A traffic sergeant brought me a completed traffic citation book of one of his squad members. Lieutenant, take a look at this, he said. This guy is cherry picking. Eight of the 10 citations are at the same intersection. And there hasn't been a collision at that spot for at least the last five years. As I scanned the book, the sergeant continued. I guess I need to talk to him. I don't think his actions measure up to our strategy of selective enforcement or reaching our goal of reducing collisions.
I'm a graduate of the Northwestern University Traffic Institute's Long Course. After experiencing that excellent nine-month program, I became fully convinced of the merits of selective enforcement. This concept begins with the assumption our goal is to reduce or eliminate traffic collisions and that selective enforcement is a strategy that helps us accomplish that goal. Simply stated, selective enforcement means we analyze traffic accidents to determine patterns of location, time (day and hour) and primary cause. Then we focus on enforcing the appropriate laws addressing those patterns.
When the sergeant discussed the apparent cherry picking, the officer jokingly replied, See Sarge, my enforcement is working. No accidents. Of course, the sergeant had done his homework and quickly explained he was aware the absence of accidents was a pre-existing factor. This scenario brings up the issue of personnel evaluation, and specifically, short review, sometimes called feedback. This subject is important to you whether you are a supervisor, training officer or a patrol officer wisely enlisting the support of community members. The people you lead must receive feedback from you.
Imagine a bowling match where sheets are hung from the ceiling just over the end of the alleys. The sheets block the view of the pins. The bowlers roll the balls down the alley, hear some pins being struck, but can't determine which pins have been knocked down and which are still standing. Seems pretty stupid, doesn't it? Well, that's what we do in law enforcement when we set goals but provide no feedback on how officers are progressing toward those goals.
I can't cover the whole topic of personnel evaluation in this column, but I can point out some important principles in providing feedback once goals have been set and clearly communicated.
Convey the Correct Motive
Your motive for providing feedback is all-important. Unfortunately, some people with supervisory or field training responsibility bring the wrong motives to the feedback process. Rather than improvement and support as their motive, their personal agenda involves displaying power or pleasing their superiors. Others may feel the only way to elevate themselves is to make others look less competent. Whether you realize it or not, the recipient will discern your motive behind the comments you offer. The right motive should include helping officers become more effective and ultimately achieve greater fulfillment through their efforts.
Feedback should be timely. Although most organizations require regular personnel evaluation procedures, they may be infrequent and not prompt enough to allow for mid-course adjustments. It would not be timely to raise the sheet covering the bowling pins at the end of the first game. Feedback must be prompt enough to allow for correction or adjustment in effort. In a selective-enforcement traffic program, for example, you must keep officers aware of the changing trends on their beat so they can address them properly.
Relate Feedback to Goals
Your feedback must relate to the goals the followers are pursuing. To be most effective, the goals should be outcomes or results rather than activities or work patterns. For example, in the traffic arena, the goal should be to reduce collisions rather than the number of citations issued or patrols performed. It s appropriate to provide positive reinforcement of efforts if they can be related directly to the goals. For example, you should commend an officer who has appropriately enforced speed violations at the time and location of previous collisions caused by excessive speed.
Base your feedback upon facts or data and not solely on your felt conclusions as a leader. Actions and facts should support your conclusions. Example: You have demonstrated your initiative and diligence by contacting caf and bar owners on your beat to explain your planned DUI enforcement efforts and their possible liability in DUI collisions involving their patrons.
Aim Toward the Future
Effective feedback helps your officers prepare a plan or make an adjustment. Reviewing the past is good, but using the past to form a foundation for effectively dealing with the future is better. When a leader has a sincere desire to help officers reach their personal goals as well as the department s goals, a synergism occurs that benefits everyone.
Example: A field training officer (FTO) sat across a table in a coffee shop providing feedback to one of her trainees. At the end of the session, she asked, What s your personal career goal in this department and how can I help you get there? The trainee, somewhat surprised by this question, replied, Well, my first goal is to make probation. My second goal is to work drug enforcement some day. The FTO promised to get some answers, prepare a plan and help the trainee reach those goals. Because the FTO demonstrated personal interest, the feedback she provided earlier became more credible and ultimately more effective.
Effective feedback can make a difference. When conveyed properly, it s a powerful tool in goal achievement on point.