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When Do I Get Promoted?

Have you ever heard that line before? The young officer walks in to your office and nearly demands to know. As if you don't tell them right away, they are going to walk out. This scenario happens more and more today. And no, this is not intended to be a slam on any 'Generation (insert alphabetic letter)' but there are several factors as to why this occurs. I will give you reasoning as to why the pressures on today's officers are making this happen more frequently and how we can prevent this from occurring.

We, as chiefs can direct the positive energy of staff towards what they are meant to be doing such as battling crime and terrorism. However, the demands of today's materialistic society and self-imposed time restraints all too often make our officers become far to self-stressed over needless issues. Face it, law enforcement, especially today, is far too stressful as it stands. Add to it a lawsuit, marriage, kids, toss in a divorce for good measure and we have a bubbling cauldron of stress. Now, if they are pursuing the gold shield of promotion; which can mean college courses or extra assignments - we have pegged the stress meter.

Time in Grade & Longevity

Most of us have some knowledge of the military. Our military has a time in grade program, which means that after a suitable length of time in service, the soldier is then eligible for promotion. The catch is here: say in the US Army there may be several hundred eligible for a few positions for sergeant for instance this quarter. Your police department does not differ that much; until someone leaves, there is not a slot. The other military program is quantitative management program (QMP) which ensures performance of senior non-commissioned officers. This means that if you have not achieved a certain rank in a prescribed number of years, you are out. Back to police work, a young officer observes a retired on-duty sergeant and gets inquisitive as to why this one can't be removed and he/she is the replacement. Answer: this is not the military.

One police chief and part-time Southern philosopher once wrote about longevity,

If you sit in a garage for twenty years, you don't turn into a master mechanic and you don't turn into a Buick either.

Working for an agency verses holding down a position and taking up space and oxygen are two different versions of gainful employment. One must invest in themselves to advance their position in life. A sterling example of this is a tale between two officers. One clamored for training at the local academy. One attended on his own time and days off. He switched his shifts and went the extra steps to ensure he could attend. The other applied for every school he could fill out the request for. He also nickeled and dimed the same department for overtime, comp time and every minute he could seek compensated for. Now, if you were the watch commander this is easy decision for recommendations - right? Later when promotions came about, which of the two had prepared themselves for it and which one got it? You guessed correctly. The first made the cognitive decision to invest in his future, he was a warrior; not a time card punching employee.

Truth in Advertising

The job market for officers is getting more difficult every passing year. Many youngsters are using law enforcement as a spring board to other careers. The CSI and other popular cop television series draw many to the lure of law enforcement. Soon they are dulled by the entry level and mundane lifestyle; for it is more exciting on the television. Not all are selected to be on the forensic team or other specialized units straight out of the academy. During the recruiting phase or first interviews they should be given the flow chart of the department. The prospects should be given a full job description of the police recruit. This should start their reality orientation towards police work.

During the interview process, allow them to ask questions as well of the department. I have sat on both recruit screening panels and as a chief. I have had a variety of questions from prospects but they never fail me. These are but a few:

  • When can I expect to make detective or sergeant or whatever?
  • I have a (BS, Masters) degree in criminology when will I be assigned to detectives?
  • Since I have a degree in psychology, I will be your profiler - right?

It is extremely important to reiterate to them immediately that there are two truisms about police work. One is an entry level position. I too was once a rookie cop. God did not miracle me into a chief's position. Secondly, this is work. Yes, I used a four letter word that ended in K and don't be afraid of it.

The reverse questioning allows you to get a handle on the expectations of the applicant. All too many have misconceptions about position of police officer. In my era it was more of the Adam 12 generation; the professional goal-oriented officers. In the last decade we have seen a transition with community-orientated policing (COP) and a swing towards problem-solving. This brought many into the vocation for entry level work, and then spring boarded them into other careers. Next, in this decade came the fascination with profiling and forensics - enter the amateur psychologist and scientist; who has to have some police experience. Then, September 11th came and now law enforcement faced a new challenge that we are still tooling up for - terrorism. Taking civilian law enforcement with civilian rules of engagement and facing international terrorism that knows no rules; this is a new world. We have to take our young applicants to the academy and create warriors, now more so than ever.

Creating a warrior mind-set

Many years ago, when I was rookie, the academy was teeming with post Viet Nam veterans. Many took advantage of the GI Bill to attend college and advantage of the GI Bill's extra financials that it afforded you. Additionally, most were male, athletic, used to using weapons and the concepts of interactions of physical conflict. Without mincing my words, we were used to sweating and have tasted our own blood; we could take orders. Many of us just wanted a job - period.

In the transitions of several generations since then, several things have occurred. There has been more and more influx of the following for good and bad.

  • More women - this is good for we need to diversify our ranks and be more reflective of society. They are exceptionally great and skillful in interpersonal skills and can handle themselves. I had one partner who was tougher than most men, I respect Gerry greatly.
  • More college educated prior to employment - these are more prone to question why rather to follow orders. One I had to train wanted to discuss the social-economic plight of urban mankind during a violent domestic call rather than seeking cover. Sometimes, college does not produce warriors.
  • Less athletic - It is a pity, but our country is having more obese children, more emphasis on no child left behind, so they can play video games. Get their butts off the sofa and out on the field playing contact sports! Team sports are declining, which lowers team building.
  • Less military - if it was not for the recent Iraqi Freedom we would not have that many vets to recruit from. The military experience is an invaluable experience and I thank God for mine daily.
  • Less physical contact - Ask your recruits this question: How many of you have been in a fight before? You will be surprised, if not shocked. I was raised as a rough and tumbled Scotch - Irish upbringing; yes I scuffed my knuckles a few times. In this world of time out and no martial arts, we have a lot that have never tasted their own blood before.

Caveat - I am not making levity of any of these, please! So, do not send hate mail to me or to this publication. But, there was a transition in the law enforcement training from traditional para-military style police academy to the academic format and we lost something in doing so. Now, the pendulum needs to swing back! Quickly and with full force! We have a lost generation of mid-level managers out there that do not understand that we are in a global war of terrorism, gangs and narcotic violence.

The officers of the future are going to face new demands that I for one never dreamed of. Therefore, the selection process, training and mentoring of these young men and women should be an objective that we must achieve; the future of our land depends on them.