Why does the general public like the fire department better than the police department? The simple answer is this, the fire department is better at creating positive “wow” moments – saving lives, putting out fires, and of course getting kittens out of trees. Sure, as law enforcement we have our positive moments too, but we also have the disadvantage of having to hold people accountable for their unlawful actions by making traffic stops, writing tickets, placing people under arrest, and occasionally using force.
It would seem that law enforcement is stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Therefore, it becomes imperative of law enforcement leaders to support, recognize, reward, and promote their officers when they have the opportunity to take initiative and create positive “wow” moments for those they serve.
I would like to share a story that occurred a couple of weeks ago which represents the concept of creating a “wow” moment in policing. Anyone who has ever worked overnights can sympathize with the call that comes out with only 30 minutes remaining in the shift. The call that you know is going to unexpectedly cause you to stay late.
This particular call happened to be a 90 year old male who was having difficulty breathing. The two assigned officers arrived at the nursing home to find the fire department doing their best to save the elderly gentleman’s life, but ultimately learned that this medical call had become a death investigation. As the primary officers, they both knew they were now going to be on this call for at least a couple of hours past their regular time off.
The officers began doing their due diligence with the investigation – speaking to the reporting party, taking notes, locating a doctor to sign the death certificate, and so on. After just over two hours, they had everything completed with the investigation and were ready to go home to get some much deserved sleep before coming back that evening to do it all again.
As the two officers were getting to the nursing home’s front doors, they heard one of the nurses mention that the deceased’s wife was on her way there. The nurse mentioned that the couple had been married for 67 years and she still lived on her own just down the road. The officers spoke briefly and then asked one of the nurses if they could go back up to the room before the wife got there.
In order for the fire department to do their job, the elderly gentlemen had been placed on the floor, his clothes removed, LEDs placed all over his body, and an oxygen mask put over his face. That is how he was left by fire and after completing their investigation that is how he was left by the officers . . . until they heard about his wife.
The two officers returned to the room and carefully moved the elderly gentleman’s body up into his bed. They removed the LEDs, rebuttoned his shirt, took off the oxygen mask, pulled up the covers, and made him look as if he was comfortably sleeping. They passed by the wife without saying a word about what they had just done and for all she knew this was exactly how he had passed.
That is how you create a “wow” moment in policing. While the wife will probably never know what they did, every employee at the nursing home that saw the actions of those officers experienced a “wow” moment. Service to the community that goes above and beyond what you could ever ask for or expect; service that makes the average bystander step back and say, “wow.”
How many times do you think the nursing home employees shared that story? What do you think the positive trickle-down effect is from this one event? We’ll never be able to quantitatively measure it, but just knowing the power that negative police interactions can have gives you some idea. The key is that we, as law enforcement, need to continue getting better at creating these “wow” moments.
Here are 5 ways that law enforcement leaders can help officers become better at creating positive “wow” moments:
- Point out opportunities that present themselves. The first step is just recognizing opportunities that are there. Being a supervisor that is out on the road with your officers puts you in the position to see the potential and help lead your officers down the path of creating a “wow” moment, if they don’t see it themselves. Think positively outside the box.
- Support your officers when they find an opportunity. Inevitably, opportunities to create “wow” moments are going to come when you are slammed with calls for service or are running under staffed. Being a leader means that you are willing to take on extra work when needed to support officers that find an opportunity to create a “wow” moment. You may have to help cover calls or do other work to make up for their temporary absence from the road, but in the end it will be well worth it.
- Recognize “wow” moments when they occur. To reinforce the effort made by officers to create positive “wow” moments, you must keep a watchful eye out for when they occur and note them for future reward.
- Reward officers for their effort to create “wow” moments. Once you recognize that an officer has gone above and beyond to create a “wow” moment, it is imperative that you reward it in some way as soon as possible through whatever means of recognition your department has. If there is no formal way through the department or it doesn’t rise to that level, create an informal way to recognize the effort within your squad.
- Promote both the officer and the “wow” moment. Publicizing the exceptional work done by one of your officers is not only good for the officer and his/her career, but also for the department. The more often “wow” moments are recognized, rewarded, and promoted both internally and externally, the more likely they will be to be repeated. Once this is done effectively enough times, the momentum will help to keep the “wow” moments coming without nearly the effort it took to get them started. In addition, as other officers hear about the varying ways “wow” moments have been created and were rewarded, the more innovative they will be in finding their own opportunities to create “wow” moments.
The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement supervisors to be the best leaders they can be by providing positive leadership tactics and ideas. Positive leadership and creating a positive squad culture are on-going commitments that must be nurtured and developed over time and Thin Blue Line of Leadership is here to help.
Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!