never create a “beloved” leader, that shouldn’t be the goal of any administrator.  A leader, because of the position, is not necessarily popular, due to making the unpopular decisions that all commanders must make from time to time.  But he is more highly respected because he takes the time to show his officers that they and their training matter—and he understands that rank does not have privileges.  Instead, with rank comes a greater responsibility to the officers he or she serves.

Changing requirements for, or segregating command staff during training is a corruption of power and privilege.  If command personnel are police officers with police powers, they are legally required to be trained, and should attend the same training their officers do.  Yes, they are extremely busy.  But a vital part of their job is maintaining their job skills and demonstrating leadership.  If a commander is embarrassed by his or her scores, then practice should be undertaken in order to meet standards.  If you are older and the miles of life prevent you from participating in the physical training, then be an interested observer and participate where you can--show a willingness to train and learn, and share your experience. 

It is a question of leadership.  If you are a command officer, be the leader you wanted when you were an officer.  Take those responsibilities seriously enough to maintain your skills and currency with what your officers are being taught.  This is a simple step that will pay huge dividends.