If there were a poll of most street cops, they would likely say that their greatest challenges and burdens come from inside their own police stations - rather than from the knuckle-heads on the street. It is sad, but true. Unfortunately, there are sharks at the top of the tank who got there often times by stepping on others. They are the bad leaders among us.
Why is policing plagued with bad leaders? Why do the good-guys seem so often to get side-tracked in the promotion process? Don't the guys at the top of the food chain have some awareness of the kinds of people that are being promoted?
This is not an article to bash leaders but rather, to express sincere thanks for those leaders who ply their craft so well. This appreciation runs deep because we have all been saddled with leaders who don't care. We cannot understand how they could have ever earned their stripes or bars on their collars.
The only scenario that makes any sense of it all: they test and interview well. They might have been picked in order to meet some kind of quota (of which the city manager denies any existence, but we know better).
I worked under a shift lieutenant once. (Names have been changed to protect the stupid.) Lt. Butter Bar couldn't lead a dying man on the desert to water. His troops despised him. He was unaware of The Brotherhood - much less was his behavior a credit to it. There were multiple serious disciplinary actions over his career that left the troops scratching their collective heads when the chief named him our newest lieutenant.
His self-centered arrogance consumed him. His only concern at work was that none of his underlings would do anything to dim the shine on his star with the chief. He made it clear to the troops that he would take credit for all good ideas and actions that come from below while trying to deflect any responsibility for their errors.
His behavior on a day-to-day basis was repulsive, disgusting and so self-absorbed that few could fathom how it went unnoticed with the upper echelon. He was not a cop out of any sense of patriotism or altruistic desire to help others. His actions made his motives clear: the ability to exert crushing power over others and self-glorification.
What a waste of a man. What a waste of a badge. He embodies everything in a leader that good, hard-working cops fear.
Thankfully, there are other kinds of leaders. There are leaders in our uniform that we admire. They are the kind of people that we would seek out in most places or situations. When on duty, we would gladly follow them anywhere and do anything they asked out of our sincere desire to please them. We are proud to be seen with them and even more so, to be part of their crew.
Last month, I made a trip back to my home state (Michigan). While there, I hooked up for a ride along with a long-time friend named Tony who works in a north-side suburb of Detroit. I am old enough to be Tony's dad - and he took every opportunity to poke fun at my age with others on the crew.
Tony is wise beyond his years. He is a great cop. Maybe it is because Tony was raised by great parents and his dad was the chief of police in his hometown. Tony grew up in the business. We often talk about some of the bigger issues facing cops and law enforcement, in general.
In the early part of that afternoon shift, Tony took pleasure in relaying a recent incident that involved Sgt. Don - whom Tony had come to hold in high esteem. When a critical incident happens, or something goes sideways, Tony feels relieved with Sgt. Don shows up on scene.
That is a far cry from what so many grunt cops (I'm one) feel when the sergeant or lieutenant arrives and starts questioning everyone and flexing his arrogant wings.
"What do you see as the attributes of a good leader like Sgt. Don?" I asked Tony. He knew instinctively and rattled off a list: