In roll calls and squad rooms across the country, law enforcement supervisors struggle to address the perception of a widening gulf between police and the community. Like no other time in recent memory, the need for engaged police sergeants is evident, and it is critical they rise to the challenge by refocusing the guardians under their command toward time-tested, fundamental strategies.
Sergeants, now is the time to step up and stand as a bulwark against the mounting wave of negative rhetoric. As you should know, despite the din of angry voices, this effort is not hopeless. As the woman or man in that squad room who in crisis past has been the voice of calm, reason and direction, this day and these challenges are no different.
True, there is evidence everywhere of the gashed fabric of trust between officers and the public. These last few weeks might seem like standing in a rowboat on a windy day, helpless as the boat relentlessly drifts farther from shore. Harsh and ignorant voices hold sway over fairness and common sense; their shrill tenor somehow magnifies their credibility. Body cam video is released at warp speed in a futile attempt to inject reason, only to find that like the little boy with his finger in the dike, nothing seems to stem the flood of hate and ignorance.
It may be then that little hope turns to NO hope the nation will ever be unified again, as in the somber days after 9/11, when officers thousands of miles from the falling and smoldering towers were beneficiaries of random acts of good will and gratitude.
Into this awful gulf must stand the police supervisor, having day-to-day contact with officers and the best positioned to:
- Be positive. Among his prodigious talents as a leader, General Dwight D. Eisenhower always had a smile and positive word for the troops, even as he bore the weight of immensely consequential decisions and as he was privately filled with doubts, well aware of the chances for failure.
- Be a teacher. An engaged sergeant thoughtfully uses current events as learning opportunities, carefully aligning department policy and training manuals with “lessons learned,” identifying competencies needing improvement and relentlessly getting officers up to speed.
- Be an advocate. Is there training, equipment, or resources critical to your officers’ mission they do not currently have? Is there a procedure or policy that needs a fresh look or an update? An effective and well thought out proposal can make all the difference to a command officer, especially when it includes quantitative data. Try proposing a test or pilot program with measureable ways to gauge success.
- Be out in the field. How can sergeants know officers are carrying out their mission from inside the station watching TV? How can sergeants help officers succeed, fine tuning their own approach as to when they need direction or just some support if they are behind a desk? How can they fulfill their main role of making sure their people are following the rules when their eyes are fixed to a computer screen?
- Be knowledgeable. Use crime and traffic safety data to direct your daily enforcement efforts in roll call or briefings. Exactly where and when are burglaries, robberies, and traffic collisions occurring? Accurate and timely data not only gives legitimacy to crime fighting efforts they provide an unbiased platform for measuring success.
- Be flexible. There is no one “solution” for what ails law enforcement, or the hostility directed at officers. If there is another, evidence based way of getting the job done, get behind it. Chiefs and command officers should be fully engaged in bringing training and resources to bear on the issues affecting their departments. When they do, get on board and do everything you can to help them succeed.
After leading the Green Bay Packers to a winning regular season before falling short of a championship, Coach Vince Lombardi began the next season’s first team meeting with this statement; “Gentlemen, this…is a football.” Part of Coach Lombardi’s genius was his laser like focus on fundamentals and attention to detail. His players obviously knew what a football looked like, but they were about to embark on a season-long return to fundamental football, resulting in a singular history of sporting success.
Returning or refocusing on the fundamentals of police work and police supervision paves the way for greater capacity in the performance of officers, which in turn generates trust inside and outside the organization. In short, there is a direct correlation in the performance of police officers and their reputations in the community, despite the cacophony of hysterical blather on social media.
Sergeants, do not wait for the next national focus to be on you or your officers when there are tried and true things you can do NOW to help stem the tide.