I am a supervisor working for a department with almost 50 officers, and I'm one of the first guys hit in the blame game. The chief is an incompetent fool, and his second seriously needs mental help. We have a great bunch of officers who know their jobs and do them well. We are fortunate in that we don't face many of the major personnel problems other departments seem to. However, no one will speak to the chief or his assistant unless they are forced to because they despise these two men. Due to my position, officers often come to me with questions or ask for my opinion on department problems. I don't really want to be in this position both the chief and his assistant hate my guts due to past incidents so I'm asking you what I should do.
Every day officers do great investigations, reports, PR work, etc. They portray an excellent image to the public. Every now and then someone will even get a great arrest or do an outstanding investigation worthy of recognition. My problem: I've written up officers numerous times in the past for outstanding work, but when it gets to the chief's desk, he tosses it aside and says they're just doing their jobs. But when an officer commits an error, the chief and his assistant pounce like a lion on raw meat. It's like they actually enjoy seeing us screw up.
I'm not talking about screwing up big time, such as shooting the wrong guy or arresting the mayor. It's the small, daily, stupid stuff. Like parking a car in the wrong spot or not putting a chair back under a table after briefing. They closely examine every bit of paperwork, and if a word is misspelled or comma isn't in place, the report goes back to the officer. One of our guys voluntarily took on an extra responsibility with an activity that affected a lot of our personnel, and it was a lot of extra work for him. He got a written reprimand for not getting the chief's approval first. I could go on and on.
Morale is very low, and no one wants to do anything for fear of being disciplined or criticized. There are multiple sick calls every day on a daily roster of approximately 15 officers. The city is run by city politicians and a manager who all party together, so there's no one higher to talk to about this problem. Any suggestions?
Sucks to be this Midwest Cop
Don't bother sending in a softball because Bullethead certainly doesn't want an easy one this time around! I'll give it to you straight, brother, but be advised that this advice may prove detrimental to your career, your friendships and even others at your small department.
Quite a Gordian knot you've got. Let me rehash that old story with a Bullethead spin. The Gordian knot was impossible to untie, and plenty had tried. Alexander the Great rolled up in his black and white chariot with the lights and sirens ablaze. He pulled his department-issue Glock 22 sword from his dropdown holster Alexander was a tactical guy and chopped the SOB in half. Then ol' Alex met his partners for a cup and headed to the next call to solve some other seemingly impossible problem.
You're in the middle because the troops respect you. Hey, it beats being grouped with the clowns, but it also means your actions will make people move like a fart in a yoga class. If you don't take the high road, things will get much worse. Cops will start leaving the department like sailors jumping off a sinking ship.
If you want to keep your troops, you better convince them of two things. First, things will get better. Second, the grass is not always greener at other departments. I have worked with a lot of cops from a lot of places, and I can assure you they all say the same things about the sorry state of affairs at their departments. They could switch out the department and coffee shop names, and not miss a beat in the conversation. If you can keep your cops from scattering like roaches in the projects when the lights come on, you already have done an excellent job.
Part of this rests with you giving praise to deserving officers. Even if Chief Clown does not understand his role as a leader, you do. You can publicly praise cops when they're out knocking it down. Bring it up in briefing and ask the officers to talk about what they did. Tell them they did great and that you appreciate it. However, while you're doing this, strictly avoid publicly bashing the chief by explaining that he shot down your "atta boy." Your chief may be Bozo without the big red nose, but it will only make things worse if you start publicly tongue thrashing him. He may be running the department into the ground, but at this point it's still his department, and it's unacceptable for one of his supervisors to come out publicly against him you must be sneaky about it.
Now back to Alexander. He couldn't find the ends of the knot, so he chopped it in half. No, I don't think you should chop your chief in half just find a string to pull. You said there's no one higher because the city politicians and the manager all party together. At least one of those city politicians wants a higher office. It should be easy to figure out who wants to move on, and a police department in disarray will not look good on any city politician's record. Furthermore, not a single politician ever born will let Bozo their drinking buddy get in the way of their own career. Find one or two politicians and get them alone even if you must go to their house on your days off. Break down the problem and bring solutions other than just firing the chief. For them, it's an easy win because if they can fix the department, they get good free press coverage and a reputation as a politician who cares about those they serve.
Your other angle of attack? The people. The easiest way to reach them is through the press. I'm sure you have a friend who would be willing to submit a letter to the editor of the local paper about a conversation overheard between two or three cops who are about to jump ship. The letter should discuss specific issues, such as a lack of understanding of leadership and management among the top brass in the department, and the complete protection given the top brass by their drinking buddies at City Hall. Wait a few weeks, and then ask a different friend to send in another letter asking why nothing has been done to address the first letter. This letter goes on to hint at deep-running corruption among the good-old-boys network between City Hall and police management.
The only other suggestion I can make is that you hit them in the checkbook. Every time an officer bangs off sick, call one in at time-and-a-half to take their spot. When management puts a stop to this, raise the officer-safety and customer-service flags hard and fast. Then float suggestions about how to raise morale to slow the sick-time usage. Your officers' association should do all of these things; if not, kick them in the rear and get them going. If you belong to a state-wide association, find out if it can help by reaching places to which you don't have access.
Good luck and stay the course, brother it will get better.
Got a question or complaint?
Let Bullethead hear about it. He'll give you his opinion with both barrels.
E-mail him at [email protected] or fax him at 619/699-6246.